Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Vanity Publications: Publicity you don’t want

Vanity Publications: Publicity you don’t want

I’ve mentioned the dangers of vanity publications back in 2006. However, due to some recent questions that have been asked I feel that I should discuss the issue once more. Vanity publications deserve the same caution that should be given to vanity galleries. Both can be harmful to your future goals and both can become obstacles that block the path of your ambition.

The first step is to not confuse startup publications with vanity publications. For example, it is acceptable for a young art publication to ask for a minor publishing fee until they are better funded. However, if the publication does not appear to have a selection process for who they feature-- or if they fail to tell you specifics on the type of artwork that will be selected-- you should be very wary. If the website for the publication seems to push the idea of ordering copies for your friends and family-- RUN.

If the publication is new to the game-- as in they have not even released their first issue, catalog, book, what have you-- you should probably wait until you can see the type of work that is accepted before you submit your art. If jurors are involved in the selection process you should research those jurors in order to decide if the publication is a serious venture. In other words, you don’t want to test the waters if you don’t know who else will be lurking in the deep.

The following is an updated version of my previous article concerning vanity publications:

I'm certain that at one point in every artists life he or she will be tempted-- or will know someone who has-- to order and submit work to some $19.95 publication claiming to be on the 'cutting edge' of ‘artistic publications‘. Publications like this offer artists the chance to have their work 'recognized nationally by art critics and collectors' simply by submitting artwork. They often claim to be the perfect PR move for aspiring artists. What you read may sound good, but the end result may be very bad for your career as an artist.

Imagine, you are surfing the net and you discover a website or forum post that mentions how you can have your art published. The company offers you the chance to have your work displayed in a book with other talented artists. All you have to do is submit your work and you may be selected for the publication. Seems like a good PR move, right? WRONG.

A few days later you receive an email stating that your image has been selected. Your heart stops with excitement. After calming down you joyfully order a dozen copies for your friends, family, and one for yourself. You think about all of the people who will finally see your work.

"Will I become famous", "Will this help me obtain that grant?", "Maybe that MFA program will take me seriously now.", "Gallery representation is knocking on my door!"... thought after thought crosses your mind. Your work is finally going to be published! You go to bed after telling all of the people close to you-- and a few you don't like... for bragging rights-- about your achievement. You dream of becoming an 'art star' over night after the publication is released. Sweet dreams? I can tell you right now-- based on the experiences of some of my artist friends-- that they are not made of this!

A couple of months pass and you finally receive your copies of the publication. Excited, you rip open the box containing the books and anxiously tear away the plastic wrapping from the first book you grab. You can't wait to see your artwork and the work of all the other talented artists represented in the publication. Horror strikes!

You discover that the book contains page after page of mediocre artwork. You turn the page and focus on a picture of a stick man riding a stick horse followed by a picture of a snowman dancing with a dog. You discover your own image on the opposite page as you stray away from the absurd images. You question yourself, "Talented artists... fine art?" as the phone rings. It is one of your friends calling. He wants his copy of the book. Did you make a mistake? Yes. The question is, do you know how big of a mistake you may have made. One thing is for certain, this mistake could cost you far more than $19.95.

These types of books are nothing more than vanity publications. They target aspiring artists who are hoping to bypass the 'grit' of the art business in order to 'make it big'. These companies prey on the dreams of creative individuals. The artist submits, gains acceptance, and orders a dozen copies-- that is how this art scam works. The catch is that everyone who submits will most likely get accepted. There may be a hundred different versions of the same publication created, each containing art by different artists. The company has long since cashed your check by the time you find out that the publication is not what it was represented to be-- that is where their 'fine print' comes into play.

True, the book is about artists and their art, the company did not lie about that, but the caliber of the artists published can vary greatly. A serious artist would most likely not want his or her art shown in the same context as others who may be mere 'hobby painters'. The negative side of having your work in a vanity publication is that your art may be devalued by those who observe your work alongside art that is of a lesser quality-- you may appear desperate. Once the book is printed your ill decision is documented for all to see. Trust me, these books can move-- I've seen books like this sold at minor art fairs, art sections in book stores, and on library shelves. The damage can haunt your career as an artist for years or become a rather nasty inside joke. Good PR move? Nope.

If the concern is for exposure there are smart choices an artist can make before falling into the vanity publication trap. Free online galleries, like the free accounts supported by, are good PR moves for any artist. True, the artists on an art site may have different levels of skill and talent, but each individual is represented by his or her own online gallery, so to speak. You gallery is just that, your gallery. They are not all lumped into one solid shell-- or contained in the same pages like vanity publications.

Unlike vanity publications, an online gallery offers the individual artist to stick out rather than being represented as having equal skill and merit. An online gallery can be utilized to gain exposure-- and one could say far more exposure than what any physical publications could ever achieve. The artist is not represented by every other artist upon the site. He or she is represented by his or her own personal space. Your online gallery is a representation of you alone. Vanity publications represent everyone as a whole, regardless of skill or merit, which has an end result of misrepresenting talented artists to whomever picks up a copy of the book. Don’t allow yourself to be trapped.

A little PR can go a long way, but if done in the wrong manner it can make an artist seem desperate. However, I understand that our need for being "seen" sometimes clouds our decision making and choices. Thus, I will stress that the best way to be "seen" is to maintain an online gallery and to research publications before you pay a fee and submit. Having a free account on a website of your choice that offers the capability of creating online galleries of your work is a far better PR move than relying on any form of vanity publication.

Allow me to be frank, do you want to be a coffee-table memory or a successful artist? Vanity publishers can be the lemon-car dealers of the art world! Remember, famous artists of the past-- as far as I know-- did not pay to be included into vanity publications. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but I’m also sure that any example probably was not overly happy with his or her choice at that specific time. Artists simply need to put their work out where people can see it-- be it online or offline-- in a way that allows the artist to keep his or her dignity. Today we have the option of displaying our art online for thousands to see daily on an online gallery. Take advantage of it. Create your gallery today. Find a site that you enjoy and create your gallery-- there are many to choose from-- get started!

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

Thanks for bring this stuff to our attention.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brian - This puts a lot in perspective for me. I was recently approached by what I know realize was a "vanity" magazine. They approached me saying I was carefully reviewed and selected (even though I didn't apply for anything). I was tempted by its so called distribution & look, but it was expensive. After I told them I couldn't swing it this month, but maybe in the months to come... the rep lost interest the second they realized they didn't have a quick easy sale. I'm glad you wrote about this!

Anonymous said...

I see stuff like this on art forums all the time. They often ask for at least $250 for the honor of being in their book. I've had fun writing some of them acting like I'm interesting. None of them are ever willing to answer how many copies they have sold in the past. Scam press!