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Silver Spring, MD
United States


Stories To Tell is a full service book publishing company for independent authors. We provide editing, design, publishing, and marketing of fiction and non-fiction. We specialize in sophisticated, unique illustrated book design.

Stories To Tell Books BLOG

True Self Publishing vs. Vanity Press

Biff Barnes

In today’s tumultuous world of publishing more and more authors are seeking new paths into print. With publishing deals with traditional houses great and small becoming ever more illusive for new authors, and stories of self publishing success dancing on the horizon, authors are embracing self publishing in rapidly growing numbers. Unfortunately many of them lack a clear understanding of what self publishing means.

Courtesy of fdecomite under Creative Commons

As a consequence many of them are only too happy when an ad for Outskirts Press, Author House or Xlibris pops up Google. Companies willing to help them navigate the world of getting their book into print, onto Amazon and marketed look like just what the doctor ordered. They aren’t.

The recent purchase of Author Solutions, owner of the Author House, Xlibris, iUniverse and Wordclay imprints, by traditional publishing house Penguin was described by it parent company Pearson’s announcement as the acquisition of “…the world’s leading provider of professional self-publishing services.” In fact these imprints are vanity presses.

The first thing to understand about vanity presses is that they make their money not by selling books, but through payments by authors. Whether your book sells or not the publisher gets paid.

Second, although advertising like that which appears on Outskirts Press’ Google ads says you’ll retain 100% of your rights that statement is misleading if not downright untrue. If the publisher purchases the ISBN for the book, the ISBN is issued to the publisher. The contract authors sign with Xlibris contains a clause which says, “You retain the rights to the book, but the files remain ours because we created them.”

We have spoken with numerous authors who have run into rights issues with these companies. We recently spoke with an author who had Outskirts Press publish an illustrated children’s book. Although he submitted original artwork, when he asked for his production files he was told that he could not have them because the design for the book had been created in house. The author was shocked, but the contract he had signed was clear on the point.

Another author we work with published his first book with Publish America which forced him to set his cover price so high it wouldn’t sell. Publish America did little to market the book, offering only more marketing services for additional fees. When he asked for his files our author was told he could buy them back from the company.

If you want to self publish make sure that’s what you are really doing. If your manuscript will need professional help from an editor or book designer before publication hire these professionals on a freelance basis. You will own any work these people do. Purchase your own ISBN for $125 directly from Bowker, the agent for the official ISBN agency. Find a company which will print your book where you pay only the actual cost of production. Then take charge of marketing your book or by hiring someone to provide that service for you.

It’s only when you become a true self publisher that you will have a chance to benefit from the rapidly expanding opportunities for self published books.