If you spend a lot of time in writers’ groups, chances are you’ve seen this scenario. A poor, unsuspecting newbie asks the dreaded question:
“I got an offer from a publisher but not sure I can afford it! What should I do?”
Said unsuspecting newbie gets buried in proverbial excrement and feels shamed they don’t know about the difference between vanity, hybrid, and traditional publishers.
Thankfully I had spent enough time lurking in the groups to know a traditional publisher doesn’t ask for money, and a vanity press is one an author pays to get their book “published”. I was able to avoid the onslaught of “run away!” remarks.
As well-versed as I thought I was, I still hit a wall on the definition of a hybrid press. Is publishing not as black and white as I thought? If a hybrid is not as suspicious, what do they offer that a vanity press does not? I set to find out the difference between all these options.
Here’s the short version of what I found. For the long version, check out this article from Writer Beware.
A vanity press is a company whose target market consists of authors. That is how they make their money. They offer to publish a book with little regard to quality because quality doesn’t affect them. They sometimes approach authors on their own, but they can also be approached by any author, no agent needed.
Every press is different, but in general: they print the book, MAY retain/lease rights to it as would a traditional publisher, and the author pays for the service but keeps sales or a portion of sales. The author generally does all the marketing and editing as well, or the press has options to pay for those services.
A hybrid press is an interesting mix of services. They do printing and marketing, cover designs, various levels of editing, and give a hefty share of the sales (something like 50%). The author pays a package fee or can pick and choose services.
The big difference between a hybrid and a vanity press the hybrid’s target market is not just the author, it is the also readers. They make a fee from authors, yes, but they MUST get money from book sales as well. They will not accept every manuscript that comes their way and they will distribute wherever they can. Quality and author success is pretty important to their success.
Some vanity reassesses will try and pose as a hybrid press by explaining away their fees. Again, Writer Beware can point out the difference better than I can.
A traditional publisher is one of the toughest eggs to crack, but many authors keep a traditional contract as their goal. The submission process is long, nerve-wracking, but also worth it for many. Traditional publishers are looking for stories that will sell to the current market (or their market) and they need to protect that at all costs.
Though the industry is changing, they will generally provide editing, cover design, marketing, distribution, etc. at no cost to the author, and also pay an advance to the author. An advance is money they anticipate the book will make in royalties to the author. Assuming everything goes well and the book sells a lot, the royalties stack up and eventually the advance is fulfilled. After that, the author can start receiving royalties of about 7%.
Along with changing industry standards, it is important to note that first-time authors need to be aware their contract can include a few alarming things. Publishers can write in that they retain rights for a movie, they can expect an author to pay back an advance if the book doesn’t sell well, and a few other things. If an author has an agent or an intellectual property lawyer, the author can get this re-negotiated or try another publisher. The point is to be aware of what will be signed.
An indie publisher/press is a small press that works much like a traditional press, only they do not answer to shareholders and can take risks. New authors, niche genres, etc. can all benefit from these presses. They generally do not have the funds to make a huge campaign or give an advance, but it is something to investigate.
Self-publishing without a vanity or hybrid press
In true self-publishing, an author takes on the responsibility of everything; editing, getting the ISBN, cover design, formatting, marketing, printing, distribution, etc. The upside is that they learn how to become good business people, and they have control over the rights to their books, and they keep all profit.
Last bit of advice
Research. Lots and lots of research. Look up copyrights, the costs involved in everything going into a book, each and every press you come across, intellectual property, etc. I certainly can’t claim to know everything by looking at a few websites, so know there is much more to learn. At any rate, it’s important to make sure the manuscript is a good as possible. There are several types of readers. Take a look at their definitions here in another post, Writing Terms and Definitions.