Vanity Presses & Self-Publishing

With all this talk about vanity publishers and self-publishing we sometimes talk about them like they’re the same thing. And though I’ve been very careful to point out the differences between traditional publishers and vanity publishers, I’ve been less careful about the differences between self-publishing and vanity publishing.

It can be difficult to keep it all straight. Particularly with vanity presses like iUniverse trying to reposition their services as “self-publishing” and “assisted self-publishing” services to avoid the stigma of being labeled a vanity press.

Erin LaleI asked Erin Lale to help me set the record straight, because I think people are getting tired of hearing me yap about it.

Let me introduce you to Erin:

Erin’s writing and publishing career began in 1985. She wrote for The Sonoma Index-Tribune, published a whole lot of disparate stuff, was the Editor and Publisher of the quarterly magazine Berserkrgangr in the print era, owned The Science Fiction Store in Las Vegas. She’s the author of 16 books, the Editor and Publisher of the Time Yarns anthologies in the shared world Time Yarns Universe, and the Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books.

In short, she knows a little bit about publishing and self-publishing.

The Definition of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing means the author contracts book designers and artists, buys her own ISBN blocks and edits the story. In short she’s a one-woman professional publishing company. Self publishing means the author does it herself, and it means she owns the press that publishes the work.

The Definition of a Vanity Press

Vanity presses are companies that you pay to publish your work.

The Definition of Assisted Self-Publishing

“Assisted self-publishing” is to self-publishing as “assisted living” is to home ownership. It means paying for an institution to do what you can’t do for yourself. There is a place for vanity publishing. Grandmothers who want to create a book of memoirs to give as a gift to each of their grandchildren, businessmen who want to carry a few copies of “their” book on the topic of their business to professional lectures, charities that want to sell recipe books to raise money, poets and religious scholars and other people who have a book that has no commercial potential might do just as well with a vanity press as with true self publishing, if the goal is simply to get the words between covers and not to try to make a living as an author.

Understanding the differences in these publishing methods is crucial if you’re goal is to make a profit from the sale of your books and traditional publishing is not in your future. As Erin says, “If you plan to make significant money from your book, you’re better off with true self-publishing because the unit costs are lower once you reach a certain sales threshold.”

So there you have it. Feel free to discuss.

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0 thoughts on “Vanity Presses & Self-Publishing

  1. Elisabeth Kauffman says:

    I never REALLY got the difference myself, so this is super helpful! Thanks! I know vanity publishing has been around a lot longer than people think it has, they just think it’s new because of all the re-packaging it has gone through recently… and largely in part because of the dawn of the digital media age.

    It will be interesting to see where the publishing industry lands when this age of metamorphosis is well behind us. More room for mid-list authors, for sure… but somehow people need to be reminded that while, yes, the industry has overlooked a lot of good stuff and has published a lot of awful stuff in its day, that doesn’t mean that everyone has a publishable book in hand already.

    This stuff takes time! And editors… really good ones.

  2. I didn’t know the difference either. Thanks for the info. I agree with the previous comment. I have read some great books that were self published and I have read some real crap that were published by big name companies. One thing is certain, it is easier to publish than it used to be.

  3. Peggy Strack says:

    Thanks for clarifying. I will be glad when the publishing direction settles on a path. I know many readers who are seriously hunting for good self-published books. Many are tired of the titles traditional publishers choose for us.

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