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What is Vanity Publishing?

By Garry Crystal
Updated: May 23, 2024

Vanity publishing can be seen as a double-edged sword. For writers, it is a way to get their books into print, but at a cost to them. Vanity publishing exists in order to make money by printing books that no one else will publish. There are many good vanity publishing companies, but there are just as many disreputable ones.

The vanity publisher’s job is not to market the writer’s book. Although many claim that they will do this for you, the reality is that once you have paid for your book to be printed, the story ends there. The writer will usually have the job of selling his or her own books to stores. Many bookstores have stated that they will not buy books from vanity publishers, although they may buy books from local authors if they are good enough.

The traditional publisher's main aim is to make money from selling the writer's work. They not only print the book, but also have a team experienced in marketing books. They have the resources, contacts and experience to know how, where and if a book will sell - be it major bookstores, online or book clubs.

With vanity publishing, the aim is to collect a fee for printing the book. The writer can stipulate how many copies of the book he or she requires. The writer can also have a say in the art design of the book cover and whether the book will be edited or left as written.

Traditional book publishers do not have to seek out authors, but vanity publishers do. The Internet and many magazines carry advertisements for vanity publishing. Vanity publishing companies that makes promises regarding the sale of large quantities of books are not to be trusted. Neither are claims that the writer will find fame and fortune with the publishing of his or her book.

Vanity publishing companies are often not selective in the books they print. They are there to make money and will print anyone’s book, regardless of the quality. The writer who publishes through vanity publishing has more say in the content of the book and the royalties. There is no guarantee, however, that the book will sell.

A writer is considering vanity publishing should consider a major point. Has he or she sent the book to enough literary agents and traditional publishers first? Numerous famous authors have had their first book rejected many times before publication. Getting a book published has been likened to winning the lottery. The international best seller Watership Down, by Richard Adams, was rejected 40 times before it was eventually accepted for publication.

If a writer is seriously considering approaching a vanity publishing company, he or she should look on it as a hobby. The writer enjoys writing, and the end result of a book being printed is an expense that could be applied to any hobby. Remember, vanity publishing is run by sales people and money is the main objective, not literary greatness.

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Discussion Comments
By pastanaga — On Mar 30, 2014

@clintflint - People just need to do research before they send in any money. I've heard of vanity publishing packages that were in the tens of thousands of dollars. And some of them have genuine trade publisher names attached.

Never send your book to anyone without doing a long search for them online. Particularly look for anyone calling them a scam.

By clintflint — On Mar 29, 2014

@KoiwiGal - It is worth noting, however, that not all vanity presses are like that. They are not all scams. Some of them just exist so that you can publish a book yourself, when you know that a trade publisher won't pick it up.

Not everyone wants to go through the process of self publishing. And sometimes you just want to make your memoirs look pretty and professional, or get a few hundred copies of your recipe book to sell at yard sales.

As long as the vanity publisher isn't taking any of your rights, then they can actually be a very good investment.

By KoiwiGal — On Mar 28, 2014

Vanity publishing houses that pose as real publishers just break my heart. There are so many vulnerable people out there who put hours of their effort into writing a book and who just want to see it in print.

They are often flattered and coaxed into thinking they have been genuinely chosen to be published, and all they have to do is to pay for a few things to see their book on the shelves.

Money should always flow to the writer, not away. No genuine publisher or agent will ask for money at any point.

It's not a case of trying again if this happens. Once your book has been published, no other publisher will touch it. Not to mention often vanity publishing houses will take rights to the work which they will never properly use, but will prevent the author from reprinting.

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