As a writer, you have undoubtedly seen various subsidy or vanity publishers, or ones marketing self-publishing packages. In essence these companies offer to publish your story, book, or e-book for a fee, and depending on the company, even provide you with an ISBN. The definition I like to use of a subsidy/vanity publisher is any publisher that charges you an upfront fee (usually $499 to $8,000), puts their name on your book, handles the distribution for you and then generously offers you royalties.

In some cases, these publishers serve a purpose. They are useful in situations where the selected audience is small, such as procedures for a machine operation, or memoirs of a family friend. However, even in these instances there are a number of things that you as an aspiring author should consider.

1. The Editing Factor

The first thing to know is that a subsidy publisher will rarely take the time to edit your work carefully. These publishers make their profit through volume; the more books they have on the shelves and the more authors they serve, the more money they make. They are unlikely to spend as much time as a traditional editor and publishing house on honing and adjusting your book to be the best that it can be. If they do offer editing services, it is typically overpriced and you must pay for it. Many self-published books have a horrible reputation because the author doesn’t invest in a good quality book editor.

2. The Pricing Quandary

Another item to remember is these publishers often don’t take the time to consider what is the best price for the book based on traditional market research. Often, they price their books based primarily on what it needs to be to make them a profit. They will usually mark the price of your book up $3-5 from the print cost and pocket every cent. Add to this the often poorly edited copy, and many self-published books are not readily sellable. The simple fact is that people seldom read or buy a book that is poorly edited and written, and is priced too high. And due in part to this pricing issue, you can forget about ever seeing your book on the shelf of a brick and mortar bookstore.

3. The Templated Design

Many of these publishers also make the author feel as though their book can look just as good as any other book on the traditional shelf, even if they use a template for their book’s cover design. The truth is, if you use a templated design, your book will look as though it belongs in a series written by other people. And you may not want your reputation soured by that of others.

4. The Mercy of a Red-Flagged Reputation

When you work with a subsidy/vanity publisher, their company name usually gets placed on your book. This means you are at the mercy of their reputation. Don’t believe everything you see on their websites. They hire the best sales copywriters in the world and appeal heavily to your emotions (which is 85% of your buying decision). The fact is, most of these publishers are “red-flagged” by brick and mortar stores. Unless you choose to fork out tens of thousands of dollars for a “custom” publisher or publish 100% independently, you are at the mercy of your publisher’s red-flagged reputation. It’s like fighting an uphill battle with 10,000 soldiers coming down at you and you’re all alone. And you left your superhero cape at home. Not pretty.

In truth, it is important that you, as the author, do your due diligence concerning self-publishing companies and subsidy or vanity publishers. Many companies trade unprofessionally on the legitimate practice of self-publishing, presenting themselves as viable alternatives. It is important to make sure that the publisher you are working with is the right one for your book. Most of the time the best self-publisher for you is you.


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Kristen Joy

Kristen Joy

Kristen Joy Laidig is the founder of The Book Ninja. She has authored over 40 books, started over 50 publishing companies, trained over 10,000 authors worldwide, has her black belt in karate, and eats way too much chocolate. She currently changes lives through her students… one published message at a time, manages her two retail stores Toy Box Gifts & Wonder® and Nerdvana Outpost in the heart of her newfound hometown, Chambersburg, PA, is in the start-up phase of at least three new businesses at any given time, and generally causes anyone reading this bio to be out of breath. On her “off” time (what’s that?) she brainstorms business ideas with her awesome husband, the great Public Domain Expert himself, Tony Laidig, and hangs out with her two ragdoll kitties. She’s even been known to sleep... occasionally.


  • Nancy O'Neill says:

    The self-publishing industry today doesn’t have the negative reputation that it had in the past. The truth is, with the major publishing houses accepting fewer and fewer manuscripts from unknown or first-time authors, self-publishing done well is a good option. Notice though, I said “done well” as it should be with any product regardless of who produces it.
    Whether an author pays a company for services to publish his/her book or pays an editor, graphic designer, PR person, etc., the bottom line is if the author is paying anything to anyone to get their book published, they would still be considered a self-published author. The only difference is, who the money goes to.
    And yes, I agree with you that writers should do a lot of research to find the right solution and not believe everything they read or hear. There are tons of viable options out there in the self-publishing world.
    Even if an author gets extremely lucky and a major publisher accepts their work, the author will still be expected to do most of the marketing and promoting of their book because publishing houses do not have the budgets they used to, especially when it comes to unknown authors.
    I can see many reasons why self-publishing is a good idea but it’s still those who slap a book together and call themselves a published author that give self-publishing a bad name.

    • Nancy,

      You are totally right in everything you said. The publishing industry has changed so dramatically in the past 10 years. Even agents are turning to self-published books to shop to traditional publishers. The route of publishing varies depending on the author’s goals. I personally am in favor of indie publishing – finding your own editor, designer, etc, and publishing everything 100% under your own name. There are so many benefits to not being tied to a questionable reputation of a “self-publishing” company and since the author has to do their own marketing no matter what option, why not reap 100% of the rewards? Plus if the book becomes successful, it gives negotiating power to the author for a traditional contract later.

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