Q: Earlier you talked about the difference between royalty publishing and a subsidy press. I’ve heard other writers complain about “vanity presses.” Is there a difference between a subsidy press and a vanity press?
A: Depends on who you ask.
Some people think so-called “traditional publishing” is the only true publishing, and that any author who pays to publish their book is getting ripped off. Those folks will tell you that subsidy publishing is just a new name for the ol’ vanity press scam.
Subsidy publishing involves you hiring a company to print your book for you. Subsidy presses are generally very up front about this arrangement. They may provide the ISBN, which makes them your publisher as far as the record-keepers at Bowker are concerned. This may also be the case if you self-publish through Amazon or Smashwords. But the important thing is that you retain all rights to the book.
Vanity publishing also involves you hiring a company to print your book for you, but a scam press will be vague about this arrangement. They often advertise in writers’ magazines that they are “accepting submissions” and will, after “reviewing” your manuscript, tell you that your book has been “accepted for publication.” The main thing, though, that separates the scam press from the legitimate press is that the scammer will take your rights from you and ask you to pay them for doing so.
When you enter into a contract with a royalty publisher, you sell the publication rights to them, and they pay you for them.
So this is an important distinction for authors to understand:
- Royalty press: pays the author for publication rights.
- Subsidy press: paid by the author for book production; author retains rights.
- Vanity press: paid by the author for book production and press retains rights.
There is no earthly reason why an author should pay a press to take their rights away. Whether any vanity presses actually remain in business, I don’t know. I suspect there are a few, because so many people don’t understand how the business works.
Which is why I’m here, trying to explain it all.
There’s a case to be made that all publishing is vanity. We must be vain to believe that the story we have to tell or the information we have to share will be important to readers. There’s nothing wrong with that. As Orna Ross said recently in a blog post,
Why doesn’t the musician entertaining the crowd down the pub not get accused of vanity for getting up and playing his music? Why is only writers who are asked to justify their urge to create?
You don’t have to justify your urge to create. Your story and your knowledge deserve to be shared. How you share them is up to you. Educate yourself about your options, and pick the one that works for you.