Wikipedia defines a vanity press as “a publishing house that publishes books at the author’s expense.” The term vanity is apt. A book from a vanity press is most commonly born from a writer’s need to be published, whatever the cost. There are no gatekeepers at a vanity press. The only limits are the size of the author’s wallet and the amount that author is willing to spend on a dream.
Early on in writing, I learned that vanity publishing was to be avoided. English teachers, critique partners, and other fellow writers all spoke of self-publishing as the bad boy, the guy from the wrong side of the tracks – undesirable for one pursuing a respectable writing career.
The birth of the Internet then e-publishing and e-readers blurred that definition. Suddenly anyone could self-publish, regardless of the size of one’s wallet. The limits were lifted.
I first heard Joe Konrath speak at the WisRWA Conference in Spring 2010, but I wasn’t ready to hear his gospel. I don’t remember much of his talk (but I did take a great pic at the book signing; he signed a peanut for me :wink:). Guess I still hoped some traditional publisher would recognize my brilliance and wave a favorable contract before me. But e-Publishing? Wasn’t that the same as vanity? No thanks (sorry, Joe).
Then came the RWA National Conference in New York City in June 2011, and the buzz about self-publishing. At dinner one night, author Mary Stella mentioned Joe Konrath’s name. Her zeal touched me.
When I returned home, I looked up his column, The Newbies Guide to Publishing. I started educating myself.
Was self-publishing the right path for my full-length novels? Could I do it freely? Would it harm my reputation? Then I realized, what reputation? I wasn’t published. Despite some contest wins, at the rate I was writing and submitting, I wasn’t likely to be. Publishing something, anything, would give me a stake in the new world. I could learn the ropes until my novels were ready. For the first time in ages, I grew excited about writing.
So a few months ago, using free guidebooks, I formatted and self-published two little e-books. I paid $10 each for an ISBN from Smashwords but that was my only cash outlay, and it wasn’t technically necessary. You don’t need an ISBN to publish on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And yet now these little books are available on Kindle e-readers, the Nook, on Smashwords, and other e-reader sites. I’ve even had some sales. It can be done. More important, in a few months time my first novel will go online.
I believe there’s a huge difference between independent self-publishing and vanity publishing. Both may have the same result – a published book. But in indie publishing the author is empowered, working freely. In vanity, the author pays someone else for the opportunity to work.
This past week I read that Penguin Books has created a company called Book Country Fair. For a premium price of $549, Penguin’s Book Country will format an author’s book and publish it on sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and so on. There’s no editing. No cover. You’ll need to provide those at your own expense. Oh yes, in addition to the $549, Book Country also takes 30% of the book’s royalties, for life.
By publishing through Book Country, on an e-book sold by Amazon for $2.99, an author earns $1.47 (plus pays the initial upfront fee of $549). By comparison, if an author totally self-publishes on Amazon, each e-book sold for $2.99 earns the author $2.05.
Why would anyone want to publish through a vanity press?
I urge you to read more about this issue on the following sites:
- J. A. Konrath’s Newbies Guide to Publishing
- David Gaughran Let’s Get Digital
- The Passive Voice
- Crimespace forum
- Cameron Chapman on Writing
- JW Manus, Novelist
- Linda D. Welch
- KD James
- Elizabeth Hunter
- The Writings & Opinions of Dean Wesley Smith** (addition)
- A Writer’s Life – Lee Goldberg ** (another addition)
- Random Musings – David Burton *** (and yet another great post – includes a DIY guide!)
I’m adding my voice to the chorus. If you choose to self-publish your work like a growing number are doing, please do NOT pay out a large upfront fee AND royalties, such as those charged by Book Country Fair and other vanity publishers. It’s simply not necessary.
Finally, please share this with others by clicking the button/s below. All comments are welcomed. ♥