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I came across this question on Quora: “ Why do publishing companies charge authors for publishing their books when the publishing companies make their money from a percentage of book sales?

Here is the answer:

They don’t. What you’re referring to are “vanity publishers,” which are companies that help authors SELF-PUBLISH their books. They charge for editing, formatting, cover design, and often marketing and promotions to help your book get exposure.

They are typically far more expensive than simply self-publishing your own book. They also typically require an upfront payment and do NOT take royalties from book sales.

Traditional publishers do NOT charge the authors any money and take care of editing, formatting, cover, publishing, distribution, and promotions and DO share royalties with the author for all book sales.

If you are a big enough author, they may offer an advance payment on future royalties, however, most trade publishers these days do not pay first-time authors an advance and instead start paying royalties from the first book sale.

Why Do People Use Vanity Publishers?

There are a few reasons why someone would use these online vanity publishers.

  1. They don’t know how to or are intimidated by self-publishing. (Or do not know how to find professional editors, designers, and formatters and want help.)
  2. They don’t know how to market or promote their self-published book.
  3. They do not know the difference between vanity and traditional publishing.

These are the main reasons I have seen. I’ve worked with several vanity publishers as an editor and have had a good experience with most of them.

While I, personally, believe that most vanity publishers overcharge for their services, I also know that many authors are happy with these services and get to realize their dreams of being published authors without having to find, interview, and retain professionals for editing, formatting, and their cover, and can hand over that responsibility to people who know what they are doing.

The marketing and promotions aspect is something many vanity publishers do well. They know how to use social media, ads, and blogs and podcasts to get their authors exposure the authors may not know how to get themselves.

These promotions often lead to book sales, which is what the author wants.

Upfront Payments

The payments are the main difference between vanity publishers and traditional publishers. While most vanity publishers are NOT promoting themselves as trade publishers, many people not familiar with the publishing industry simply don’t know the difference and may feel duped.

As an author, it is really your responsibility to do your research and identify if the company you’re working with is really what you want.

A simple breakdown is this:

  • Vanity publishers require upfront payments for their services, do not usually distribute your physical books to bookstores and libraries, and the publishing is done under the author’s Amazon account. There are generally NO SHARED ROYALTIES on book sales. [Note: If you’re talking to a vanity publisher and they want to split royalties, run away. It’s YOUR Amazon account. How will they know the book sales or how much you owe them? How long will they want royalties? You are already pre-paying for their services.]
  • Trade publishers do not cost the author any money. They take on the risk of paying for everything with the assumption your book will sell enough copies to make a profit for both them and the author. The publishing is done under the company name and not your personal Amazon account. They distribute to many physical and electronic locations.
  • Self-publishing is truly doing it yourself without the help of marketing or people who know editing and formatting vendors. You find those people yourself, pay them for their services, and upload your own book to Amazon.

Self-Publishing vs. Vanity Publishers

The end result is the same. Whether you do it yourself or a vanity press does it for you, your book will be self-published under your personal Amazon account and royalties will be sent directly to you, and you’ll be able to track book sales on KDP.

It’s the process of getting your book ready for publishing and then promoting it which the vanity press addresses. Some people simply don’t have the time or inclination to do it themselves and prefer someone who knows what they are doing to just take care of it. This is where vanity publishers shine. They understand the process, have the vendors, and know what books need to be ready for publishing.

It is up to the author to decide what is right for them and how they prefer to publish.

Just remember — being self-published does not preclude you from being picked up by a traditional publisher later. I know, it happened to me. Some people think it does and blame self-publishing, but that is truly not the case. Self-publishing is a great way to get your work out there, get book sales and exposure, and be a published author while retaining full creative control.

What are your thoughts on the different ways to publish?

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