Vanity or subsidy book publishers in various forms

For authors who are exploring self-publishing options, vanity publishers are waiting with their arms outstretched. But across various websites and author forums, vanity publishing started getting a bad name due to the operational model they follow.

Rather than targeting the regular readers of a book, for vanity publishing companies, the primary customer is the author. These are publishers who have no interest or incentive in seeing the sales numbers for your book sky rocket.

Many vanity publishing players, aware of the stigma associated with the label, started presenting themselves in new ways to break away from the clutter.

Subsidy publishing – The author ‘subsidizes’ the cost of publishing the book.

Cooperative publishing – The author ‘cooperates’ with the publisher in getting the book out.

Partner publishers – The publishing company presents itself as the author’s ‘supporting partner’

Joint venture publishing – Sounds almost corporate-like, but basically there’s nothing different.

Equity publishers – You buy a stake i.e. ‘equity’ (by virtue of making an ‘investments’) in something that’s essentially yours.

If you hear any of these terms, dig a little deeper to find out what’s really on offer.

Not only did the labels change, but the operating models also started evolving to make the intentions less obvious.

Effectively it means the same thing. You pay for getting your book published. Some ask for money upfront. Others may ask for a partial payment from you before the book is published. But the contract could have clauses that compel you to buy your own book from the vanity publisher, often at a higher-than-justified price.

What you do with the stock of books is your headache. You may distribute it for free among family or friends. Or you may try to play the role of a regular distributor by reaching out to smaller book stores or other sales outlets. In some cases, the vanity publisher may offer you marketing and distribution services, but at a fee.

Vanity publishers will generally try to ensure that they get their dues whether or not your book does well. So there’s little reason for them to extend the uncertainty beyond a certain point. The model in its myriad forms has to ensure that every single book brings in profits for the publisher. Profitability is something that traditional publishers can never take for granted with all the inherent risks involved.

Many innocent authors have fallen prey to dishonest, fraud and unethical subsidy publishers who’ve not delivered the number of copies, or the quality of printing promised. In India, the number of cases reported might be small, but internationally there have been several cases of owners of vanity publishing houses going to jail after getting sued for duping their clients. So do be aware of vanity publishers who are trying to sell their services to you under another guise.

Whether vanity publishing is good or bad, is for you to decide based on your personal preferences or priorities. In fact in many cases there might be genuine reasons to go for the services of ethical and honest vanity publishers who are transparent about how they do business and will stick to their contractual obligations.

Have you used the services of any vanity publishing company? What has your experience been?

18 Comments

  1. Mayank says:

    Now a days even traditional publishers are demanding money in someway or another. Few ask for security money and most of them wants you to buy back a handsome number of books. It’s all about profit for them. So, seeing the present scenario every company is turning out to be a vanity publisher irrespective of their tag, which says “TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER”

    • Correct Mayank. I would like to cite an example here. I submitted my proposal to a publisher who claimed itself as a traditional publisher (I don’t want to name it). One of their personnel contacted me and proposed that I should have have to get my manuscript edited and cover page designed by myself. They can suggest me the agencies though which I can avail these services. Secondly, at the end of the year, I would have to buy back the unsold copies at a discount. Now, isn’t it unethical to call yourself as a Traditional Publisher? Thankfully, I decided not to sign the contract.

  2. Sameer says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Mayank.

    Seems like traditional publishers are also feeling the heat and resorting to practices that were conventionally associated with vanity publishing.

    All the more reason for authors to read the terms and conditions very carefully before singing the publishing contract.

  3. Rajiv says:

    The Distributor is the real king of Publishing industry. Most of these so called Vanity publishers do not have any distributor for their books. They simply sell it online through Amazon and Flipkart. Any author can himself open an account on these sites and sell his books. Regular distributor ensures your book reaches the brick and mortar stores across the country.
    In the present scenario, its better for any author to publish his own book and then sell it online by his own account, and try to scout for some big distributor for his book.
    Before getting trapped by some vanity publisher in various guises its better to ask them to provide information about their distributors and cross checking it with them about the availability of books by that publisher. At times they give some books free of cost to some stores simply to have some snaps for their websites. Its always better to check out the facts before committing to some publisher.
    One golden tip – Never pay any money to get your book published by any publisher. If at all paying money becomes a compulsion then have it published yourself and sell those books yourself.

  4. Thanks for pitching in, Rajiv.

    Most authors underestimate the importance of having a strong distribution channel. Probably it has to do with the fact that distributors are less visible compared to publishers and retailers.

    But they form the backbone (and the nervous/digestive/muscular system) of the publishing industry. Many small time and vanity publishers lack this tremendously important resource.

  5. mani ranga says:

    i have an offer from leadstart to pay some money upfront and get published. How good is leadstart? once we pay , do they do anything at all?

    the distribution and the print publishing is valuable to me.

    i dont want to do only e- books/

    pl help.

  6. @Mani: I can’t comment on individual publishers. So I’ll keep this generic.

    From what you’ve described (about paying them in advance), it is clearly a vanity publishing proposal.

    You’d need to be sure what you are signing up for. If it’s not in the contract (or even if it is), it can be quite tough to interpret what’s really been committed and what’s out of scope.

    • Udbhav Seth says:

      Hi Sameer… I’m a 15 year old in DPS RK Puram, Delhi, and have written a science fiction novel. I want to get started on the publishing process and leadstart was one of the top ones on my list. But everyone is saying they demand money for publication- now I don’t have any problem in paying, but I would desperately like to know whether their distribution and publishing tactics are any good. Their website shows that they market to several leading stores like Oxford, Landmark etc. so maybe they make good use of the money? I don’t want to self-publish, because I know it’s not as efficient as traditional publishing, but will Leadstart help me get where i want, should I get accepted? I’ve not yet sent a letter or submission, but I would like to know whether they are trustworthy and well-settled in the publishing business or not…

      • Preeti says:

        Hi, I have just finished my novel and approached Leadstart suggested by one of my friend but all I got was an automated email. I wanted to talk to someone but the office number is out of service, and secondly the mobile number is never picked up. how do we trust a publication house who is unavailable weirdly. No idea what it means… and what should I do…

  7. R. V. NAGARAJAN says:

    Dear Sameer,
    I really need your guidance so badly now. Of all the publishers I had submitted my synopsis, I have right now received a reply from a publishing company asking for my full manuscript. That publishing company is in Cambridge and its name is “[edited out]”

    I really want your help to find out if this is a good company or not and also if it would be a wise decision to go along blindly with a publisher abroad India.

    If you feel uneasy on my mentioning the name of the publisher here in my post, you can edit it, Or even cancel this post. But, please I want your guidance. Request you not to give me up.

    My email: ar.shiva.80@gmail.com if you want to give your reply to my mail.

    Thanks a lot in advance.
    Regards,
    R. V. NAGARAJAN

    • I haven’t heard of them before. But a quick Google search would’ve revealed that the company you’ve mentioned has been included in the Thumbs Down Publishers LIst by SFWA.

      Apparently they closed down the earlier company (possibly because of a bad reputation) and have returned in this new avatar.

  8. bhavik says:

    hi sameer,
    your post is really awesome.
    In fact , I wish to ask you about what should be done to do the traditional publication of my second book
    i had done self publshing of my first book”The Weak Point Dealer” with partridge India-I still regret like anything
    I have tried approaching renowned publishing firms through normal google search but i don’t get response
    This time i don’t want to invest much money

    • Shashank Prasad says:

      Hey Bhavik,
      Even I want to get my book self published from Partridge. But your comments have scare me now!!
      If you could tell me why do you regret that decision, that would be great.
      If you don’t want to discuss it in public:
      You can inbox me at: ch12b1021@iith.ac.in (My college e-mail id)

  9. Benoi Nair says:

    Dear Sameer,

    I wish to get my book on poems published. I am an Indian residing in DUbai at the moment. Please help me with a reliable Publishing house that can help me. Your valued suggestions are required. Initially i was planning to go with ‘Partridge Publications, Singapore’ but read some negative reviews about then online which is why I am absolutely clueless now. Please help!

  10. Ajay says:

    If you could enlighten us, as to which is the best and most reliable Self-publishing company in India, which gives honest royalty to to the author in case the book does well?

  11. Ridhima says:

    Dear Sameer,

    I’m 17 years old and submitted the proposal to some of the leading publishers. I got a reply from one of them. They said they’re ready to publish and distribute it if I agree to share the cost for the same. Money is not a problem. Will it be safe to agree on it? They’re well known publishing house of India. Please help!

  12. MB says:

    Dear Sameer, I am writing here with a great hope that I will get my answers please. I have my manuscript ready of a non-fiction business book. It is on leadership specific to an industry type. Can you please help me –
    1. Is it possible to get publishers (traditional) for such a niche subject?
    2. will literary agent be able to help me in this non-fiction niche subject ?
    3. If nothing else work out and I decide to self -publish, can you suggest people who can help me selll/distribute/market it please?

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