Traditional publishing houses, self-publishing, hybrid publishers, vanity presses—oh my! Finding the right publishing path for your book can be stressful, and if you wind up with the wrong publisher, it can be hell-ish. Are hybrid publishers legitimate? How can you spot a vanity press in disguise? Keep reading to learn the real differences between a hybrid publisher and a vanity publisher, and how to select the most reputable, aligned publisher for your book.
What Is a Hybrid Publisher?
A hybrid publisher is an independent publishing service that combines the professional expertise of a traditional publishing house with the high profitability of self-publishing. A great hybrid publisher gets to know their authors, giving them a more prominent role in the creative process and higher royalties.
What Is a Vanity Publisher?
A vanity publisher, AKA vanity press, is a scam publishing scheme that takes your money and produces a low-quality, throw-away book.
Sneaky vanity publishers are skilled at disguising themselves as hybrid publishers. Because let’s face it, it’s not in their interest to say, “Hey! We are a vanity press and here to scam you!” This can make it super confusing for authors to differentiate between scams and reputable publishing opportunities.
Are Hybrid Publishers Legitimate?
If you are knee-deep in publishing house research, you might have seen some not-so-great reviews of hybrid publishers. There are a number of potential reasons for this.
- The hybrid publisher was low-quality. It’s not against the law to be a mediocre hybrid publisher. It’s up to you to vet your potential publishers to find the most reputable one for your book. Luckily, we can help with that!
- The hybrid publisher was a vanity press in disguise. This happens more often than you’d expect because vanity presses are designed to trick you.
How To Spot a Vanity Publisher v. Hybrid Publisher
If reputable hybrid publishers and scam vanity publishers are both claiming to be a professional, worthwhile publishing investments—how can you spot the difference?
The business model for hybrid publishers and vanity publishers seem similar on the surface. In both models, authors pay the publishing house to publish their books. The difference is that vanity publishers are only focused on making money (sometimes from the authors themselves!), while hybrid publishers actually care about the books they publish and the success of their authors.
A Hybrid Publisher will:
- Be certified by the Independent Book Publishers Association
- Have a vested interest in producing a high-quality book
- Provide quality distribution and marketing services
- Have quality publication standards
- Foster professional author-publisher relationships
- Are transparent around publishing costs and fees
A vanity publisher will not meet these requirements!
Consider the following questions when researching and reviewing publishers:
Are They Certified By The Independent Book Publishers Association?
The best indicator that a hybrid publisher is legitimate is whether it’s Independent Book Publishers Associated (IBPA) approved. IBPA is the gold standard for reputable hybrid publishers that follow strict best practices and quality-control requirements.
We also recommend checking the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) Watchdog List. This list monitors the independent publishing industry, acting as a whistleblower for publishers that exploit authors.
Do They Produce High-Quality Books?
Quality is everything in publishing. Without high-quality writing, editing, and design, few people will read your book. If you are a thought leader and want your book to help accelerate your career, it’s even more important.
When vetting a prospective publisher, it’s important to research books that the publisher has released. Ask yourself if the quality meets industry standards (and your personal standards). While many hybrid publishers can meet and exceed industry quality standards, most vanity publishers fall short. This is an easy way to distinguish between the two.
Do They Have a Vested Interest In Producing a High-Quality Book?
Looking into the business model of the publisher in question can also help indicate whether or not they will produce a high-quality book.
Vanity publishers operate differently than hybrid publishers. Often, a vanity publisher will offer 100% of royalties to authors. While this may seem like a great opportunity, the reality is often grimmer.
Because vanity publishers receive 0% in royalties, they often contractually require authors to buy thousands of copies of their books. The vanity publisher won’t be profiting off the book itself, but from the authors directly. If there’s no incentive to actually sell the book to readers, there’s no real incentive for the publisher to produce a high-quality book.
Remember: just because you’re paying top dollar, doesn’t mean you’re getting professional quality.
Do They Have Quality Publication Standards?
A vanity press will publish virtually any book, as long as the author pays. Hybrid publishers have a quality review process, where they only accept books that meet internal requirements. For example, the hybrid publisher Publish Your Purpose only accepts high-quality nonfiction books and memoirs related to social change.
A good way to check the quality of the books by the publisher in question is to look up some books by the publisher or talk to previous authors directly. Check to see if any of the books have made it to bestseller lists or have won any awards. Read reviews or watch testimonials from other authors to survey their experiences.
Do They Provide Quality Distribution?
A reputable hybrid publisher is responsible for the distribution, including offering printing and fulfillment services.
Publish Your Purpose goes above and beyond, helping the author design a unique marketing plan that fits their goals, and then helping them to implement it.
A vanity press typically publishes through the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. While this works for some books, it provides a large accessibility obstacle if the author wants bookstores, retailers, libraries, and universities to access the book. Amazon’s business model includes keeping business on Amazon, so they have no incentive to make their books appealing to other retailers. As a reminder, vanity publishers make money from selling books to authors and do not have a vested interest in helping the author make their book easily accessible to non-Amazon booksellers.
Do They Foster Professional Author-Publisher Relationships?
A hybrid publisher has professional coaching, editing, design, and publishing team to guide you through the publishing process. They will take the time to foster a strong, professional relationship with authors. Authors should feel supported, and like they have a say in the creative process.
A vanity press, in contrast, might be difficult to reach, and disconnected from the author and the author’s experience.
Many vanity publishers use automated customer service software to answer author questions. With communication barriers like that, authors can feel disconnected from the publishing process and unsupported.
In many cases, vanity presses own the full rights to the books they publish. This means, to save time and energy, they might not even consult the author over items like book formatting, cover design, and writing style—and there’s nothing authors can do about it contractually.
Are They Transparent Around Publishing Costs and Fees?
A sign that you are working with a vanity publisher and not a hybrid publisher comes down to the transparency of costs and fees of publishing. If the publisher is unable to give you a thorough breakdown of how and where your money is being spent, it is likely that they are cushioning the costs, and pocketing the difference.
A quality hybrid publisher will be able to tell you exactly how much money it will cost to cover editing, design, distribution, and every part of the publishing process. Hybrid publishers will not add on additional fees or book purchase requirements, so that’s a good sign that you’re operating with a vanity press.
Further Questions To Ask a Hybrid or Vanity Publisher
The advice we have offered in this article is a great place to start to be able to vet a potential publishing opportunity and be confident that you are working with a reputable hybrid publisher.
But to conduct a thorough vetting of a potential publisher, we recommend delving even deeper. Explore our guide to 9 Questions To Ask a Potential Publisher.
Publish Your Purpose: Hybrid Publisher for Untold Storytellers
Publish Your Purpose is a hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. As an LGBTQ+ and women-owned B Corporation™, our mission is to elevate the voices often excluded from traditional publishing. We are certified by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and our founder is an active IBPA member and book judge for their annual Ben Franklin awards.
Protecting our authors is at the forefront of every decision we make as an organization. Apply to publish your book with PYP here!
As a hybrid publisher, we strongly believe in helping authors navigate the somewhat confusing and misleading publishing industry. The more people we can help avoid predatory publishers and untrustworthy vanity presses, the better.
We work intentionally with purpose-driven authors who strive to make a difference in the world. We work one-on-one with our authors to ensure that their books follow their creative vision while meeting strict industry quality standards.