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Vanity Publishing: Dispelling the Myths by Cambridge Scholars Publishing

The Commissioning Editors at Cambridge Scholars Publishing are often asked by prospective authors about how to get published and for advice on being approached by a ‘Vanity Press’. Here is some guidance from our Editorial team. We hope you find it useful – let us know!

“(Vanity Publishers) will publish anything for which an author will pay, usually at a loss for the author and a nice profit for the publisher.”

Bill Henderson, ‘The Small Book Press: A Cultural Essential’, Library Quarterly 53, no.1 (1983): 61-71

The term ‘Vanity Publishing’ is inherently ambiguous, for, despite the efforts of publishing industry watchdogs, it is used haphazardly and confused with self-publishing or other types of author-subsidised publishing. The term is further obscured by the alternative terms that Vanity Publishers themselves use: “joint-venture”, “shared responsibility” or “subsidy” publishing. 

So what is the difference between Conventional and Vanity Publishing?

A Conventional Publisher (either a University Press or an independent commercial academic publisher) does not charge a fee to publish and sell a manuscript. The one exception to this is the Open Access (OA) model, which is now being explored by some conventional academic publishers; this is already an option for many academic journals (particularly in the Sciences). In the OA model, the published work is made freely available in digital form, and the costs of production and marketing are covered by what is often known as an ‘Author Processing Charge’. If you opt for an OA model through a conventional academic publisher, you should expect the same rigorous standards of peer-review, production and marketing that you would from a traditional publishing route. Your proposal will not be automatically accepted for publication simply because a payment is being made.

A further feature of conventional academic publishers is that large publishing houses sometimes pay an advance on royalties; an independent academic press typically doesn’t, although all should legitimately have a royalty structure in place. Click the following for an example of Cambridge Scholars Publishing’s Royalty Scheme. Conventional academic publishers are highly selective, publishing only a certain percentage of manuscripts submitted. A conventional academic press will handle the editing, typesetting, publication, distribution and marketing. Ultimately, they have an incentive to sell copies in order to make a profit, as well as to develop strong, lasting relationships with their authors.

A Vanity Publisher charges a fee to publish the author’s work, or may require the author to purchase something as a pre-requisite to publication (such as pre-ordering a number of finished books or purchasing publicity or other services). Vanity publishers ‘print’ work regardless of quality—there is no element of selection at the commissioning stage. They often provide little more than a print run that is shipped to the author. Costs for vanity publishing can easily rise into the five-figure range. 

What about self-publishing?

Self-publishing services are digitally-based, and the range of options can vary depending on the publishing packages that the service provides. At one end of the scale, some self-publishing services charge hefty amounts and may heavily promote costly extras (such as publicity and marketing); at the other end, the author bears the entire cost of publication but is not restricted in terms of publishing output.

I am keen to get my academic work published as a research monograph; will Vanity Publishing affect my career prospects?

There is a stigma attached to fee-based publishing, which has eroded over recent times due to the upsurge in self-publishing options, though it still exists.

The ‘rank’ of an academic publisher is sometimes viewed as tantamount to advancing your career, and young scholars often fix their sights on major University presses. Talk to others who have published in the same field as you.  It is useful to get a range of views, although you may find that opinions vary depending on experiences and expectations.  It is likely that some senior academics may steer you towards a University press.  Take into account that the decision-making processes within a University press are often longer than commercial publishers, which is important if you have a tight timeframe.

If you do decide to publish with a Vanity Publisher, it is important to check the quality of production and dust-jacket design, as these can be distinctly poor. Ask for examples of other books produced by the press or check on their website to review their back catalogue. Questions to ask yourself are: Does the formatting look professional? Are all the pages in order? Is the cover art attractive? Are the books sturdy?

A Vanity Press is unlikely to offer much in the way of book distribution, marketing or publicity support. It is good practice to ensure that the publisher distributes through at least one reputable wholesaler, such as Ingram. This will ensure that your books are available online, and, even if they are not available in certain bookstores, people will be able to special order them.

Many individuals enter into vanity arrangements because they cannot find a conventional publisher, but still feel that their academic research will be of value to others. If this is the case, seek feedback from those publishers who have rejected your proposal, and, if you have the money to spend, then consider self-publishing before vanity publishing.

What about Editorial assistance: what can I expect from Conventional vs Vanity Publishers?

Vanity Publishers are not selective about the quality of work they publish. You can expect no proof-reading, copy editing, or typesetting assistance. 

Reputable Conventional Publishers (both University and independent commercial publishers) will provide a variety of Editorial services throughout the publishing process. The terms and responsibilities afforded to these Editors can vary between publishing houses. At Cambridge Scholars Publishing, for example, you can expect to come into contact with:

Acquisition or Commissioning Editors: in charge of finding new academic potential, and potentially organising peer review channels;

Series Editors: typically more senior academics who oversee the publication of a Series on a specific theme;

Managing Editors: who deal with the practical details of publishing a book;

Copy Editors: often known as ‘proof reading’, and ‘mechanical copy editing’, who will review samples of a manuscript in preparation for publication;

Typesetters:  who will take your manuscript text and illustrative material, setting it out on the page ready for printing, in line with industry guidelines (such as the Chicago Manual of Style).

What about the relevance of peer review?

University press and reputable commercial academic publishers will facilitate varying levels of peer review. Peer review is noticeably absent from Vanity Publishing processes.

The level of peer review may range from having your proposal reviewed by external academic specialists and/or an impartial Advisory Board, to only reviewing the final manuscript. In addition, the review channels (typically credible senior academics with a strong reputation and publishing output within a specialism) may be co-agreed with the author, identified by the in-house Commissioning Editor, or a combination of both. As an example, Cambridge Scholars Publishers have an extensive network of peer reviewers with global reach, some of whom are on the Cambridge Scholars Publishing Editorial Advisory Board.

Last thoughts…

Ultimately, a good academic publisher should assist the author in producing a marketable and credible publication, in line with the expectations of the academic community. They should facilitate discovery through marketing, publicity and a variety of distribution channels. They should provide advanced copies to reviewers in key journals, look for opportunities to promote books through the media, and route books into sales channels. Reputable publishers are there to help and should have a strong vested interest in disseminating leading-edge research to the wider academic community. 

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