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The Vanity of Self-Publishing

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Lately I’ve been heavily into using Google+ communities. There are several great writing communities out there and it’s great to be in contact with other writers. If you have the time, I’d recommend checking it out. With that said, yesterday a couple of us got into a spirited debate about traditional publishing and self-publishing. It all started when I posted an article about Simon and Schuster’s self-publishing arm, Archway.

I had heard about Archway on NPR while driving into work. The sound of it was pretty awesome. S&S was providing a way for authors to self-publish through them and in turn they’d track your sales, which could eventually parlay into a writing contract should your sales be strong.

So I posted the link to my writing community on Google+, thinking they’d be interested. Unfortunately I didn’t do my due diligence. Many pointed out that Archway is Vanity publishing and to stay away. But something occurred to me. Even in self-publishing, if you want to have a solid chance, you’re going to have to spend money as well. Between editing, formatting, cover design, and your personal time marketing there is going to be a cost.

One of the members, Brian Rush, had this to say about my idea.

Me:  However, you can make the argument that even publishing to Smashwords and Amazon is something of vanity publishing, assuming you spend money for good cover design, layout, and editing.

Brian: No, you absolutely cannot. There is a big difference between paying for services to make your book best you can be, and paying for access to distribution to get around the publishing companies’ lock on it. The latter is vanity publishing, the former is not.

But I’m not sure I can agree with his perception. To me, and this solidly is my opinion, there is a certain amount of vanity involved when using services like Lulu, Amazon, or Smashwords. And I’m not trying to knock people that use them. I use them. But when I look at how either functions — Vanity Publishers versus Amazon let’s say– they are nearly identical. You skip past a publisher and pay others to produce a book that you market yourself. Yes, you may pay less. A fraction of the cost at times. But you’re still paying an upfront cost.

And that’s the core of it.

Another user, Rebekkah Niles, had this to say:

 [S]elf-publishing requires the author to invest her own resources in purchasing editing and a cover. That’s money out of her pocket (we’ll look at options in a sec). That means the entire risk is hers: she is putting her own money on the line. On the other hand, a traditional publisher provides cover and editing at /their/ expense. That’s a form of risk-diffusion, getting someone else to carry the financial risk at the expense of paying them later.

I think she makes a very solid point. It comes down to where/when you want to spend the money and whose money it will be.

Perhaps the term Vanity Publishing needs to change, in order to reflect how the industry works now. Or perhaps the stigma behind what Vanity Publishing means needs to shift.

Something to think about.



  1. Amanda says:

    At the risk of getting my butt kicked, HOW are vanity publishing and self-publishing different?

    • Have no fear for asking questions. And yours is one that this post is wrestling with. Are they really that different? But I can give you points where they do differ.

      In Vanity Publishing, you pay an upfront cost to have a “publisher” format and print your book. They won’t put it into stores. They’ll ship you the copies and the marketing is up to you. Now, this can cost upwards to $15,000. So, pretty expensive for an individual. This is the cost a standard publisher would incur on your behalf, in hopes that sales recoup it.

      For Self-Publishing, the upfront cost can be as low as $0. But, if you’re wanting your work to be the best it can be, then you’re going to have to spend some money on editing, maybe formatting if you don’t have the technical know-how, and then maybe even money on a cover design if you’re not artistically inclined. Again, all the marketing is on your end, so you could determine a price of your time per hour in dollars.

      This cost can be more like $1,500 when all is said and done. But still an upfront cost to you. Another big difference here, in order to keep costs down, is that you won’t have any copies on hand. You use Amazon for digital distribution and places like Lulu for print on demand.

      Those are the differences that I see.

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