What is Vanity Publishing?

by Bronwyn Tilley.

I’ve seen a lot of posts around the socials lately speaking (and bemoaning) of the terrible trap that is a vanity publisher. If you’ve never heard of a vanity publisher before, these are the people you pay quite a few thousand dollars to, to publish your book (see a great ABC article). We spit over our shoulder after we mention them because most of them are scavengers who prey upon newer writers who just want to get a book out there. They’ll whisper things like, movie deal, marketing and publicity, write-ups in all the papers, great reviews, etc. For a hefty price. $5000 upwards usually. Those whispers are already broken promises before you even sign on the dotted line and give to them your first born.

You never ever, ever pay your publisher anything if they’re a legitimate publisher. No reading fee, no editing fee, no cover art costs, not even photocopying. Some small publishers, tiny publishers, might work some of this into your contract but even then, if any publisher asks you for any money, I’d look around for someone or something else.

I hear some of you saying “It’s okay for them, they have agents, they have publishing contracts, what if I just want to publish a book, dip a toe in the water…”

Your first step should be looking into self-publishing if that’s the route you want to take. If you can use a computer and follow instructions, you can publish your own book in e-format and print and only pay for a decent cover and a good edit*. You control everything from when to publish and how, what royalties you want and how, also what platforms to use and when, what countries to market to. This is all learnable stuff that you can easily find on YouTube or learn through workshops. There are tutorials and teachers for everything these days so as long as you can follow instructions, you can do this yourself.

Start with KDP, Smashwords and Draft2Digital for self-publishing platforms.

Traditional publishing right now is really hard. Finding an agent right now is also really hard. If you have a book that can’t be easily defined for marketing purposes, ie doesn’t fit into a neat category, or has been rejected over and over, self-publish it and see what happens! The only thing you’ve got to lose is the ability to enter unpublished writing contests. This process will cost you between $0 and $1000 depending on your cover and editing needs and can be paid in increments at the different stages.

In saying all of the above, occasionally vanity publishers or hybrid publishers can help you. If your technical skills with a computer don’t stretch beyond Microsoft Word, then you might consider paying a consultant to do the formatting and loading to the sales and distribution platforms. If you have a one-off book you want printed for family, a good vanity publisher can help you but so can a printer like Griffin Press. If you have a full colour, hand illustrated children’s book, a hybrid publisher like Greenhills can help you get it to look like an actual book and publish it.

You should never have to mortgage your home or blow your life savings to follow this process through because until you build a readership, you might not make the money back. When any publisher offers you the world, ask them how they will deliver it, specifically, in great detail.

No matter if you’re going traditional, self-pub or vanity, always get your contract looked at by someone who knows what they’re doing. The ASA can do this. If you engage a lawyer, they have to be up to date on literary or publishing contracts. There are hidden nasties in every contract because there’s always something in it for ‘them’ but you don’t want this to burn you.

This journey can be so daunting and sometimes it’s downright scary but it’s infinitely doable no matter what your constraints are or what your budget is and as always, we’re here to help!

If you’re wondering if your manuscript has traditional publishing potential, sign up for a manuscript assessment.

Not sure you started your book in the right place, get a First Feedback.

If you want to talk about publishing pathways, here’s our on-demand workshop or if you’re a member, ask us about an advisory consult. Non-members can also book this service.

You can email us at any time with the name of the publisher after you’ve tried to Google them yourself and turned up nothing.  We may have heard of them already, who knows? We’re always just an email away…


*paying an editor should be approached in a certain way. Structural edits first to make sure the bones of your novel are great and that you’re not relying on plot devices or other bad writing habits. Then you can look at copy or line edits or a proofread. This work happens in layers and there’s no point in doing it out of turn, you’re just wasting money. You do not need to pay for an edit if you’re submitting to traditional publishers or agents, this is completely optional but never mandatory. Once you’ve signed a contract with a publisher, they will assign you an editor and work on your manuscript to their house style guide. If you want a long term career as a writer, you need to hone your craft and learn how to self-edit.

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