Basics Self-Publishing

Vanity Publishing: Pros, Cons, and Tips

Taylor Harbin
Written by Taylor Harbin

Your manuscript is ready and polished. You can’t wait to give copies to your friends and family. But how do you turn that file on your computer into a physical book?

If you have some cash to spare, one quick method is vanity publishing. Here’s more about it.

What is Vanity Publishing?

A vanity publishing house is a company that will produce your book for you, in digital or physical format, but at a cost to you. Unlike trade publishing, you will first pay for all stages of the production of the book, and only then earn royalties on it. It’s closer to self-publishing, and some might even call it self-publishing for the rich.

The Stages of Vanity Publishing

Unlike full-fledged self-publishing, a vanity press will minimize the chaos and complication of the process, offering you the best results for the minimum effort. Here are the steps you’ll go through.

  1. Selecting a Company. There are a lot of choices out there, and they all offer a variety of service packages. Some companies will make both print and digital versions of your book (Author HouseLuluLlumina, and Xlibris, to name a few), while others specialize in only one particular format.
  2. Submitting Your Work. When you contact a vanity press, they will appoint a creative consultant to discuss your goals for the book and what you hope to achieve by going with that particular company. When that’s done, you and your assigned consultant will proceed with contract negotiations.
  3. Signing a Contract. Your contract details what services the company will provide in exchange for payment. The contract will also stipulate how much you will be paid in royalties, where the book will be available, and in what format.
  4. Editing and Proofing. Most companies will not offer extensive editing of your book unless you pay for the service. When the manuscript is laid out, they will send you a galley before taking it to print. You’ll need to make sure it is absolutely perfect. If you notice any errors, you will have to notify the company and make corrections.
  5. Cover Art and Copyright. Most vanity publishers will allow you to submit an image to use as the cover art. If you have no preference, they will bring one of their own artists to make it. Some companies will allow you to give the artist limited input, while others will consider this an extra service and charge you. Most vanity companies will also secure an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and copyright your work.
  6. Publishing and Distribution. Once the manuscript has been edited, the cover art finished, and the final galley approved, the book will be taken to print. Vanity publishers are not able to stock their books in retail stores, but some will list them on major websites (for a fee).

Challenges of Vanity Publishing

Even when you pay for everything to be done correctly, there are pitfalls to avoid.

  1. Expense. Printing a book is expensive. You will be footing most (if not all) of the bill. Service packages can run several thousand dollars, depending on the company. It’s not refundable.
  2. Low Exposure. Your book will not be available at the local Barns and Noble. Even though readers might order it through their website, the website is huge. Unless you pay for another service, you will have to do all of the marketing yourself.
  3. Public Image. Some people do not consider vanity publishing a legitimate means. To many, it has become synonymous with poor quality. If you decide to go the trade publishing route later on, most agents and editors will not consider a vanity-published book as a true credit to your name as a writer—unless you have solid sales to persuade them otherwise. This also means your work is not eligible for any major award.
  4. Lower Quality Book. Barring some exceptions, most vanity presses cannot produce a book with the same quality as a trade publisher. They do not have the same resources.


Can it be worth all of that money and effort? Vanity publishing has some upsides too!

  1. Shared Work Load. A vanity press can help free you of the technical labors of producing a book.
  2. Greater Royalties. You get to keep a bigger cut of the profits. Some companies advertise rates as high as 75%.
  3. Niche Markets. Most trade publishers will not be interested in books with limited appeal, like a family genealogy or the history of your home town. Vanity publishing allows you to get a book to those who are interested.
  4. Availability. Vanity publishers use Print On Demand (POD) technology. New copies of your book can be ordered and manufactured at any time, ensuring it will never go out of stock.
  5. No Pressure to Follow Up. Whether you plan to write another book or not, you will never be pressured by a vanity publisher to do one or the other.

Is it Right for You?

If you don’t want to go through the steps of producing a book on your own, if you’ve got money to spare, and if you only want a limited number of copies made, then a vanity press might be a good option for you.

If, however, you have thick skin, high-quality work that might appeal to the general public, and want to work with the industry’s established professionals to make your manuscript shine, then maybe trade publishing is more appropriate. Read more about the trade publishing route here.

About the author

Taylor Harbin

Taylor Harbin

Taylor Harbin is a professional historian from southeast Missouri. Easily distracted by the internet, he composes all of his work on a manual typewriter. His fiction has appeared in Bards and Sages Quarterly magazine.

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