Comparing: ‘traditional publisher, ‘self-publishing services’, ‘hybrid publisher’ and ‘vanity publisher’

What’s the difference between a ‘publisher’, ‘self-publishing services provider’, ‘hybrid publisher’, and what we in the editing industry call a ‘vanity publisher’?

Firstly, there is nothing at all wrong with the first three models (publishing, self-publishing or hybrid publishing). However, ‘vanity publishers’ have a bad name, and for a reason. They typically present themselves as a ‘publisher’ instead of what they really are, which is a cross between a self-publishing services provider and a hybrid publisher; and some vanity publishers are unethical in the way they treat their clients.

Traditional publisher

Thorpe-Bowker (the organisation that assigns ISBNs and barcodes, in Australia) will tell you that a ‘publisher’ is an organisation that produces a book for an author at no charge, and pays the author to do it; then pays the author a (small) royalty for the books sold. A publisher will usually only accept manuscripts of books they are pretty sure will be profitable (i.e. if it looks like a best-seller they’re likely to take it on). The ISBN and barcodes are held in the name of the publisher; the copyright ownership is as per the contract.

Apart from mainstream ‘traditional’ publishers, there are ‘indie’ publishers that also follow this ‘traditional’ model.

Self-publishing services

A self-publishing services provider produces a self-published book for an author, and charges the author for that service. The author has full ownership of the books which they then distribute, market etc. as they wish.

For example, I am a self-publishing services provider. I produce books for people from spoken word, or handwritten word, to self-published printed book stage, and I then charge for that service. The author always owns the copyright and all the books. For a portfolio of the books I’ve produced go to Our publications.

Note: some people refer to self-publishing (by an author) as ‘indie publishing’.

Hybrid publisher

For a detailed description of a hybrid publisher, go to: What is a hybrid publisher? There is also an excellent description of hybrid publishing  here.

A hybrid publisher is far superior (in my mind) to a vanity publisher, because they are a professional business/company that offers ‘hybrid publishing’, where the author is the one who invests in (pays for) most of the production of their book, then the hybrid publisher sells it and pays a fairly large royalty to the author (if it sells, of course). So they are kind of a cross between a traditional publisher and a self-publishing services provider.

If using a hybrid publisher, be very careful to read and understand the contract so you are sure what you are agreeing to, just in case what looks like a hybrid publisher is in fact a ‘vanity publisher’.

Note: some refer to a hybrid publisher as an ‘indie publisher’.

‘Vanity publishing’

A vanity publisher does not call themselves a ‘vanity publisher’; that’s the name coined for them by the industry. They call themselves either a ‘publisher’ or a ‘hybrid publisher’.

A vanity publisher offers to publish an author’s book for them. But then they add (often in small print or at the end of their offer) that the author is required to fund part, most or all of the cost of producing their book. There are often hidden fees (for example, one author invested in a vanity publisher, only to  be told later on in the production process that if the author wanted the book edited, there would be extra charges (not in the original contract).

Depending on what is written into the contract the author has accepted, a vanity publisher may own the copyright ownership of the books, the royalties paid to the author may be minute, the quality of the book may be very poor (e.g. no professional editing or design), and the author may have to ‘buy’ their book (at the retail price) from the ‘publisher’ that now owns their book!

While a hybrid publisher charges the author for some/most of the costs of production, and a self-publishing services provider charges the author the full cost of production, at least those other models are up front about their charges and the benefits to authors – whereas a ‘vanity publisher’ isn’t.

So, in a word: beware of vanity publishers!

For more information go to:

Should I publish or self-publish my book?

It’s up to you to work out which model works for you and your book – a ‘traditional’ or ‘indie’ publisher, a hybrid publisher, or using self-publishing services to help you publish your book. Below are a few options. With all of them, make sure you check the fine print in the contract with your service provider, before you proceed.

  • If you want to publish it (with a real publisher) this is the cheapest way to have your book published, but it is a very competitive market; which means that it may be hard for you to find a publisher willing to take your book on.
  • If you are prepared to pay to have your book produced, a self-publishing services provider or a hybrid publisher will self-publish your book for you, although usually you’ll have to do the marketing and distribution yourselves. Carefully read the terms and conditions and make sure you are assured of getting value for money. Seek a quote from more than one source.
  • If you are prepared to pay to have your book produced, a vanity publisher (that calls themselves a ‘publisher’) may be suitable for your needs – but beware. If they haven’t stated in the contract that they will be editing and designing your book to a professional standard, they probably won’t. Carefully read the terms and conditions and make sure you are assured of getting value for money. Seek a quote from more than one source.

For more information about self-publishing in general, go to: The steps of self-publishing.

Proofread by Hannah Auld, On Time Typing, Editing and Proofreading


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