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Newcomers to the media

Where are you coming from? RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

In its broadest sense, the purpose of the media is to publish and we are all consumers of published products. These might be television documentaries, novels, competitions printed on cereal packets, radio programmes, advertisements, car repair manuals or Web sites. Many people would be surprised to know that one of the United Kingdom's perennial best-selling publications is The Highway Code, a road safety booklet, produced by a government agency and outselling most classical and contemporary novelists alike, week after week, year after year. So first, examine your idea of what the media do, along with your plans to be part of them. The chances are that your idea is a narrow one, and that your plans can be realized in more ways, or in different ways from those you have expected. The purpose of this section of the Web Site is to give you some basic principles; and to point you to the 'Information and suppliers' section on the left which contains links to references and organizations that will enable you to inform yourself further.

What do you want to do? RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Perhaps you're a good communicator who feels intuitively that there must be a job for you somewhere in the media. Perhaps you've written a cracking good novel and you want to get it published. Perhaps you have a good idea for a film and you want to cooperate with other people to realize it. Perhaps you're an illustrator who wants to turn a hobby into a profession. The possibilities are endless and precisely because of this you do need to narrow down your plans to enter this arena to a concrete course of action. When one plan fails, move on to the next one by all means, but this is not an area of human activity where you can expect to find established ladders of progress. You have to define and make your own way. From the beginning, the key is what you have to offer.

What have you got to offer? RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

There is a basic division in the media between those who contribute to making the product and those who bring the product to the public. A single person alone may produce and publish a small number of titles; but as soon as the business grows, the basic division takes over. It is not a division of the oil-and-water type, where the two elements repel each other, rather it is a division of the wood-and-bark type where the intimate association of the two is essential for a thriving tree. Any individual may be very capable in both areas, and may move with great success between the two areas over the years, but in any one job it is usually very inefficient, in many cases a practical impossibility, to work on both sides of the division as part of the same role.

So first, be honest and define yourself as a maker of the product or a taker of the product, as someone who can produce the goods or as someone who can take the goods to market. With this in view, it's important to realize what the product is.

Products, not ideas, are published RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Any media product is a concrete form of what is known legally as intellectual property. In order for intellectual property to be saleable, it must have such a form. That form is the product which the publisher, in any medium from rice-paper to radio waves, copies and markets. Common forms are novels, videos, songs, radio transmissions, paintings and the terms of sale printed on the back of railway tickets - the instructions for use of a pencil sharpener are still a publication - they are the concrete form of someone's intellectual property.

An idea is not intellectual property. If it were, every physicist could be obliged to pay a royalty to the estate of Albert Einstein every time he used the formula E=mc2. The property does not reside in the meaning, but in the form. So, although the idea that energy, mass and the speed of light stand in a specific relationship has no saleable value, if the idea appears in the form of a photograph of a blackboard with that formula written on it by Albert Einstein, that photographic form most certainly does have a saleable value and would be considered a valuable property by any photographic library which held the picture. The reproduction of the formula in Einstein's distinctive handwriting might also be protected and exploited as a publishable item; in this case probably as a registered design rather than as a copyright literary work. Like a title, it might well be considered too short to benefit from copyright protection. However, the academic paper in which the famous equation was first proposed is very much a copyright product because the words and symbols which make it up are arranged in a unique form, and the copyright of the author protects this form. Reproducing and selling this paper would be a fairly typical publishing project, but one that could only be undertaken with the permission of the copyright holder which, if given, would normally require the publisher to pay a fee or royalty. Exactly the same principle would apply to a nonsense poem. In nearly all cases, the form needs only to be recorded in some way and to have involved some effort on the part of its originator to be a product that can be offered for sale. The underlying idea is not protected and is not a product.

As if to contradict these principles, there is indeed a market in some areas of the media for original ideas as such, for plots, characters and even for such apparently subjective items as the look and feel of manufactured products, none of which has a definitive form. As a newcomer to the media, it is advisable to look on this area as, at best, a market-place for intellectual services which you might provide, as opposed to products which you own; and, at worst, as a prospecting ground for enterprising lawyers.

A plethora of markets RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Yet a product on its own is not enough. No market, no sale.

The archive library of every reputable book publisher gives the lie to Emerson's famous observation that '...if a man write a better book... the world will make a beaten path to his door'. Publishers' archive shelves groan under the dark matter of unprofitable genius. If you add to that the anti-matter of unprofitable dross, the sum is a black hole of human endeavour, a kind of intellectual Flanders graveyard. However, in the display cabinet of every reputable publisher you will also find a selection of commercial winners that have sold and sold and sold. Some of these works are genius, some are dross, but all of them have one feature in common: they have entered a market-place which wants them at their selling price, and the customers have bought and bought again.

The market is the key; and in the media there is not one market but rather a multitude of markets, at least one of which needs to be identified for any product you are involved in.

Mass markets and mini-markets
This plethora of markets makes the media unusual in the business world. Films, books and television programmes vary immensely in their extent and complexity. Some commercially successful films have been produced as undergraduate projects by media students; other films have had the kind of budgets needed to launch a new model of car. Similarly with books, an illustrated encyclopedia designed to go into several languages and a host of markets world wide will have origination costs sufficient to build a moderate-sized factory in the engineering industry; yet the origination costs of a handbook of resources for maths teachers in secondary schools in England and Wales might be within the private means of a single teacher, or a group of colleagues. The variety of markets leads to a variety of merchants.

Profitable mini-markets
Significantly, the circumstances of many capital-intensive media organizations prohibit them in practice from entering markets such as the one for teachers' handbooks. The theoretical maximum sale of such a reference work is equal to the number of secondary school maths teachers in England and Wales. The realistic maximum sale would be something like two or three per cent of such teachers, plus perhaps five per cent of the schools' maths departments and of the teacher-training institutes. For a capital-intensive publisher, even the theoretical maximum sale would be far too small to justify the overheads of research departments, offices in central London, international rights managers and centralized warehousing. The realistic sales predictions effectively prohibit such organizations from entering this market.

For a maths teacher or a group of maths teachers in, say, rural Wales, the situation is very different. The origination costs of such a work are small, the initial print run can be small, so that the warehouse for three or four pallets of books could be the garage of one of the collaborators. The office can be somebody's spare bedroom. Most importantly, the potential buyers of the book are institutions and individuals whose professional addresses are often in the public domain, so that direct sales using personal letters, cheap advertising in professional journals and at professional conferences, as well as free reviews in the same journals, can penetrate deep into the target market within a minimum budget. None of this is easy to do; but it is certainly possible and, unlike an engineer who pioneered a new kind of engine, there is no necessity to sell or license the rights in your invention to a major corporation in order to commercialize it: on the contrary, most of the major corporations in the field would be only too glad to leave the market open to you. The total profit on such a work is small by mainstream media standards, but our group of collaborators has only got to divide it between the three or four of them. Individually, they could earn as much from such an enterprise as they could by working for a major company.

Research by selling
Perceptive readers will realize that this situation is not unrelated to the publishers' archive shelves groaning under the weight of unprofitable titles which were mentioned at the beginning of this section. Why are so many unprofitable works published? Don't media companies know their markets? For many kinds of works, the market research and the sales campaign are one and the same thing. It is no more costly to produce a minimum print-run of conventional books than it is to do extensive market research. So you might as well produce the books and get rid of them at a loss if they don't sell, as do the research at the same expense only to find that there is an eager market which will cost you as much again to fulfil.

There are as many price and profit structures and as many break-even strategies in as many markets as there are media organizations and individual freelance workers. Potentially, there are many more markets available, for every work is a unique commodity in a unique niche; and your job in the media is to occupy at least one such niche.

Input skills, output skills
and a word on creativity

So a product in concrete form, and a market to sell it into are the prerequisites; which brings us back to consider where you might fit into the picture personally.

Creation and reflection
To some extent it could be said that the media industries suffer from being termed 'creative'. Strictly defined, to create is to produce what is truly new, what is unprecedented and unforeseen. That which is unprecedented and unforeseen is usually incomprehensible to all but its creator, calls into question the received wisdom current in its field and, as a consequence, is experienced as subversive by society at large. Such products, if produced at all, are largely unsaleable. Their creators figure disproportionately amongst those who died in poverty or were persecuted, sometimes to achieve renown posthumously when society had caught up with them, more often to disappear from view for ever.

The overwhelming bulk of what is successfully published is not a creation but a reflection: an attractive reflection of what the target market for the product desires and is prepared to pay for. Finding out what those desires are, and producing that attractive reflection, often from an unusual angle and with imaginative execution, is the business of the media and those who work in those fields. In common with any other business, the key inputs are skills, imagination and systematic rigorous work. These inputs are very different from a definition of creativity, but they do form a pretty good definition of the essential human contribution to media products.

From the point of view of a newcomer to the media, this is good news: skills can be learnt, imagination is the common lot of humanity - we all have far more ideas than we can possibly develop in a single lifetime - and systematic rigorous work is no more nor less of a problem in the media than it is in grit blasting. If you like the job, do it: creativity may be a loose shorthand for the nature of the business, but in its strict sense it is no more a requirement than are brown eyes or false teeth.

Input and output, makers and takers
Recall now the division of labour in the media that was outlined above. A symbiotic division into makers of the product or takers of the product, people who can produce the goods and people who can take the goods to market. On the input side, the makers are typically, writers, designers, animators, film and text editors, photographers and similar people involved in the realization of products. On the output side you will find the marketing and market research people, the pre-press and production people, the publicity teams, accountants and managers, whose skills are more generic and who often move in and out of the media worlds at various stages in their careers. The key point for the newcomer is that the input side tends to need specific skills, qualifications and talents and the output side generic skills shared by other industries. Be clear in your own mind where your natural talents lie and which side you want to aim for, then qualify yourself and present yourself for jobs in that area.

To give a concrete example, secretarial work is an essential part of the media world and belongs in the secretarial-office management-human resources-output side of the business. So if you want to become an editor, don't become a secretary. Become an editorial assistant. Similarly, if you want to work in publicity and promotion, the output function, marketing qualifications or a junior post in a marketing department are what you need, not a job as a photographer's assistant or a production runner. Getting your foot in the right door makes later life a great deal easier as time goes by. Curiously, it also makes it easier to add the other function to your experience later on, because you know where you're coming from and are aware of the complementary domain as a knowledgeable outsider.

The media process RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

So how does this business actually get a product to the market? Who does what? Let's start by looking at the example of book publishing which gives a clear example of the considerations involved in bringing a defined work to the public.

Case 1: realizing a defined work
At its most straightforward, a book publisher, as the 'taker' or output side of the business, buys a licence from an author, as the 'maker' or input side of the business, to copy and sell a specific work written by that author. The purchase price of the licence is usually a royalty, a sum of money paid by the publisher to the author for every copy of the work sold. The essential nature of this arrangement is that the copyright and other intellectual property rights in the work are the author's, not the publisher's. What the publisher possesses is an exclusive licence to exploit the work. Authors working on this basis tend to be highly motivated, talented individuals with the self-discipline and self-confidence, especially early in their careers, to sustain months or years of unrewarded hard work. A few are the great literary figures of their day, the majority are the genre writers of both fiction and non-fiction who develop an appreciative audience in, say, romantic fiction or gardening or model-making and come to make themselves and their publishers a sustained income from their work.

The complex part of the book-publishing arrangement is in the terms of the licence. These terms will cover matters such as advance payments in respect of future royalties, limitations of the licence in time, in place, in translation, in adaptation to other media, in marketing, in pricing and almost any other variable you can think of. For any substantial work both publisher and author must take proper legal advice in negotiating these rights, which makes the rights department one of the core output functions of any media organization. Those who work in rights departments are typically experienced editors, lawyers, legal secretaries and business people skilled at striking a good bargain. Many publishers retain specialist firms of copyright lawyers to oversee their contracts and many authors use literary agents or writers' associations to represent them or to assist in negotiations.

Case 2: defining a work to realize
Most product in the media does not fit the relatively straightforward case of an original book. For example, manuals may be written by employees or contract workers whose contribution is more akin to a service than to an original literary work - the publisher providing all the information and equipment necessary for the task. Compilations such as encyclopedias, part-works and magazines may make single payments for specific contributions. If such payments also cover the assignment of the copyright in the work to the publisher, then the author will expect the payment to be correspondingly higher. Generally, authors are ill-advised to assign their copyright to publishers, but in the case of a small contribution which has no real value outside the compilation in which it appears, a decent fee which buys all rights, may be an acceptable deal.

A major point here is that most of modern media product is not made on an author's or a screenwriter's initiative. The output side of the business may make the first move, researching needs and wants and coming up with criteria which may be thrashed out into product definitions by teams or committees which may involve anyone from research scientists to receptionists. What's more, there is still a place for the managing director or head of editorial who simply uses his intuition to say, 'Latin American cookery is the coming thing. Commission a series!' Although a high-risk strategy, this approach has the virtue of avoiding the delays inherent in lengthy market research which in the end may only conclude that, by virtue of waiting for market research results, the Latin American cookery fashion has now passed by.

Once an idea is accepted, the form needs to be fixed. Is it a book, a film, a play, a symphony? If the manuscript was the starting point, these questions may already be answered. If not, what needs to be commissioned? Are text, dialogue, photography, illustrations, video or film needed? Is a combination of them needed? All these inputs have a price tag, so what can be afforded? And so a product is given shape, the input team using the output team to help define the product, the output team using the input team to help present it and get it to the customers.

Taking part in the process
The way in which individuals tap into this process varies with what they have to offer. If you are a writer, an illustrator, a composer, a photographer or a film maker then the possibility exists for you to initiate the process, produce your own work and get a publisher or production company to realize it, reproduce it and pay you a royalty. To do this, you can either approach publishers individually or use an agent to do it for you. This Site's 'Information and suppliers' links refers to publications and organizations which can give you a wealth of information on this process. If you produce an original work for publication, the work is very much your own and the publisher, if he takes his task seriously, will do well to nurture your relationship. It is worth underlining here that although this kind of publishing is most frequently associated with the writing of books, an artist who makes up, say, an illustrated version of an out-of-copyright classic such as Moby Dick can expect to work on a similar basis. Composers, screenwriters and playwrights are also initiating artists for whom the media industries can develop a market on an individual basis.

However, the overwhelming majority of markets are for identifiable products rather than for identifiable individuals. Lifestyle magazines, televised soap operas, school text books and gardening manuals are all thriving markets with thousands of authors, designers and screenwriters labouring daily to meet the demand. But could you name more than a few authors or artists working in these fields? Most people who consume this output daily would be hard pressed to do so, let alone name editors, composers or producers. The market here is clearly one for an identifiable product with a specific content - the brand or title may be known, but the identities of the individuals who produced the item are of no more importance to most consumers than the identity of whoever grew the potatoes on their plates. Far from belittling the value and quality of media workers, this underlines their ubiquity and the continuous need for their services.

From setting out to setting in stone
For most products, the meaning and the form are developed simultaneously. Illustrations and text for a book are commissioned at the same time, with designers and editors working in collaboration to make a finished product. A story, a treatment and a visual storyboard may be worked up for a film or television programme, with a screenplay only being written at the last moment before shooting. Actual shooting may take place next week or next year and marks something like the mid-point of the whole production process. At the other end of the time scale, an outside-broadcast news team of journalist, camera-man, sound engineer and producer manages to cover the same basic publishing processes in a few hectic minutes just before, and during, a broadcast.

Once the makers are finished, the takers step into the limelight. What is made must be taken to market. Even in this electronic age of complex post-production in the visual media, and print-on-demand in the world of text and images, most media products, once made, are as good as immutable. No matter how much the marketing department wants it, the hero can't run off with a different woman once the story is in print; and in the film version, you can't set their hideaway in Moscow once it's been shot in Marrakesh. And media products are not only immutable, they are also unique. Every item is different, has its own once-only production phase and must then go to market as it is. Unlike a model of car or a type of pizza which can change its specification over the years, Ben Hur is Ben Hur, the book is fixed and each film version will be a unique product in its own right. It is considerations such as these which make sales and marketing in the media into the specialization which it is. Media marketers and sales people must know how their products are realized and must make any input to product definition early or not at all. To change things late is often to add crippling costs or, worse, to have that other key department, finance, simply cut off the funding.

Beating a path to the customer's door
All of the media's established distribution channels have a host of professionals working to make the most of them. Physical distribution is a logistical rather than a media responsibility, but it has to be coordinated with marketing departments employing major advertising agencies for television, cinema and press campaigns which are synchronized with cinema premières, book signings and merchandise sales. Or questions of timing in distribution may depend on the work of a small office of two or three people sending out copies of academic books for review, negotiating media tie-ins for popular titles, and writing author-profiles for newspaper literary editors and sales blurbs for book jackets.

Where products are sold through retailers, marketing departments have to conduct business-to-business sales campaigns to get their products a high profile at the retail outlet. Where sales are direct to the public, highly statistical and research-based marketing techniques are used to conduct direct mail campaigns, direct-response television campaigns and closely targeted direct-response press advertising to home in on the target market.

The end result of all this is either a physical or broadcast product being delivered to a consumer. No one professional carries out any part of the process in complete isolation from the others. Even the brilliant lone novelist whose books need virtually no editing will be asked to either cut a few pages or supply a few more so that it fits the book designer's specifications. The illustrator must read the whole work or risk errors, and must work in the light of what printing and colour processes are to be used. The editor must have an overview of the whole project from first inklings to customer appreciation. The marketing department must link customer to concept and product to point of sale.

So much for the media process. Within all this activity are many roles and jobs. We can turn now to take a look at how you might go about getting one of them.

Talent, training and trial-and-error RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Some things in the media need talent, some need training and some can only be learnt on the job. Most things need some measure of all three, and a very few things defy any kind of rational preparation.

There is only one essential talent needed by everyone in the media and that is a love of the business. If you don't like the media world for what it is, then the strange hours you will have to work, the fluid organizational structures, the pace of change, the uncertainty of success and the certainty of many failures will probably get through to you and you will turn to something else.

Other talents are extras, they may carry a high premium for the individuals who possess them and should be carefully nurtured and profitably used, but they are not essential. The essential is competence. The competent writer writes to brief and to style regardless of whether he thinks the specification is bizarre. The competent editor assumes every sentence contains mistakes and libels until he has proved otherwise, even when the manuscript comes from a professor of grammar or a High Court judge. No matter how complex the appearance, pages from a competent designer are simple to edit and quick to reproduce. Talent may take you to great heights but only long-term competence gets you airborne and keeps you flying.

For some things training is essential. You are very unlikely to become an academic science editor without a science degree. The technical media also draw heavily on people with formal qualifications. These may be in sound, video, printing and pre-press, film, electronics and so on.

The output functions also tend to employ people with relevant generic qualifications. Degrees in business, marketing, economics, mathematics and psychology abound in the marketing and research departments. Yet here there is often a good proportion of people who have migrated through the ranks or from finance, from sales or from advertising on the basis of their professional track record and personal enterprise rather than any particular qualification.

On the input side, technical training certainly plays a role. With the computerization of design and editing, part- or full-time user courses are often taken and qualifications awarded, but these are generally less important than a proven display of the skills required. In-job training can also be important to fill personal skills gaps and aid collaboration. Finance for marketing, marketing for editors, paper technology for designers are examples of this kind of continuing learning.

At higher and further education level, art college, language degrees, writing courses, film school and journalism qualifications can all be excellent ways to get basic skills efficiently and your foot on the first rung of the ladder. But once in, it is your record that will count. A candidate with four ace products in the portfolio always beats a royal flush of diplomas.

Whether a degree or qualification in the subject of media studies itself is relevant depends entirely on its course content. Almost paradoxically, it can be of greatest value to an accountant, secretary or personnel manager in the media, who will obtain professional qualifications relevant to their jobs at post-graduate level or as in-service training, but need to know the scope, language, history and nature of the business at large. Media studies qualifications don't often teach you to edit film, design pages or operate a TV camera and it is skills such as these which are in specific demand.

Trial and error
No matter how well qualified you are, an ability to learn on the job is essential throughout the media. In part this relates back to the nature of the product which we dealt with above. Every product is different and every product has a specific content. Broad awareness of the world and a desire and ability to learn are important everywhere. No-one can be an expert in the content of every product worked on, but all should have the desire and ability to learn enough about it for the purposes of their input.

Above all, media people are practitioners. Plays are wrought by playwrights, not thought by theorists; marketing people must get customers for products not simply hope that quality will somehow sell itself. Because of this, the media remain an area where it is still possible to work your way up from production runner to film director, from editorial assistant to editorial director, from sales assistant to marketing manager without formal qualifications. Even though this may be the exception rather than the rule in many areas, when you go for a job or advertise for clients, your qualifications may show promise, but your record alone shows your ability to deliver.

For those without formal qualifications, the main problem is how to make a start. As always, start from where you are. The media world has a complete range of commercial functions, so a shop assistant can move to a book shop and from there can apply for marketing assistant jobs in publishing, armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of any publisher's product. Most home videos make pretty uninspiring viewing, but yours need not. The basic techniques are all available in books: read them. Join the video group at the local arts centre, make some amateur videos worth watching that win local prizes or get featured in the local paper, and armed with your reviews go for a job as a rigger's assistant or a scene shifter with an equipment hire company if you also have the muscles, and for a job as a continuity assistant or a research assistant with a production company if you don't.

Where there is a will there is often a way, and the media have their fair share of people willing to give a start both to the enthusiastic youngsters and to the not-so-young browned-off bureaucrats seeking change who have demonstrated for their part that they are prepared to get going on their own and have results to show for it.

Where Means to Meaning fits in RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

This Web Site allows you to tap into the media worlds at the point and to the degree that you want to. Offer what you have to offer, launch the projects that you want to launch, involve other site customers to the extent that you want to. Remember that it's important to be honest in what you offer and ask for on the Site. If you're an experienced professional who can handle a major multi-media project, then by all means say so and go for the clients you need. But if you're a beginner, don't be afraid to say so. Experienced professionals all started somewhere and the same market observations apply to you as applied to the publications mentioned above. Projects need beginners just as they need experience, and as your experience grows, so you can amend your Site entry, and your price tag.

The Site is what it says it is: a means to meaning. As such its purpose is to enable you to carve or develop your own niche or your own products in the media world. Whether you use the Site for a simple personal advertisement or for a complex project, or any combination of its services in a professional or personal capacity, its aim is to be a tool that adds power to your efforts. First define what you want to do in your own mind, then use the Site as a tool to realize your goals.

Some possible uses of the Site

Self advertisement — Whether you're a seasoned professional with proven skills to offer, or a newcomer with ideas and enthusiasm, use the Site to offer your skills and pitch for the work you want. You can remain anonymous, so you can use the Site without prejudice to your current commitments.

Self publishing — Either commercially or non-commercially, getting that pet project or manuscript out of the note book and into print. Whether you're setting out to prove you've written a best seller, or printing up a limited edition of a book of poems at your own expense to circulate amongst your friends, this site can enable you to do it by providing a source of the professional skills you need to draw on.

Setting up a project — Find the people and the workspace you need to bring that project to fruition. Whether your input is as the project leader, as a contributor or as a financial backer you can find collaborators through the Site: and your contributors can be located anywhere in the world.

Finding specialist skills — If you need foreign language skills, country-specific knowledge or culturally aware support the search feature of the Site can be a means of finding the right person in the right place with the right profile.

Finding related information — The 'Information and suppliers' links available on the Site can direct you to specialist suppliers and organizations who can provide information and services in related fields.

Finally, a word of warning to
writers about vanity publishing

We do our best to prevent misuse of the Site, but some vanity publishers could be tempted to abuse it. They are normally easy to spot, so don't be taken in. The key difference between legitimate publishing and vanity publishing is deceit. Vanity publishing takes place when an unscrupulous individual deceives an author by leading him to believe his work has good commercial potential, whether it has or not. The vanity publisher then asks the author to subsidize the printing and promotion of the work and pockets what may be a considerable profit from the exercise. The author will typically sign an unclear contract which places no obligation on the vanity publisher to bind more than a few copies of the work, if any. Copies are not sent for deposit or review, little or no effort is made to distribute the work and the promotion amounts to no more than a few cheap advertisements in obscure periodicals. As a final insult, the author may find himself with a bill from the printer for storing half a ton of loose sheets of no commercial value.

As an author, the only indication you have, bar none, that your work may be a commercial success, is that someone is prepared to risk his own money to bring it to the market place. If you have the confidence to take that risk yourself, to shop around for printers, binders, distributors and so on, and pay for them from your own resources, you are self publishing, not vanity publishing, and you will be very careful to get value for your money. In contrast, a vanity publisher is rather like some race-course tipsters, a person who exploits the dreams of others. If such a tipster were any good, he would put his money where his mouth was and make a profit for himself by betting. Of course publishing, like any business, is a gamble and all gamblers will be wrong on occasions. But an honest gambler will place a bet at his own expense. If he thinks your horse is a good one, he will pay out his own money to enter it in the race, and he will give you an agreed share of any winnings for allowing him to do so. By contrast, the vanity publisher is simply charging you to groom your own horse in your own stable.

Even so, it is worth repeating that deceit is the key feature of vanity publishing. There is no earthly reason, for example, why a group of ex-service men should not get together a set of memoirs that commercial publishers would regard as wholly unsaleable, pay to have it printed and bound, and circulate it to their comrades at their own expense. There is nothing disreputable about such an exercise and the book might even have a place of honour in the regimental library. There is all the difference in the world between paying for your pleasure and falling victim to your vanity.