What is Vanity, Subsidy and Assisted Self-Publishing?
The first thing you hear people say when the topic of vanity publishing comes up is “You shouldn’t have to pay to be published.”
Simply put, that is the definition of Assisted, Vanity and Subsidy Publishing, and it goes by many other names (co-op, partner, joint-venture, equity publishing, etc.). When you pay an establishment to publish your book, that establishment is a vanity publisher. You pay them to format, design, edit and distribute your book either as an e-book and/or in print.
The quote above can be rather ambiguous because, technically, you pay to be published even if it’s vanity, traditionally or indie. There’s always a price. Not necessarily monetary. You’re still expected to do most of the marketing, promoting (you need a website, and a little swag to giveaway, etc.). No matter how you choose to publish it all requires money at one point in the process. The goal is to make back what you put in.
You must invest if you want a return. You have to put money in if you want to get money out. That’s an unwritten rule, I’m sure.
So what’s the big deal?
The problem with vanity publishing isn’t paying to be published. I mean, we say that, but that’s not the core issue. I think the REAL problem is:
- Most of the time, vanity presses publish anything. No editing, no polishing, not even a good story is required. Not only will they publish anything, they still get a cut of your earnings while charging crazy fees.
- Some vanity presses are misleading and pretend to be traditional publishers.
- You don’t go through a slush pile. There’s rarely an editor to reject you, making publishing less selective.
Some of those issues apply to true self-publishing too, but the difference between Vanity Publishing and true Self-Publishing is with Vanity Publishing you pay the vanity publisher (sometimes thousands of dollars), expecting the “publisher’s credible name” to back you and your work, and expecting professional guidance. When what you usually get is; you tell them what you want, you pay, they provide, and hit publish. And off your book goes, out into the world, but not necessarily giving its best first impression and not without leaving you broke.
Sure, you can pay extra (up to thousands of dollars) for a series of edits and a smoking hot custom book cover, and it’s great if in your marketing plan, you estimate a return of your investment within a year or two. Great! Good for you. Really, I’m not knocking vanity published authors, especially if you went into the deal with all your questions answered and a clear head. (Unlike I did.)
However, a lot of writers are sucked in by vanity publishing and have no clue what a decent marketing plan is or even what they should expect to sell in the first year of being published, let alone who they’re aiming to sell to (their target audience). After vanity publishing my first book (many, many years ago), it sat on Amazon and sold an average of 4 e-books a month. Yeah, newbie. Why is this? Because vanity publishers mostly target newbies, amateurs, beginners, who just want to see their book published.
And like I said, there’s no harm if this is something you want to do. By all means, have at it. But there are some things other than “paying to be published” that gives vanity publishing a bad rep.
Why so negative?
Now I’ll state again, most vanity publishers operate a legitimate business, so I am not knocking those who choose this route of publishing. Hey, my first four books were published by a vanity press. Which is where my firsthand knowledge (and the sour taste in my mouth) come from. Still, here are some reasons vanity presses have a stigma attached to them.
- A lot of vanity presses disguise themselves as traditional publishers.
- Misleading about the deals they offer.
- High pressure, spammy emails, unsolicited phone calls, flyers and brochures sent to your physical mailbox, all trying to “sale” you on submitting your manuscript or to publish with them again.
- You pay for most of the expenses which are usually “extras” and not included in the main package, including edits, custom book cover design, formatting, addition of interior pictures, edits after a certain stage, (and even other random fees) and they still offer you a low percentage on your book’s earnings.
- Hidden fees. Ridiculous charges.
- Unfulfilled promises. Broken marketing promises, missing royalty checks, copies of books not received, etc.
Here’s a highly detailed and in-depth article from Science Fiction writers of America on vanity, subsidy, and self-publishing. If you’re looking for more information, check out that link.
Now, in all fairness, some good books, authors and careers have come from the vanity publishing mill. So, once again, this could be the perfect route for you. Just make sure you know all the details before signing by the X.
What’s on your mind? Leave a comment below and share it.
Image credit: Hash Milhan