As you probably deduced from the subject of this post, I am not a fan of these two “publishing” methods. I can at least understand the appeal of a hybrid publisher, but as I learned more about vanity publishers, I become confused as to why anyone would give them the time of day. Yet, so many still do.
For the record, I have never attempted to go with either types of publishing, but I do know many people who have. So a lot of my information has been fed directly from those people. (and most of it is not good) and then of course I will have some thoughts of my own on the matter, as an outsider looking in.
If you’re an indie author, chances are you know what these two publishing choices are. Just in case, however, I’ve summarized them below:
A non-traditional publishing house that requires the clients (ie the authors) to absorb all of the financial risk of publishing by having the author pay a sizable fee in order to have their books published. The publisher then retains the rights of the book, controls pricing, marketing plans, etc. In theory, they operate like a normal publishing house with two very significant exceptions. The publisher doesn’t pay the author money up front, it’s the other way around. And then (and equally as bad, IMO) once the book has been published, there’s almost no incentive to the publisher to push the book, as they’ve already gotten their slice of the pie.
This is a slightly more reasonable/fair approach in which the publisher does not require any money from the author, but also does not offer advances or anything of the sort to the author, either. A good hybrid publisher (like the now defunct Booktrope) will have a team of editors, formatters, cover designers/artists, and marketing/project managers. All in all it sounds reasonable, but the two biggest problems here are: you will earn practically pennies on the dollar in royalties. And most of these hybrid publishers are just random folks working out of their basement with no real long-term game plan in mind. Many of them are too small to have all of their bases covered. For example, one publisher I saw would only format book covers, leaving the author responsible to either design/execute on their own cover, or hire someone else to do it. Doesn’t exactly give me a lot of confidence that that publisher is serious about my book climbing to the top. Most hybrid publishers also lack the professional/business connections to have books in their catalog reach audiences outside the standard indie market. Meaning, you’re not likely going to see your books in Barnes and Noble anytime soon.
Now it’s time for my rant: why would anyone do this? I’ll again address each method with a few comments based on things I’ve heard from those who have been through the process, as well as my own views.
So, why do people go with vanity publishing? There are only two reasons that I can think of: Vanity or ignorance.
Vanity seems like a cop out explanation, but it’s true. I know people who just like to say “I’ve signed with…” on their social media. I suppose it makes them feel successful, and I do get the excitement in sharing news like that. It would be an amazing day to tell all your friends and family that you’re now a real-deal published author (unlike those amateur indie folk). But the fact is, you are no more “published” than an indie author who just clicked publish on Amazon for the first time. Actually, since you’re starting probably anywhere from $8,000-$15,000 in the hole, that indie author will start accumulating royalties on day one, whereas you’ll be replenishing your savings account or paying off a credit card with yours. So who’s the real winner in this equation?
Ignorance isn’t intended to be used in a derogatory manner here. I mean it literally. Many people are just uninformed that vanity publishing is a scheme, through and through. Besides the aforementioned group, the success of a vanity publisher rides on people who have written a story, but have little to no knowledge on how to go about publishing it. I imagine many of these people get enticed by the sleek websites, promises of their their book being in stores, and being told that only the best of the best are accepted—making it all the more flattering when they get that congratulatory letter from the brilliant editing team at said publisher. “Now, if you would just send us fifteen grand, we’ll edit your manuscript, throw our logo on the spine, and get it out the door.”
While vanity publishers tend to have more connections in the book world than the hybrid publishers do, I suspect that there isn’t a whole lot that they do that a motivated indie author couldn’t accomplish.
So is vanity publishing something you should do? NO!
At the end of the day: if your publisher wants you to pay them money, then flee. If any money is forked over before release, it’s going to be on the publisher’s end, not the author’s. Vanity publishing is never a good idea, and I would never, under any circumstances, recommend doing it unless you really just have so much money that you’re just looking for an excuse to waste it. In which case, I have a plot of land for sale on the moon.
What about hybrid?
I would say that if you find the right hybrid publisher, it isn’t necessarily a terrible idea. But even the more successful ones have started to go belly up. And several authors I have talked to who have been with some of these better ones still voiced frustration over the difficulty they had getting things done to their quality standard, or getting the company to pay an appropriate amount of attention to their books. One author in particular, who also had good things to say about the experience, told me he felt like he had been granted a second chance when he found out the company was closing down. He told me while he learned a lot of valuable things from the experience, he would not fall into that trap again, and would stay indie from now on.
More often than not, I think authors go this route because they are lazy. *Dodges half-full beer bottle and several tomatoes* The reason I say that is that hybrid publishers almost never have connections or inside tracks that indie authors don’t also have access to. They go through the same channels that you would if you published the title yourself. They use the same POD (Print on Demand) services that you would use, and they use most of the same marketing tactics that you would. And yet, you are getting royalty scraps from each purchase. Many of these publishers also feel that “wide” is the only way to go, preventing you from capitalizing off of Kindle Unlimited subscribers reading your book. You’re also locked into a contract for likely three, up to five, years. So if you aren’t happy with the results, TS.
I understand in some cases authors really just want to have a professional looking package (editing, quality cover art, etc) and can’t afford to front that kind of money. I get that. But I think it’s safe to say that you could get your book edited with a very decent looking cover for under $1,000. Many of us are willing to invest that kind of money in other hobbies/business ventures, but suddenly become Scrooges when it comes to our passion of writing. Yet, if you go down this road, when you release your book, every penny of royalty goes straight to you (well, you and Uncle Sam on April 15th, but that’s a whole different problem). It’s not fun to dish out money up front, but it will be much better in the long run.
At the end of the day: if all you want to do is write and not deal with anything else, then hybrid publishing might be an okay options for you. Just know that you’re going to get a fraction of the royalties you earned, will have little control over the process, and may end up causing your work to be less visible or appealing than if you had done it yourself. Because, who is going to be more excited to spread the word about a novel than the person who wrote it?
Some people would say that writing a book is the hard part. I vehemently disagree. At best, it’s a 50/50 split. Finishing your manuscript is a monumental milestone that you should celebrate, but the battle is far from over at that point. And if you want to have a chance at success without losing a lot of money (either up front with a vanity publisher or through lost royalties) then you better plan on working your butt off after typing ‘The End’