Vanity/Subsidy (POD) Publishing

The last of the Four Basic Choices is Vanity Publishing. Normally when people say “self-publishing,” they mean this, which is why I don’t consider owning your own publishing company as “self-publishing” when talking to the public. It’s published by an independent publisher. Self-published really means Vanity Publishing in most circles.

I don’t recommend this option unless you *only want to see your book in print* and you plan to sell it/give it to a few friends and family or have as companion material for a seminar (or after some other performance, like poetry reading). Generally people will pay more than normal for something after they’ve seen a live performance of it.

If you want to sell your book on Amazon or even direct to your fans, this is not the way to go. You will out price yourself by going this route.

Basically it works like this:

  • You pay a vanity publisher (iUniverse, BookSurge, LuLu, and countless others) to publish your book
    • There are usually many different packages that offer different things, price ranging from a few hundred to several thousand
    • They take care of the ISBN (they also own it), copyright, LCCN, etc
    • They distribute the book worldwide, meaning it’s available via online stores and for order at bookstores, similar to the Lightning Source distribution
    • On the higher-end packages, they’ll normally have author support, etc.
    • Perhaps for another fee, they offer cover design, etc.
    • You pay a pretty high price for each book through their POD services, which makes the cover price of your book too high.
      • Example: a 240 page 8.5×5.5 paperback book costs $3.85 each when you get 300 printed via Lightning Source and $5.60 each from LuLu.
      • To get just $1.00 for each book sold through Amazon or B&, the cover price has to be nearly $15.95. Too much for a book that size at just a $1.00 to you!
      • That same book can be priced at a more reasonable $12.95 if distributed through Lightning Source via your own publishing company, and your royalty will be closer to $2.00 per book.
      • (Don’t kid yourself that you’ll ever get more than $1-2 per book sold through any kind of distributor. $2 per book is HIGH! Via Big Boys, your royalty is under $1.00 per book, most cases, under $0.30 per book.)
      • These prices are based on soft cover. Hard cover books are considerably more, usually twice the price to print.
  • You order your books directly from them.
  • You must market your book, as you do in all the other choices. It’s always up to you to market your book, no matter what avenue you take.

Personal note: I paid an editor through LuLu to edit Rowan of the Wood early on (before it was picked up by the first publisher), and it came back full of grammatical errors that weren’t there when I sent it! I stupidly didn’t re-read it myself, thinking that it had just come back from a “professional” editor. It was quite embarrassing for the initial test run of the book, seeing as how I’m an English Professor and all. Ultimately, it just created more work for me.

As far as I know, no major chain bookstore carries books on the shelves from a vanity publisher, period. You *might* be able to get a book signing in a B&N, but they will unlikely keep them around afterward. There are, of course, as in anything, exceptions.

Also, most awards will not accept “self-published” books; again, they mean those via a Vanity Publisher.

Be sure to define your goals and weigh your sacrifices/risks honestly with yourself before choosing a publishing route. Which road you take really depends upon this.


What do you think about POD/Vanity/Subsidy publishing? How about Amazon’s relatively new CreateSpace?

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