As a writer, you have undoubtedly seen various subsidy or vanity publishers, or ones marketing self-publishing packages. In essence these companies offer to publish your story, book, or e-book for a fee, and depending on the company, even provide you with an ISBN. The definition I like to use of a subsidy/vanity publisher is any publisher that charges you an upfront fee (usually $499 to $8,000), puts their name on your book, handles the distribution for you and then generously offers you royalties.
In some cases, these publishers serve a purpose. They are useful in situations where the selected audience is small, such as procedures for a machine operation, or memoirs of a family friend. However, even in these instances there are a number of things that you as an aspiring author should consider.
1. The Editing Factor
The first thing to know is that a subsidy publisher will rarely take the time to edit your work carefully. These publishers make their profit through volume; the more books they have on the shelves and the more authors they serve, the more money they make. They are unlikely to spend as much time as a traditional editor and publishing house on honing and adjusting your book to be the best that it can be. If they do offer editing services, it is typically overpriced and you must pay for it. Many self-published books have a horrible reputation because the author doesn’t invest in a good quality book editor.
2. The Pricing Quandary
Another item to remember is these publishers often don’t take the time to consider what is the best price for the book based on traditional market research. Often, they price their books based primarily on what it needs to be to make them a profit. They will usually mark the price of your book up $3-5 from the print cost and pocket every cent. Add to this the often poorly edited copy, and many self-published books are not readily sellable. The simple fact is that people seldom read or buy a book that is poorly edited and written, and is priced too high. And due in part to this pricing issue, you can forget about ever seeing your book on the shelf of a brick and mortar bookstore.
3. The Templated Design
Many of these publishers also make the author feel as though their book can look just as good as any other book on the traditional shelf, even if they use a template for their book’s cover design. The truth is, if you use a templated design, your book will look as though it belongs in a series written by other people. And you may not want your reputation soured by that of others.
4. The Mercy of a Red-Flagged Reputation
When you work with a subsidy/vanity publisher, their company name usually gets placed on your book. This means you are at the mercy of their reputation. Don’t believe everything you see on their websites. They hire the best sales copywriters in the world and appeal heavily to your emotions (which is 85% of your buying decision). The fact is, most of these publishers are “red-flagged” by brick and mortar stores. Unless you choose to fork out tens of thousands of dollars for a “custom” publisher or publish 100% independently, you are at the mercy of your publisher’s red-flagged reputation. It’s like fighting an uphill battle with 10,000 soldiers coming down at you and you’re all alone. And you left your superhero cape at home. Not pretty.
In truth, it is important that you, as the author, do your due diligence concerning self-publishing companies and subsidy or vanity publishers. Many companies trade unprofessionally on the legitimate practice of self-publishing, presenting themselves as viable alternatives. It is important to make sure that the publisher you are working with is the right one for your book. Most of the time the best self-publisher for you is you.