[Sca-cooks] vanity press vs. self publishing

Terry Decker t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net
Wed Nov 8 05:57:49 PST 2006

A vanity press is an operation that for a (usually large) fee accepts any 
manuscript and produces a book that strokes the ego of the author but often 
has no true commercial value.  The economic value to the author is usually a 
dead loss.  Once in a long while, a commercially viable book comes out of 
the vanity presses and is normally taken over by one of the commercial 

A self-publisher is a person(s) who does the writing, editing, production 
and marketing of a book themselves, contracting for specialized services 
like art work and printing.  The goal here is commercial success.  "McBird," 
a satiric retelling of Macbeth with the Johnson administration as the 
primary characters, was self-published and went through twenty-odd small 
batch printings of a few thousand each before one of the majors offered a 
contract on it.

A small press or publisher works much like a self-publisher, except for 
self-authoring.  They usually publish niche or limited audience books. 
Author's are not charged the fees that a vanity press charges.  Donald M. 
Grant, who publishes limited edition hardbounds of various genre books (R.E. 
Howard's Conan, the reprint of H.H. Hines' "Golden Anniversary Bibliography 
of Edgar Rice Burroughs," etc.) is an example of a small press.

On demand publishers are a new form of publisher that combine the features 
of the small press and the self-publisher.  They will provide various 
services for fee, charge a relatively small setup fee (as opposed to a 
printer's bill) for a digital print-ready file, and they take a percentage 
of the cover price of each book (although smaller than a major publishing 
house since they normally don't do the marketing).  "The Knight Next Door" 
is an example of on demand publishing.

The choice of printing technology is governed more by printing requirements, 
economics and availablity rather than aesthetics.  Personally, I like letter 
press and quality paper stock, but that is just too expensive for general 


> So, what is the difference between self publishing and a "vanity
> press" job? In both cases you are sending off a manuscript (or today,
> a computer file) to a printing house and paying for them to print and
> then, probably, bind it. Although today, sometimes self published
> means a bound photocopy rather than offset printing.
> Stefan

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