What’s the difference between vanity presses, small presses and other kinds of publishing?

When you’ve written a good book, be it prose or poetry, the next step is to find a publisher. If you are a relative unknown, you may be doing this without an Agent. If so, it can be hard to know what kind of publisher to choose.

Vanity Press

Typically a ‘vanity’ press refers to a publisher who takes some money upfront for their services. They may dress this up in a variety of packages but the bottom line is, they will ask you to pay for something. This is not to be confused with buying your own cover art.

Vanity presses do a good job of deemphasizing their ‘vanity’ aspect and focusing on the benefits. The reason for this is because for a long time publishing through a vanity press was considered ‘cheating’ by the publishing world at large and frowned upon.

This has waxed and waned as people have different needs and sometimes a vanity press can more closely meet the needs of an individual than a regular press. Example being: You want to break into a new marketplace that you are unfamiliar with, or you wish to have a large publisher behind you but without an Agent you can’t get a large publisher interested in you so you choose to pay a wing of that larger publisher who will by proxy, promote you more than a smaller publisher could.

Traditionally many famous authors employed vanity publishing as their mode to getting their first works out there. Unable to get Agents or Publishers interested in their work, by using a paid approach, they gained the attention necessary to be picked up by a non-vanity-press at a latter juncture. Read up on the company before signing ANYTHING and know exactly upfront what you are expected to spend.

Pitfalls: People may think your work is less legitimate because they are aware you paid to get it published. Other publishers may think the same. You might have to pay quite a bit. You have no guarantee of success.

Benefits: Many vanity publishers have a lot of comprehensive packages that focus on getting your book out there, so the marketing and design elements are heavily emphasized which can be challenging otherwise. Their potential reach could get you the exposure you’re looking for.


Typically vanity presses and self-publishing are related. The negative thought is they are ‘vain’ because you’re not actually under contract with a publisher willing to take a chance on you without any exchange of money. When you self-publish you often have to pay for: Editing services, ISBN, any other listings, upload costs to distributors and platforms, formatting services, and cover design. You shell out as much sometimes as you would going through a vanity press. Increasingly you also have to know a lot about technology to navigate the systems to upload your book successfully.

Pitfalls: When you self-publish you don’t have a legit publisher behind you so your work isn’t listed as published by a legit company.

Benefits: You have total control over your product and learn a lot along the way. You can connect with other self-published folks who will give you tons of advice.

Small Publishers / Micro Publishers:

Small publishers accept your work without any money exchanged. If you decide to pay for a cover designer you may pay for this outside your contract and the company, but within the company all the editing, promotion, and putting together of the book is paid for by the publisher, who essentially believes in your work enough to pay those expenses.

Small publishers vary. Some may be more ‘take em in, spit em out’ approach, where they publish a lot of authors throughout the year and earn by the sheer quantity of authors published. In those cases, you may not get the ’boutique’ experience and be expected to be pretty self-aware of the process. Other companies may be more hand-holding and go through every aspect of the publishing experience closely with you.

Some small publishers are more invested in that process and will assign you a dedicated editor you work closely with, versus expecting you to submit a finished manuscript and suggest few edits. For newbie writers, our recommendation is always seek a publisher who can meet your needs. If you know you need a lot of edits (and 99 percent of us benefit from close editing) select a publisher you know will work closely with you.

Occasionally a small publisher will expect you to buy pre-sale copies or a certain amount of books to ‘justify’ their taking you on. This isn’t ethical and you should check with your publisher before signing a contract if you believe this is happening. Essentially that is another form of vanity publishing and not fair to the author. Yes publishers have to earn a living, but not at the expense of the author.

That said, it is your responsibility to market your work – as you are your best marketing tool. If you don’t have a social media presence, get one, because these days that’s what it takes. Do not expect a publisher to be able to sell hundreds of your books without you putting in significant work. For example: The authors who sell the most through Indie Blu(e) work their butts off to promote and sell their work – it benefits them and creates exposure for future projects and gets others interested in them, it’s how they get ahead.

Pitfalls: A small publisher cannot compete placement-wise with a huge publisher, they’re not going to be able to get your books into the front row of your local Barnes & Noble. Only huge names from huge publishers achieve this – although it’s worth going in yourself and talking about being featured in the ‘local’ authors section as this is popular.

Benefits: You get a close working relationship without having to shell out money. You get to have a lot of help in producing your book. The costs of publication are covered by the publisher. You are part of the indie-author world and networking can be a blast.

Large Publishers:

Large publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. They nearly all expect you to have an Agent. We are often asked how do you get an Agent if it’s so hard? It’s sadly a little nepotistic, all about who you know. We recommend you network like crazy with literary journals and editors and people in the business, in the hope of finding someone who can recommend you. The more you put your work out there, the more it will garner interest.

Large publishers will have a dedicated TEAM assigned to your book. You will have marketing campaigns that extend to placement in all bookstores and signings and readings will be organized for you. You will not have to pay out for any of this – but you will be expected to be the kind of talent a large publisher can promote easily, so that means working hard alongside them and pretty much doing what you are expected to do to justify the investment made in you.

Pitfalls: You might be under some pressure, so this is where you have to be pretty confident and get over any stage fright. You will be in the spotlight but this is how you sell. You won’t be able to cherry-pick, this will be at the behest of the company and that may include cover design and what edits are made. The percentage you earn per book will be less than you earn with a medium-sized or smaller publisher but if you sell more, you make more. Remember that not all authors who get published by a large press, actually go on to be commercially successful, although the chances of becoming definitely go up.

Benefits: It’s a large publisher! You’ve got every chance for success. Once you get there, doors open that are harder to open lower down on the ladder.

Obviously, there is much more to all of this BUT this is the skinny on how publishing works today. The important thing is to really consider how you fit with the above and what will work for you before approaching a publishing house – and this includes considering:

Am I a good fit for the company? Check out their website, the feel and ‘vibe’ of their people and previously published books. Do they seem on the same wavelength?

Will they get me where I want to go? (But be realistic about this too, sometimes the first step, however humble, is still the first step and a worthy one)

Do they have a good reputation? Big isn’t always better. Neither is small. Read how others have fared.

Good luck! Fortunately, there are many publishers out there and so the chances of finding a fit for your book are pretty high. We at Indie Blu(e) love our authors and do all we can to promote them whilst they are under our wing. We hope you find the same close relationship for your next publishing journey. Be realistic. But don’t settle for less!


Published by TheFeatheredSleep

Editor, Psychotherapist, Publisher. www.indieblu.net https://borderlessjournal.com/ https://thepineconereview.com/

6 thoughts on “What’s the difference between vanity presses, small presses and other kinds of publishing?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: