On preying on the vanity of artists

Having a nice looking website and a contact page means I get enquiries from businesses set up to make money off of artists. They are a plague out there and appear in other creative pursuits – say, writing – where they take on guises such as self/vanity publication and fee-charging anthologies. Let me make it clear: these people are not out there to help you develop your career; they are businesses. Businesses like to make money. Vanity* is the greatest motivator out there. It’s the basic desire to be recognised, revered, appreciated – known. We all fall prey to it from time to time and in varying degrees, but the key is to avoid businesses taking advantage of your desperation.

Sure, we all want to be in books, catalogues, on websites, in galleries, but what it takes to get into them is hard work. You must promote yourself. You need to do the legwork. Sure, I enter a few judged competitions (for a fee) here and there – and my business manager cringes every time I do – but the inspiration for this blog post came to my email inbox this morning. Let me share…

“Message: I’ve seen your work in your website and i [sic] found it very impressive.
I invite you to submit your work in “____” art book, volume ___. The book is distributed to major galleries and museums [_link to a list redacted_] and is sold in major wholesalers worldwide. If you have any questions, please contact me.”

I had a look. First, check for a fee. No fee? Be very, very suspicious. No one does a good deed like this for free. Find the catch. I did. So here is the response I wrote – but ultimately didn’t send, instead opting to write about it all here where someone might benefit from what I’m saying:

“Many thanks for your enquiry and interest in my work, however, I feel the burden of subsidising the book by requiring the artists themselves to purchase two copies of the volume – at an eyebrow-raising €170 total – is not an expense I’m willing to bear. While I understand there is no fee to enter, this in itself compounds the problem of unrealistic, naive expectations in non-professional artists of varying work quality looking for vanity publication.
If there is a change in your business model, feel free to contact me again at that time.”

You read that right. No fee, but – if chosen for inclusion – you must buy two books at a combined cost of €170. You can pay them €150 extra to have a second page in the book. This is vanity publishing disguised as ‘exposure’ for the artist. Sure, your work gets a page in a book. Sure it – according the the website’s word – goes to perhaps hundreds** of galleries, but if you pay to be in something, where is the quality control? A quick flick through the archived editions of the book show exactly what I expected to see: some quality works surrounded by – in my opinion – lots of amateur work. If that’s my assessment, what might a gallery owner think? In publishing, unsolicited manuscripts go into a ‘slush’ pile. This is where you may find a diamond in the rough, but mostly, the pile is garbage. I’m sure plenty of these books are appreciated by galleries – who doesn’t look through a shiny new catalogue when it arrives – but all the same, I fail to see the value***.

Respect yourself, your work, and do what it takes to get noticed. Paying the vanity businesses to include you in their ‘exposure’ projects will not benefit you. If anything, it may make you look desperate, and although many professional artists struggle, desperate is not a good look. Stay pro. Stay driven. If you’re good enough, you’ll make it. If not, at least you won’t have wasted money with the ‘exposure’ businesses.

* And sex too. Being ‘known’ is desirable… sexy. People fantasise about this stuff.
** The site says the print run is 6000. It says the book goes to galleries and wholesalers. If the average book (volumes are online digitally) is 400+ pages, that’s nearly 1000 of the 6000 run going to artists by requirement. They of course, let you buy more. Also, shipping is an additional €25 on top. Ouch.
*** The site does have a list of artists; this could be seen as valuable, but the artists have no links to websites or contact information.