When SHOULD you use a subsidy/POD/vanity publisher?

Most publishing professionals will tell you at length about the flaws of the vanity publisher, or its newer, less expensive version, the subsidy press/”POD publisher.” I spend quite a bit of time doing so myself.

Digression: I want to emphasize here that anyone can use a POD printer without going through any middlemen, and will usually save money doing so. 

But now, back to our regularly scheduled entry. When is this the right choice? 

If you don’t need anything from bookstores, serious reviewers, or any other part of the book industry, that’s a good start. 

If you expect to sell fewer than 100 copies, maybe much fewer, that’s another indicator that this may be the best method. 

If your work, however good, is poetry or something similar, where the number of good works tends to outstrip the likely number of readers by a wide margin, but you desperately need to see it in print quickly, this might be the way for you.

If it’s a souvenir book for a wedding, 50th  anniversary, or some sort of reunion, look no further than the least expensive subsidy press. 

BUT, if you want to make a living from your books, and especially if you write fiction or mainstream, general-interest non-fiction, this is probably  not your best option. Tune in later this week for better ideas.

Oh, and folks, I need questions on publishing. Ask about anything but submissions and agenting, and I’ll try hard to answer here as quickly as possible.  

5 Responses to “When SHOULD you use a subsidy/POD/vanity publisher?”

  1. Marion,

    Just to clarify–and I know you know this, but it still confuses a lot of people–PRINTING on demand is a technology, digital printing, that can be used by all kinds of publishers, from Random House down to the individual self-publishing her first book. As you say, you can buy print-on-demand service directly from a printer with no middleman. So-called PUBLISHING on demand is a phrase vanity presses latched onto to co-opt the “POD” initialism and suck people into the vanity press business model. The problem is that a lot of people who understand the difference nonetheless play into the vanity presses’ hands by tossing around “POD” without clarifying the distinction between print-on-demand (the technology) and publish-on-demand (the business model).

  2. PublishingGuide says:

    Very true, and a point I have hit regularly in other posts on the old blog, but forgot to emphasize enough here.

    Thanks for chiming in.

  3. Vyrdolak says:

    Like many small/self publishers do, I used Lulu.com for my Advance Reading Copies. There was no set-up fee, the procedures were simple and the turn-around was very fast. I paid more than double what I’m paying LSI per unit for the final books–but, I will say that I was very pleased with the ARC’s that Lulu sent. The covers were crisp and perfectly aligned (especially the spine, which had three sizes of type, the smallest in two lines) and the interior looked fine. There was also no problem using my own company name and ISBN, or the cover design I provided. They shipped the books to me shrink-wrapped in groups of three. So this is one legitimate use of a subsidy press–running off ARC’s or galleys. For what I wanted, they did a decent job for me.

  4. Geary says:

    I have been a minister and speaker for 15 years, and written a Christian Self Help Book to publish. Should I sign and fex the contract with LSI? I don’t want to spend a lot of money and hassle.

    • Hello, Mr or Ms Geary,

      I’m sorry that this took so long. I’ve been on vacation, and missed the notice.

      Yes, you should probably sign the contract, if you’re interested in self-publishing your book. You should, however, know that self-help books are almost as hard to sell as fiction, unless the author is already well-known. It’s a category where every other American seems to have written something, and most of the books have a hard time breaking out of the pack. I recommend that you think carefully about some of the other questions in some of my earlier blog posts (along the lines of who are you targeting, and why are they looking for a book, and then what does your book do for them better than the literally tens of thousands of other books out there vying for the same spots on book(store)shelves.

      Best of luck,


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