vanity publishing and self publishing

Vanity Publishing and Self Publishing: What’s the Difference?

vanity publishing and self publishing

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, you know a fair amount about self publishing. And if you’re over the age of 40, you probably have heard about vanity publishing as well — and likely not in a positive way. Just the name itself is awful (who thought that “vanity” was a good name to put in anything?!?!) But, in all seriousness, what’s the difference between vanity publishing and self publishing? Is there one, or has the industry simply undergone a name change?

What Are They?

Let’s start with simple definitions of each one.

A vanity publishing company is a business that an author can pay to essentially be their book publisher.

A self-publishing company is a business that gives authors the ability to publish their books themselves and pick and choose the needed services to do so.

Vanity Publishing and Self Publishing: What’s the Same

In many ways, self publishing is simply an evolution of what used to be called vanity publishing, but incorporating much of the 21st century technology available to authors. Here is what the two still have in common:

  • They allow authors to publish books themselves, without going through a traditional publishing company.
  • They involve some sort of financial investment from the author.
  • Marketing and sales of the book sit exclusively with the author.

And yet, in many ways, these businesses are very, very different.

Vanity Publishing and Self Publishing: What’s Different?

So now we get into the nitty gritty of what differentiates vanity publishing from self publishing. These are important differences that you need to know before choosing a publishing route.

  • Vanity presses have been around for nearly a half century, while self publishing is relatively new in comparison — only a few decades old.
  • Vanity presses almost always offer “cover to cover” service — everything from editing to cover design to book binding. Self publishing companies may or may not offer such services, and authors who are self publishing are less likely to rely on their publisher for such services.
  • Given the age of the medium, vanity publishing still offers books primarily in print. Self publishing allows you to print books, offer e-books, or both.
  • Vanity presses usually require more money up-front from an author. This makes sense, since their services are far more complete.
  • Here’s a really important one … If you go through a vanity publisher, that publisher will assign your book an ISBN number that belongs to them. This makes them the publisher of record and they may or may not collect additional royalty whenever that book sells. They will, forever and ever, own the rights to that book. A book that is self-published, on the other hand, is fully owned by the author.

Vanity Publishing and Self Publishing: Which Should You Choose?

Almost everyone will tell you that self publishing is the way to go. It offers you far more flexibility than vanity publishing, and — most importantly — allows you to retain the rights to your book in perpetuity. You should definitely lean towards a self publishing company if you:

  • Want to offer your book in multiple formats
  • Have the goal of publishing multiple books and/or becoming a bestselling author
  • Want some flexibility in terms of costs and services

However, that doesn’t mean vanity publishing should be excluded in all circumstances. Vanity publishing may do the trick if, for example, you:

  • Want to print a book that is exclusively for a small audience (i.e. an autobiography or family cookbook that you want passed down for generations)
  • Don’t want to invest a whole lot of time and energy in getting the book published
  • Don’t mind putting some money down up front

Hopefully, this has helped you understand the similarities and differences between the two industries and it will help you make the right choice for getting your book out there in the world.

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