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Vanity press

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Vanity press consists of an author having his works published by himself who provides only the technical part of the publishing and distribution, apart from the editorial choice itself. It is therefore the author who pays for the printing and advertising costs of his book. However, he remains the owner of the copyright and controls the number of books published. Vanity press is not always done by publishers but by “service providers” who bear no “editorial risk”.

Traditional publishers can practice a kind of publishing “on account of the author”: this is often the case of works commissioned by a municipality, a departmental or regional council, or even by a company, to promote a city, a department , a region or various economic or tourist aspects, works financed either totally or partially by these communities.

Business model

This mode of publication is considered a commercial service rather than an editorial business since the author pays for the company to take charge of the publication of his work. Thus, self-employed publishers do not exercise “the primary editorial function”, namely the selection of texts.

The most frequent reproach against vanity press is that it is chosen by authors who have been refused or who did not want to go through a professional publisher who bears the costs of publication and advertisement. The bad press of this practice is put forward by its name: “Vanity press”, which maintains that the approach would be motivated first and foremost by the vanity of the author.

In addition, the disadvantage of this type of edition often lies in the confidentiality of the books thus published.

Contractual obligations

The writer who chooses this type of publication is bound to the publishing house or the company that will publish it by a service contract. The publisher contributes its know-how in the production of the book and its assistance in terms of distribution. On the other hand, the author remains the owner of the works and, above all, of the rights to the published work. The contract must be perfectly transparent, and “half” formulas such as those found with certain publishers should be avoided. Indeed, this type of contract sees the association of the author and the publisher who agree to share the profits or losses incurred, which represents an increased risk of conflict between the partners.

Other editing modes

The traditional mode of publishing, also called vanity press, involves the publication of a book, selected by a reading committee, at the publisher’s expense.

An author can also choose to self-publish; he then takes care of the edition of his work himself, without intermediary. Many established authors, using vanity press, choose self-publishing, whether to maintain complete freedom in editorial choices, to exploit a specific market, or to use unusual business methods. Today there are many online platforms allowing authors to self-publish their books, such as TheBookEdition.com or Lulu.com for example. Modern printing techniques (particularly print-on-demand) allow an increasing number of authors to self-publish their works.

Another way exists, although it is still little used. Participatory publishing, also called publishing on behalf of readers, is inspired by the principle of crowdfunding. This method of publishing results in the publication of a work financed by future readers who, in exchange for their contribution, receive compensation (signed copy, meeting with the author, royalties, etc.).

Confusion between vanity press and self-publishing

It is easy to confuse vanity press with self-publishing since the appearance of many digital platforms charging support services to the author who wishes to self-publish. The services offered by these platforms sometimes cover the entire publication process (development and revision of the manuscript, correction, layout, graphic design, printing, distribution, dissemination), thus making it difficult to distinguish at first glance a  publisher who uses vanity press by a service provider who supports the self-published author in all stages of his process.


Historically, a form of “vanity press” preceded the publisher’s account: from the 16th century until the mid-19th century, booksellers who “published” works did so only against payment of the printing the from the authors or, often, from a patron. Some authors have had success with this vanity press system, notably Béranger (30,000 copies of his works) and Marcel Proust (Du Côté de chez Swann was originally published by Bernard Grasset but financed by the author). Others whose success was late or posthumous also published in this way: Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Tristan Corbière, etc.

(Includes text from Wikipedia translated by Nicolae Sfetcu)

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