Vanity press

A vanity press or vanity publisher is a publishing house that publishes books at the author's expense Johnathon Clifford claims to have coined the term in 1959.

Or a company that makes it profits from selling to the author, rather than marketing to the main stream book buyer.In this way it may try to tell people that it is not a vanity publisher, but the fact is most of the time the books from this kind of publisher is over priced and will not sell except to the Author's friends and family. They are so over priced that no main stream book store will stock them without the author begging the local bookstore to stock a few.

A vanity press will generally agree to print and bind any author's work if the author is willing to pay for the service; these fees typically form a vanity press's profits.

In contrast, commercial publishers, whether major companies or small presses, derive their profit from sales of the book. Publishers must therefore be cautious and deliberate in choosing to publish works that will sell, particularly as they must recoup their investment in the book (such as an advance payment and royalties to the author, editorial guidance, promotion, marketing, or advertising). To better help sell their books, commercial publishers may also be selective in order to cultivate a reputation for high-quality work, or to specialize in a particular genre.

Because vanity presses are not selective, publication by a vanity press is typically not seen as conferring the same recognition or prestige as commercial publication. Vanity presses do offer more independence for the author than does the mainstream publishing industry; however, their fees can be higher than the fees normally charged for similar printing services, and sometimes restrictive contracts are required.

While a commercial publisher's intended market is the general public, a vanity publisher's intended market is the author. Many authorities consider an author mill to be a kind of vanity publisher.

Differences from commercial publishers

Although vanity presses are a legitimate publishing option, the term “vanity press” has become derogatory, and is often used to imply that an author who self-publishes using such a service is only publishing out of vanity, and that his or her work could not be commercially successful, an assumption that is not true in all cases. In other words, a work published by a vanity press is typically assumed to be unpublishable elsewhere.

Some companies offer printing (and, very rarely, limited distribution) for a fee. Such services can be a viable way for an author to self-publish without owning printing equipment. This is particularly attractive to an author of a work with a limited, specialized appeal which may not interest mainstream publishers, or to the author who intends to promote his or her work personally. Some people see self-publishing as a form of vanity publishing because the author pays the costs of printing the work and takes charge of promoting and selling it.

Scholarly journals often ask authors to pay page charges but use peer review to keep a high scientific standard. This is to be distinguished from the true vanity publisher, who will publish anything within their general market that will be paid for.

Poets often self-publish, as their work is generally of extremely specialized appeal, and therefore risky to mainstream publishers.

A mainstream publisher traditionally assumes the risk of publication and production costs, selects the works to be published, edits the author's text, and provides for marketing and distribution, provides the ISBN and satisfies whatever legal deposit and copyright registration formalities are required. Such a publisher normally pays the author a fee, called an advance, for the right to publish the author's work; and further payments, called royalties, based on the sales of the work. This led to James D. Macdonald's famous dictum, "Money should always flow toward the author" (sometimes called Yog's Law).

A vanity publisher will publish almost any book if the author is willing to pay. This lack of selectivity is the main reason for the low esteem which most of the literary world assigns to vanity publishers. Vanity publishers typically do little or no effective marketing. Formerly, they did little or no distribution. Today, vanity publishers may offer web-based sales, or make a book available via online booksellers, but they generally do no marketing.

Among the many types of books that are unpublishable by major commercial presses, family histories often find their way onto vanity presses, since family histories have an extremely limited market--often fewer than ten copies.

Business model

With vanity publishing, the author will pay to have their book published. Since the author is paying to have the book published the book should not have to go through an approval process as it would in a traditional setting where the publisher is taking a financial risk on the author's ability to write successfully. Editing and formatting services may or may not be offered, and they may come with the initial publishing fee (or more correctly, printing fee) or might be at an additional cost.

A self-publisher is an author who also undertakes the functions of a publisher for his or her own book. The classic "self-publisher" writes, edits, markets and promotes the book themselves, relying on a printer only for actual printing and binding. More recently, companies have offered their services to act as a sort of agent between the writer and a small printing operation. In these cases, the distinction between self-publishing and vanity publishing is less obvious than it once was.

The most recent incarnations of vanity presses make use of print on demand technologies based on modern digital printing. These companies are often able to offer their services with little or no upfront cost to the author, but they are still considered vanity presses by many writers advocates. Vanity presses earn their money, not from sales of books to readers as other publishers do, but from sales of books to the books' authors. The author receives the shipment of his or her books and may attempt to resell them through whatever channels are available.

Alternatives to vanity publishing

Writers considering self-publishing often also consider directly hiring a printer. According to self-publisher and poet Peter Finch, vanity presses charge higher premiums and create a risk that an author who has published with a vanity press will have more difficulty working with a respectable publisher in the future.

Some vanity presses using print on demand technology act as printers as well as sellers of support services for authors interested in self-publishing. Reputable firms of this type are typically marked by clear contract terms, lack of excessive fees, retail prices comparable to those from commercial printers, lack of pressure to purchase "extra" services, contracts which do not claim exclusive rights to the work being published (though one would be hard pressed to find a legitimate publisher willing to put out a competing edition, making non-exclusivity meaningless), and honest indications of what services they will and won't provide, and what results the author may reasonably expect. However, the distinction between the worst of these firms and vanity presses is essentially trivial, though a source of great confusion as the low fees have attracted tens of thousands of authors who wish to avoid the stigma of vanity publishing while doing just that.


Libraries often choose books by the application of a collection development policy designed to meet the needs of a particular user community. Many libraries and reviewers do not clearly distinguish between vanity publications and self-publications. When libraries accept the product of a vanity press, they may require the donor to sign a form giving to the library the right to do what it pleases with the item.


In the nineteenth and early twentieth century it was common for legitimate authors, if they could afford to, to pay the costs of publishing their books. Such writers could expect more control of their work, greater profits, or both. Self-publishing was not judged negatively as it has been more recently. Among the authors taking this route to publication was Lewis Carroll, who paid the expenses of publishing Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and most of his subsequent work. Such authors as Mark Twain, Zane Grey, Upton Sinclair, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Rice Burroughs, George Bernard Shaw, Edgar Allan Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Anaïs Nin also resorted to self-publication for some or all of their works. It is worth noting, however, that despite the well known names on this list, not all of them were successful in their publishing ventures. Mark Twain's, for example, led to bankruptcy.


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