What is Vanity Publishing?

I’m reminded by someone who is considering the self-publishing route to get their book published, that they have heard ‘vanity publishing’ is still seen by some as a way for ‘failed’ authors to get their manuscripts into print. Having spent months, perhaps years on their work, unsuccessfully finding an agent to represent them, they need to know what is meant by ‘vanity publishing’.

I had some experience of this when I self-published my first book An Unexpected Diagnosis, a collection of Irish short stories, which included my time in hospital with prostate cancer. It went on sale in the hospital shop and sold fairly well. However, when I called in to see how it was doing, I was told by the owner that a copy had been returned for a refund. 

When I asked, why? Apparently, they hadn’t even read the book, but the customer had said they didn’t read vanity publications. Implying that such publications were of poor quality. It’s the only rejection I’ve ever had and although it’s not currently available in print An Unexpected Diagnosis continues to sell as an eBook on my website at


The term, vanity publishing, is said to derive from the word ‘vain’, for people who simply want to see their name on the cover of a book that is not thought by agents or publishers to be saleable. Fortunately, it is a stigma and a term mostly consigned to the past with the rise of highly regarded self-publishing print houses and indie authors in recent years.

Unscrupulous vanity publishers have only one aim: to take your money and offer very little in return. I met with one lady who fell into the trap of seeking advice on how to publish her memoir, unfortunately with an agency who simply took her money, over £4,000 in advance. For this princely sum she received no editing advice for her manuscript, no cover design except to supply a photograph of herself, and no marketing or distribution help. All she got was ONE book. When she queried this, she was told she would have to pay 1,000s more for book runs.

She showed me her book. It was a very poor example that would have been unlikely to see the light of day in a book store. Not surprisingly, the agency she dealt with is no longer in existence.

However, we have come a long way from dealing with dubious vanity-publishers. Modern self-publishing companies such as BookBaby can now match and guarantee even more in terms of support, compared to the best in traditional publishing. See highly successful self-published writers and their books, like Andy Weir The Martian, L J Ross DCI Crime Thrillers, Rachel Abbott The Back Road and many more, who have all succeeded as indie authors, and learn from them.

As always, use due diligence when asked to part with money in advance of any book deal.



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