The Differences Between Vanity & Indie Publishing

As both an indie writer and a publisher, I’ve noticed that there’s an area where a lot of new writers tend to get hung up on…and that’s choosing a way to publish their work. In this post, you’re going to learn the differences between vanity and indie publishing.

What Is Vanity Publishing?

I won’t name names when it comes to vanity publishing (because I am not a fan of it). Instead, I’ll tell you story that most new writers can relate with. When I was 14 years old, I was writing poetry at school…and selling it to boys who found themselves in trouble with their significant others. It was a pretty good gig. One evening, I was reading through an issue of the now defunct Sassy magazine (this is back before the Internet was an affordable option – most libraries still didn’t give free access in the 90s) and saw an ad for a “poetry competition.” So, I mailed in a couple of poems. About a month later, I received a “congratulatory” letter stating that my work had been accepted and I could buy a very expensive copy of the anthology if I wanted to see it. Well, I was 14. I was ecstatic. I didn’t realize until about five or six years later that the “competition” declared everyone a winner and a fantastic writer….in an effort to sell copies of their “anthology.”

Vanity publishing companies may only specialize in a few areas. Maybe they “work with” poets. Maybe they “work with” sci-fi writers, children’s book authors, whatever. They don’t tell anyone no. Sure, some companies will “provide” you with an editor, cover art design, and marketing…but it all comes at a very high cost to you. Oh, and you’ll likely be told that you have to purchase hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of copies of your own book…for you to market and sell. And that price tag is another high expense. Think about it – can you afford to pay for the editor, the cover design, the printing, and how in the hell are you going to sell all of those copies of your book? Essentially, a vanity publishing company just acts as your printer. You pay them to print your work. You pay them to hook you up with a cover designer. You pay them to find an editor. Sure, all of those things cost money, but what are you going to do with a garage full of books?

What Is Indie Publishing?

Indie publishing is short for “independent publishing.” They are usually called indie publishers. You’ve got a person (like me) or a group of people (I do have a design team on standby) who work with authors to get their work ready for publication. We usually have certain genres we prefer to publish. We do not accept every writer. Depending on the publishing house, sometimes when writers are signed, they are given a small advance. There is professional editing and cover design. There is a discussion on pre-launch and marketing. Sure, as a writer you may still do some of your own marketing. After all, it’s in your best interest to do so. The expenses for your book may be subtracted from your royalties. You don’t have to buy hundreds or thousands of copies to sit in your garage. You become a member of a team.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should understand the rights involved with your work. The rights that you want to sign over or keep will ultimately be the discussion between you and the publishing house. They may or may not be willing to negotiate with you. However, it is up to you to understand your rights, how they work, what you are signing over, and how you will be paid.


First, if you didn’t read the 600 words above this section, you’re not ready to be published…because you’re not willing to pay attention to make decisions in your own best interest.

The differences:

Vanity publishing – They accept anyone. You pay for hundreds or thousands of copies in advance that are shipped to you. You do your own marketing. They are basically a giant print shop.

Indie publishing – We do not accept just anyone. There are expenses involved that are usually taken out of your royalties. Sometimes writers get a small advance. You work with a team although you may still need to do your own marketing. You will get a contract that will discuss your rights and payments. You need to understand your rights.

I’ll talk about the finer points of self-publishing on another day.

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