“Mirror mirror on the wall, whose book is fairest of them all?” The term “vanity publishing” certainly conjures up images of Snow White and her vain step-mother. However, some authors unwittingly fall into its snares without realising what they’re really getting themselves into. So, in this guide we’ll explain what vanity publishing is and whether you should avoid it like the infamous poison apple.
On the surface, vanity publishing looks like the shiny apple of traditional publishing. After all, it’s a seemingly legitimate company saying they want to publish your book. However, many authors quickly discover that it’s at best deceitful and at worst rotten. That’s because the business model of vanity publishing is very different to that of traditional publishing.
The distinction is very simple: traditional publishers make their money from readers—that is, book sales after the book has been published. As such, they need to be reasonably certain the book will sell a lot of copies, so they cover their costs and make a ROI, which means they have a very stringent submission process with an estimated 99.9% of manuscripts rejected.
By contrast, vanity publishers make their money from authors—that is, authors paying to get published beforehand. As a result, they take on almost any author because it means more money for them, so it doesn’t matter to them whether the book makes sales or is any good.
Incidentally, the name “vanity publishing” actually came from companies preying on authors’ supposed “vanity” to get published. However, as these companies try so hard to look like traditional publishing houses, it’s often less about an author’s vanity and more about their genuine desire to get published. That’s why some vanity publishers approach authors directly and offer to publish their books.
It may seem like there’s an obvious answer to this question, and many people argue that you should avoid vanity publishers at all costs. But it’s not that simple. If you truly understand what you’re getting yourself into, then vanity publishing might be the right path for you.
For example, it may appear to undiscerning readers that you have a traditional publisher, which might be something you’re after. And you may get some support with editing, design, proofing, and marketing like a traditional publisher would offer.
On the downside, the quality of editing, design, proofing, and marketing might be poor, and you might be shelling out a lot of money that would be better spent hiring freelance professionals and self-publishing or working with a self-publishing company.
You also need to be aware that you most likely won’t see your book in physical retailers and may not be eligible to win major book awards. And make sure you read the small print on any contracts, because the company might have the rights to your book and sometimes even future books you haven’t written yet.
Ultimately, it’s your choice but you have to know what you’re signing up for and understand that the company most likely doesn’t care about you or your book, especially when it comes to marketing, because they make their money from authors and not from readers.
Here are some vanity publishers:
If you come across a company and aren’t sure whether they’re a vanity publisher or not, try Googling their name along with the term “vanity publishing”. You can also find an extensive list on the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). And for more pros and cons of different types of publishing, check out our blog here.
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