From the Archives: “Vanity Verses Self-Publishing”

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, 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,

Self-Publishing News: 5.23.2016

This week in the world of self-publishing:

First off, this little press release put out by Author Solutions on May 18th via PRWeb: the self-professed “world leader in supported self-publishing services” made an announcement last Monday to the effect that “it has entered a development partnership with immersive content studio Legion of Creatives. Through the relationship,” the press release goes on to state, “Legion will actively review indie book titles within the Author Solutions catalogue for possible film, television and digital adaptations.”  For fans of Author Solutions this is pleasant news indeed, but the company has its fair share of detractors.  Even critics have to admit, however, that the prospects for self-publishing as a whole are broadened by these kinds of pioneering partnerships–in the future, they are likely to not only be available to all self-publishing authors, but to be made much more affordable as the market broadens and competition increases.  For the original press release, follow the link!

In this, the first of two articles put up by Publisher’s Weekly on May 20th related to hybrid publishing, contributor Nicole Audrey Spector puts together a comprehensive guide to getting started with hybrid publishing––much as we did with our March 2nd blog post.  As Spector puts it, going hybrid is to seize upon a “third option”––an option “which fuses aspects of traditional publishing with self-publishing, often for an up-front fee. At least that’s one definition,” she writes: “as any author exploring the territory of hybrid publishing will find, it’s complicated.”  It’s complicated in part because hybrid publishing is not the same thing as being a hybrid author––the former involves a specific publishing model which incorporates the flexibility and authorial rights of self-publishing with the resources of traditional publishing … and the latter is usually used to describe an author who has published through both the traditional and self-publishing models (and may also have dabbled in the hybrid one) or may have moved from one to the other.  Spector goes on to describe the workings of various hybrid publishing companies and the experiences of several authors who have used them, and closes with this warning: “Hybrid publishing does have its drawbacks and is assuredly not for everybody.”  The “key,” she writes, is “for authors is to do their homework, connect with peers who have published with hybrids, and determine their expectations and goals from the start.”  Wise words all around, I should think.  You can read the rest of Spector’s guide here.

Brooke Warner contributed the second May 20th piece on hybrid publishing to Publisher’s Weekly, and her interest isn’t in explaining the concept to beginners a la Spector’s piece, but rather to project a forecast for the hybrid publishing market over the coming years (an equally vital task, I think!).  Says Warner, founder of hybrid firm She Writes Press, “Within hybrid publishing there exist many creative models, defined largely by what we’re not.”  The struggle has been for self-realization and self-definition, and to exist at the center of their own narrative––that is, not on the fringes of the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing catfight.  “As more hybrid publishers continue to enter the market,” she argues, “we need to start to define ourselves more by what we are, which requires certain standards to be adopted and certain industry practices to change.”  How to go about oding this?  Well, Warner has an idea––in the form of a brief manifesto:

Hybrid publishers ought to be meeting the standards of their traditional publishing counterparts—both editorially and in design. Hybrid publishers ought to have traditional distribution, or to find better inroads into the marketplace than currently exist in the self-publishing sector. Hybrid publishers ought to qualify to submit their books to be reviewed traditionally and to enter contests without being barred because of their business models. Their authors ought to qualify to join any professional organization they want without facing the discrimination that currently exists against any author-subsidized model.

Well, that’s a rallying cry if I ever heard one.  And with a pedigree like Warner’s to back it up, maybe the various power-players will listen.  Even if they don’t, Warner writes, “We’re tapping on industry doors and witnessing some acceptance and some pushback, but, since we’re here to stay, we’ll just let our books do the talking.”  Powerful stuff.  To read the rest of Warner’s article, click here.



As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog every Monday to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, 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,

What makes for a great self-publishing company?

Many of the questions I hear most often, working as I do in the self-publishing business, can be distilled down to one very simple one: “What makes for a great self-publishing experience?”  The answer is equally simple: “A high-quality self-publishing company.”

First, we have to consider the business side of things.  A self-publishing company is, in the end, a company––and a company works according to profit.  As end users, either clients or readers, we want to know that we are receiving the best possible product and service for our investment.  You definitely want to look for a balance of:

  • reliability
  • affordability
  • quality production
  • excellent customer service, and
  • out-of-the-box thinking and solutions on offer

Of course, we don’t want to reduce the process of writing and publishing a book down to a simple exercise in corporate dynamics.  Book lovers, both writers and readers, know that there’s something, well, special about literature.  The advent of self-publishing has seen fierce debates spring up over the role of literary agents and publishing companies as “gatekeepers” for the written word, and rightfully so.  The stakes are very, very high when it comes to the stories we create and let influence our lives.  And because the stakes are high, it’s important that we look for a few more things out of a great self-publishing company, in addition to sound business practice.  We should look for:

  • sound ethics (from start to finish)
  • self-awareness (including of the company’s place and stance on being a “gatekeeper”)
  • authenticity (including a genuine interest in the client’s and reader’s satisfaction), and
  • sensitivity to a changing market and a changing world (which can translate to adaptability, but also to advocacy in the broadest and best sense)

Do your research!  Check online for customer satisfaction ratings––impartial ones––and contact the companies you’re interested in beforehand to gauge their possibilities.  After all, once you commit to a self-publishing company, you’re likely to be in close contact with them for quite a long time.

Now, someone might honestly point out that I work for one specific self-publishing company and therefore that I’m likely to view my own company in a favorable light, but here’s the thing: a great self-publishing company doesn’t need to be territorial.  All a great self-publishing company needs to do is offer a good product––a great package––and a service that puts its clients first and advocates endlessly for them.  The wonderful thing about the self-publishing industry is that at its core, it is a kind of fellowship of free (or freer) spirits who believe that the more voices that are heard, the more stories that are told, the better off we will all be.  So I’m not just an advocate for one company; I’m an advocate for the whole movement!


These are just a few thoughts to get us started.  What do you think makes for a great self-publishing company?  Drop me a line in the comments section to join the conversation.


ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 25 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.