Types of Publishing — Vanity Publishing

There are three kinds of publishing: traditional (or trade) publishing, self publishing, and vanity publishing.


In the past there were only two kinds of publishing, traditional and vanity, and they were easy to tell apart. Traditional publishers paid the authors. Authors paid the vanity publishers.

Today vanity publishers hide behind different labels that make them harder to recognize.

Vanity publishing masquerading as self publishing service companies

Many vanity publishers masquerade as “self publishing companies.” If you search for self publishing on Google, nearly EVERY company that comes up is a vanity publisher.

These companies make their money by selling expensive packages of services to people who want to self publish. There are legitimate self publishing companies who offer these services and do so in a complete legitimate way. Where vanity publishers tip their hats is that they not only charge for upfront services but ALSO take royalties on the back end.

A legitimate self publishing service company will NEVER take royalties.

Vanity publishing masquerading as traditional publishing companies

Other vanity publishers masquerade as traditional publishers. There are many versions of this vanity publish scam:

  • Some claim to accept only a percentage of what’s submitted to them (which is true — 100% is a percentage).
  • They claim that you pay no upfront costs and instead receive royalties, just like a traditional publisher. But you’ll find they require you (or push you very hard) to buy lots of copies of your priced-too-high-to-sell book.
  • Some claim you pay no money up front, but “no money” comes as a refund after your book has sold a certain number of copies — a number of copies your book will never sell.

Hybrid publishing companies

A hybrid publisher is…ugh, I’m just going to say it…a high-end vanity publishing company. I don’t like them. I’m sorry.

What is hybrid publishing? This is a really good article.

Bottom line, though: Writers pay money to be published. They pay a LOT of money. I have yet to see a hybrid publishing model that doesn’t WAY overcharge. Even if the final product is of reasonable quality, and even if the books have decent distribution, the hybrid publisher is still making money on both the front end and the back end.

I am not a fan.

How to recognize a vanity publisher

Avoid vanity publishers. Completely.

To determine whether a company is a vanity publisher:

  • Search for the company’s name and “scam.” Vanity publishers almost always have a LOT of complaints from unhappy authors.
  • Check the “Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check” board on Absolute Write.
  • Look at their website. Are they marketing to writers or to readers? If they’re marketing to writers, it’s a vanity publisher.
  • Do they call themselves a publisher, but ask you to pay money upfront? Vanity publisher.
  • Do they charge no money but require you to buy a lot of books on the back end? Vanity publisher.
  • Did they reach out to you directly? Vanity publisher.

Other resources

Want more information on vanity publishers, why they are a TERRIBLE choice, and how to recognize them? There are some amazing resources on the web. Start with these by Reedsy.com and Writers Beware:

Determine if a company is a vanity publisher BEFORE you reach out to them in any way. Once you reach out, they will woo you like the scam artists they are. Their promises will inflame your dreams of being published, and it will be very difficult to say no. They are masters of convincing you that they are not vanity publishers and this is your best chance for publication.

Truly, if a company is a vanity publisher, run. You won’t be an exception. You’ll be a victim.

Vanity publishing is a scam. Run away!

2 thoughts on “Types of Publishing — Vanity Publishing

  1. The reason that most of the companies that appear in results for questions like “How do I get published?” and “How do I self-publish?” are scams is that they’re the ones who spend the most money on advertising and SEO to ensure they rank well for those questions. Their business model requires a constant stream of new suckers, since they don’t get much repeat custom.

    This means that while Google is a good way of vetting a list of possible publishers or self-publishing companies that you’ve generated by some other means, it’s not a good way of generating that list in the first place.

    1. Absolutely! Great point. Legitimate, traditional publishers don’t have to advertise, because they have more submissions than they could ever publish. Readers don’t generally buy direct from traditional publishers. Their books fill the bookstores. Vanity publishers, however, make their living from writers, NOT readers, so they have to advertise.

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