Vanity vs. Self-Publishing: Is There a Difference?

There is definitely a stigma about using a “vanity press” or a publishing house that charges big bucks (usually) to publish a book that an author has written.  For years, a “vanity press” has been seen by industry leaders as a press that will publish anyone at all who has enough money, particularly people who simply want to see their book in print.  In recent years, this stigma has started to change.  It is true that there are still people out there (many people) who send unedited ramblings to a company to print them into books so that they can give to family and friends.  These are the true vanity press users.

Self-publishers are a different breed all together.

Whether they use a paid service like that offered by Lulu, Outskirts Press or others, or if they use the more do-it-yourself Createspace approach through Amazon (which is much cheaper), self publishing is in no way the same as a vanity press.  Self-publishing is used by authors to print up distributable copies of their book that can be sold online through a print-on-demand structure.  Self-publishers have to do all of the legwork to publicize their books.  Self-publishers work very hard to make sure their text is edited and reworked thoroughly, bounced off of critics, and love it when readers review their work.

Self-publishers are using their self-published work to build a platform.  I will have to say that I have been both a “vanity press” user and a self-publisher.  It all began when I was able to talk to an agent at a convention who told me that really the only way to build my platform was to have things published.  In the old days, this included (and in most cases still does include) writing copy for magazines.  If authors can get something published (namely a short story) published in a magazine, that author can then use that to sweeten the deal with a literary agent or publisher because, after all, the author has been published.

Self-publishing skips the magazine copy in a way because if the author can publish a successful self-published book (say, sell 1,000 copies or so) with their meager publicity means, without the aide of a publisher or agent’s backing, that publisher or agent will probably have more guts to pick up their next project because that author is less of a risk than someone without any proved success.

The self-publishing boon has attracted the big boys as well.  Simon & Schuster has just launched their own “vanity press” called Archway Publishing.  The joke here is that S&S isn’t really affiliated with Archway Publishing at all and assures us that “while Simon & Schuster has provided guidance and helped develop the publishing packages and programs available through Archway Publishing, the actual services are provided by Author Solutions.”, which means that S&S isn’t actually publishing the book.  This is laughable because they want a piece of the self-publishing action without saying that a book is any good until they have seen sales figures…and they still don’t have to own up to having published it.  They also won’t be doing any publicity unless authors pay through the nose.

Of course, promoting a book takes much work on the part of the author.  This is why I blog, Facebook, Twitter, Link In, Digg, and now podcast.  The more of a following I can attract, the more attractive I will be to a potential literary agent or publisher in the future.  To answer the question posed by the title of this article: Yes.  Yes, there is a difference between the “vanity press” and the self-publisher.  It all depends on how hard the author wants to work.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

10 thoughts on “Vanity vs. Self-Publishing: Is There a Difference?

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  4. In many ways publishing is returning to where it was; back in the 18th and early 19th centuries, every book was ‘self-published’ and authors had to have an independent income if they wanted to write. The current ‘pubisher-royalty’ model emerged later. Now that’s changing too., and I guess in a sign of the way that the web is ‘democratising’ humanity – certainly ‘levelling’ – the opportunity is there for everybody to publish, one way or another. It is a new environment. My immediate thought is that the onus is immediately on quality and discoverability. Bad books won’t be read. Good books will be, but only if they are found. And that is (perhaps literally) the million dollar question. it’s a new world and I guess we’ll know in a few years how that’s shaking down.

    1. Good post Matthew. I am reminded of Dickens who published in serial, chapter by chapter each week. I considered doing that with smash words which would lend itself well to a serial writer. I disagree with one point though. Bad books are being read. The best sellers in the airport or local shops have a captive audiance and geesh a lot of garbage. Eat pray love?, Wild?, sorry, but there are some great Indy books out there and no one knows. A memoir about starting over in life in these difficult times. I can think of two indy’s that were 10 times better, Rider Down, and RILL! The Misadventures of an RV Park Fast-Fry Cook and NO I did not write them.

  5. This is a really interesting take on the subject. I’m really curious to see where self-publishing and the big five stand five years from now.

  6. Nice take. When I read the article title I thought you literally meant “vanity,” and I was interested to see where that would go. I think self-publishing is one of the few worlds where an overabundance of self-confidence (i.e. what others might see as “vanity”) can help you. It makes it easier to promote your own works, and easier to let a project out into the world.

    Good article, and thanks for mentioning the S&S self-pub option – I hadn’t heard of this before.

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