Freelance copy editor and proofreader in the UK explains the differences between self-publishing, hybrid publishers and vanity publishers!
Once upon a time, there were really only two ways for an author to see their work in print.
The first was to go down the traditional publishing route – submitting to agents, hoping for a positive response, signing with someone, working with them to improve the manuscript, and then waiting to see if they could sell it to a publisher.
The second was to pay a company upfront to produce the work, known as vanity publishing, and generally looked down upon, as well as being a risk, since a lot of the companies in question did not have the author’s best interests at heart.
Traditional publishers never ask the author to pay for their book to be published, whereas with vanity publishers, all the costs fall to the author.
Both these routes are still in existence, but the publishing industry has evolved considerably in recent years, and there are now multiple other options out there for authors keen to see their books on shelves.
Self-publishing used to be viewed as the route taken by those authors who weren’t good enough to be traditionally published. However, considering how difficult the traditional publishing route is, and how much success many authors have achieved by going it alone, self-publishing is now very much a legitimate path to publication.
There are multiple ways to go about it, though.
True self-publishing means that the author does all the work themselves. Whatever is required to get their book out into the world is the responsibility of the author alone. Writing, editing, proofreading, formatting, typesetting, cover design, printing, distribution and marketing – some authors take this all on themselves, so as to retain ultimate control over every aspect of their book’s production, and keep all the profits.
This can be a lot of work, so it may not be for everybody.
Never fear, though – there are reputable companies out there that can help you along the way. Self-publishing companies will offer a range of services the author has to pay for, but which will be undertaken by professionals, who will hopefully complete them to a high standard. The author should retain control over major decisions about how the book will be designed, produced and promoted, and all the costs should be laid out in a transparent way, so the author is clear on how the money is being spent.
The costs involved should also be reasonable, based on what is actually being provided. Plus, once the book is out in the world, the author receives all of the profits from sales.
So, this can be a good option for an author who wants to self-publish, but needs help with some aspects of the process.
Hybrid publishing offers a slightly different approach, more like a partnership between author and publisher. Hybrid publishers should offer all the services of a traditional publisher (i.e. completing all aspects of the publishing process, from start to finish), but will ask the author to share the costs of publication by paying a fee upfront. The author will then receive royalties from book sales, just like with a traditional publisher, so the profits are shared. The author won’t get an advance, and will have to pay some or all of the costs involved.
However, the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association, 2018) has issued a set of criteria for determining if a press presenting itself as a hybrid publisher is legitimate. There is no way for these standards to be enforced, but the list does offer authors a way to assess whether or not their publisher is reputable.
The criteria are as follows:
The publisher must have a defined mission and vision for its publishing program.
Submissions must be vetted in a selective process.
The publisher must have its own imprint(s) and ISBNs.
Books must be published to industry standards.
The publisher must offer good quality editorial, design, and production services.
The publisher must pursue and manage a range of publishing rights.
The publisher must provide distribution services.
Respectable sales must be demonstrated, which means the publisher can show a good track record of decent sales figures for books they have produced.
The royalties offered to the author must be higher than those offered by traditional publishers (to reflect the contribution made by the author to the publishing costs).
So, as long as the company acts as it should, this can be a good option for an author looking for assistance and legitimacy for the publication of their book, and willing to pay at least some of the costs in order to receive a higher share of the profits.
However, there are still plenty of companies out there that fall under the original definition of ‘vanity publishing’, and it’s a good idea to know what red flags to watch out for so you can avoid potential scams.
Vanity publishers not only put responsibility for all publication costs onto the author, but they also charge often massively inflated prices for providing their services. They prey on an author’s vanity (hence the name) by praising the work, even though they may not have even read it, let alone put it through any kind of selection process. They will then likely produce a small run of poorly-produced books, but not engage in any legitimate distribution or marketing efforts, thus resulting in very low sales.
Vanity publishers often have lengthy sections in their contracts about the rights they claim, which may leave authors with no control over their work and no ability to publish it themselves or through another company later.
They make money from authors, rather than for them. Since they have already made their profits before the book even sees print, they have no incentive for the book to do well.
It can be difficult to tell friend from foe in this over-subscribed market, full of companies that are offering all sorts of services and routes to publication for authors desperate to see their work in print. Some reputable companies may produce poor-quality books, and some vanity publishers may produce high-quality books.
So, how can you safely navigate these potentially treacherous waters?
Well, it’s important that you do your research before selecting any kind of partner for your publication journey. There are people out there who are watching your back and can help you identify which companies are worth working with and which are best avoided.
Perhaps the most famous is Writer Beware, a website that keeps an up-to-date list of many publishers, with an honest assessment of their legitimacy and value. You can also look for reviews of specific publishers online, as authors who have been taken in by scams are usually not shy about warning others, so they can avoid making the same mistakes.
It may seem daunting trying to decide the best way forwards for getting your writing out into the world, and the possibility of a traditional publishing contract may seem vanishingly small, but thanks to the way the publishing industry has changed and evolved over the past few decades, there are plenty of options out there for authors who are prepared to do the work.
Good luck on the journey!
About Annie Percik
Annie Percik lives in London, writing novels and short stories, whilst working as a freelance editor. She writes a blog about writing on her website, which is where all her current publications are listed, including her novels, The Defiant Spark and A Spectrum of Heroes. She hosts a media review podcast, and publishes a photo-story blog, recording the adventures of her teddy bear. He is much more popular online than she is.