How and Why to Vanity Publish Your Book

For this edition of my “publishing crash course,” I lay out the different approaches “vanity publishing” and discuss when it may actually be a good publishing option for someone. If you missed the other days, I strongly encourage you to check out my posts on traditional publishing and independent publishing so you have all of the information you need to make your publishing decisions.

Lay-Person Definition

Vanity publishing refers to a type of publishing that lies somewhere in between the traditional model and the independent publishing model. With vanity publishing, an author can pay a publishing company, usually referred to as a “vanity publisher” or “vanity press” to publish her work. Or, she can do all of the work herself, in a less collaborative model than independent publishing.

vanity publishing

“Talent Optional. The Customer is always write.” via Tendence Coatesy

Vanity publishing gets its somewhat negative name from the idea that many authors who choose this route are “vain:” they only care about seeing their work printed and either do not care about quality or do not realize that the quality of their novel is lacking. Also, it may be derived from the fact that these books are not verified as worthy of publication by the authority figures of the publishing world. Of course, this is simply the stigma attached to this form of publishing, and it is important to note that there are fantastic and horrible books produced in every form of publishing.

The Steps to Vanity Publication

Traditional-esque Model

1. Write your manuscript. 

2. Revise your manuscript. As always, this is an optional step, but one that is highly encouraged.

3. Find a publishing company to publish your book. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of vanity presses out there that will be willing to publish your book. Unlike in the traditional model, where the publishing company pays the author to publish his book and then shares the profits, a vanity press (usually) takes its entire cut up-front and does not share in the majority of a book’s profits. However, each company is different. Some will want the author to give over his rights entirely, while some will simply want a publishing fee and allow the author to retain the rights. It is important to be careful when selecting a publisher, as some of them may be scam artists who take your money and do not produce a quality product — or any at all.

4. Production of your novel. Depending on the contract you sign, the vanity press will most likely handle the production of your book. Likely, there will be no editing process or the editing will be far less intense than that of a traditional publishing deal. Again, as with a traditional publisher, the press will probably handle the cover design and formatting of your book, leaving you little to no say in the process, but also little work to do. These services will vary based on which packages the press offers and how much you are willing to spend for your book’s production.

5. Distribution of your novel. If you go with a vanity press, it will distribute electronic and physical copies of your book for you. The extent of this distribution depends on the particular package that you have purchased.

6. Marketing your book. Again, the vanity press is more a mechanism to produce a book, and once it is produced, the author receives the responsibility of marketing the product. In other words, just because the vanity press has distributed your book, this does not mean your book will sell or that the press will help you sell it. There are some vanity presses that may assist with marketing, for a fee (in the same way that they charge for production), but this is not likely.

Independent-esque Model

1. Write your manuscript. Noticing a pattern yet?

2. Revise your manuscript. Again, optional, but encouraged.

3. Determine how much production help you want. By this, I mean, do you want a professional editor, cover designer, format designer, etc.? Typically, authors going the vanity route do all of this work themselves, even if they lack education or skills in the area.

books in boxes4. Find a printer. There are dozens of printing companies to which you can submit your manuscript purely to be printed. In vanity-independent publishing, the author will likely pay a company to print copies of the book in bulk to be sold later. Alternatively, the author can choose the “print-on-demand” option. In these programs, the author will list her book on an online retailer, and copies will be printed only as they are purchased. However, this model is more typical to independent publishers.

5. Distribute and market your book. If you have chosen to have a large batch of books printed, then you are responsible for marketing and distributing them to retailers and individuals. In contrast, if you have chosen the print-on-demand option, the online retailer will cover distribution for you, you simply have to market your book well enough for individuals to find and buy it.

Pros of Vanity Publishing

  • Instant gratification – there are no hoops to jump through; you can publish almost immediately after your book is written.
  • You can keep most (if not all) of  the rights to your creative product.
  • You retain more control over the production, distribution, and marketing of your product.
  • If you use a vanity press, your book’s ISBN will be associated with a publishing company, which may protect you from some of the stigma associated with purely “self-publishing.”

Cons of Vanity Publishing

  • The stigma associated with vanity publishing will cause others to take you less seriously and pre-judge the quality of your book.
  • You have little-to-no help in publishing your book, and the help you do receive may be low quality.
  • Vanity publishing can be a big financial risk: you pay a lot up-front to a publisher, have little control over quality, and may receive little profit from sales.
  • Because of the lack of professionalism involved, authors who vanity publish have a very little chance of making a full-time income from their writing.

Who Should Vanity Publish?

Vanity publishing is the best option for authors who simply want to see their artwork in book form and are not looking to make a living from writing.


What are your thoughts on “vanity” publishing? What process steps, pros, and cons would you add? Tell me in the comments section!


On an unrelated note, my follower count surpassed 200 yesterday! Thank you all so much for your continued support. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to answer your questions, entertain you, and generally enrich your experience here. Much love, Kate.

 

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Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. When she is not writing or working, Kate enjoys playing video games, antiquing, and wine tasting. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.

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Posted in Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles
14 comments on “How and Why to Vanity Publish Your Book
  1. […] and go over the three main publishing options available to modern writers: traditional, vanity, and independent. For each one, I will give a basic overview of how the publishing process works […]

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  2. Jonas Lee says:

    I always thought vanity publishing was what people thought of for self-publishers. I think writing just to make a book is fine, there are plenty of good books to go around and I’m more concerned with those who write crappy books but are apparently great at marketing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many people still associated the stigmas behind vanity publishing with self-publishing (which I call independent publishing). However, I would argue they are vastly different. Like you, I have no problem with people who want to make a book simply because they want one. I just dislike it when people who want to sell their books seem to have no regard for quality and go about it in the easiest (read: laziest) possible way — those types of people are the ones who are really publishing for vanity but giving indie publishers a bad rap in the process.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Jonas Lee says:

        Exactly. It’s truly amazing the amount of janky (my own word) books I have come across. Not in the story always, but definitely in the grammar department. Those books make me shake my head and realize why no Indie author is going to be seen without a lot of elbow grease.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I prefer ‘indie’ publishing, I think vanity publishing is where the poor quality lies, if you’re serious about ‘indie’ publishing then you take the steps to ensure quality. I’m really aware of the stigma, struggling with not having found a traditional publishing path and with the oft repeated comment, ‘If it’s good enough it will find a publisher’. I really want to see ‘indie’ publishing in a more positive light.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you entirely. I discuss independent publishing in my final post on publishing tomorrow. But yes, I think that the main distinction between vanity and indie lies within the approach, the professionalism, and the quality. Except where vanity presses are concerned, which just seem like schemes to me 99% of the time.

      As to the comment you mention, I could not disagree with it more. Being “good enough” is not enough to find a traditional publisher. You book has to be well-written AND marketable to get a deal, and you likely have to have a readership already built up over social media or a blog as well. The sad fact is, traditional publishers, try as they might, simply cannot publish every single book that deserves publication. That’s when authors have to choose to go indie, vanity, or let their book gather dust.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The good enough comment is one I hear a lot and I wish I could whole-heartedly dismiss it, it’s hard for me to do so, even though I do agree with what you have said. Looking forward to the next post.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. coffeennotes says:

    I loveed reading your post so much. Thank you for sharing so much information, I learn so much about the business.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. […] If you missed the other two days, feel free to go back and read my crash courses in traditional and vanity […]

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  6. […] that I have explained the three forms of publishing (traditional, vanity, and independent), I wanted to use this “Feedback Friday” to share with you all the book that […]

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  7. […] Course” series, I gave a general overview of the three main publishing options: traditional, vanity, and independent. In this article, I want to share with you all my personal reasoning behind […]

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  8. […] assistance. Click on the name of the publishing model to read more about it: traditional, vanity, […]

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