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July 12, 2017

Those of you that have been following me for a long time know I’m not personal fan of self-publishing. I have no beef with those of you that pursue it for yourselves, it’s just something I’d never do. That’s why it took me so long to get published. I’ve gone into the reasons a multitude of times, so I won’t go into that again.

For those of you that want to self-publish, this article is for you.

On a recent forum, the question came up about vanity presses.

Oh…kay. What’s the difference between a vanity press and self-publishing? I hope to clarify that for you today.


Self-publishing is an umbrella term that encompasses a method for authors and writers to get your work published without going through a traditional publisher.

What does that mean?

In a nutshell, it means that you foot the bill for everything.

In traditional publishing, the publisher pays for the editing, the cover, the ISBN number, the initial promotion and all the groundwork to get your book out there, exposed to the world. Since the traditional publisher foots the bill, they have incentive to sell books. Therefore, they’ll promote your work and put your best foot forward up to a point. After all, they’re a business and they’re out to make money. The larger the publisher, the more they can afford to push you. Does that mean they do everything, marketing-wise? Heh heh heh… not a chance. However, they do have mechanisms in place to make it a lot easier and cheaper for the author to get started. Once again, it depends on the size of the publisher.

In self-publishing, the publisher simply provides you with the means, but you pay for everything. I mean EVERYTHING. You opt to pay for what you get. The publisher provides no editing, no cover, no ISBN, no marketing, no distribution, no NOTHING unless you pay for it. Even then, they do NOT provide any marketing.

They don’t provide any marketing for several reasons.

Why? #1

Distributors usually look down on self-published books as the bastard children of the industry.

Why? #2

Self-publishers have no access to the book distribution network because they’re not part of the big five in the industry. Being independents, they rarely, if at all have any foot in the door to get books in the distribution system to bookstores (small publishers have the same problem).

Why? #3

Since the authors pay for everything, the quality of the product varies so much that self-publishers often can’t be trusted to put out a quality product. Distributors shy from that.

Why? #4

Returns. Since the author pays for everything, they have to pay for all the books that get distributed to stores. If they don’t sell, the stores want a return on their investment. Who’s going to have to buy back all of those books? The author. Do you have several thousand dollars lying around to buy back all of those returned books that didn’t sell?

There are a few more why’s I haven’t covered, but those four are a few of the biggies.

To say the system is biased, slanted to the big five, is moot. This is just the way it works. Now, there are many success stories with self-publishing and there are many self-published authors, some that used to be with the top five, that are doing quite well. After all, once you’ve paid the initial outlay to the publisher, and paid for your books, all the profits are yours and yours alone. This may amount to you going around the country and selling the books out of the back of your car, or selling them in e-book form on the net, but your cut is a lot more than taking a chunk with the rest going to publishers and agents. In this case, more than likely, it’s called your primary form of employment.

There’s good and bad with going the self-publishing route. The choice between that and traditional is tough or easy, depending on your outlook and patience.


Now for the gist of this article.

There’s the self-publishing publisher and then there’s the vanity press. On first blush, they sound like the same thing. However, there’s a big difference if you look close.

Some self-publishing outfits should be called vanity presses because in essence, that’s what they really are. Why I say that’s best outlined in my definition of a vanity press.

A vanity press is a publisher that will publish whatever you give them.

Let me emphasize that.

A vanity press will publish whatever you give them.

In other words, if you give them the phone book, they’ll print it for you.

They don’t care. They’ll print any old crap. They’re a vanity press.

By definition, they’re there to stroke your ego. You may be the worst writer in the world, but they could care less. They want your money. Period. You could give them “See Tom run.”

Several thousand dollars later…


You have your book.

Another thing. Don’t expect a quality product, independent of the words. The font, the print quality, the binding, the cover and a host of other things may be of such poor quality, it may look like a high school class project gone wrong.

Unfortunately, and I’ll leave the names unmentioned, there are several self-publishers out there that do the same.

Self-publishers with integrity will screen their submissions. They’ll raise the bullshit flag when they get something that’s just too awful to put in print. They’ll advise the author it needs major work, or if they get an author that’s too hard to work with, they’ll drop their contract if they have any integrity.

A vanity press doesn’t care. Give them the file, they run the presses!

No wonder distributors and even Amazon are wary of some self-published books!

Vanity presses are money pits. You can keep throwing money at them and still end up with crap. How about spending thousands on an edit or edits and still end up with “see Tom run” quality?


There’s self-publishing and there’s vanity presses. It’s up to you to do your research and educate yourself to know the difference. One will work for and with you while the other is just out to collect your money.

Happy writing!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2017 2:41 am

    Hi Fred! Yup, it’s me poking my head in here. After reading this, I think you may be confusing self-publishing with hybrid publishers. In self-publishing, the author does foot the bill because they are the only person responsible for the project. They are their own publisher. They are responsible for assembling their own team of designers, editors, and distributors.

    In a hybrid publishing company (like mine), we provide professional design, mentoring, and editing services that the client pays for. We design websites for the client and help them establish a professional looking web presence. We also provide the ISBNs, marketing direction, and, as an author in our catalog, a credit in the book stating they were published by an actual company rather than having their own name listed, which is a common giveaway the author is self-published.

    As you know, making a living selling books isn’t easy, and most hybrid companies can’t make enough selling other authors’ books (especially when they’ve got their own to sell—like us!). Then there’s all the administrative aspects that take up a lot of time keeping track of royalties, orders and whatnot.

    Hybrid companies also offer something else a traditional publisher won’t: the ability for the author to keep all of their rights and do whatever they want with their books. This means we have no hold over the author’s ebooks, movie deals, or the way the artwork for the book is used.

    I do agree that vanity presses are bottomless money pits. Not only do they not care what they publish, they find ways to upsell you on as much as they can, which often takes the form of ordering outrageous amounts of books in advance.

    Ack…I could go on about this topic all night, so I’ll leave it here. See you Monday!

    • July 13, 2017 1:14 am


      I didn’t so much confuse hybrids as just not mention them specifically. I included them amongst legitimate self-publishers and just didn’t go into details since the focus was on vanity presses. However, I’m so glad you brought that up specifically because that might make for another article! Though I’m not self-published, since my site is dedicated to all aspects of writing, I think hybrids is a great subject to be included for those so inclined. We’ll talk more about it Monday. I really appreciate the feedback and look forward to chatting more about it.

      You rock!

      • Deborah Dorchak permalink
        July 13, 2017 2:00 am

        You’re very welcome, Fred.

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