Note: This article is part of an occasional series of articles about the fifth anniversary of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” book. The previous entry in this series is here.
As an employee of F+W Media Inc., I was required to give the company the right to publish (and pay me for) anything that I’d written on my own time.
While that might sound draconian, it’s not. Many companies claim to outright own everything that you think, dream or fantasize about at any moment in your sleeping, waking, leisure or My-Pretty-Pony moments.
So after I wrote “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” I submitted it to the company’s editorial review board and held my breath. If they liked it, they would publish it. If they didn’t like it, then I was going to publish it on my own.
Neither result was ideal.
If F+W published the book, then the company obviously would get the lion’s share of the money. That’s what traditional publishers do (Lost Art Press, I might add, does not). So if F+W published the book I’d end up with a check that would allow me to buy a used, mid-range Japanese car with about 75,000 miles on the odometer.
In exchange I would receive legitimacy. In the media world, publishing your own book is akin to marrying your sister. Most self-published books are about encounters with aliens that involve wax paper and Wesson oil, or Klingon wildlife poetry, or recipes for curing cancer with celery salt.
Self-published books aren’t treated seriously. No one reviews them. Few people buy them. The only way they are useful to society is because paper has a pretty good R-value as insulation when stuffed between studs.
A week or so after submitting my book, my boss sat me down and said the editorial board liked the book but wanted me to change it. They suggested a title like “The Practical Woodworker” and suggested I refocus it on how to balance hand and machine work.
So now I had a third bad choice.
My head was so bleary that I don’t even remember what I said that moment, or even what I did the rest of the day at the office. But I do remember the ride home.
One of my favorite rock bands is Superchunk, a North Carolina-based independent group that started out with its own label, called Merge Records. That label has grown remarkably since 1989 and now publishes music by bands like Arcade Fire, The Magnetic Fields and Spoon. And they still release their own Superchunk stuff, too.
In 2010 Superchunk released “Majesty Shredding,” an album that I still listen to with devoted regularity. And on my drive home from work that day I cranked that very album.
Is Merge Records a vanity label?
Does Superchunk lack artistic validity because it’s not published by Warner Bros.?
By the time I reached my house I knew what I was going to do: Publish “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” myself and take the scarlet letter for doing so.
— Christopher Schwarz
22 thoughts on “Lost Art (Vanity) Press”
And we’re glad you decided to wear that scarlet letter.
I for one are glad you took this route.
Editing might have messed up what I enjoy about what you print.
When I read what you do I feel like you are talking to me alone.
KEEP IT UP !
very happy you did what you did, the letter looks good on you, the band you love loud on the drive home, I have been know to do that too.
Yeah, maybe publishing it yourself the way you wanted it and with your words on your own terms was a horribl… Wait, what printing are you on?
LOVE THE BOOK!
Did someone call Lost Art a vanity press? You shed that label when you published another author.
Oh yes. They still do.
Luckily, I don’t give a squirrel toot.
I’d bet that “they” are a bit jealous and lack the courage or drive to do something similar, so they try to minimize your accomplishment with the vanity tag. If you wanted to have some fun with “them” you could make another logo with a square balanced on its corner in the shape of a V. Put it on a hat. Make it scarlet for good measure and wear it proudly. The LAP equivalent of the middle finger. You’d probably sell quite a few too.
Come on, most of us would like to see several chapters on laser etching….
I’m just going to point out the obvious: Majesty Shredding is a hell of an album.
Is F+W owned by Universal or United Artists? I’m sure F+W felt the same way they did after passing up on the Star Wars franchise.
The fact you referenced Superchunk and Merge records is all kinds of awesome. I hope you got to see them on the Majesty Shredding tour. They put on a hell of a show in Seattle.
Great things ALWAYS happen when you take that different path…Thank the Gods for car rides and music to set you sailing.
I can believe you just referenced “Majestic Shredding”. What an album! I’m still digging it and hope you are too
Majesty* spell check blows chunks sometimes
I’d like to get my hands on one of those scarlet letters. A little fuzzy dude on Sesame Street suggests they’re just for a nickel (Shhhh……), but I suspect there’s a left arm (or n__) to be paid.
I have not yet seen “The Practical Woodworker” in print, have you? Corporations rarely display courage. The inventor, the entrepreneur, the artist, these are the people who have the courage to take their work directly to the public. Yes, even the self publisher of the short list of arcane tools with which to work wood.
I would warn you, however, that corporations do like to replicate and take over someone else’s hard won success. The larger the hand tool niche market grows, the more attractive it becomes for publishing moguls to produce their own cheap versions of hand tool woodworking. It is sort of like what corporations have done to the tools themselves, making book-shaped objects that look like a helpful guide to choosing, using and storing hand tools, but are nothing more than thinly disguised advertising.
It may be vanity to gaze long in the mirror, but it is prudent to glance once in a while at the rear view mirror.
Actually, taking a page from Chris, we (PopWood) did publish a limited run, hc, smythe-sewn, cloth-covered 4-volume edition of those two years ago. We sold out quickly though. (We have them in pb now – the info remains stellar…but they don’t look as good on the shelf.)
The Scarlet Anarchist.
In our local newspaper, the editorial used the word “potentiality” instead of potential. I immediately thought of all the blowhards in government and corporations who use this type of jargon to sound important and all knowing. I am so glad I retired! Your writing is excellent. It is informative and entertaining at the same time. ATC is a really excellent book, as are your other books. I find lots of inspiration in it. I, too, am glad you found the courage to start your own publishing firm.
Interesting that I actually have read your books where others just sit on the shelf!
To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, those who surrender their freedom in exchange for security are likely to lose both. All of us who read your work are much better off because you had the courage to choose your individual freedom over the (often illusory) security of the corporate world.
Speaking of music while driving, I recall reading quite a while ago that Bill Gates, after earning enough to afford an expensive car, loved to drive his Porsche at a high rate of speed while singing the Frank Sinatra hit song “My Way.”
(Unfortunately, I am old enough to be more familiar with Frank Sinatra than with Superchunk. But my age doesn’t prevent me from woodworking, I just do it more slowly now.)
Congratulations on your success with Lost Art Press. Keep up the good work.
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