Vanity Publishing

There seems to be some confusion about vanity publishing, and I totally understand that. With more and more authors choosing to self-publish and use “author services” to help them with that, vanity publishers are finding it easier to slither in and grab the unsuspecting. So let’s be clear:

You should never pay a publisher to publish your book.

If you plan to self-publish, you can expect to pay a cover designer, an editor, a proofreader, an interior formatter… You can expect to pay for an ISBN, perhaps several, depending on how many formats you want to publish in. If you’re doing an audiobook, you can expect to pay the talent (that is, your voice actor/narrator). But—here it is again because it can’t be said too often:

You should never pay a publisher to publish your book.

Never, never, never should you pay someone to put their label/logo/imprint on your work. A successful publisher—and that’s the only kind you want—makes its money from selling its authors’ books. It does not make money from authors paying for editing, covers, etc. If that’s how it makes its money, IT IS A VANITY PRESS. Run far, far away and never look back.

They’ll try to make it sound reasonable. “Well, we’ll sell you copies of your book at a discount.” But then they’ll add something like, “You have to agree to buy at least 100 copies.” They’ll tell you that “this is how publishing works.” It isn’t. Publishing works by investing in books they think will sell and then selling those books to readers. Not back to the author.

Vanity publishers will say that it’s only fair that you pay them for all that work—the cover, the editing, etc. That may sound reasonable to you, but STOP. A publisher’s very job is to provide those things to its authors. Random House doesn’t charge its authors for any of that stuff. No good publisher does. A real, true publisher has a staff of editors, designers, marketers who do all that and are paid by the publisher who, again, makes its money by selling books to readers.

Make sense?

A genuine publisher finds manuscripts it believes it can sell. It invests in those manuscripts and authors. It publishes those books and makes its money from those books. (And the author makes money from those books, too.)

Money comes to the author. The author does not pay.

Self-publishing is a bit different because the author is investing in him- or herself by paying out of pocket for the things a publisher would normally provide. Ideally, the book will sell and the author will recoup that money and make even more over the lifetime of the book. This is the crack that vanity publisher try to exploit. They offer the author all those things—the cover design, the editing—but they charge for it AND they intend to make the author pay for his or her own work. Nor will vanity publishers work to sell your book. They’ve already made their money off you; they aren’t motivated to sell the actual book except right back to the author who already paid thousands of dollars for the “privilege” of having this vanity publisher’s logo slapped on his book.

If you can’t find a genuine publisher, self-publish. Not only will it cost far less than vanity, but you’ll keep your rights and have complete control of your work. If you aren’t comfortable self-publishing, put that manuscript aside and write the next one. Keep trying until you find an agent or proper publisher. But don’t fall into the desperate trap of vanity publishing.

Not sure about a publisher? Check with Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware.