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.
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:
- Author Scams and Publishing Companies to Avoid
- Seven Prolific Vanity Publishers (Austin MacCauley Publishers, Pegasus Elliot MacKenzie, Olympia Publishers, Morgan James Publishing, Page Publishing, Christian Faith Publishing, Newman Springs Publishing)
- How Predatory Companies Are Trying to Hijack Your Publisher Search, Part 2
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.