Vanity publishing is still vanity publishing–regardless of what you call it.

Posted By on December 21, 2010

I saw a tweet this morning from @iuniversebooks: “What is supported self-publishing?” it asked. I have been seeing that term—“supported self-publishing”—a lot lately, so I clicked on the link, which took me to a page on their website (surprise, surprise).

Basically, the page was all about a service they provide called “supported self-publishing.” Here’s how they describe it:

Self Publishing your book with the support of iUniverse is a professional, affordable, and fast way to get your book into print. Compared to publishing on your own, you do give up control of some aspects of the publishing process, but only in exchange for less hassle and expense. iUniverse professionals with book-publishing expertise will educate and guide you through the entire process for an affordable price. Supported self publishing also enables you to test your marketing abilities and to learn about the publicity process without emptying your bank account or making it your full-time career. And, because you control the rights to your book, you can get started with supported self publishing but move to a traditional publisher—or choose to self publish on your own—after you have experience and a track record.

That sounds really familiar. Maybe because that is the definition of vanity publishing? I’m amazed at how clever these folks—not iUniverse in particular, but the whole lot of companies who do their best to mislead inexperienced and hopeful authors—are at coming up with alternate terms for vanity publishing. I know, I know. I’ve expounded on this topic ad nauseum. But if I can educate just one more burgeoning self-publisher, then it is all worth it.

If you think about it, the definition of “supported self-publishing” even contradicts itself, when it says “compared to publishing on your own”—which would be self-publishing, right?

It further says “supported self publishing also enables you to test your marketing abilities and to learn about the publicity process without emptying your bank account or making it your full-time career.” I don’t know about that. Check out their marketing and publicity services; those will empty anybody’s account—especially self-publishers who are often operating on a shoestring budget. I’m also not clear on how signing up for a plan that sends out 10 million emails (to who?) for $10,000 enables one to test their marketing abilities.

They also claim that “while supported self publishing may not be the right long-term solution for all authors, it is the most efficient and affordable way to get started, and ultimately, get published!” That is just not true; I have worked with countless indie authors who spend far less than the package deals listed on the iUniverse website. We, in fact, provide turnkey book production services for authors who are truly self-publishing for substantially less investment in many instances.  

Incidentally, they also describe traditional publishing on that page, as well as (true) self-publishing. They are missing another option: vanity/subsidy publishing. Oh, wait. That’s what supported self-publishing is.

What matters is what something is, not what it is called. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet….”

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6 Responses to “Vanity publishing is still vanity publishing–regardless of what you call it.”

  1. Hey Sue

    I’ll actually agree with this statement:

    “While supported self publishing may not be the right long-term solution for all authors, it is the most efficient and affordable way to get started, and ultimately, get published!”

    I spent a great deal of money on The New Small and know that I could have brought the book to market for less than half of that amount if I used “supported self-publishing.” I can also say without fear of accurate contradiction that it would not have been nearly as good or professional.

    My goal was not to get it out as cheaply as possible; my goal was to get it out as fast and professionally as possible. My first two publishers were interested but they couldn’t meet my timelines and one wanted to price the book at $45. For me, starting an independent publishing company ( was the way to go. Others might not have the same goals as I did and do.

  2. It can be cheaper — but it’s not always cheaper. I think often in the long run it costs more when you consider how unprofessional a lot of those books look. I can’t tell you how many potential clients have come to me with your supported self-publishing projects we simply can’t market because of how error-filled and poorly designed they tend to be. I’ve had more than one client start all over again, re-doing their books, basically throwing away the monies they had spent with the subsidy press. Plus, in looking at iUniverse’s pricing, most folks could go the true self-publishing route and save money!

    I do agree, though, that a lot depends on your goals. If you simply want to make a book available, then going the cheapest method possible might make sense. My clients tend to be like you — businesspeople who are in business and who want to make a profit.

    Thanks, as always, Phil, reading and commenting!

  3. Hi Sue and Phil,

    I have to agree with you both.

    I have seen a range with books whether or not they have been ‘independently published’, published through so called ‘vanity publishers’ and even those published through ‘traditional publishers’. From my experience, if you choose to independently publish, it can be beneficial to pay someone who knows publishing to project manage your book publication for you. However, you can end up paying a lot of money and getting very little if you don’t know what to look for when choosing someone to assist you with publishing your book.

    There is no substitute for gaining your own knowledge about what constitutes ‘quality’ when it comes to the finished product and checking references and other finished products of anyone you are going to pay good money to for publishing help.
    My first book was originally published by a Vanity Publisher and the result was disastrous. The problem was, other than the plethora of typos that got through to the printed book (despite paying thousands for editors and proof readers), I was unaware of the extent of how poor the finished result was until I started the process again and republished my second edition myself with the help of a more reputable company.

    I have since learned a lot about what constitutes a finished product by reading other people’s blogs, articles and so on and would now say that all means of publishing, vanity, indie or traditional have their merits (as Phil pointed out in his case) but let the buyer beware – know how to distinguish who is providing quality and who is not. It’s not hard to self educate with access to so much information these days so do your homework before you start the publishing process.


  4. Thanks so much for your comments, Alice. Sorry to hear about your first “disastrous” project (you are certainly not alone in that respect!). It’s really all about self-educating, as you said. And with the Internet and all the great blogs out there about indie publishing, it’s not difficult to get the facts straight before making a big mistake.

  5. I just self-published my first novel after many, many years of debating whether I should consider it “giving up” or moving forward.

    I did it through createspace, but I used none of their services except the print service. I had it edited by an editor who believed in the book; I had the cover designed by a professional, and the layout done by a professional; and I went through endless revisions. The final product is quite good, and I’m proud of it.

    Problem is, while marketing it, I am still lumped in with vanity writers. It makes for a tough marketing pitch, and I’m finding a lot of bookstores won’t touch me just for this reason.

    I decided to self-publish because I kept getting the same line from agents: the book is very good, I enjoyed reading the partial or full manuscript you sent, but I don’t think I can sell it to a large enough market to make it worthwhile/don’t think I can pitch it to a big publisher who will stand behind it.

    Seemed a silly reason to keep a good book out of print.

    Now it’s in print. Confusing the Seasons is the name of the book. Reviews have been good so far; yet the stigma remains. It’s exactly what I feared when I decided to self-publish.

    The industry has come a long way toward accepting good self-published writers, but it still lags far behind public sentiment. Tough, really, but I keep on keepin’ on because I believe in my book…and as it turns out, so do my readers.

  6. Dan–I’m curious: Is CreateSpace listed as the publisher? If so, that could be part of the problem. We usually encourage authors to start their own imprints and obtain their own ISBN prefix. If you have used your own imprint, I’m very confused as to why you would be lumped with vanity publishers. I would be curious to hear what you’ve done for marketing thus far and how many you’ve sold. And when did the book come out?

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