Full-Service Indie Publishing and Vanity Publishing, Explained

Full-Service Indie Publishing and Vanity Publishing, Explained
In independent (Indie) Publishing, the author is both creator and publisher. They maintain both power and profit. However, they must also take on the costs of design and production. This responsibility can be daunting, especially for new writers who may wish they had someone to help them make the right choices. 

While it is essential to hire a professional editor and designer to help you create a quality book, there are also some dangerous beasts lurking in the shadows of the industry who will offer to produce your book for you… for a price. 

Beware the Vanity Publisher and the Full-Service Indie Publisher.

A vanity publisher takes on the appearance of a traditional publisher, but the key difference is that they expect the author to pay to have their book produced. A vanity publisher will make the hard decisions for cover design, layout, editing, distribution, alleviating that stress of the author, and provide them with a percentage of the book sales. The red flag is this: in the contract, they’ll request that you pay a sum to contribute to the production of the book. 

In an offer I received three years ago, the contract required me to pay the company £2500 ($3000+ USD) for them to publish my book while also granting the company all creative design power and allowing me only a portion of the sales. In addition, vanity publishers make their profit off of the money they charge authors, not the book sales, so expect little to no marketing support. 

If you see this in a contract, RUN. A fair publisher should never ask you to pay in order to build the product they’re going to sell for themselves. 

The second service to be wary of is what I would describe as “full-service indie publishing.” Though not as dangerously one-sided as vanity publishers, they still come with some potentially harmful consequences. Full-service indie publishers are companies that you can hire for the services needed to produce your book, including cover design, interior layout, editing, and distribution management. They produce your book for you, rather than doing it yourself. While you are paying for these services, just as you would with a vanity publisher, you keep creative decision power and the majority of the profits.

This offer can be appealing for a brand new author. Teaching yourself how to publish a book is incredibly daunting. Having someone do it for you can reduce stress throughout the process, and it may be a good option depending on your circumstances. But don’t add these services to your shopping cart too quickly. Some of the services these companies provide, such as managing distribution or buying your ISBN, are ones you can do yourself for a lower cost. 

Additionally, there are other benefits to keeping control of the indie publishing process.When these companies produce the book on your behalf, they own the files and act as a middle man throughout the process. If you ever want to make a change, you have to go through them. You are also restricted to using the designers or editors within their company, removing your power to choose one that truly fits your style. Yes you get a book, but you have limited power over your content. 

Keeping control gives you the flexibility to allocate funds to how you want to. For example, aspects like cover design and editing are worth investing in. The couple hundred dollars it costs for project management, however, can be saved if you feel you can do those things yourself. 

Doing it yourself makes it easier to rectify mistakes. If you want to update the manuscript, change the price, or remove the book entirely, you can do that. Companies have to pay their employees, so every change can come at a cost when your book is in their hands. 

Full-service indie publishing is not the same trap that vanity publishing is, but that doesn’t mean you should jump in headfirst with either option. Don’t let fear or insecurity push you down one path. Prepare yourself by doing thorough research. If you are going to use a company’s services, seek out honest reviews. Decide what you want your final product to look like and set your goals before starting the self-publishing process. Your book deserves to be treated with dedicated care and attention. Whether it is traditional publishing, full-service indie publishing, or self-managed indie publishing, be sure it’s the right path for you. 

Written by Rachael Bell-Irving

Rachael Bell-Irving combines her love of animals and storytelling in her position as an education coordinator for an ocean conservation organization. She is in the midst of publishing her first novel a young adult urban fantasy Demons at the Doorstep. Connect with Rachael at or Instagram @rbellirving.

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