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Self-Publishing vs Vanity Publishing: Which One Is More Profitable?

Publishing, Marketing, & Writing Tips

Self-publishing and vanity publishing. What's the difference? And does it even matter?

Self-Publishing vs Vanity Publishing: Which One Is More Profitable?
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Long story short, the difference between self-publishing vs. vanity publishing matters if you're looking to maximize your freedom and income (which is also probably why you're reading this blog in the first place). Sure, they can both produce great results and earn you royalties, but one costs a whole lot more in the long run and requires you to give up nearly all of your creative control in the process.

It’s easy to mix them up due to the fact that both involve investing your own money into the publication process. But by the end of this blog, you'll know exactly what short and long-term costs are associated with each path and which one feels better for you.

Spoiler alert: Self-publishing unlocks unlimited earning potential, and we have the blueprint! Join our free webinar and discover how to tap into Amazon with AI!

Self-Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

Here's a comparison of the three most common publishing models: traditional publishing, vanity publishing, and self-publishing:

1. Traditional Publishing:

  • Cost: The publisher covers all costs (editing, design, printing, marketing, distribution) and takes on all the risks in exchange for strict contracts, creative freedom, and (sometimes) rights. 
  • Profit: The publisher makes money from book sales; authors receive a small percentage of royalties.
  • Selection: Highly selective, often requires a literary agent.
  • Control: The publisher has significant control over the publishing process.

2. Vanity Publishing:

  • Cost: The author pays for publication; costs can include editing, design, printing, and sometimes marketing.
  • Profit: The publisher profits from production costs and fees paid by the author, not primarily from book sales.
  • Selection: Generally not selective; most manuscripts are accepted as long as fees are paid.
  • Control: The author has some control but is dependent on the publisher's packages and terms.

3. Self-Publishing:

  • Cost: The self-publisher bears all costs (editing, design, formatting, marketing, distribution), meaning they can choose to work within their own budget. 
  • Profit: Self-publishers earn money directly from sales, often higher royalties than traditional publishing.
  • Selection: No selection process; self-publishers have the freedom to publish any work at any time on any platform. 
  • Control: Complete creative and publishing control remains with the self-publisher.

Traditional publishing houses are on their way out of the publishing industry these days as major bookstores like Barnes & Noble have begun to recognize self-publishing as a legitimate business model. You can read more about our comparison between traditional and self-publishing.

Self-publishing services and Print-on-Demand services have also made publishing more accessible so that people of all ages and walks of life can become legitimate publishers.

When it comes to finding the right publishing model, that means you have two main choices. Here's a handy table to visualize the differences:

You might also find a hybrid publisher, but they are less common and less lucrative than going the self-publishing route (a common theme here).

Self-Publishing Overview

Let's take a look at the tasks, costs, and profits associated with self-publishing.

Costs Involved

In the self-publishing process, you will need to take ownership and cover the costs of various publishing services in exchange for full creative control and a higher earning potential. These may include editing, proofreading, cover design, and formatting.

You have two options: do the work yourself or outsource it to other creative professionals. Taking on the work yourself might be the budget-friendly route, but it will cost you more in time. Outsourcing will cut down on time but up your costs.

Here's a simplified breakdown of potential costs:

  • Editing and proofreading: $500 - $5,000
  • Cover design: $100 - $1,000
  • Formatting: $50 - $500

Note: These ranges are wide because there's a spectrum of independent contractors and freelancers who will work with any budget.

Potential Profits

But what about the profit margins? How much can you really make with self-publishing?

Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing offers a range of royalties to cater to different needs. These royalties will depend on your book format, length, and market. An eBook in Canada, for example, might not sell at the same price or earn the same royalties as a science anthology in the US or UK.

You can earn up to 70% of your book sales in royalties and will be entitled to all the profits.

The great thing about Amazon is that you can also change your pricing on demand and sell your books in multiple markets to maximize your profits. The royalties are then paid directly to your account each month, whether you're in Nebraska or on vacation in Hawaii.

Vanity Publishing Overview

Let's take a look at the tasks, costs, and profits associated with vanity publishing.

Costs Involved

Vanity publishing involves paying a company to produce and publish your book. You’ll have to give up some of your creative freedom and profits in exchange for less work on your plate.

Here's a breakdown of potential costs:

  • Vanity Publisher's Fee: This is the primary cost and can range widely depending on the publisher and the package of services offered. It often includes some level of editing, cover design, and formatting. This fee can range from $1,000 to over $10,000.
  • Editing and Proofreading: If not included in the vanity publisher's package, or if additional editing is desired, costs can range from $500 to $5,000.
  • Cover Design: If seeking a more customized or premium cover design outside of what the vanity publisher offers, this can cost between $100 and $1,500.
  • Formatting: For specialized or advanced formatting needs not covered by the vanity publisher, costs can range from $50 to $700.
  • Marketing and Promotion: Vanity publishers may offer marketing and promotional services for an additional fee. These costs can vary significantly, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
  • Additional Copies of the Book: Vanity publishers often charge for additional copies of the book, with prices varying based on the number of copies and the book's format. They may even require that you purchase a certain number of copies in your contract. 
  • Distribution Fees: Some vanity publishers might charge additional fees for distributing the book to various retailers and platforms, or they might not offer this service at all. 

Caution: Be careful with vanity publishers that make unrealistic promises about sales and royalties, as some may be scams.

Potential Profits

To calculate your potential profit in a vanity publishing company, consider the costs you'll incur for their publishing services, such as cover design, formatting, and marketing. Subtract these expenses from the anticipated revenue (books sold multiplied by the price).

This is what the math looks like in action. Keep in mind that it’s an oversimplified example, so your costs incurred with the vanity press route might actually be A LOT more:

Cover Design: $500

Formatting: $300

Marketing: $1,000

Total: $1,800

Assuming you sell 300 books at $10 each, your revenue would be $3,000.

Profit = Revenue - Costs = $3,000 - $1,800 = $1,200

Pro Tip: Always read your publishing contract to avoid surprises, and always know your math ahead of time (even if this requires phoning a friend to help you figure things out)!!!

Pitfalls of Vanity Publishing

We're clearly #TeamSelfPublishing around here because we believe everyone should be empowered to take their income into their own hands, and we don't believe in gatekeeping. There are many reasons why self-publishing is better than traditional or vanity publishing. But you get to make that call for yourself.

Here are some things to consider before diving into vanity publishing:

  1. Greater expenses compared to self-publishing: Vanity publishing companies charge a premium, knowing that there's nothing you can do about it if you want to get your books published.
  2. Potential loss of ownership rights and profits: With vanity publishing, there's a much higher risk of losing the rights to your book. This also means that you may not be able to keep as much of the profits after the book is sold.
  3. Higher likelihood of mistakes: Choosing vanity publishing can result in more hiccups in editing, formatting, or other aspects of the publishing process.
  4. Ceding creative control: When you opt for vanity publishing, you may lose some control over the creative process, such as cover design and other artistic decisions.
  5. Limited control over deadlines: With vanity publishing, you might find that you don't have much say in the timeline for the publication process. This can result in your book being published slower than you'd prefer.
  6. Unbudgeted additional costs: One of the biggest issues with vanity publishing is the possibility of encountering unexpected costs. These extra expenses can arise during the publishing process and may not be clearly outlined when you initially sign a contract.

By keeping these pitfalls in mind, you can make a more informed decision when choosing between self-publishing and vanity publishing as you grow your side hustle or publishing business.

When to Consider a Vanity Press

There are certain situations where vanity publishing might be a suitable option for you. One scenario is when you place a higher value on having a physical copy of your book for personal satisfaction or sharing with family and friends rather than emphasizing royalties and profits. Vanity publishing offers a straightforward process, taking most of the decision-making off your plate.

Here are some key aspects to consider while exploring vanity publishing:

  • Goals: If your primary objective is just to have a work published rather than to make money from it, vanity publishing can fulfill this need. On the other hand, if profit and wider distribution are your priorities, then you might want to explore other options like self-publishing.
  • Financial commitment: Vanity presses can be expensive as you cover the entire cost of their services, including editing, design, and printing. Evaluate your budget and financial expectations before choosing this route.
  • Marketing and distribution: Assess your ability and willingness to promote your book independently, as vanity presses might not offer strong marketing and distribution services that can help increase your book's visibility.

Decision Making: Choosing the Right Path

To work with a traditional publishing house, a vanity press, or to invest in yourself? That is the question.

You're essentially choosing between control and convenience. Vanity publishing offers ease but at a high cost and with limited control over your book’s future. Self-publishing, however, puts you in the driver’s seat, though it requires more effort upfront.

Let's look at the fundamentals of making informed decisions:

Fear vs. Confidence

Vanity publishing often appeals to those wary of the complex publishing process. However, this route can mean sacrificing both profits and control. In contrast, self-publishing is a vote of confidence in your work, demanding more from you but offering greater rewards.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Benefits

Vanity publishing may seem quicker, but it lacks long-term benefits. Self-publishing, while initially more demanding, offers more sustainable success, higher earnings, and full rights to your work.

The Value of Patience

The quick turnaround of vanity publishing can be tempting, but it often leads to limited long-term success. Self-publishing requires patience and resilience but can result in a more fulfilling and potentially profitable publishing career (which, yes, can take you to paradise).

Self-Publishing Success Stories

There are numerous success stories of self-publishers and authors who have thrived in self-publishing. These achievements demonstrate the potential for self-published authors to find success in the digital age. Examples of self-published authors who have found success include:

  1. Amanda Hocking: Bestselling author of young adult paranormal romance novels.
  2. Hugh Howey: Science fiction writer, best known for his "Wool" series.
  3. E.L. James: Author of the popular romance series "Fifty Shades of Grey."
  4. Mark Twain: Author of "Huckleberry Finn" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."
  5. Virginia Woolf: Author of "Mrs. Dalloway" and "To the Lighthouse"

As a bonus, here's one of our AI Publishing Academy students talking about what self-publishing has meant for their family.

Hint: They get to spend more time together, take more vacations, and have complete control over their schedules.

These success stories serve as inspiration for aspiring authors and prove that with hard work, effective marketing, and high-quality content, you can achieve your dreams with self-publishing.

Ready to Publish Your First Book ASAP? We Can Help!

We understand the challenges faced by first-time publishers when choosing between self-publishing and vanity publishing. That's why we cater to those who are looking for flexibility, control, and profitability on their publishing journey.

Working with a self-publishing company like Publishing.com means you'll retain full rights to your work. There is no need to worry about giving up control or navigating through complicated contracts. Your success is in your hands, and we're here to help you achieve it.

Publishing.com offers:

  • A blueprint to publish a book in as little as a week
  • Tested AI prompts for creating custom book outlines and cover designs
  • Expert formatting and layout advice
  • Step-by-step instructions for global distribution
  • Marketing and promotional support

We show you how to earn more royalties than you would with vanity or traditional publishers elsewhere while building a sustainable business model. See what we’re all about at our publishing pro webinar!

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