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  • July 21, 2016 at 1:25 PM

    Vanity Publishing and Misconceptions

    When I started out over five years ago as a self-published author the term “vanity publishing” or “vanity press” was not in my vocabulary. I never gave those concepts any thought. This may be because I started out with a publishing company that promoted themselves as operating under three models of business, traditional publishing, cooperative or shared publishing and independent or self-publishing. By doing business with this company, if my book did well, they could as a traditional publisher pick up my work. Who were they? A Christian publishing company, who only publishes Christian works, called Innovo Publishing. (http://www.innovopublishing.com)

    Much later, as I began to mingle within on-line writing communities, I picked up on the subject of “Vanity Presses” and learned that after publishing my second book with WestBow Press (http://www.westbowpress.com), I, for all intents and purposes, was considered a Vanity Press author.
    This caused me to do some research, along with some thinking through the concepts related to this topic. The discussion to follow, are my thoughts on the topic, as I present them here for your consideration.

    As one begins to sift their way through the thousands of Internet articles on “Vanity Press” or “Vanity Publishing”, there begins to emerge three themes, the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing, the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing and the pros and cons of all three types of publishing. Within all this, I discovered the term “vanity publishing” seemed to derive itself from the publishing industry itself, back in the late 1930s. This term seemed to be made public in 1941, when a dishonest publisher was found guilty of, not only, mail fraud, but also for forcing payment on authors for the publishing of their work over a five to six year period. Since then, the industry and American laws have changed and now the term “vanity publishing” is given to any publishing company that charges a fee to publish an author’s work. Now that we have a little background on the topic, let’s talk about the real issues.

    Publishing is a business, and like all other businesses there are multiple models to conduct ones business activity. At the same time, being an author is also a business, and within authorship there are several paths one can take to achieve the author’s goals. Within the following discussion, I will break down these business models and author pathways to see the reality and misconceptions within the industry of today.

    Traditional Publishing

    Traditional publishing is where a publishing company offers an author an exclusive contract to publish their work. This means the author negotiates copyrights, payment method and other miscellaneous issues within the publishing contract. In exchange for a signed agreement, the publishing company will take on all the expenses to edit, publish and in many cases promote the work. If a publishing company is financially small, promotion of the author’s work may fall on the author to accomplish. It should be noted that it’s the promotion side of the industry that cost the most. Questions that should be asked under such agreements are, how long will my copyrights be tied up within the contract? After the contract has ended, do I still retain my copyrights or did I sign them away forever? Or, do I have to pay a fee to get my copyrights back? All of this is dependent on what you negotiated. Also, how much lead way did you give the publisher for manuscript changes and will your work look and read the way you intended? Things to think about!

    The key to the traditional publishing method is to get a publisher to read or review your work. The problem is, within today’s industry model the vast majority of traditional publishing companies will not accept manuscripts from first time authors. This means one will have to work through a book or literary agent, which means now the author will have to find such a person, and then sign an agreement with them, for the purpose of representing their work to a traditional publisher, for a fee of about 15% of all their future royalties. This model requires the author to educate themselves on how to write a book proposal and the best way to present oneself to an agent. In the end, authors are in business, and are working for some publishing company, supplying them with written material for publishing, while at the same time working with their book agent to drum up more business.


    Self-publishing is also a business which follows two models. In the eyes of many self-published authors, also known as “Indi” or “independent” authors, self-publishing is defined as doing everything yourself without the assistance of a publishing company. This means they take on the task of editing, designing, formatting and setting up the distribution of their work. Indi authors, many times, sign agreements with Amazon, Smashwords and Draft2Digital to have their work distributed; fees are paid based on sales. The issue here is the quality
    of work, who will help edit the book? Will the Indi reach out and pay someone to edit the book for them, or will they rely on self talents? Does the Indi have the artistic talent to create their own book cover and will it be good enough to attract readers. As several reader surveys have suggested, the book cover is within the top five attributes of a book that readers rely on when buying a book from a new author. If I want a print edition, who will do the printing and how much am I willing to pay to have that done? Then after it’s printed, who will distribute it? There are several avenues an author can take in these areas.

    The second model of self-publishing is where a self-published author may use or pay for assistance in producing their work. In many cases an author can pay per activity of service rendered. That is, one can pay to have their book edited, a cover designed, a book printed, along with help with book promotion. Each item has its price. Within the current industry, this is called “Vanity Publishing” an unfortunate term forced on this business model.

    The term “vanity publishing” is used because of bad actors within the industry. There are companies that care only to make money at the expense of its customers. This is done through many different methods not unique to any one company. Some will try to steal or talk you out of your copyrights, price your book to high, causing your book to be cost prohibitive in the market place, price their services above industry standards and project an attitude of, I have your money, good luck! Within anyone’s business model the old adage applies which says, buyer beware. Another reason the term is used is to promote an individual or company’s pride, I was published traditionally, and you had to pay someone, so your work must not be as good as mine; not realizing that self-published books aided by other companies (vanity press) have made it to the best sellers list, not to mention that there are now more self-published book than traditional books printed today. This is why some traditional publishing companies have created their own self-publishing division to help them find works they are willing to
    take a financial risk on. Something to think about!

    Why do authors self-publish? So the author can keep control over their work, from the writing to editing to the interior design to the printing and distribution of their work. If I choose to self-publish and build my business model around seeking help through a self-publishing company (vanity publishing), does that make my book any less qualified to be on the market? Not if I chose a quality company to work with. A good self-publishing company will allow you to keep 100% of your copyrights; they will allow you to keep anything from 50 to 100% of the book royalties after cost. They will require your book to meet an editing standard, which does not necessarily mean zero errors. And yes, they will provide you with an ISBN number that is registered to them. What does that mean? It means that the distribution networks will know who to send the royalty payments to. Then the owner of that number, per contract agreement, pays the author their percentage. ISBN numbers do not provide anyone a copyright to your work. It is assigned or registered in the name of the person who purchased it, to identify who the royalty fees should be dispersed to. Self-published authors can purchase their own ISBN number for about $125.00 each or much less if they purchase multiple numbers at the same time. Many bookstores and their distribution networks require an ISBN number to sell your book within their system. Evan Smashwords requires an ISBN to distribute your work; where Amazon does not, because they only distribute and sell within their own stores, a closed system.

    When using this model it should be remembered that the company who designed the book cover owns the copyrights to that cover. If you decide to publish with someone else, you will have to change the cover along
    with the ISBN number. This would be considered a second printing and should be reflected as such on your copyright page, providing nothing has changed internally, except for some possible syntax corrections. But
    changing the cover could be a good thing, if your first printing did not go well. The other side of that coin is, if the book was doing well, why make the change?

    If an author chooses to use a good self-publishing company, what are they getting? The two main things they get is a worldwide distribution network second to none and getting their book published in less than three months vs. eighteen to twenty four months. I use Innovo Publishing and WestBow Press, who both distribute their books through Ingram (the world’s largest book distributor), Baker & Taylor (who focuses on the educational market), Spring Arbor (an exclusive distributor to the Christian bookstore market) and Amazon worldwide (the world’s largest seller of books). You also get a better print distribution network, allowing book printing to take place in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia (Optional). Why is all this important? Because it can put your work in over 70,000 on-line bookstore search engines, providing a large author’s footprint on the Internet. Also if a book is printed in a country it is sold in, the ship time is less and the book may be seen more favorably by its reader. Don’t you look at labels to see where it came from? Hum, why is that? Part of any self-published author’s business model should be building an authors platform, without it, an author will never succeed.

    Let’s rap this discussion up by summarizing the content of our discussion. Publishing and authorship is a business. These businesses come with their own models to operate under. There are pros and cons to
    each model, and in my opinion, none of them are any less inferior to the other. Why? Because business models are designed to help reach an individual’s goals, which coincide with one’s philosophy of how one wants to operate within that business. Who am I, a stranger, to tell someone what is best for them in their business model, when I have no clue what their goals are or what it is they what to achieve. For it’s that information that will determine what is the better or best model to use for someone’s business goals.

    Thanks for reading, and I wish you the best of success in your authoring goals.

    About the Author

    Reid Ashbaucher was born in the United States, holds a B.A. degree in Comprehensive Bible from Cedarville University, Cedarville, Ohio; an M.A. degree in Christian Theology from Trinity Theological Seminary, Newburgh, Indiana; and has completed some postgraduate work towards a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, endorsed by Canterbury Christ Church University, England. Reid’s occupation for the past 35 years has been associated with the communications industry while working as an Electronic Technician and Radio Broadcast Engineer.

    Reid has self-published three books under two different business models for self-publishing. Made in the Image of God: Understanding the Nature of God and Mankind in a Changing World (2011), the Christian Faith: A Quick Guide to Understanding Its Inter-Workings (2015) and Book Publishing: A Quick Guide for First Time Authors (2015).

    Author’s Website – http://booksite.rcetc.com

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