You’ve written your book (and edited, revised and rewritten) and now you‘re looking to be published.  If you have already patiently submitted your manuscript to every available commercial publisher but not had any luck, then perhaps you are beginning to look at self publishing as an alternative.

Self publishing can work well for some people, but it is not for everyone. There are a number of pitfalls on the way, and a quite a few companies who will happily take your money and give you very little in return.  Be aware of the dangers, pay attention, ask questions and make self publishing work for you.


Traditional commercial publishing is how the majority of books in Australia are currently sold.  Traditional publishers will take on all the financial risks to publish your book, including editing, cover design, printing, marketing and distribution.

Self publishing is where the author pays all of the set up costs to produce the published version of their manuscript.  This means taking on all the risks (and rewards) that would normally be undertaken by a traditional publisher.   It can be a time consuming and confusing process, but means your book will be in print on your own terms.

Due to the problems with marketing and distribution for self publishing titles, it is more suited to small print runs intended for private distribution only (e.g., a family history prepared to be sold at a family reunion) or for non-fiction titles where the author has access to a ready market for their book at seminars and workshops.

Vanity Presses (also known as subsidiary, joint venture, or co-operative publishing) charge fees to authors for publication. This can either be an upfront fee for printing, additional fees for editing, cover design, typesetting etc, or a requirement that the author pre buy copies of their book.  Vanity presses sometimes try to pretend they are traditional publishers, but traditional publishers will not request payment from authors.

Vanity presses will also try to lure you in by offering high royalties and “free” services in exchange for the exorbitant start up costs.  However, it is unlikely that a vanity press will sell many copies of your book at all, and you will be left with a big bill and only a handful of copies to show for it.  The editorial and cover design services offered by Vanity press can be cursory, and most will not have a dedicated marketing team or distribution network- which are imperative for your book to succeed.

Any company that survives on fees charged to you, does not necessarily have any interest in selling books on your behalf.  They may promise you a bestseller, but have no way or inclination to deliver on this promise.  Before proceeding down this path, you need to be very clear what you are paying for and what you get in return.

Before you sign up with a vanity publisher:

  • Do your research! Pop into your local bookstores and ask if they stock any books published by the company you are considering signing with. If not, have they ever stocked any books by that company?   If no to both- that doesn’t bode well for your book, does it?
  • If you can find copies of books published by the company, consider the quality of the cover design, paper, binding and typesetting. Would you be happy with this standard for your own book?
  • Get references from other authors who have signed with the company and ask them if they were happy with the service they received.
  • Make sure you have a contract and that is includes everything that has been promised you.
  • Do you have a chance to approve the finished product before you pay?
  • How many copies of your book do you get at the end of it? (Note: You do not want to have thousands of copies sitting in your garage if you can’t sell them, but equally, you do not want to pay all this money and not receive more than 15 samples.
  • Does the company have a reputable, nationwide distribution network?


One of the biggest hurdles with self publishing is distribution. How will you get your book into shops all around Australia or throughout the world?

If self publishing, you will need to hit the footpath and sell yourself and your book to every bookseller you can get to listen. Do not expect your printer/vanity press to do this for you. They won’t.  You need to market yourself, or find someone to do it for you. Make sure you have the facility-either through your own website, a third party, your printer or vanity press to sell books directly to the public.

There are a few distribution companies in Australia that agree to represent self published authors, and have the sales force to properly represent you to bookshops around Australia. Expect for a distributor to retain up to 70% of the RRP of the book for their services. It is expensive, but still the best way to get your book selling.

Most vanity press do not have access to a dedicated sales force. Often when they say they will market your book- this means putting it up on their website. When they say they will distribute your book, this may mean sending a catalogue out to the few bookstores who have subscribed. Booksellers are busy enough selling books supplied by traditional publishers and have little time for catalogues sent by vanity press.  Unless you or a sales rep are waving your book (politely) in front of a bookseller, they will not be likely to stock any copies.

The contract

Unfortunately, the line between traditional publishers, vanity press and self publishing is becoming more and more blurred, and it can sometimes be hard to spot a legitimate publishing offer from a con.  Not all vanity presses are overpriced and under deliver, some offer a legitimate service to help authors self publish, while some traditional publishers have started asking the author to pre-buy a certain amount of the print run, to make the costings work.  In any case, legitimate or not, the minute a publisher asks you for money for any aspect of the publishing process, start to be wary.

No matter how you want to publish, get all deals in writing.  From hiring an editor, to printing, distributing or a publishing deal, if it’s not in writing you have far less of a chance in protecting your interests.

  1. It sounds basic, but make sure you read and understand every clause of the contract.  If you are confused about the legal wording, you’re not alone. Ask the contracting company what something means, or get professional advice.
  2. Make sure that the details in the contract are correct. If the terms do not match with what you have previously agreed, ask why and get the terms amended.
  3. Just as important as what is in the contract, is what is not in the contract.  If the publisher wrote the contract, then the chances are pretty good that it covers what you have to do for them (deliver, fee etc).  You need to make sure that the contract also covers what they have said they will do for you, e.g. editing, typesetting, number of copies of the book (both printed by them, and delivered to you), distribution and marketing spend.

A self publishing contract should always include:

  • The names of the people or companies who are entering into the agreement;
  • The details of the book  what is being delivered (i.e. title, subject, word length, illustrations if any) and when;
  • Services being offered (is the company editing, printing, typesetting, marketing and distributing? If so, these need to be specified);
  • The right of approval over the final cover and design? If possible, get a sample copy before paying.
  • Copyright ownership and acknowledgment in your name;
  • The terms of the license- is it exclusive or non-exclusive? Is it for Australia only, or worldwide? Is it for print only, or electronic and audio too? Does it include subsidiary rights such as film and tv and CAL income?
  • Warranties and indemnities- make sure you can fulfil everything you are asked to warrant and that the indemnity is limited to the warranties only;
  • Advance and royalties. Royalties should be paid biannually, and watch out for the distinction between royalties based on net receipts and recommended retail price (RRP). Standard publishing royalty is 10% of RRP, with discounts offered to booksellers and distributors, this equates to approximately 15-25% net receipts).  If there is a reduced royalty for high discounts, this should not be applicable until at least discounts of 51% or more;
  • The cost to you to buy additional copies of the book  or issue a new print run;
  • Termination.  You should be able to walk away (with print ready files) if you are not satisfied with the service.  If in doubt, ask for the files up front, while the relationship is still amicable;
  • Reversion.  Rights should revert to you if the company has sold less than 50 copies of your book in a 12 month period, but you might want to be able to walk away sooner than this.
  • Finally, the contract should be a reflection of what you agreed with the company. Make sure everything that was promised to you is included in writing.


  • Copy edit (basic grammar, spelling, continuity errors) – $30-$75 per hour (10-20 pages per hour depending on complexity.
  • Structural edit (structural and conceptual edit) –  $50 – $100 per hour
  • Proofreading (last stage to check for final errors) – $20 – $50 per hour (very rough estimate of $500)
  • Typesetting – $500- 1200
  • Cover design – $150 -$500+
  • Cover illustration commissioned by an artist – $1000-$2000
  • Printing – $3-$20 copy (depending on type and quantity of print)
  • Distribution – 70% RRP retained

Some vanity press charge from $4000 -$7000, offering some of the above services.  The quality is likely to be better if you source these services yourself, it is cheaper and any books you print will be yours alone.

For example, to have your manuscript structurally edited and proofread (roughly $1500), a cover designed ($200) and typeset ($500 or do yourself) is $2200.  This is still substantially cheaper than some vanity press who will charge you more than $4000 and provide you with nothing but 15 ‘free’ copies and a promise of high royalties if copies of your book sell.

There are also many genuine vanity presses that will help you self publish at reasonable costs.  If you want the convenience of one company helping you navigate self publishing, it is important to shop around, get quotes and know the value of what you are getting.  Self publishing is hard work, and finishing your manuscript is only the first step.  You will probably not become a bestseller, and you may not even break even.   Self publishing is not for everyone, but if you are aware of the pitfalls and get the promises in writing, you could become a published author on your own terms.

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