Vanity Presses vs Print on Demand

The traditional way to self-publish is with a vanity press, and they are to be avoided at all costs – especially today, when you can publish with a Print on Demand service instead.

What is a Vanity Press?

Vanity presses never call themselves that, because of their bad reputation. Instead they may use a variety of names, the latest being “subsidy publisher”.   These presses, whatever they promise (and they often promise a lot) are nothing more than printers. Some vanity presses try to disguise this fact by dressing up their charges as “editing” or “marketing” fees – but in reality, any editing or marketing they do is sketchy at best.  The fee simply covers the cost of printing a few hundred (or thousand) copies of your book, which they then deliver to you.

And then the question is, how do you sell all those books?

The answer is, you sell it by loading the books into your car, or pounding the pavements, hawking your books around local bookstores, markets, friends and family. Of course you can also market your book on the internet, including Amazon, but then you’re going to have to mail the book to the person who buys it.

Now, there’s no denying that a hard-copy book still sells better than an electronic one.  But unfortunately for you, having real solid books to sell puts you at a disadvantage. If you have to send your books anywhere, it’s going to cost postage or courier fees, which you’ll have to cover in your selling price. And ask yourself —  if someone has to choose between buying your book, sight unseen, at a higher cost than a similar book at a local store – which one are they going to buy?

Even your local bookstores will be reluctant to stock your book – shelf space is at a premium so they’d rather stock tried and tested best sellers. If they do agree to take some, it will be on consignment: you won’t get paid until they sell, and you’ll have to take back the ones that don’t.

It should come as no surprise that there are a lot of writers out there with a garage full of books (which cost hundreds to produce) and no buyers.

That’s one reason why POD (print-on-demand) has been a Godsend for self-publishing authors.

Print On Demand

POD publishing means Print on Demand. It means what it says – like vanity presses, POD publishers produce hard-copy books. The difference is that a POD press prints a book when someone demands (orders) one, and not before.

Before the advent of digital publishing, this approach was impossible – at least if you wanted something that looked like a book and not a cheap photocopy! Nowadays, there is no reason why a POD book shouldn’t look as good as a mainstream book. So POD seems to offer an author the best of both worlds – or does it?

POD – the Catch?

The great upside of POD publishing is that it’s no longer necessary to order a run of several hundred books which may not sell. Instead, you need only order a handful of sample copies to use in marketing and promotions. When a customer orders a copy, the POD publisher will automatically print it and send it to straight to the customer.

The downside is that POD books are usually more expensive than the average book in a High Street bookshop, which is a discouragement for customers.  Often it’s not the printing that’s the issue, but the cost of postage — especially if you’ve chosen a publisher based in the US, for instance, and most of your readers come from the UK or Europe.

Also, you will still get no help with marketing your book. True, POD publishers have websites where they list their range of books – but unless they specialise in one particular genre, very few readers come to browse around their website — it’s a marketing tool to attract writers, not readers.  Selling your work will still be up to you! A typical POD publisher, like an ebook publisher, will regard a book as a bestseller if it sells a hundred copies.

And, of course, you still have the matter of editing to consider. Even the owner of Lulu.com says that he makes a large proportion of his profit from “publishing bad books”.  Be sure yours isn’t among them!

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