What “Trigger” Means

Sometimes online I see people seriously misusing the word “trigger” in a mental health sense. This has been said before, and better, by others, but I need to chime in.

If something annoys or upsets you, it isn’t a trigger. It’s something that annoys or upsets you.

If it makes you angry, it isn’t a trigger. It’s something that makes you angry.

If you don’t like it, or you find it disgusting or disturbing, or you strongly disagree with it, it still isn’t a trigger.

Something is a trigger, in a mental health sense, when it causes severe mental and emotional distress arising from past trauma, including flashbacks of the traumatic event (or one of them). Triggering, in this sense, is a reaction tied to PTSD. An incident, or word, or whatever, reminds you so strongly of the trauma you experienced that it’s as if you’re experiencing it all over again.

If you haven’t experienced that degree of trauma, I’m glad for you. But many others have. If you did, but you’ve worked hard to overcome it and you can confront things that used to trigger you, I admire you. I’ve been able to do that myself with a few of my more minor triggers, but there are some things that will probably always trigger me. (Don’t ever tell me to take a bath to relax myself…)

Using “trigger” in a minimized way, for example, “I can’t stand that color shirt, it’s really triggering me” or “He told me I was wrong about Supernatural, and that triggered me” is completely insensitive and offensive, and it causes a lot of harm to those who are legitimately triggered by reminders of traumas.

The more the word is tossed around, the less impact it has, and the more likely it is that if someone said, “I read a sexual assault scene in this book, and I ended up in the emergency room because it triggered me,” other people are going to just brush it off or accuse the person of seeking attention. Think about what you’re saying and why. And think about the effect your words have on others.

What I’m Working On

I’m currently working on revising another of my out-of-print novels to send to another publisher. This one is interesting to work on. It’s different from most of my books.

For one thing, there’s sexual content in this one. Not explicit, but it is there on the page, rather than just being mentioned or not happening at all. And it happens between a 15-year-old and someone who claims to be in his early 20s. (It’s portrayed as being predatory and unhealthy; that’s part of the point of the book.)

For another, this is a direct tie-in with one of my adult romance series (which is also now out of print). I had a series about the world’s only gay vegan werewolf and his mate, the pack Alpha. Something in the Alpha’s backstory struck me as good YA fiction fodder, so with the publisher’s agreement I wrote the book and they published it under their children’s/YA imprint. The official story was that “Jo Ramsey” was a fan of “Karenna Colcroft” and got Karenna’s permission to write the book.

(Some people still don’t realize that I’m both of those authors…)

The book has its disturbing bits. I remember how badly I triggered myself writing the scene where the main character, Tobias, realizes that the older guy he’s crushing on actually intends to harm him. But it also has what, in my opinion, is some pretty good writing.

I don’t know what the future holds for the book. I will be submitting it to a new publisher, but there’s no guarantee they’ll accept it. It remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the revising.

Teaser Thursday…

This is longer than my usual teaser; it’s a short story I just found amongst my files of unpublished stories, so I decided to share.

“The Devil went down to Georgia…” Trying to steal a soul and all that.

Except I’m not “the Devil.” I admit I steal souls. That’s kind of my thing, as you humans would say. The souls don’t get stuffed in some firey pit or whatever, though.

I eat them. All of us demons do.

It’s still fun to talk a human into handing over their soul, no matter what we plan on doing with it. And all those stories about how people sell their souls for fame and fortune? Completely true. We’re demons. We can do magic. And if someone has a particularly tasty little soul, I don’t see a reason not to reward them for giving it to me. After all, whatever I give them will only be theirs for a little while.

All those cool techno things humans have come up with over the past century or so have made my job so much easier. Instead of having to wander around among you all, I can just hop online and find what I’m looking for. Believe me, the cyberworld is a whole lot more fun than the real one, even for a demon.

So here I sit, tapped into the human Internet, though I’m not on a computer. You guys think you’re so advanced, but you still need a device to be able to access all the information flooding around. All I have to do is stretch my brain and pop on in.

I’m in a game I’ve hung out in before. Animated chicks in scanty clothes and big, buff dudes in armor beating up monsters. And demons. Whoever created this game must have run into one of us in the past, because I swear I recognize some of my buddies among the bad guys here.

I’m the only real demon in here right now, though. I made sure of that. There are so many humans to go around, I have no need to poach someone else’s hunting grounds.

Some of the half-naked chicks and steroid dudes are beating up each other, too, which looks fun to me. It’s all artificial, of course, but every character in the game is controlled by a human somewhere out there in the real world. A human with a real soul. They don’t know it, but their souls shine through their avatars. None of them would be able to tell, but I can see every one of them.

Including a bright, shiny gold one straight ahead of me, glowing around one of the muscle men. The soul tells me the controller of the character is male too, and it’s a soul I would love to sink my teeth into.

He’s beating the crap out of three other characters, all of which are controlled by other humans somewhere out in the “real” world. They keep going at him, and he just keeps fighting so fast his movements are a blur.

One by one, he kills off the other three guys. Even though they’re fighting him at once. Even though they’re huger than he is. He wins.

He is a damn good player, and I have an idea. Instead of offering him fame and fortune, I’m going to give him a rare opportunity. I won’t ask him to just hand over his soul. I’m going to let him fight for it.

I’ll win, of course. He’s good, but no one is as good as me.

I wander on over. In the game, all conversation is via text, so I type, PVP?

Player vs. player. At least I think that’s what it stands for. That’s what I always mean when I use it, anyway. I probably should learn a lot more about these games if I’m going to use them, but why bother? Humans have a whole culture built around the things. I’m just looking for food.

Sure, the guy responds.

So he’s into the idea of killing other players in the game. In real life, judging from the soul I’m now studying more closely, he’s a nice kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly unless he was protecting someone else. In the game, he has a dark side.

And he’s arrogant. He’s done this before and has always won.

I like arrogance. It’s delicious served over a heaping helping of terror.

Name? I ask. I like to know who I’m devouring. And I don’t mean his character’s name, either. That’s floating above the cartoon’s head. Bob the Destroyer.


It’s better than all the random string of babble names I usually see. It either shows a sense of humor or a complete lack of imagination, I’m not sure which.

Bob, he says.

Really? I’m Sorcheth.

Not what this says. He made his guy point at my head, where the name “Loriatelas” is floating. Just because I make fun of the random string of babble names doesn’t mean I don’t use them when I drop into games. They help me fit in.

No kidding, I type.

For a moment he doesn’t say anything. I just wait. These kids today have it drilled into their heads that they shouldn’t give out personal information online. Not that it stops most of them. They think they’re indestructible. They do stupid stuff even when they’ve been told not to and can’t figure out why bad things happen to them.

Jonny, he says finally.

Cool. I don’t say anything else about the name, because I don’t want to creep him out. He doesn’t know if I’m another teenage punk or an adult pervert.

Or a very hungry millennia-old demon.

Want to make a bet? I ask.

Make the offer, close the deal. That’s how we work. It isn’t quite as easy in a game, because I’m not standing right in front of the real person holding out real money or whatever. But the ones who think they can take me are almost always willing to make a wager.

Sure, he says again. What do you want? Weapons? Skills? A rare pet?

Your soul. No reason I can’t come right out and say it.

Soul? Really? So I guess your toon isn’t just a fun costume.

I chose the avatar in the game that most closely resembles the “demons” players are supposed to destroy. Like I said, some of them look a lot like some of my buddies, which means I look like a demon. Or a devil, for those who think that way.

Hiding in plain sight. Always fun.

No, it isn’t. I know he won’t believe a word of it. The whole point of the game is to be someone or something else for a while. So what do you say?

If you win, you get my soul. Ha ha. He hesitates. That’s a one-sided bet. What if I win?

I’ll give you the biggest, fastest, most advanced gaming system there is. Gaming was such a ginormous part of some humans’ lives that they’d created computer systems especially for the pastime. Personally I didn’t see the point, but then again, I don’t see the point in a lot of things humans do. Nor do I particularly care.

Which would mean you finding out where I live, because how else would you deliver it? I’m not an idiot.

I laugh out loud, not that he can hear it. This kid is cocky as hell. I like it. It’ll give a nice spice to his soul when I devour it after I beat the crap out of his toon.

You have to win first. Then we’ll figure out how you get your system. As I say it, I realize he’s taking this seriously. If he thought I was just making a bet within the game, he wouldn’t be talking about me finding out where he lives.

Maybe he’s run into my kind before, or maybe he’s just one of those humans who sees across the lines between what they believe to be real and what actually is real.

Cool. That will make him even more fun.

Okay, he says after a couple of minutes. So PK. I win, I get the system somehow or other. You win, you get my soul.

That’s it.

Ha ha. Betting my soul with the devil, huh? It might be a sin, but I’ll take your bet. I am the best ever at this game.

Arrogant and he knows what he’s talking about. Maybe he really has encountered one of my buddies. No matter. Obviously he thinks he can defeat me, and I’m more than happy to prove him wrong. We’ll see. I win, I take your soul right away. You win, you’ll have your system.

I don’t need his address. I can just make the thing appear in his house.

Sounds good. Ready when you are. His avatar strikes a pose.

So do I, and so it begins. I have all the skills, weapons, and powers that my type of character has in this game plus a few of my own, but to be fair, I stick to what’s available in the game. If I’m going to beat Mr. Cocky-pants, I’m going to do it on his terms. That will make victory—and his soul—taste so much sweeter.

But he’s a damn good fighter. For every blow I land, he lands three. I’m bleeding, broken, and still fighting but barely. Heck, I’m even out of breath.

If I don’t get my act together, he’s going to win.

I land another blow and he reels back. Animated blood flies. I get in a few more hits, but then the damn kid rallies and strikes me in the head. Right through the helmet. Magic sword or something.

And then everything goes black. Life force gone. Whatever the heck they call it in the game.

The son of a bitch killed me.

I lost.

This has never happened before. I never lose. I’m a freaking demon, for crying out loud. And this little human thing has defeated me.

I see red. Like a firey haze. I want to kill the little bugger. How dare he beat me? He will pay for this. Mark me, he will pay.

I made the bet and lost in a fair fight, though. And yeah, demons do play fair. We might obscure and mislead, but we don’t lie and we don’t renege on our bargains.

Which sucks, because it means I have to go crawling back to Jonny and give him his damn gaming system.

I get another life and go back to Jonny, who’s sitting on a rock beside our fighting ground. Good fight, he says.

Not good enough. I make a little gesture with my hand, sending his gaming system off through the dimensions to wherever he lives. There you go. I’ll be back for a rematch someday.

Wow! He must be seeing the system. Thanks. Rematch anytime. I told you once, I’m the best.

We’ll see. Enjoy your system.

I’m not about to stick around the location of my defeat. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while a human does get the better of one of us. This is one of those times. I swallow my pride and slink away. He won fair and square, and I’ll grant him that he is a damn good player.

But there will be a rematch someday. He can’t always win. Next time, I will gain his soul, and I will show Mr. Jonny that you don’t mouth off to a demon.





Redefining Self

Figuring out who you are isn’t something that happens once. Life is an ongoing process of change, reconsidering, and redefining. But when it comes to some subjects, people don’t always remember that.

I’ve known people who came out as homosexual in their 40s or later, after years of giving no sign at all that they were interested in people of the same sex. In a couple of cases, they themselves didn’t realize they were interested, or at least they didn’t admit it to themselves. But then they realized, or they came to terms with what they already knew.

That doesn’t mean they were heterosexual up until that point. It means they were living in the way they thought was best for them, or the way they thought they had to in order to be accepted by others, but over time they realized that wasn’t who they truly were.

Online, I’ve seen teens and young adults accused of “faking” their sexual orientation or gender “to get attention,” or of “jumping on the bandwagon,” because they’ve changed their self-identification over time. That doesn’t mean they’ve ever been dishonest about it. It means they might not have thought it completely through before they first came out. They also might, over time, have seen references to orientations or genders they didn’t know existed, and realized one of those terms fit them better than the way they’d previously identified.

I’ve also seen people say that certain genders and sexual orientations were “invented” by people on the Internet. This is not true. Those genders and orientations might not have had names until recently, but they still existed.

The Internet has been a help and support to a lot of people as they work on defining and identifying themselves. People who might have thought something was wrong with them because of the way they felt can now learn they aren’t the only one who feels that way. Of course, the Internet also has its downside; people can be judgmental and bully one another.

But the process of defining and identifying oneself doesn’t have a finite ending point. We all learn new things about ourselves over time. Life isn’t stagnant, and neither are we.

Teaser Thursday- Cluing In

I trudged back to health class, where I dropped the pass on Mrs. Forrestt’s desk and slumped into my seat to listen to yet another lecture about teen alcohol abuse. We’d been on the same topic for about three weeks now, and pretty much all of us had become sick of hearing that we shouldn’t drink and why. I didn’t think drinking was such a great thing anyway. I didn’t need it hammered into my brain over and over.

The bell rang and my stomach growled at the same time. Jebbi and I picked up our stuff and headed to the cafeteria. “I can’t eat lunch with you today,” I said. “Tina thinks we need to talk.”

She shook her head. “Tina always thinks you need to talk.”

“That’s a relationship, I guess.” I hefted my books. “I want to dump these in my locker. Come with me?”


We pushed through the crowd heading to lunch and finally reached my locker. “I don’t know anything about relationships,” Jebbi said as I fiddled with my combination lock. “I’m not sure having one means you have to listen to someone telling you what to do all the time, though.”

I shrugged and finally managed to pop the lock open. Not an easy thing to do with a pile of books balanced on one arm. “She doesn’t tell me what to do. Just asks me to do things I don’t really want to, and I say no, and that’s that.”

“If you say so.” She nodded toward the end of the hall, where Tina stood with her arms folded and a thunderstorm on her face. “I think I’ll leave you two alone. Want me to buy you something to eat in case you make it to lunch?”

“I’ll buy something before she and I talk.” I slammed my locker shut and tugged Jebbi’s sleeve. “Come on. She won’t bite.”

“No, she’ll just say I’m taking her man’s time again, like she always does.” Jebbi sighed. “Being friends with me isn’t helping things between you and her.”

“You’ve been my friend a lot longer than she’s been my girlfriend, and I don’t care what she or anyone else thinks about it. Now come on.” I pulled on her sleeve again and she followed me up the hall.

Tina stayed right where she was until we walked up to her. “I thought we’d agreed to talk at lunch, Jamey,” she snapped.

“Yes, and I’m not at lunch yet,” I said. “I had to drop off my books, and now, since it is lunch, I’m going to buy some food.” My stomach rumbled again. “See? I’m hungry.”

“What are you doing here?” Tina glared at Jebbi. “Stealing someone else’s boyfriend? Once wasn’t enough for you?”

“Tina, shut up!” I said.

“You’re sticking up for her?” Her voice rose. “So maybe people are right about you two.”

“You know Jamey and I are just friends.” Jebbi spoke calmly, but her voice shook a little. She hated confrontations, especially with Tina. She also hated the reminder of what had happened freshman year between her and Drew Edgerly. “I’m not stealing anything, and I’m sorry you don’t trust Jamey enough to let him have other friends. Jamey, see you later.” She strode away down the hall.

“Good.” Tina reached for my hand and I pulled away. “What’s wrong?”

“How can you talk to her that way?” I narrowed my eyes. “You know damn well that what happened with Drew wasn’t Jebbi’s fault. And it was two years ago! You’re being a bitch, and I don’t waste time with bitches.”

Writer’s Block

Sometimes I just plain can’t think of anything to write. It doesn’t matter whether I’m working on a novel, or a nonfiction article, or a blog post; I just can’t think of anything.

This is one of those times. I was planning to do a blog post about writing. But I did one that’s at least sort of about writing last week, and now I’ve temporarily gotten stuck for ideas.

It happens. Occasionally, my mind just goes blank. I doubt I’m the only one. Most of the people I know sometimes have trouble thinking of ideas, whether it’s for writing or something to do on a Saturday afternoon or whatever.

Most of the other authors I know go through time periods when the idea well runs dry, and they don’t have anything to write. There’s a lot of advice about what to do at those times to get the writing flowing again, but sometimes it’s okay to just say “I’m not going to write anything today.” Or this week, or even this month.

So I’m not going to write a blog post about writing this week. Instead, I’m writing one about not being able to think of one to write about writing. And sometimes, it’s okay to do that.

Teaser Thursday- Dolphins in the Mud

“You said you cared about me,” he said in a warning tone.

I refused to let him intimidate me. There wasn’t much he could do to me or himself in a hospital room. If he tried, all I would have to do was open the door and yell for help. “I do care. That’s why I’m saying this. You’re going to get better, physically and mentally, whether you want to or not.”

As soon as I said it, I knew that was bullshit. Of course he wouldn’t get better if he didn’t want to. Even if they put him on meds and forced him to go to therapy, he still had to want to be healthier in order for anything to work. Maybe he wouldn’t figure that out.

“No one can make me do anything I don’t want to do.” He laughed. “I sound like a little kid. I used to say that to my mother. It pissed her off.”

“Yeah, I don’t think parents like it when their kids say things like that.” I glanced at the door, hoping it would open and Mr. Silver would walk in and say it was time for me to leave. This conversation was going around in circles, and I was starting to feel even more uncomfortable. I had no idea whether I was saying any of the right things to him, or if I was making everything worse.

“I do want to get better,” he said. “Having broken bones sucks. So does being crazy.”

“You aren’t crazy,” I said. “Bipolar isn’t crazy. It just means there’s a glitch in your brain.” That was sort of how Dad had described autism to me after Cece’s diagnosis. I figured it applied just as well to bipolar as it did to autism. “That’s what the medication is for, to fix the glitch.”

“Mom won’t come to see me.” Another couple of tears headed down his cheeks. “Dad said she told him she’s tired of me playing games, and she isn’t going to let me manipulate her.”

It ticked me off that Noah’s father had told him that. Bad enough that his mother had said it. Noah didn’t need to know. Mr. Silver should have kept it to himself. I didn’t think either of Noah’s parents understood what was going on. All they knew was their kid had something wrong with him. That made them feel like bad parents, and they couldn’t see how hard it was for Noah.

Just the way Mom had always been with Cece.

“Maybe she’ll come see you while you’re in the other hospital,” I said.

He shook his head. “She thinks I’m faking all this. That I just jumped off the stairs to get attention, and that there’s nothing wrong with me. She wants Dad to bring me home and keep a better eye on me or something.”

“That stinks.”

“Yeah.” He looked like he was close to crying. “Mom and I’ve never gotten along anyway. She always complains about how much work I am. That’s why she doesn’t always travel with Dad and me.” He sighed. “You don’t want to hear all that anyway. I’m going to be in the hospital for probably a couple months, Wayne said. Are you and I still…?” He trailed off, like he didn’t know what to call our relationship.

Neither did I anymore. “We’re still friends,” I said. “Other than that, I can’t answer you. I don’t know.”

“Yeah, I figured that’s what you’d say.” He forced a smile. “That’s okay. When I’m all sane again, we can talk about it, right?”

“Sure.” I didn’t know if talking would change anything. Getting rid of the mental image of him falling to the floor would take a long time. Even if he got the help he needed, I doubted I’d ever be able to trust that he wouldn’t do something like that again.

I already had a sister who needed me to help take care of her. I couldn’t handle having to take care of a boyfriend too. But I didn’t tell Noah that. I didn’t want to set him off again.


The door opened and Mr. Silver came back in. “Noah, you should get some rest. Chris, thank you for stopping by.”

He sounded kind of pissed, so I guessed Dad’s conversation with him hadn’t had any effect. I was grateful that he’d interrupted, anyway. “No problem. Noah, I’ll talk to you sometime, okay?” That was the most commitment I was willing to make. I didn’t know when he’d be out of the hospital, or whether he’d go back to Wellfleet afterward. Or whether I would get past what he’d done enough to be around him again where there weren’t doctors and nurses ready to step in if something happened.

“Yeah, sometime.” Noah lay back and closed his eyes.

I left. I had nothing more to say.

Fictional Diversity

In fiction, there seems to be a tendency toward main characters, especially females, all having similar appearances. Often white, often slim or at least average build, often long-haired, and so on. In the absence of a character description, some readers default to assuming that’s what the character looks like, and there have been cases where a character who does not fit that image has been depicted that way on the book’s cover.

(That includes one of my own books, several years ago, but I was able to explain to the publisher and cover artist, and they changed it. Some authors haven’t been so fortunate.)

It’s unfortunate that that’s the default mental image some readers—and publishers—have of fictional characters, though. It gives fiction the appearance of being a homogeneous place where no one who’s even slightly different exists. Which is completely the opposite of reality, and isn’t at all fair to those who aren’t seeing themselves represented on the pages.

This is, fortunately, beginning to change. The Tumblr blog Size Acceptance in YA talks about how important it is to have main characters who are overweight—or underweight. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag gives examples of why it’s so important to represent *everyone*. Both sometimes give examples of books that do show different races, ethnicities, body types, and so on.

On the flip side, I wanted my Deep Secrets and Hope series to have diverse characters, but I’m white. When I was researching for the final book of the series, Ball Caps and Khakis, I was accused by someone online of cultural appropriation because the main character, Manny Park, is Korean-American. I was doing the research so I *wouldn’t* be appropriating anything, but it bothered at least one person.

I think it’s important for everyone to be able to find at least one book with a character they feel represents them, whether racially, ethnically, body-type-wise, sexual orientation, gender, or any of the many other ways human beings are different from one another. Because being different is part of what makes life interesting, and in my opinion, that should show in fiction as well.

Teaser Thursday- Midnight Chat


I made it through the rest of Friday. At work, Talia and I were friendly when we had to talk to each other. When we first got there, she asked me again why Rob and I hadn’t been in class, and I told her all I knew was that Rob had gone home. She let the subject drop. She probably didn’t even care what happened to Rob. She just wanted to make sure I didn’t blame her for anything else. For the rest of my shift, I avoided her as much as I could.

After work, I watched TV with Dad and Olin, but I gave up after a while because my brain wouldn’t shut up long enough for me to pay attention to the shows. I was stuck again on the news about the kid in Wyoming. I hadn’t heard any more about him, so I still didn’t know why he’d done it, assuming anyone had managed to find out.

Maybe he’d been like Rob right up until he picked up the gun. Maybe people had told him to toughen up or had said he didn’t need help. His friends and family might not have noticed anything was wrong, or they might have wanted to believe they were imagining it. Just like I wanted to believe Rob was okay.

If Olin hadn’t been around, I would have talked to Dad about my concerns. Then again, he might have called Rob’s parents, which wouldn’t have done Rob any favors. Even though he knew how Rob’s father and Lee-Anne were, he probably still believed they would help Rob if they found out other people were worried.

I knew better. I didn’t want to think about what Rob was dealing with at home tonight. His dad was probably going off on him again, ranting and not giving Rob a chance to defend himself. And of course Lee-Anne would be backing up everything Rob’s father said.

I finally went to bed around eleven, but I couldn’t sleep. For over an hour, I lay with my eyes closed, trying and failing to shut off my thoughts.

My phone buzzed, and I immediately grabbed it. It couldn’t have been anyone other than Rob, even though I didn’t understand why his parents had given him back his phone so soon.

Hi, Mira.

Hi. Are you okay?

His answer took a couple of minutes to show up.

Define okay. I’m home. Father and his wife doing usual. Blaming me. I whine. I’m weak. Same old. Can’t leave my room but still want to see you tomorrow. They gave back my phone at least.

Good. I wanted him to come over too, but I didn’t see how if he wasn’t allowed to leave his room. Then again, since his parents had changed their minds about his phone, maybe they would change their minds about this too.

You want to see me, right?

Yeah. Of course.

Just checking.

He shouldn’t have needed to check. He knew I was his friend. Nothing would change that.

Are you still there?

Yeah. Sorry. Thinking. I hadn’t even taken a minute to reply. He was twitchier than usual. I couldn’t blame him, but if he wasn’t going to give me time to type my answers, it would get annoying.

I’m thinking too. Need to find a way so stuff like this stops happening.

My chest tightened. I sat up and tried to breathe more easily. He hadn’t said anything threatening. Only his usual thing about wanting to stop the bullying. But all I could think was that the kid in Wyoming might have said the same kind of thing.

The news story had gotten to me. That was all. I had to let go of it.

Self-Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing

I’ve recently had to explain the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing. This is not the first time I’ve had that kind of discussion.

Both forms of publishing might involve paying someone else. But in self-publishing, *you* are the publishing company. Any expense you go to might be for things like professional editing, or cover art, or printing if you choose to have a print run done rather than print-on-demand. (Print run means you have a certain number of copies printed and try to sell them; print-on-demand is things like CreateSpace, where no book is actually physically printed until someone orders it.) But at the end of the process, *you* have published the book. You just paid for services you weren’t able to do yourself.

Vanity publishing, on the other hand, means you send your manuscript and a bunch of money to a company, and they take it from there—to an extent. They might handle the printing and cover art, but there is probably no editing done. You’re still responsible for marketing the book and making sales, just as you would be if you self-publishing. But the publisher of the book isn’t you, it’s Vanity Press Inc. (or whatever the name of the company happens to be.)

In self-publishing, it is entirely possible to do the whole process without spending a cent. Go with a print-on-demand service like CreateSpace; it’s free. Make your own cover if you’re good with digital graphics, or have a friend do it if you know someone who can. Or barter for it; offer to trade proofreading for cover art, for example. I wouldn’t recommend editing the book entirely by yourself, because it is easy to miss things, but you could also barter for editing, or have someone you trust read the manuscript carefully and call things to your attention. Not the ideal, but it is free.

In vanity publishing, you don’t have a choice. You pay, they do a book, and you have to run with it from there. You might not sell enough to recoup the cost. You might, as a friend of mine did, find yourself having paid $5000 for a box full of books you can’t do anything with.

However you choose to publish is your choice, but it’s important to know what you’re choosing. I’ve encountered a number of people who think that paying a company to publish your book is the *only* way to get published. I’ve also encountered a number who think paying a company to publish your book is the same as self-publishing. Make sure you know what choice you’re actually making.