Publishing: Traditional, Self, Vanity

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A recent conversation sparked this post.  What is the difference in types of publishing.  I knew of two, traditional and self.  However, there is a third.  It is called vanity.

Traditional publishing is when an author pitches their book to a publishing house, the publishing house accepts the manuscript, and the author is paid by the publishing house.  First form of payment is the advance, then it moves to royalties.  An advance is the publishers best guess at how many books they expect to sell.  The author is essentially getting their royalties on those books ahead of time, in advance.  The author receives no additional payment until the sales of the book have met the advance.  Then any additional books sold over that projected number result in a royalties.  Each pay cycle, the author will receive a check based on the number of books sold in that period.  Traditional publishing is very difficult.  Some publishers take on only as few as 12 new (previously unpublished) authors per year.   In traditional publishing, the publishing house will work with the author to finesse the final product, design cover, market the book, etc.   This is the route I have gone with my book, and it is a real blessing having a publishing house carrying part of the load.  The publisher will handle all the details that will land my book in bookstores, shipping my book to those locations, and individual internet sales through their site.  I have an option to buy books at an authors cost, so that I can sell them at events.  Any unsold books, I can return to the publisher.

Self publishing, is exactly what it sounds like.  The author finds a publishing service that will help take their book to market.  Some self publishers do more than others, but the key is the creative control of the author.  They will decide what they want to spend their money on, how much they want to spend.  For example, an author may choose to hire an editor to polish the book.  Another author may feel confident in their skills, and choose not to.  Some self publishers offer an array of services in a one price does all package, and others do only parts and the author is left to source out their other needs.  Generally speaking in self publishing, the author has full creative control.  Also the author is entirely responsible for the sales and marketing of the book.  The author will purchase a minimum order of books, which they will sell directly, or find sites to sell them through as a 3rd party seller.  However, there are some self publishing firms that are expanding their services to include marketing.  The author pays for services, that is how the self publishing firms make their money.  The author purchases the printed books at wholesale and then sells the books at market price.    The author will manage their inventory and ship the books to customers.   Any unsold books are the responsibility of the author to deal with, at their expense.  Self publishers want your book to be successful.  The more books you sell, the more you will need to order, and the more money they make.  Many self publishing firms are divisions of traditional publishers.  If they see your self published book is doing well, you may get an offer to move to their traditional publishing division.  Some authors exclusively self publish for a myriad of reasons.

Vanity publishing is a bit different than self publishing.  Vanity publishing is a form of self publishing, where the author pays to be published in a book that is usually an anthology (many contributing authors).  But, the key difference between self publishing and vanity publishing is the buy in and the terms of the contract.  In vanity publishing, the author does not have as much (if any) creative control.  They can not dictate who is included in the anthology along with their name, which matters if you are trying to build credibility in your field/topic.  The vanity publisher will pick a topic or theme, they will create a buy in package, and then first to pay will get those spots.  The buy in package for vanity publishing will usually cost significantly more than self publishing.  Unlike self publishing, the package will usually include some sort of writing workshops, video/web seminars, etc.  When the book is completed, the contributing authors will receive a set number of books to sell that was included in their package, as well as the opportunity to order more.  The vanity publishers are making their money off the buy in package.

This concept was new to me, and when I heard about it there was immediate research on my end.  The appeal to vanity publishing, is that it feels like a more comfortable entry into the publishing world.  Being responsible for writing only one chapter versus ten, is definitely an appealing way to dip your toes into the pool.  There is even something to be said about having multiple authors promoting one book to their various circles.  It could help get your name out there to new audiences.  On the flip side, you give up a lot of creative control and end up spending more money than if you would have just published yourself.

After reading all the info I could find on vanity publishing, I have come to the conclusion that vanity publishing is like a timeshare.  I know people who consider timeshares a big scam, and I know of people who love having a timeshare.  The key is knowing what you are getting into, researching all of your options, and deciding what is best for you.  Maybe, it is worth it for you to put the extra money into going the anthology route with a vanity publisher because you want to get your feet wet before diving in.  So long as you understand what is going on behind the scenes, going into it eyes wide open.

One article I read strongly would recommend skipping vanity publishing and heading right into self publishing.  If you are going to be doing so much of the work yourself anyway, why not put a little more elbow grease into it?  Start off with a pocket sized book that has five or six chapters, or write a full trade book of nine chapters or more.  If you have the knowledge, experience, and passion… the information is probably already in your head and at your fingertips.  You will accomplish more for less financial investment.

For myself, I made the choice to go with traditional publishing.  I’m learning a LOT through this process.  It is helping me to become a better writer, and articulate my thoughts with more flavor and variety.   I like having multiple people editing through the manuscript, as they see things I may have missed.  I’m over the moon that I don’t need to hunt and hire a design team for the book jacket, and that I have a marketing team working for me.  Getting my first advance check didn’t hurt either, ha!

And, as a final note, not all anthologies come from vanity publishing.  I’ve read anthologies from traditional publishing (who pay the authors), and self publishing (where the authors divide the direct costs, and keep their own profits).  Chicken Soup for the Soul is a great example of anthology that is self published.  In case you didn’t realize it, Chicken Soup for the Soul books are not published under any of the major publishing houses.  They self publish and are in complete control of their product.  However, if you contribute a story to Chicken Soup… you get paid.  You do not pay to have your story included in their books.  Chicken Soup books are a great way to get some experience under your belt, and a few titles too.

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