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A commercial publisher purchases the right to publish a manuscript (usually together with other rights, known as subsidiary rights), and pays the author either a royalty on sales or a set fee. Sometimes they also pay an advance on royalties. Commercial publishers publish only a tiny percentage of the manuscripts submitted. Some will only look at material supplied by agents. You can find a useful list of publishing companies here. They handle every aspect of editing, publication, distribution, and marketing, although authors often can help with promotion. There are no costs to the author with the possible exception of paying for use of photographs or other copyrighted material.

A vanity publisher prints and binds a book at the author’s sole expense. Costs include the publisher’s profit and overhead, so vanity publishing is usually a good deal more expensive than self-publishing. Sometimes the completed books are the property of the author and the author retains the copyright, more often that is not the case and the author should beware of such deals. Vanity publishers do not assess for quality, although they may very well tell you your book is brilliant. If you want a critique it is better to seek an independent view and not one from those seeking to take money from you to produce your book. Try the Literary Consultancy or Hilary Johnson.

A subsidy publisher also takes payment from the author to produce a book, but asserts that he contributes a portion of the cost and/or adjunct services such as editing, distribution, warehousing, and marketing, though this may be difficult to assess. The completed books are the property of the publisher, and remain in the publisher’s possession until sold. Income to the writer comes as a royalty on sales.

Self-publishing, like vanity publishing, requires the author to bear the entire cost of publication. However, rather than paying for a pre-set package of services, the author puts those services together himself. Companies like Amolibros, which is a self-publishing consultancy, can provide any or all of the services required but you don’t have to buy into all of them if you don’t want to or don’t need to. For instance, you may have decided to use Lightning Source to have your book made available POD, but require help making up book files; or you may want help with marketing and distribution or a website, having already produced a professional product yourself; or you may want help through the whole process. Self-publishing can be much more cost-effective than vanity publishing; and should also result in a higher-quality product if you buy in your services from professionals. Completed books are owned by the author, who keeps all proceeds from sales that he makes for himself though obviously if he uses a distribution service, then he will be parting with a discount for book trade sales along with warehouse handling charges.

For more on self-publishing check out this article at the Writers’ and Artists’ website.