Differences between Traditional, Self-Publishing and Vanity Publishing

book-iconDifferences between Traditional, Self-Publishing and Vanity Publishing

Thanks to the internet, the publishing industry has changed dramatically over the years. Before, getting your written words out to an audience meant a long, difficult process. Publishing houses could only produce so many works a year, and the competition to be one of the chosen few was fierce.

Now, writers can get their words out to the public with the click of a mouse. However, having more opportunities doesn’t mean that being successfully published is easy. In fact, there are so many options today, that the process itself can seem overwhelming. It seems that the internet is flooded with companies who offer to publish or print your book for you, with prices in every range. It’s hard to know which businesses are outright frauds, which ones aren’t worth the money, and which ones might bring you success in the future.

Understanding which kind of publishing options you have is the first step in deciding what to do after you have finished your book. Most publishing companies will fit into one of three categories: Traditional Publishing, Vanity Publishing and Self Publishing. All three can bring value, it simply depends on what you as a writer are trying to accomplish.

Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing is still a good option to take, but you have to be prepared for the time and energy it will take to get the attention of the big publishing houses. The process itself is quite slow, especially if you don’t yet have an agent. Having an agent is essential in today’s world if you want to be traditionally published. Very few reputable houses are willing to take unsolicited manuscripts any more. Once you acquire a good agent, you will work with them to find opportunities for publishing. They will have connections with people in the publishing industry and will know who to talk to that will be interested in your particular writing style and genre.

Then, you will write a query letter or a book proposal of about 10-15 pages. In the proposal you will discuss a summary of your idea for the book, what kind of audience it will appeal to, how your book will stand out from the crowd of similar topics and a basic chapter outline that summarizes the content. For fiction, writers are normally asked for a synopsis and three sample chapters of their novel. If a publisher decides to take your book, they will give you a contract that includes an advance and a percentage of royalties on future sales. Once the legal documents are signed, your book will go through a rigorous process of editing and design, and you may be asked to rewrite portions of your book to fit the tastes of what the publishing house thinks will be more desirable to their readers. This can take up to a year or more if there are a lot of changes. Then your book will hit the press, and be delivered to bookstores around the globe. If your book is successful, you might be looking at a lucrative career and many more contracts in the future. However, if your book sales are low, or if they don’t meet or exceed the cost of your advance, it might be very difficult to get another book deal.

This path has a lot of risks in the beginning. You may work for years, get an agent and send out hundreds of proposals, but never see your book in print. However, if your book is chosen, it sells well and you are signed for multiple contracts – the publishing house will take care of all the “grunt work”.

All you have to do is write well and write often and do events during promotion time. The publisher will take care of marketing, artwork, formatting, cover design, editing and all the other details that can end up costing a ton of time and a small fortune.

Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing has actually been around for some time. If a writer was having a difficult time finding a traditional publisher, and they believed they could sell the book themselves, they would go to a Vanity Press and have them printed for a fee. Sometimes businesses or individuals wanted to publish a book without the intention of reaching a large audience. A business might want to print a book about the history of their company. A Grandmother might want to make a printed family album with generations of pictures to give out for a holiday or reunion. Obviously, a major publishing house would not be interested in printing thousands of books for one small business or family, but it’s great that there is an option for people who want their hard work or special memories printed in a well-made, professionally created book. Before the arrival of modern-day self-publishing, vanity publishing was sometimes used by aspiring authors. However, these kinds of publishing companies required a large minimum number of books, which meant it costs a lot of money for a writer. Often times, the expense of printing these books was so great, that little money was left for design, editing and marketing. This meant fewer sales, and sometimes stacks of boxes full of thousands of unsold books.

Self-Publishing (or Independent Publishing)

Today, self-publishing options are numerous to say the least. Some companies require a print minimum, but most publishing companies allow you to choose how many you will have printed at one time. The cost per book usually reduces as the quantity rises. This means that an author can buy only a few copies of their book for their shelf, and to give to friends and family to read. Or, if they are willing to do some self-promotion, they can purchase a small number to start and buy larger quantities later. A writer can buy the exact number of books they think will sell at a signing, convention or speaking engagement.

The process of printing has also changed dramatically. The printers used have become much more efficient, and publishers can print a single book for a fraction of the price of the past. This has allowed for what is called Print-On-Demand. Many of the publishers that offer POD also provide an author sales page on their website. The author can drive their audience to purchase the book from the publisher’s shop and have it sent to them, and the writer gets to take a much larger percentage of royalties than traditional publishing allows.

Also, the popularity of ebooks has exploded as the technology to publish and read them has expanded. Millions of people can read books on their Kindle, tablet, computer or even their cell phones. Therefore, many people prefer to buy books this way. This makes the cost of printing go away entirely. All a writer has to do is make sure that the book is formatted correctly for multiple devices, and has a platform to sell them on. Some self-publishing companies will offer to format the ebook, design a cover, edit and put the book on sale on multiple platforms for a very small fee compared to the costs of Vanity publishing or buying bulk printed books. Both POD and ebook options means that there is little to no cost to author’s upfront, the publisher’s simply take a small royalty fee from sales of your book. Just keep in mind, most self-publishing companies will not market for you. Self-publishing means self-promotion. The writer has to be willing to build an audience themselves and be able to drive that audience toward purchasing their book.

Other Types of Publishing and Distributors

It is important to note, that in the rapidly changing world of publishing, newer and different types of publishing models are emerging all the time. There are new models such as collaborative (or co-operative) publishing, traditional digital only publishing, no advance publishing, subsidy publishing, hybrid publishing, etc. Writers should ensure that they are fully aware of what they are signing up for when they are engaging with a publisher.

Distribution companies and retailers are also a major part of the changing publishing industry. Companies like Amazon, Smashwords, Book Baby, Kobo Writing Life, etc all offer services to help writers publish and distribute their books online.

If you’re unsure about your options and you need advice on any of the publishing models out there, let us know in the comments.

(c) Accomplish Press 2015


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