There is definitely a stigma about using a "vanity press" or a publishing house that charges big bucks (usually) to publish a book that an author has written. For years, a "vanity press" has been seen by industry leaders as a press that will publish anyone at all who has enough money, particularly people who simply want to see their book in print. In recent years, this stigma has started to change. It is true that there are still people out there (many people) who send unedited ramblings to a company to print them into books so that they can give to family and friends. These are the true vanity press users. Self-publishers are a different breed all together.
Whether they use a paid service like that offered by Lulu, Outskirts Press or others, or if they use the more do-it-yourself Createspace approach through Amazon (which is much cheaper), self publishing is in no way the same as a vanity press. Self-publishing is used by authors to print up distributable copies of their book that can be sold online through a print-on-demand structure. Self-publishers have to do all of the legwork to publicize their books. Self-publishers work very hard to make sure their text is edited and reworked thoroughly, bounced off of critics, and love it when readers review their work.
Self-publishers are using their self-published work to build a platform. I will have to say that I have been both a "vanity press" user and a self-publisher. It all began when I was able to talk to an agent at a convention who told me that really the only way to build my platform was to have things published. In the old days, this included (and in most cases still does include) writing copy for magazines. If authors can get something published (namely a short story) published in a magazine, that author can then use that to sweeten the deal with a literary agent or publisher because, after all, the author has been published.
Self-publishing skips the magazine copy in a way because if the author can publish a successful self-published book (say, sell 1,000 copies or so) with their meager publicity means, without the aide of a publisher or agent's backing, that publisher or agent will probably have more guts to pick up their next project because that author is less of a risk than someone without any proved success.
The self-publishing boon has attracted the big boys as well. Simon & Schuster has just launched their own "vanity press" called Archway Publishing. The joke here is that S&S isn't really affiliated with Archway Publishing at all and assures us that "while Simon & Schuster has provided guidance and helped develop the publishing packages and programs available through Archway Publishing, the actual services are provided by Author Solutions.", which means that S&S isn't actually publishing the book. This is laughable because they want a piece of the self-publishing action without saying that a book is any good until they have seen sales figures...and they still don't have to own up to having published it. They also won't be doing any publicity unless authors pay through the nose.
Of course, promoting a book takes much work on the part of the author. This is why I blog, Facebook, Twitter, Link In, Digg, and now podcast. The more of a following I can attract, the more attractive I will be to a potential literary agent or publisher in the future. To answer the question posed by the title of this article: Yes. Yes, there is a difference between the "vanity press" and the self-publisher. It all depends on how hard the author wants to work.
- Don't Call It Vanity Press (time.com)
- Vanity Publishing (brianrushwriter.wordpress.com)
- 2012 Was the Year of the Indie...What Now? (goodereader.com)
- Famous Authors Who Got Their Start in Self-Publishing (dangerouslee.biz)
- What is Self Publishing? (selfpubadvocate.wordpress.com)
- Simon & Schuster launches vanity press POD line (digitaltrends.com)