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[Book Publishing 101] Traditional vs Vanity vs Self-Publishing

Perhaps you're at the beginning of your book writing journey, wondering how to get all 87,367 thoughts out of your head and onto the page. (If that's the case and you'd like to get a strong start in under 50 minutes, check out my newest free training right here.)

Or, maybe you're writing or even in the editing process and you're wondering, "What's next?"

Do you try to get a traditional publisher interested? Do you work with the self-publishing arm of a traditional publisher or employ the services of another vanity publishing house? Do you self-publish? What even are the differences between each approach?

If these are the questions that swirl in your head, this series has you covered. I promise.

In the first part of the Book Publishing 101 series, I'll talk about all 3 publishing approaches at a mile-high level just to help you get clear on what each actually is. From there, we'll explore the pros and cons of each approach in greater detail.

While I self-publish my own books and run a publishing house that I suppose could be considered a vanity house (though I do some critical things differently from most vanity houses), I'm not against any options out there and available to authors.

What I am against is authors not fully understanding the pros and cons of each option in order to make the best decision for them and for their particular book.

You don't know what you don't know, so let's get you in the know!

Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing is what's often perceived as "real" publishing. This is where your book is purchased by an editor at one of the Big 5 houses (Penguin/RandomHouse, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, and MacMillan) or a subsidiary thereof.

There are also smaller "traditional" publishing houses that don't pay authors an advance but also don't charge authors up front to publish their books. It's not easy to have the rights to a a book purchased by a traditional publisher, especially in the post-Covid landscape when many traditional publishers are heavily struggling with distribution issues.

The key here is that these are well-established, well-known publishing houses that  purchase the rights to publish a book from the author via an up-front advance and a publishing contract.

Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing is a bit of a mish-mash these days. In essence, a vanity publisher is a publisher whom you pay to publish your book. Many of the major houses have vanity divisions (Hay House has Balboa Press, Zondervan has Westbow, etc.) you can hire to produce your book, and they will take an up-front fee as well as a percentage of book sales. 

My own publishing house, Finn-Phyllis Press, is technically somewhere between a vanity publishing house and an assisted self-publishing service. My approach is quite different in some key areas from the majority of vanity publishing houses out there (we'll get in to this in a future post). You could say I was looking to create a hybrid of self-publishing and vanity publishing to allow authors to make the most of the self-publishing benefits and avoid the nonsense I see in the vanity space without the headaches that can come with self-publishing (due simply to a lack of knowledge about the industry and process). This is what I came up with!

Like traditional publishing, most vanity publishers contract exclusive rights to a book project. Fees for vanity publishing can reach five figures, and they are intended to ensure that the publisher profits up front (regardless of whether or not any books ever sell). There is zero risk therefore taken by the vanity publisher when it comes to publishing the book. Their fees serve as their primary profit source, not book sales. 

Many times, authors elect to work with a vanity publishing company either for the perception that their book has been picked up by a "real" publishing house (thus making them a "real" author), or for the marketing services that vanity publishing houses claim they will provide on the back-end of the project. A simple press release, social media setup, and a web page on their company website, however, do not constitute an effective marketing strategy and will likely yield the author little-to-no sales. The publisher will, however, be glad nonetheless to take a percentage of the sales the author does make from their monthly (or quarterly) royalties. 

Self-Publishing

The name says it all!

Self-publishing is the approach by which you take care of everything that needs to be taken care of to get your book onto the market: writing, hiring an editor, hiring a cover designer, hiring an interior formatter, acquiring the ISBN(s), and uploading your book for sale through appropriate distribution channels.

I teach this entire process step-by-step in my flagship course, Publish A Profitable Book

Unfortunately, many still think of self-publishing as "less than," both in quality of author and quality of product -- after all, if your book were amazing, a traditional publishing house would surely want to publish it, right? (And, therefore, if you self-publish, it surely means that you just "aren't that good.")

While at one time this MIGHT (and I emphasize might) have been true, it hasn't been the case for many years.

Authors can absolutely publish a New York Times bestseller quality book themselves and retain full control over look, tone, distribution, and the majority of the profits. Since you're going to be doing 99.999% of the work to get the book out there, it seems only fitting that you retain 100% of the profit! 

What's critical is knowing how to write and publish a book that is indistinguishable in quality from a NYT bestseller, which is exactly what I've been doing for 18+ years. While there are times when a traditional publishing contract might make more sense (if you're offered one), there has never been a better time to be a self-published author. 

In the next article in this series, I'll dive into the pros and cons of traditional publishing. 

In the meantime, let me know what questions YOU have in the comments!  

 

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