is Part Three of a five-part series summarizing my remarks in a panel
discussion on the “Ins and Outs of Self-Publishing” sponsored by the Washington, DC
chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. In
Parts One and Two of this series, I discussed using a traditional publisher and
self-publishing using print-on-demand (POD) printing. In this Part Three, I discuss publishing via
vanity or subsidy press.
Vanity and Subsidy Presses
When preparing my remarks and hand-out for the panel, I asked some self-publishers and small publishers for feedback. Feedback is what I asked for and feedback is certainly what I got! One publisher asked me why I would sully the name of self-publishing by including a discussion of vanity and subsidy presses so prominently in my remarks.
I believe that in
today’s world it is narrow-minded to dismiss completely subsidy presses as a
means of self-publishing. The negative
view of vanity and subsidy publishing is grounded in bad behavior by some
companies who preyed on the hopes and dreams of aspiring authors.
Here are some of the negative characteristics historically associated with a “vanity press”. It’s a company that does the following:
- represents itself as a traditional publisher
- accepts any manuscript without evaluating its merit
- charges a large amount of money for a small quantity of books and then makes no effort to market or distribute the book because it has already made its profit from the upfront fee paid by the author
the worst case scenario, the vanity press’s contract takes the copyright in the
author’s book so the author can not distribute the book project through any
Historically, there has been a distinction between a vanity press and a subsidy press. A subsidy press helps authors produce their books for a fee but without any of the shenanigans implemented by the traditional vanity press model. They do not represent themselves as traditional publishers, do not take the author’s copyright, and do not make any promises on the commercial success of the book project. Somewhere along the line, the terms “vanity press” and “subsidy press” merged and today are often used interchangeably. I’m going to choose the term subsidy press.
Today, many presses that some might classify as subsidy presses use the method of POD printing discussed in Part Two of this series and are intermediaries between self-publishers and Lightning Source, one of the largest POD printers. The advantage of subsidy press is that the subsidy press takes care of the entire book production process including the cover design, typesetting, and printing. As long as the subsidy press charges a reasonable mark-up for such services, it is useful for authors who want to distribute a small number of books to friends, family and members of clubs with which they’re affiliated. The high per unit costs make it difficult to sell subsidy press books through bookstores, wholesalers, or distributors.
Yet, there are real subsidy press success stories that go beyond the distribution of a few dozen copies. Two of those success stories come from my co-panelists on the “Ins and Outs of Self-Publishing” panel – Veronica Li and Carla Danziger. I’ll share their stories in the next segment of this series to be posted on Tuesday, November 13.