traditional versus indie versus vanity publishing cypress canyon books

When I entered the publishing world two decades ago, it was a much simpler industry. You had book publishers. Book publishers made their money by selling books.


Today, with the popularization of print-on-demand publishing and eBooks, the publishing world has splintered. We now see a variety of different “types” of publishers out there, and, sadly, this splintering has meant a lot of really good people have wasted a lot of really hard-earned money on some of the more nefarious companies out there.

Let’s take a look at the difference in the three main categories of publishers you’re likely to encounter, if you’re a writer peddling you manuscript.

Traditional Publishers

Traditional publishers are the publishers of old. They likely have printing in house, or have a subsidiary or a partnership with a printing company. When they accept a manuscript, they typically offer the author an advance on royalties to secure the rights to the title. They then pay a small royalty to the author when the book sells.

Traditional publishers only make money if your book sells.

Pros of Traditional Publishers

There are definitely some pros to working with a traditional publisher:

 •  Traditional publishers typically have the largest marketing budgets for their titles. They’ve already invested money in the advance, so want to ensure your book is a success.

 •  You receive an advance on royalties up front. This means you’ve actually made money on your book! Yay!

 •  You will NOT have to pay anything to have your book published. They have an in-house team of editors, layout artists and cover artists.

Cons of Traditional Publishers

Of course, there are also cons with traditional publishers as well:

 •  Because of the initial financial investment, traditional publishers are VERY picky on what titles they secure rights to.

 •  Most traditional publishers only accept submissions through agents – meaning you have an additional hoop to jump through.

 •  You may experience a little less-personalized service, because they are usually large corporations.

 •  Because of the typically high overhead costs of traditional publishers, the amount of royalties a traditional publisher pays is usually quite small. 10% royalty to the author is very common. I’ve even seen contracts for less.

Indie Publishers

Indie publishers arose with the advent of print-on-demand technology. Where before this printers required print runs of dozens (if not hundreds) of copies, to make a book print cost financially viable, now print-on-demand allows small publishers to compete price-wise with traditional publishers.

Indie publishers do not usually (although it may happen) offer advances to authors. However, in exchange, they offer higher royalties to their authors.

Indie publishers only make money if your book sells.

Pros of Indie Publishers

There are definite pros to working with an indie publisher:

 •  Indie publishers NEVER charge you to publish your book.

 •  Indie publishers offer significantly higher royalty rates to their offers. The royalty offered is 60%.

 •  Indie publishers are typically smaller, which means they are dedicated to ensuring every title in their catalog is a success.

 •  Indie publishers usually allow authors to have significant input on the finishing touches of their manuscript – cover art, layout, font choices, etc.

 •  Because of their small size, you will likely have a very personal experience with your managing editor as they develop your manuscript and bring it to market.

 •  Indie publishers usually have editors, layout artists and cover artists on staff.

 •  Indie publishers will always accept submissions direct from the author.

Cons of Indie Publishers

There are some cons of working with an indie publisher:

 •  You typically will not receive an advance up front.

 •  They likely will have a smaller marketing budget than a large, corporate, traditional publisher.

Vanity Publishers

I will start this section off with a fact that will become blatantly obvious in a few minutes. I am NOT a fan of vanity publishers. I truly feel they are the snake oil salesmen of the publishing industry. I’ve met a lot of writers who have wasted a lot of money on vanity publishing.

With print-on-demand, vanity publishers also emerged. These publishers make their money not on the sale of your book – but on what YOU pay them to publish their book. They charge authors for every step of the publishing process.

 •  They charge to edit.

 •  They charge to layout.

 •  They charge for the cover art.

 •  They charge to print.

 •  They charge for marketing.

In the end, writers spend thousands of dollars to bring their manuscript to market and often receive little to no sales – beyond those of family and friends.

Now, I know there are going to be those exceptions out there. I’m certain there are authors who have written really amazing books, paid a vanity publisher to put it together for them, and sold enough copies to recoup their costs and perhaps even make a little money. However, these instances are RARE!

I worked as a managing editor for a VERY short stint for one of the most popular vanity presses, and it was common knowledge that 99.9% of the manuscripts we edited would never see a store bookshelf and sit at the bottom of rankings on The philosophy of the company was to publish “anything that pays.” When I learned this, I terminated my contract early and walked away.

Vanity publishers make the bulk (if not ALL) of their money from what writers pay them to publish their book.

Pros of a Vanity Publisher

 •  A vanity publisher will publish anything. You don’t even have to worry if your book is good.

 •  You will receive the highest royalty rate – sometimes even 100% of the royalty. Of course, 100% of $0.00 is still $0.00.

Cons of a Vanity Publisher

 •  Vanity publishers are VERY expensive – thousands of dollars, sometimes more than $10k!

 •  A vanity publisher really doesn’t care if your book is a success. They’ve already made the bulk of their revenue from YOU! If your book is a rare hit, that’s just a bonus for them, as they overcharge you for print costs.

 •  Any marketing done for your book is something you’ve paid for – either directly or indirectly.

 •  The quality of the finished product is often iffy — from the quality of editing to the final print quality.

 •  You’ll likely pay more than 10x the cost of publishing your book, then if you had just self-published it yourself.

Like I said, I’m not a fan of vanity publishers. The pay-to-publish companies out there take advantage of authors who are just desperate to see their book in print. They don’t care about the quality of the manuscript. All they care about is the money – and that’s not what this industry should be about.

If you’re thinking of going with a vanity publisher, before you do – submit your manuscript to us.

Kimberly is the founder and managing editor of Cypress Canyon Publishing. She does not edit her own writing, so please forgive her for any errors. She is a firm believer in the – Do as I say, not as I do Rule. 


16 thoughts on “Traditional – Indie – Vanity Publishers: What’s the Difference?

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  3. I tried to get my book published with traditional publishers for over a year and got so many rejection letters. So when I got the “Hey! We want to publish your book!” from a vanity publisher, I was really excited. I ended up paying over $5,000 to get my book published and so far have sold less than 2 dozen copies, which I think are all my family and friends. It was a very expensive lesson to learn.

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  5. This makes so much sense! Obviously those vanity publishers are making their money from the author, not from the books themselves.

  6. Thank you for this explanation. I’ve been trying to get my book published and was considering paying someone to do it, but now I’ll keep hoping a traditional or indie publisher (maybe Cypress Canyon!) will pick it up.

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