Just What Is a Vanity Publisher?

Last month, a friend of mine told me his novel was coming out soon. His wife showed it to me already on the Kindle, and the hardcover is coming out in January. I asked him who his publisher was, and he told me XLibris. And I confess, my first thought was, “has he been had?” More specifically, I wondered if XLibris is a vanity publisher.

It’s actually a sign of the times that I would even ask that. About ten years ago – or was it fifteen? – Xlibris was about the only self-publishing option you had other than doing all the layout and contracting out the printer. They were one of the first publishers to use print-on-demand, and back in the day, they were the salvation of several authors’ backlists. I remember Ardath Mayer telling us how happy she was to finally rescue so many of her out-of-print books and for only a few hundred dollars per title. Her fans were ecstatic, because who wants to read books six and seven when one through five are unavailable. Meanwhile, of course, books six and seven started selling better.

Now it’s a completely different environment, perhaps more different than even Ardath could have imagined. If I had an orphaned backlist, I could publish it on the Kindle for next to nothing. For print books, there’s Lulu.com, CreateSpace, and Lightning Source among others, offering a road to print for as little as $20 to a few hundred. Options abound for those who choose to self-publish.

Alas, scams also abound. They are con operations masquerading as publishers, who will turn your novel, plus a sizeable investment from you, into well… money in their pocket and dashed dreams beneath your feet. As I heard about some of the features of the XLibris deal my friend got, I started to wonder if XLibris had fallen from its position as a leader in self-publishing to a con artist with a good name.

Well, I’ve done a little research and it looks like XLibris is still on the up and up. I think the main reason I found myself suspicious was that there are now so many other options that are more attractive to me that they suddenly looked questionable compared to the other options out there. Yes, times have changed that much.

But don’t take that as an endorsement of XLibris or any similar publisher. You still need to do your own due diligence when charting the waters of vanity, subsidy, and self publishing. An excellent place to start is over at Writer Beware’s page on vanity publishing.