To be published -- to be truly published -- required more than having a book in print. It required that an objective third party had invested in printing your book. A commercial publisher believed that your book was entertaining or interesting enough to find favor with the paying public.
Commercial publishers are motivated not by vanity, but by an objective calculation of how much a book is worth on the market. Self-publishers call these people "traditional publishers," as though self-publishing is new and ground-breaking. It's not. Self-publishing is not ground-breaking. And "commercial publisher" better describes non-vanity publishers than the term "traditional publisher."
If your book was printed by a commercial publisher -- an objective third party who risked his own money to publish your book -- then you, the commercially published author, derived prestige and status. The public admired you for overcoming the hurdle of an objective third party.
By contrast, if an author self-published, that meant the book was printed solely because of the author's faith (i.e., his vanity) in the book's merits. And because every mother believes her child to be beautiful and gifted, however ugly and stupid a child may be, the public was rightfully skeptical of self-published books. Which the public called "vanity books."
Vanity were not real books. Vanity books weren't published, they were printed. They sat stacked in cardboard boxes, unsold, in the author's basement or garage.
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