Depending on what you’ve heard in the past, these words either inspire hope or fear. That’s why I’m here to break down what they mean in the publishing industry and shed some light on the stigma behind both.
Let’s start off with the word that started it all. The dread. The frustration. The tears. The vanity publisher.
Most definitions that have spawned from this term all agree that vanity presses are in the market to make money off the author. Generally, this is achieved by luring an aspiring author with the promise of publication of their novel for a fee. Vanity publishers or presses offer pricing based on the author’s needs for their book to which the author can pay all of the amount up front or in payment increments.
What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Nothing inherently, but if you want to have your book marketed or in a bookstore like this type of publisher promises, then you’re pretty much S.O.L. Vanity publishers are salespeople. Their job is to sell you, the author, their service – not to sell your book. That’s something you’ll have to do on your own and usually why they require the author to buy a set amount of their own books from them once published. It’s up to you to go door to door selling them. Or in this case, bookstore to bookstore.
Unfortunately, many bookstores reject this type of print and it’s not because they don’t think your story is good enough. It’s because of the often shoddy work involved such as little to no editing, formatting issues, and not to mention some of those atrocious book covers they claim to have award-winning artists design.
Not all vanity publishers are conniving, but since this stigma has stuck around, it’s hard to shake it. There’s a website that I like to use that rates self-publishing companies for books, marketing, editing, and cover design. It’s based on ALLi’s Code of Standards which determines the professionalism and ethical values of each company. If you were ever wondering if the vanity press you’re thinking about going with is ethically inclined to deliver on their promises, this would be the place to go.
So, with all this talk about vanity publishers, you’re probably wondering if I would ever recommend them. The answer is that it depends on what you want to accomplish with your story. This type of publisher is usually unselective with their books and will publish close to anything. Your book will be published, it will be made available across multiple platforms in ebook and paperback forms, and it’ll be out there. You’ll just have to put more effort into getting it noticed through social media, your author website, and of course, word of mouth. It all depends on how much money you’re willing to invest, how much time you want to put into marketing, and ultimately, what your end goal for your story is.
With that all being said, I’m sure you’re on your toes waiting for me to describe the other word: hybrid. Here’s where it gets a little hairy. Some people will say that “hybrid” is simply a term created by vanity publishers who’re trying to get rid of the stigma of “vanity.” And, unfortunately, this is the case for some out there. I talked a little bit about this in my podcast episode with Kim Appelgryn where she told me about what happened to her with a publishing house she was associated with for her debut novel.
But alternatively, I have seen hybrid publishers that seem to have a more legitimate business model. Even some traditional indie publishers are starting to look into hybrid models where the author makes an investment up front and the publisher invests in the other half of the costs. Usually, this entails editing and formatting costs for the book, but can include other expenses on the author’s behalf. There’s also the model of having the costs taken out of the author’s royalties so the author wouldn’t put money up front, but wouldn’t receive money until the debt is paid back.
While the latter model may sound better, it means that these publishers are more selective because they would have to see a return on the book. Additionally, if the book doesn’t sell well, then the author may never see a cent in royalties. However, if a publisher is willing to do a contract with no up front costs, then chances are they’re also willing to aid with marketing or have established a strong presence across platforms to make marketing easier.