vanity publishing and self publishing

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

vanity publishing and self publishing

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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.

5 Things Authors Can Learn From the 2015 Smashwords Survey

smashwordslogoSmashwords recently released the results of its annual survey. And the results are … well … interesting.

If you want to read the full report, you can check it out on the Smashwords blog. But here’s a summary of what you, as an author, can take from the 2015 Smashwords survey.

1. Offering things for free makes a difference. It’s kind of a no-brainer. If a store that sells accessories is offering a free handbag, you’re more likely to go to the store to take advantage of the free handbag… and then purchase a few other things you like there. The same is true with books. For the first time this year, Smashwords analyzed the difference in sales between series with free series starters and series without free series starters.  The results were clear: the free series starter group earned 66% more.  In addition, free books (not surprisingly) got 41 times more downloads than priced books. For many authors, that’s a good first step to building loyal readers. As they describe on Smashwords, “A free book allows a reader to try you risk free, and if you’re offering them a great full length book, that’s a lot of hours the reader has spent with your words in which you’re earning and deserving their continued readership. Free works!”

2. There’s a value to preordering. For the first time, Smashwords compared the percentage of books available for preorder with those simply uploaded the day of release, as well as the sales of each one. Interestingly, less than 10 percent of the books available through Smashwords were available for preorder … and yet, two thirds of their top 200 bestselling titles were able to be preordered.  That’s right: that small 10% of books made up 66% of the top sellers. Think about that for a minute. Then use that as motivation to allow people to preorder your book.

3. People still want traditional book-length books. There’s not a lot of detail in the report, but the stat is clear: longer books do better than some of today’s shorter e-books. Whether or not that trend will change as the industry changes is still to be determined.

4. $3.99 is the pricing sweet spot for e-books. Some interesting stats in here about the prices that help sell the most books. For the third year in a row, according to Smashwords, authors sold more units and earned more overall income with books priced at $3.99.  As they explain, “This is significant because it counters the concern of some authors that the glut of high-quality will lead to ever lower prices.  For great authors, readers are still willing to pay.” And the worst price point? That would be $1.99. “If you write full length fiction and you have books priced at $1.99, trying increasing the price to $2.99 or $3.99, and if your book performs as the aggregate does, you’ll probably sell more units.  Or if it’s short and $2.99+ is too high, try 99 cents instead because the data suggests you’ll earn more and reach about 65% more readers,” Smashwords recommends.

5. Successful authors have a blog and social media presence. Much like people wanting stuff that’s free, this is another no brainer. According to the latest Smashwords research, bestselling authors are more likely to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, as well as more likely to have a blog. If you’re interested in building an author website, blog or social media presence, we can certainly help you with that.

Keep in mind that all of this data is specific to Smashwords, which only publishes e-books, so do with it as you wish. But personally, I think there’s some really interesting stuff here about the current and future world of publishing.

Should I Self Publish? The Answer Seems to Be …

should i self publishBy pure coincidence, I came across three articles today that all, in different ways, conveyed the same message. Self-publishing is the way to go.

Why? Well, let’s go over what we can learn from each of these pieces…

1. In this infographic, we learn that self-published authors are now selling more books than the big five publishers, at least in the e-book universe. This is quite a change from even a few years ago.

2. Here’s a whole article explaining why traditional publishing will fail (and is, in fact, failing). Here’s my favorite segment from the piece.

A lot of traditional publishing companies are stuck in some pre-internet era purgatory. They spend an enormous amount of resources sifting through the sludge pile and investing all their time and money in a couple authors they hope will sell big. And sometimes they choose wrong.

The internet has changed things. Crowdsourcing quality work and letting audiences decide who succeeds is where publishing is headed.

And as the article points out, self-publishing companies have the opportunity to make 30% of a book’s profits, with little-to-no upfront cost in publishing the book. Why wouldn’t more entrepreneurs be jumping on that bandwagon?

3. Last by not least is this piece on book marketing. One of the takeaways? Being published doesn’t necessarily help an author.

In the article, the author, of book marketing firm Publishing Push, tells the story of meeting an author who went through a traditional publishing house … and ended up having to do all his own marketing after the fact. He compares that story to one of self-published authors he’s worked with who have had highly successful marketing efforts right off the bat.

In the latter cases, the self-published author got to choose his own marketing firm (and choose well), and the results were apparent. Less so when trusting the marketing department of a publishing house.

So for you self published authors … congratulations. Recent data is showing that you made a good choice. And if you are wondering, “Should I self publish?” The answer certainly seems to be “YES!”

Should Self-Published Authors Take Advantage of the Kindle Select Program?

Nearly every new author today is opting to self publish. Okay, not always opting. Often, it’s their only choice. But regardless, there are thousands of authors out there self-publishing their books, and each of them is looking for a way to make their book stand out. Enter Kindle Select.

In case you haven’t heard of it, Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select) is a program that Amazon offers to their self-published authors. According to Amazon, here are the benefits of such a program:

  • Earn higher royalties Earn your share of the KDP Select Global Fund amount when readers borrow your books from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Plus, earn 70% royalty for sales to customers in Japan, India and Brazil.
  • Make your book free to readers worldwide for a limited time The Promotions Manager tool will allow you to directly schedule and control the promotion of free books.
  • Reach a new audience Distribute books through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and reach the growing number of Amazon Prime customers on,, and

But, as with anything, there is a drawback. As Amazon explains: When you choose to enroll your book in KDP Select, you’re committing to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through KDP. During the period of exclusivity, you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your website, blogs, etc. However, you can continue to distribute your book in physical format, or in any format other than digital.

So how does an author know whether Amazon Select is the right option for their newest release? Well, they turn to other authors, of course. I came across a conversation among authors on LinkedIn this morning about just that, and I thought I would include some excerpts so that you can make an informed decision for yourself.

Here are some of what the authors had to say:


The Positive

I have eight books in the Select program and think it has been the greatest thing since sliced bread,

I use the give-a-way program carefully. The first month I was in it I gave away about 2200 books for free, However, I also raised my sales over 1000%. After that for the next five months it dropped down to where I was giving away maybe twenty books a month but still selling about an average 200% above my starting sales numbers.

I am now going to drop out of the program and put my books back into all the markets and see how I do. I am quite happy with my six months results and would recommend it to anyone. But my name and books are much more well known now and I am getting a nice little following. So it’s time to spread out.

When I say I use it carefully here are some of the things I learned. If you are only going to try one book in it, don’t waste your time. You only get five days in three months to use the free book bit. Of course that isn’t going to get any notice. Eight books worked out wonderfully for me. What I found worked best for me is I give away a different free book every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I start the rotation with one of my best books. The second book is also one of my best, the third (or Sunday book) would be one that wasn’t doing so well, and I just keep rotating them in this order through the ninety days. I don’t give away any books om Monday thru Thursday. I found the response to be very low on those days.

Some people have told me that I would have still had a lot of sales for that period if I weren’t giving away the books. I guess that could be true, but for the two years leading up to that point my sales were poor so what else could have jump started my income?

A lot of the success still depends on your marketing. There is no substitute for good marketing. I am learning all the time…

Michael “Duke” Davis “The Dukester”

I gave away a lot of free books, but I’m not sure how much it helped my sales. But as a new novelist, I felt it was more important to get the first novel out rather than try for a big profit.

From the standpoint of getting my name out there, the select program worked. I’ve recieved lots of “fan mail” via twitter/facebook/email and have to field daily questions about when the next book will be out. So it looks like I’m on my way to a loyal following.
Alex Reissig

The Negative
This issue has been fully debated on various blogs, forums, and especially the Smashwords blog and on Mark Coker’s updates. Coker makes very strong points that it’s not good to have books exclusively on one site since you’re sacrificing sales at all other sites, i.e., iTunes Store, Nook, Sony Reader, and smartphone apps. Amazon may still be the largest seller of ebooks, but their share of the market is declining.

You’re giving readers more places to find your books if you have them distributed widely across all tablets, readers, smartphones.
Jack Erickson


Not a lot of comments, but some insightful ones. If you have any experience with Amazon Select that you would like to share, do so in the comments box below.

And for the rest of you … good luck making your decision!

Is An Author’s Platform Now A Prerequisite?

I chimed in to a discussion on LinkedIn last week with this very same title: Is An Author’s Platform Now A Prerequisite?

Little did I know just how much commentary there was going to end up being.

A few people had commented before I found the post, saying that they felt an author platform was important. One of my favorite responses was from Ian Miller, who said, “You don’t need a platform to, write, but you need one to attract readers.”

I then chimed in with the following:

I agree with most of the comments here. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get published without an author platform, but it means that you’re starting with a great disadvantage if you don’t have one. Put yourself in the position of a publisher: if you’re deciding between two or three authors, which one would you choose to publish? The one who has shown that he or she knows how to market books and has already built a following, or the one who hasn’t?

There have probably been 20 responses to my comment, mostly in agreement. But I thought I would give you some of the excerpts so that you can decide for yourself:

Beverly Bistransky • @Karen, Yes and No. I think the connection between the writer/author and editing publisher have quite a bit to do with who they choose to deal. At least the better publishers etiquette if you will, know that this is just as important as the author already having a current following especially if the author is changing their subject demeanor.

Elly Taylor • And, as I’m just finding now, there is a lot of platform building to be done between being published and achieving commercial success. In hindsight, I could have done more while waiting for the book to be published, especially as far as social media is concerned.

Nancy Root Miller • Karin sums it up nicely. I am in the process of researching agents and publishers for my cookbook. Nearly every one asks for details on your platform: what social media do you use, do you have a blog and/or website, do you teach, are you a regular guest on television or radio. If you’re a terrific writer without a “platform” and you’re lucky, you may be able to find a publisher or editor who will take a risk on you anyway. You’ll increase your chances if you participate in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (!), Pinterest, and so on.

Sean Concannon • A unique proposal, and demonstrated ability to write are just as important in getting published as having a platform. With a high quality project, and a strong platform, you are almost certain to get published. If you have a high quality project to sell, and no platform or very little in the way of a platform, it’s worth getting started. A strategy for nurturing your platform will make your project more attractive to potential agents, who will know that they can use the quality of your project in combination with the potential of your platform to sell your proposal to a publisher.

Tannera Kane • I recommend authors develop a platform before publication. ONe can always adjust the platform after publication if one aspect of marketing doesn’t work.

Brad Windhauser • Today, I think a writer needs a platform more importantly, an author needs to figure out how to construct a sensible platform. How can you attract an audience that compliments your work? I have a traditional website where people can find samples of my work, etc. I plug away on Twitter. I have FB. along with four other writer friends, I started a group blog (, a blog site we use to discuss writing. Since it’s a group blog, the burden of posting is spread out–and we all benefit from the attention each writer brings. I also started my own blog project ( where, as a gay author, I chronicle my reading of the Bible for the first time. Since I don’t openly court “Christian” readers, I’m using this blog to develop my voice and expose my style to a new audience (hopefully).

Allison Bruning • I think its especially important nowadays for authors to build a platform. There are so many books in the market it’s easy for a new author to get lost in the sea. But if they can work on making their presence known throughout the social networks and various writing oppurtunities out there then they may be able to drive traffic towards the fans they have acquired.

James Hockey • I think we are falling into the error of comparing apples with pears. Elly’s case above demonstrates the classic route forward for non-fiction where there is a manifest social need whether it be parenting or home electrics.
Fiction on the other hand is very different and without building a platform the author is likely to die the death of total invisibility.

Beverly Bistransky • The subject also in itself can end up being the platform. For example: a disorder that is rarely ever talked about. If it is well written and touches the audience in a tangible way, it will be its own platform, the subject disease that is.

Reynold Conger • In spite of all the articles about platforms, I still do not understand what a platform is. Obviously a good publicity campaign helps the sales of a book, but does this need a platform?

Gaurav Bhatnagar • Coming to the answer on the original post from @Gemma, yes, indeed, it’s required. Problem is not with book discovery or authors discovery… Today’s book lovers are much aware on what they want to read than ever. A platform can give an author a boost to their books, an enhancement to their knowledge, increased fan base, new friends helping each other and so on.


There are about 20 more comments in the conversation, but I’m going to stop there. The general consensus? “Yes, authors do need a platform to sell books.” That platform can manifest itself in various ways — an author website, a blog, a presence on social media, etc.. — but every author needs to be doing something. Just writing isn’t enough to be a professional writer any more.

If you’re interested in discussing your needs for an author website, contact us today for a free consultation. Good luck!

3 Benefits to Charging Less (or Nothing!) for Your E-Book

It used to be that a publisher was responsible for … well … publishing books. Times surely have changed. Now, everyone and their brother is self-publishing a book. Which means that authors themselves are now responsible for all aspects of creating and selling a book — from cover design to pricing.

And pricing seems to be where many authors get hung up. After all, while writers may be able to tell you exactly what their book cover should look like, they probably can’t do a mathematical analysis to determine at what price it would make the most financial sense to list their e-book.

That’s where I come in.

After doing a fair amount of research on the topic, here’s my advice: charge very, very little for your e-book. In fact, consider charging almost nothing. Why do I say this … despite the fact that you are (probably) not so happy to hear it? Here’s what I’ve learned…

1. People are far more likely to download free books. That’s just common sense. People will take anything they can get for free. One author on LinkedIn started a recent conversation by saying: “At the free price I was selling 150-200 books a day. So I changed price to 99cents and sold 35 in a week.” If your goal is to get your book read, then the answer is simple. Charge less. This is especially appealing to people who have written books about topics that they feel are very important (i.e. animal rights, religion, etc…) and really want to get the word out.

2. Selling more copies of your first book can lead to selling more copies of your future books. This is basically a continuation of point #1. If you plan on publishing more than one book — especially within the same series — it makes sense for you to get as many people as possible sucked in by the first book. Then you can charge more for the others, and you’ll have a lot more people ready and willing to pay money for those titles. Think of it like the drug dealer giving a free sample. You know they’ll like it. FYI … based on various online conversations, people seem to think that $2.99 is the magic price for the other books in the series.

3. Lower prices = better placement. Author Ron Baumbach recently shared the following on Linked In: “Nook …received great product placement by changing the price … of my book, ‘The Last Walk on Our Block’ for Cyber Monday…lowered price for the period.” Apparently, his book is now appearing higher on the list of books in his genre because of the lower price. And this, too, makes sense. Barnes & Noble wants to sell as many books as possible. They know that people are more likely to buy the books that cost the least. So its in their best interest to have the least expensive books up top.

Obviously, it’s up to you to decide how much you’re going to charge for your book. After all, if your goal is to “spread the word,” you won’t be quite as bothered if your first book nets you very little. On the other hand, if you’re using your first book to test the waters as to whether or not you can make a living doing this … well, then you might have other priorities.

But all of my digging has taught me one thing. It’s probably in the best interest of a new author to price their first book at 99 cents or less. As with everything, patience is a virtue. And in the case of e-books, such patience seems to pay off in the long run.

Apple Offers Authors a New Self-Publishing Option

We know that self-publishing is the fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry. We also know that the Apple iStore is one of the most common places for purchasing self-published e-books. Well, we shouldn’t be surprised that the two are now meeting … and turning an industry upside-down to boot.

At their most recent presentation, Apple introduced iBooks 2, a new multimedia textbook platform, and iBooks Author, which is being promoted as “a shockingly easy authoring tool to create them.”

And yes, even though the tool seems to focus on textbooks, this incredibly easy system will allow authors to create any type of book and easily transform it into an ebook and put it up for sale on the iBookstore. It’s really that simple.

According to Publishers Weekly, “any author can follow the template or make up a new one and drag-and-drop prepared materials like text and video right into the new book. Once complete, a push of the button places it in the iBookstore in a digital marketplace holding hundreds of millions of credit card numbers.”

And if that’s not enough, here’s another piece of news: both the new iBooks 2 app and iBooks Author app are free. That’s unlike any other self-publishing tool or e-book conversion tool out there.


On a side note, I’m curious to see how this change is going to impact other self-publishing big-wigs, like CreateSpace. Nor do we have any information yet on whether these books created for iPads can easily be transformed into Kindle or NOOK versions. All of that is to come, I’m sure. So stay tuned.

No matter what, though, we have to hand it to Apple. They continue to lead the pack in just about everything.

Are Authors Feeling Discouraged?

I came across a conversation on LinkedIn today. Just the title of the topic of discussion says it all:

Internet blogging, social networking et al has no effect on sales for 99% of new self published writers well certainly not for this one. Agree?

Sadly enough, most of the people who participated in the conversation do agree. Here are some excerpts of what they had to say:

Most of the time we’re blogging to other people who are trying to sell something to us — books, marketing, web design, etc. Same with Twitter. Has anyone else concluded that that almost no one reads other people’s tweets? I almost never do. I can’t understand 90% of them anyway.
–Peter Pollak

That is true I have almost given up. If you book is not getting shelf space and advetising somewhere it’s not moving.
–George Mavromates

I quite agree. My first book was with amazon/createspace. Zero-zilch-nothing in the way of promotion / marketing / sales…
–William Spencer

I thought maybe I was just being impatient–I just published last week, but it appears my concerns are justified. I do have some ideas that might help my sales, but I’m not encouraged. I’ve chatted on other sites with other authors with same concerns.
–Bracy Ratcliff

Boy, that’s depressing. But here’s my take on things (which will hopefully have you feeling a little more positive).

First of all, becoming a successful author is much like becoming a successful actor. You have to go into it knowing that the likelihood that you’ll be rich and famous is minimal. In fact, you probably won’t even be able to pay your bills on the money you’ll make. Deal with it. If you want more stability than that, go into banking.

That said, if you don’t do the things you need to do to become a successful author, then there’s no chance (none, niet, nil) that you’ll make it as a writer. Even the most talented writer probably won’t be successful unless he or she properly executes the non-writing requirements of being an author: in this case, blogging and social networking.

Thankfully, a few of the authors in this discussion agreed with me. Here are their comments.

It takes time to build a following and to expand your networks. Keep at it and the momentum will build.
–Lucy Adams

If you don’t do any of these things, there’s just no chance you’ll ever get yourself out there. Can’t win if you don’t play.
–Zihong Gorman

You’re right, Zihong. You have to play — and play well — to ever have a chance. So keep your head up and give it your best shot. If you don’t, you’ll regret it later.

Life’s Getting Better for Self-Published Authors

I came across two different articles in the last two days that are about completely separate things, but they both relate to self-publishing. And they’re both pretty encouraging for those who opt to self-publish.

First, I saw this piece about literary agents shifting careers to become self-publishing consultants. The article spotlights three different agents who, in different ways, are moving over to the field of self-publishing. It’s a must-read — covering topics like how these agents/consultants make their money, how they moved into self publishing (hint: they had great books that weren’t being picked up by publishers), and what kinds of services they offer to authors who opt to self-publish.

Then, earlier today, I came across this article, announcing that John Locke has become the first self-published author (eighth overall) to join the Kindle Million Club. Yes, this means that a self-published author sold one million kindle editions of his book. That’s pretty much every self-published author’s dream! I’d certainly love to find out what his marketing plan was. I’m sure you would, too.

So, in conclusion, the last few days have been pretty good for the self-publishing industry. Just like many of the other trends in our society (tablet computers, Hulu, etc…), self-publishing is definitely on the upswing. That’s good news to all of you authors who have opted to self-publish or are considering it for the future.

A New Way for Authors to Get ‘Discovered’

I came across this article today on MediaBistro. Just thought I’d share it with my author friends.

Apparently, Penguin has created a new website called Book Country — a place where authors can connect with reviewers, publishing professionals, and readers. Here’s a direct quote from the article: “Authors can use the site to share their work and get some help polishing it off. The social site’s users includes an array of authors, editors and agents to help guide writers from rough draft to published work.”

For authors who are looking to get “discovered,” this is yet another way to get your manuscript in the right hands. Molly Barton, Director of Business Development at Penguin Group USA, says that Penguin editors are reading material on the site and looking for potential acquisitions. I hope she’s right!

Lastly, starting this summer, authors will be able to self-publish e-books through the website. So just in case the Penguin editors don’t snatch up your novel, you can take matters into your own hands.

This site certainly sounds like something worth checking out. If you get involved in it, please do let us know if it was any benefit to you.