Yo, folks. A couple of people have asked me questions recently about all the different types of publishing–what are they? How can you tell if a press is a vanity press? Why should one choose one publishing path over another?
I don’t have all the answers, but I might be able to clear up some of the confusion.
For most publishing decisions, there’s not ONE right way and all the other ways are wrong. Authors may have reasons to choose any one of the options.
Large Traditional Publishing Houses:
When most people think about publishing, this may be what comes to mind. We’re talking about your Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster,Tor etc. If you want to go this route, you need to secure a literary agent first. Most of the largest publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts from the author–the literary agent serves as your intermediary. These publishers still offer a traditional advance to the author. The author then earns royalties on sales after the advance has been “earned out.” Literary agents take a share of the money for representing and helping the author. Large publishers provide full editing and cover art for the author. They have varying levels of support for author promotion, depending on the author, the market, and the publisher.
Small Publishing Houses:
Smaller publishing houses will often take direct queries from authors without a literary
agent. Many, though not all, smaller publishers specialize in e-books and focus on the e-book market. Some also release paper books, either through a specific press or a print-on-demand service. Some do not! If you’re considering a small publishing house, you will want to make sure to ask questions about e-books vs. paper books. Most smaller publishers do not offer a sizable advance, if they offer an advance at all. They typically work on a royalty model, where the author earns an agreed-upon percentage of money earned by sales. They do provide full editing and cover art for the author, and may provide help with promotion. They usually release to online stores like Amazon and Barnes & Nobles, but it may be harder to find these books on the shelves of your local physical bookstores.
If you’re not sure what to look for, a vanity press can easily be mistaken for a small publishing house. Vanity presses pass along publication fees to the author, either as a cost split with the press or as a cost borne by the author alone. For instance, if you receive a contract from a press who asks you to bear half the costs of editing, preparing, and publishing the work, then this would be considered a vanity press. Such presses do offer things like editing and cover art, but you are paying for those services.
Self-publishing sounds like what it is: an author works without a publishing house to make their book available to the public. These are usually e-books, but there are often print-on-demand options. An author may choose to self publish in order to keep a greater percentage of the profits from sales. Sometimes well-known authors self-publish because they already have an audience base and do not need the help of a publishing house. Some self-published authors do hire editors and cover artists to produce very fine works; others may not seek outside help and might not produce as professional a product. If you’re thinking about self-publishing, you will want to think about all of those issues: editors, cover artists, promotion platform, reaching your audience.
Hope this helps a bit! Here are some good links on these issues: