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Vanity publishing, author services, indie publishing and traditional publishing, oh my.

If you’re an aspiring author and looking to get published, you may be a bit confused as to where to start. You may have heard buzz words like vanity publishing, indie publishing and traditional publishing and wonder what they all mean and also what’s best for you. I’m going to break down all of these terms and give you my advice, as an indie publisher.

Vanity publishing

Straight off the bat, you should not consider a vanity publisher. These are companies that drastically overcharge for their services. It’s key to note that a vanity press and a company that offers author services are very different.

Vanity presses are companies that offer to publish authors for a fee. It’s usually considered a last resort for authors who can’t be published via traditional and indie presses. These presses essentially serve the vanity of the author but at a cost.

A vanity publisher could be a good option only if:

  • You have no time to spare so you can’t do your own research on editors etc

  • You have money to throw away

  • You can’t get published anywhere else

Most of the time, you’ll just end up chucking money at them for services you could find cheaper and better quality elsewhere. The main issue that most have with these ‘presses’ is that not only do they take your money, but also ask for a percentage of your royalties.

An indie/traditional publisher will front all of the cost to publish the book in return for the lion’s share of the royalties. With traditional and indie presses, authors contribute no money at all. The press covers the cost of editing, marketing, book production etc.

However, vanity presses will ask authors to pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of pounds plus take a cut of the royalties.

Vanity presses are also not selective with what they publish, meaning that if you write a horror novel, it could be published in a press that has also published children’s fiction. This could be detrimental to you as it spreads their marketing knowledge across vastly different genres, essentially wearing their expertise thin. At SmashBear (an indie press) for example, we are specialised in horror, urban fantasy, fantasy and paranormal romance. This is not only because this is what our team loves to read and enjoys working on, but also because we can focus our knowledge on these specific genres which help us create effective marketing campaigns and know our audiences.

Author services

Because of the borderline hatred towards vanity presses in the writing community, it’s really important to distinguish author services from vanity publishing. Author service companies are, put simply, companies that offer author services such as editing, book printing etc.

They will charge for their services as this is how they make a profit, but they don’t disguise themselves as presses and don’t ask for a cut of future royalties. You give them a one-time payment, and then your contract with them is finished.

As self-publishing has become better quality and more popular with authors, author service companies have boomed. If you’re self-publishing your book, which can be an amazing thing to do, then you’ll need author services. This could be either in the form of hiring professionals such as editors, book cover designers, typesetters etc individually after doing your own research, or you could find a company that has all of these people combined. Whichever you choose, just make sure they come reviewed/recommended and are not a vanity press in disguise.

Indie publishing

Indie publishing is a very broad spectrum to consider. It can comprise of indie presses such as SmashBear, to self-published authors like Charlotte Murphy (if you love women-led fantasy, seriously check our her Antoniades Legacy series). An indie press is a publishing press that is not affiliated with one of the big 5 (4 after the HaperCollins/Penguin merger). Indie presses work very similarly to traditional presses. They don’t charge for their services but do own the right to publish the book and receive the majority of the royalties in return.

Indie publishing can also include self-published authors! I often get asked if I consider self-published authors as publishers, and my answer is always yes! A publisher works to put together a book. They edit, design the cover, create marketing materials and get the book to production. They work on sales and make sure the book continues to sell well! If you do this, even as a self-published author, then you’re a publisher! Some self-published authors even create their own presses to publish their own work.

Traditional publishing

Put simply, traditional publishing is where you’re published via one of the big 5 publishing houses. These are:

  • Hachette

  • Penguin Random House

  • HaperCollins (currently going through a merger with PRH)

  • Macmillan

  • Simon & Schuster

Most authors yearn for a contract from one of the big 5. It’s seen as the peak of success. These publishers earn millions of dollars a year and have vast resources to throw at manuscripts, often offering print runs of 5,000 units as a basic rate.

Authors do sacrifice more of their creative control when it comes to edits, covers and marketing than they would with indie presses, but it depends on what the author wants from their book.

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