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Self-Publishing or Vanity Publishing?

Authors who self-publish books are often rightly concerned that their books may be unfairly stigmatized as a "vanity" publications. Today, the entire publishing industry is changing dramatically, so it is more important than ever to draw new distinctions between self-publishing and vanity publishing in the 21st Century.

It's unrealistic to expect many writers to have all of the complex technical skills required to publish a book entirely without help: writing, editing, layout, cover design, printing, etc. As a result, it's common today for self publishing authors to hire professionals in various fields to assist them in the process of publishing a book... just as major conventional publishers do!

The notion that paying specialists to help you self-publish a book implies vanity publishing is patently false. The facts are:

  • While some writers today may have the myriad of technical skills required to write a book, execute an interior and cover design, prepare files for printers, etc. -- they are still a vast minority.

  • More self-publishing authors function like "general contractors" building houses: they are in charge, but they sub-contract specific tasks to specialists in carpentry, plumbing, roofing, etc. They do not necessarily try to perform each of these specific tasks personally.

  • Others prefer to use a single company that combines services in a package.

    In all three cases above, the author invests meaningful amounts of time and money. At the very least, you must pay a printer for an initial press run, even if the first printing is small. (Unless you happen to own a printing press yourself!) So if paying for services is not the issue, what's the real difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing?

    One way to make a distinction is to ask "Where does the money come from? From fees paid by authors, or sales of books to readers?" Vanity presses get the majority of their revenues from fees paid by writers... often totaling thousands of dollars. Vanity presses make a profit whether the book sells or not. On the other hand, true self-publishers earn money by actually selling books.

    Real self publishers approach the publication of a book like a business. They know that they need to offer the public a competitive product at a competitive price. They understand that authors must aggressively market their own books. Vanity publishing often overlooks the probability (or improbability) of recovering the cost of publication; the author is satisfied simply by getting a book in print.

    In our view, the real difference is that true self-publishers have a realistic expectation of earning a profit. To illustrate, imagine this hypothetical conversation between a reader and a writer:

    READER: "I see you wrote a book. Who published it?"

    WRITER: "I published it myself."

    READER: "How much did it cost?"

    WRITER: "I paid Company X (or individual contractors) about a thousand dollars, plus the cost of a small initial printing."

    READER: "Not bad... but isn't that vanity publishing?"

    WRITER: "No, it's self-publishing. I've already sold enough copies to cover my costs, and now I'm making a profit on every book sold. I wouldn't call that 'vanity' publishing, would you?"

    If you invest $2,000 (a generous budget as outlined in our book) and clear $5 per book, it will take only 400 sales to start earning a profit. The good news is that nearly ANY well-crafted book with a clear audience can be self-published profitably today... sometimes VERY profitably! Our guide shows you how.

    It takes creativity and determination to successfully self-publish and market a book, but it isn't rocket science. Thousands of writers have already proven that it's possible. Read the latest edition of to learn how you can join us!

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