Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: October 24th, 2008 ]

The self-publishing author community is becoming increasingly educated in options available, naturally comes in part as the by-product of approaching sound resources and asking good questions.

One question I do see stumbling around from time to time is some form of this, “Isn’t self-publishing the same as Vanity publishing?”

The answer: not really at all…

Vanity Presses often very dubiously attempt to present themselves as small presses, similar to ‘traditional’ publishers. They do this by claiming to be selective in terms of content. But those rejection rates are very low – generally reserved only for those manuscripts containing things like libel or pornography. But vanity presses do not otherwise screen for quality. They publish anyone who can pay, but don’t disclose that until well into the publishing process. Often, those fees are hidden in obscure production services unrelated to design, materials, or binding. That is where these operations ultimately make their money – charging authors book printing costs only to sell right back to authors.

The good news is that quality self-publishers are available with open, upfront, book production, distribution, and marketing options. And once books are professionally published copies are available where readers actually buy books. Unlimited printed copies are availabe for retailers and wholesalers on-demand, without additional out-of-pocket printing costs.

Keep writing.

by Karl Schroeder

You may be wondering why today, of all days, I choose to return us to the argument over vanity presses vs. self-publishing, but if you glance back at yesterday’s news you’ll notice mention of Samita Sarkar’s July 28th Huffington Post article, in which she deconstructs Globe and Mail Books Editor Mark Medley’s mission to cast shade at the work of Canadian author Douglas Gardham earlier in the month.  Gardham, who made his mark by hand-selling books on long cross-country tours, symbolizes everything despicable and pitiable in the self-publishing world–according to Medley, that is.  Sarkar comes to Gardham’s defense, and in so doing works hard to redefine the boundaries between vanity presses and self-publishing (a distinction that Medley is more than happy to blur for the sake of an easy character smear).

Sarkar defines vanity presses and self-publishing narrowly:

There is a difference between publishing with a vanity press or so-called “self-publishing service” and true self-publishing. True self-publishing means being the owner of your own ISBN. Self-publishers register their ISBN under their own publishing imprint, or their own name. They hire independent editors and cover designers, and upload their manuscripts directly to bookseller websites, such as Amazon, Smashwords, and iTunes. Self-publishers maintain maximum creative control over their work, and receive much higher profits from sales.

Unlike true self-publishing, if the author uses a vanity press, the publisher will remain the owner of the book’s ISBN. The author will also have to pay hefty upfront fees for the book’s production, and to top it all off, authors will receive low royalty rates even though the publisher has not invested in the book whatsoever. This backwards business model is how vanity presses make their money. This is why vanity presses aren’t picky; so long as it’s not hate speech or pornography, anything goes.

Whereas traditional publishers pay authors for the rights to their book and consider the readers to be their customers, and self-published authors also consider the readers to be their customers, vanity press customers are authors, not readers. I have yet to meet an author that has turned a profit from publishing with a vanity press. There are very few exceptions.

And in many ways, I agree with Sarkar–if not exactly  in point, than in the general direction of her argument.  I still align with what Karl first wrote for us eight years ago–vanity presses are the realm of personal ego thinly disguised as corporate profit. Vanity presses give their authors a little, but take a lot–in terms of creative control and royalties, and that’s how you can recognize them.  And self-publishing companies take a little (usually a percentage of profits) while leaving the rest entirely to the author’s discretion.

Really, the most glaring mistake that Sarkar makes is the omission of hybrid publishing companies, a subject we’ve discussed before.  The lines are far more blurred even than Medley knows–but not between vanity presses, which are straight up scams that almost always trap authors in stasis.  The blurring is between self-publishing and hybrid publishing–and the distinction between these terms would be better described as a spectrum, with bare-bones self-publishing experiences like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing at one end, and more fully fleshed-out hybrid publishing service providers like Outskirts Press at the other end.  (And OP just updated its website this week!)

You can easily tell the difference between a vanity press and a hybrid publishing company, as I mentioned, by the royalties and creative control.  With a hybrid publishing company like Outskirts, you own your ISBN and while you have the option of paying for cover design (if you’re not comfortable designing one yourself) you can just as easily choose to be your own designer and forego the cost.  This is how hybrid publishing companies work: you choose which services you need and pay for those, and you own whatever is produced by those paid services.  The object of Sarker’s dislike (vanity presses) is correct, but her reasoning (there’s no room for a middle-man in self-publishing) is an extreme position, if not downright incorrect.

Not every person has the time or the skills to create a beautifully produced, polished, designed, and edited masterpiece.  But that doesn’t mean that such a person has no story worth telling or self-publishing.  It just means they need a conscientious and ethical way of paying for the services they didn’t come built in with at birth, and they can find these services at a hybrid publishing company.

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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