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3 Types of Publishers and How to Avoid Being Scammed

Many authors are confused by the variety of publishers that are out there. Many publishers lure in prospective authors with amazing sounding deals (“We’ll get your book into the hands of thousands of readers!”) or unsupported claims (“Become a bestseller overnight!”). Authors are tempted by these claims because they are unaware of the differences between publishers and what publishers do. If you do not want to self-publish your book and are looking for a publisher, then it is important to understand the differences.

There are three basic types of publishers: traditional, hybrid, and vanity. Each has a different relationship with their authors and it is important to know what kind of publisher you are dealing with. (Note: the descriptions for traditional and vanity publishers are modified from the definition of these types from the SFWA: I disagree with the SWFA statement as to whether there is a difference between a Vanity and Subsidy (Hybrid) publisher, however I provide the link to their page for your reference.)


A traditional publisher purchases the right to publish and sell a manuscript (usually together with other rights, known as subsidiary rights) on an exclusive basis. Large houses and bigger independents may pay an advance on royalties; small presses often do not pay advances. Traditional publishers are highly selective, publishing only a tiny percentage of manuscripts submitted.

There’s no cost to the author with traditional publishing; publishers handle every aspect of publication at their own expense. This includes costs for editing (generally performed in house by the publisher), cover design and layout, interior layout, printing, and distribution. This substantial financial investment by the publisher is recouped from the sale of books to the public, and from the licensing of subsidiary rights. A traditional publisher will never ask for money from an author. Royalties to the author may be low (10% is the industry average) but vary from publisher to publisher. Authors may also have less input into things like cover design and marketing, though again, this can vary with the publisher. Some publishers (especially the larger publishing houses) may only work though an agent.


Hybrid (Subsidized) publishing companies behave like traditional publishing companies in all respects. They will provide editing, cover design, book production, marketing, and distribution services. The different is that they publish books using an author-subsidized business model, as opposed to financing all costs themselves. In exchange for having the author pay a fee to cover some of the production costs, they return a higher than industry standard royalty to the author (50% is the recommended amount). A hybrid publisher makes income from a combination of publishing services and book sales.

Although hybrid publishing companies are author-subsidized, they are different from other author-subsidized models (vanity presses) in that hybrid publishers adhere to a set of professional publishing standards. (Refer to the Hybrid Publisher definition published by IBPA: Hybrid publishers may split costs associated with marketing and distribution with the author, depending on the contract. A good hybrid publisher will be upfront about the costs expected by the author and will be clear about the services provided by the publisher. If you work with a hybrid publisher be sure to ask specific questions to ascertain what services they provide.


The vanity press charges a fee to produce a book, or they require that the author buy something as a condition of publication (finished books, marketing services, etc.). As with traditional publishing, a vanity or subsidy publisher contracts rights on an exclusive basis, but production quality is minimal, if it exists at all. This means that these companies may not perform many basic services such as editing (at least not without a fee) and perform no marketing or distribution unless you pay for it. These “pay to publish” companies generally do not have the author’s interest in mind and the author is expected to do the leg work to get the finished book available to readers.


It is important for an author to understand the differences between the different publishing models. Generally, if a publisher asks you for any money up front to publish your book you should consider this a red flag. It might seem tempting, especially if you’ve been rejected by agents and traditional publishers, however the vanity and subsidized presses have a negative stigma within the industry. The best advice for prospective authors is to ask questions of the publisher. Send them an email, or call them, and ask them about their publishing model, and what is in their contract. They should be willing to explain the basic details of their contract with you. Check online resources, such as IBPA ( to see what the standards are for the industry and ask the publisher if they follow those standards. Also check what other titles and authors they have published and reach out to those authors. Ask them about their experience with the publisher.

The publishing industry can be a mine field for new and inexperienced authors to navigate. Taking your time to gather the facts and information about a publisher is an important step in making sure you are not ill-treated or fleeced by an unsavory publisher.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Geoff Habiger