Hybrid Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing: Is There Really a Difference?

By Chris Olsen

When it comes to traditional publishing, the odds are stacked against most authors. Even more so for authors who identify as women of color, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community—these groups are grossly underrepresented in publishing.

Author-assisted publishing—a form of self-publishing where authors enlist the support of experts to publish their books—has been around as long as traditional publishing. Evangelists of traditional publishing have often discredited alternate publishing models, but these evolving models have been instrumental to the spread of knowledge and ideas. Innovations in publishing have made books more accessible and affordable and have helped facilitate the democratization of information.

Hybrid Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing

Two well-known author-assisted models are vanity publishing, which emerged in the 1940s, and hybrid publishing, which came into prominence in the 2010s. With both of these, the author typically sells the rights to their material for a set amount of time, pays for book publishing services, and shares the royalties with the publisher. Hybrid and vanity publishers often require the author to subsidize the cost of printing and warehousing book inventory as well.

These two models have been hotly debated for years. Opponents argue (and Publish Her agrees) that an author who subsidizes the cost of publishing (and in some cases inventory) should not also be required to give up rights or share royalties with the publisher.

While hybrid publishers and vanity publishers are similar in some ways, there are key differences between the two:

  • Hybrid publishers strive to meet specific guidelines regarding editing, design, distribution, etc., as defined by the Independent Book Publishers Association. Many (but not all) hybrids adhere to these standards and produce higher-quality books.
  • Vanity publishers are notorious for misleading authors, using high-pressure sales tactics, charging exorbitant fees, and producing books that don’t meet publishing industry standards.

Unfortunately, some hybrid publishers are vanity publishers in disguise. One telltale sign of a vanity publisher is the promise of book sales by the thousands. The fact is that most authors sell under 500 books. Lifetime sales for traditionally published authors average between 500 and 2,000 books (excluding public figures and well-known authors). Lifetime sales for self-published authors average fewer than 100 books. The promise of a certain number of book sales is one a publisher can’t make.

Another indicator of a vanity publisher is the promise of high-profile media exposure. Most books don’t become New York Times bestsellers. Only a small percentage of titles published are featured by influencers like Oprah. There are several ways to generate media interest in your book, and successful authors work with marketing experts to do so, but high-profile media exposure—or any media exposure for that matter—is not guaranteed.

Choosing Your Publishing Path

There are many nontraditional paths to publishing that are legitimate and worth exploring. If you are considering the author-assisted publishing route, research the company thoroughly. Is it a member of professional publishing organizations? Ask about its commitment to meeting publishing industry standards. Are there authors who’ve shared details about working with the publisher? Reach out to them directly and learn more about their experience. Are the books produced by the publisher similar in quality to those you’d find in a bookstore? Purchase print copies and see for yourself. Are there general reader reviews for the books the company has published? The absence of reviews can be cause for concern.

Publish Her is a different kind of author-assisted publisher. We are not a vanity publisher, nor are we a hybrid—though we are a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association. We have been recognized multiple times by Publishers Weekly magazine as a grade A publisher. We believe authors should maintain full ownership of their work always, which means we don’t request rights like most publishers do. We believe authors, not publishers, should profit most from book sales, which means—unlike most publishers—we don’t retain a portion of your royalties. We primarily work with on-demand printers and never mark up the cost of printing, so in addition to helping save the environment, authors save money by making their own decisions about inventory.

To support women on their publishing journeys, Publish Her offers two models: Guided Self-Publishing and Collaborative Publishing. We also publish a limited number of books traditionally through our grant program. (Publish Her shares royalties with the author for books published traditionally through our grant program.)

To learn more about the book publishing industry, and the services Publish Her provides to support authors, check out our Choosing Your Publishing Path workshops.

About the Author

Chris Olsen is a broadcast media veteran turned communications consultant, educator and the author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose.” The founder of Publish Her and Publish Her Story, Chris has helped thousands of women tell their stories and publish their books.

About Publish Her

Publish Her is a female-founded publisher dedicated to elevating the words, writing and stories of women. We are passionate about amplifying the voices of women of color, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We aim to make publishing an attainable, exciting and collaborative process for all.