A Modicum of Sympathy for Vanity Publishers

Key to the Post Office Box

Like so many other struggling independent authors, I’ve spent far more money than I care to admit on a vanity publisher. Or rather, a subsidy publisher, which is a more accurate term in this day and age where self-publishing is gaining credibility.

But whatever the label, whether subsidy or vanity, there is still a big price tag attached to their services. As I learned more about the world of online publishing, and how many free resources are out there, I became more agitated about the high fees I had been charged for what seemed like simple services.

Then I started setting up my own publishing company.

What I didn’t know about were all the little details that could make you crazy.

For example, on consideration, I didn’t want my home address (as the publisher’s address) printed in all the books. There was, I thought, a simple solution. Get a post office box.

I did a little googling, found the online application for a PO box, and submitted my credit card payment. I printed out the forms, and per the instructions, went to the post office to pick up the keys.

Not so fast.

That particular branch had closed for the day. To make matters worse, the sign on the door informed me that that branch was closing permanently on October 31—in 10 days.


So I went to another branch. I had to start over, filling out a manual application and paying the fee again. At least I walked out with a PO Box number and keys. The woman told me to apply for my refund for the first box online.

After several calls and being on hold for a very long time, the helpful person told me I wouldn’t be able to apply for my refund for two days.

So that seemingly simple task took three hours and is not yet completed.

The next day, I tried to purchase ISBN numbers. This was another hour’s project, involving a call to the help people, because the website wasn’t taking my credit card information.

Next up: getting a Library of Congress number. I’ve applied for an account, but that wasn’t a straightforward process.

They wanted to know my publisher identifier from my ISBN numbers. If the Bowker’s website explains which digits are the publisher ID, I couldn’t find it. I had to go back to my BFF Google. After a few tries, I stumbled on a blog post that gave me that answer.

Now I’m waiting for my account to be approved.

In short, nothing is simple. And it’s all so frustrating. These, and many other tasks, are all taken care of by the vanity/subsidy publisher. Finding editors, cover designers, proofreaders, layout designers—it takes time and effort. Lots of it.

After all this aggravation, for a fleeting moment, the fees weren’t feeling quite so outrageous.


Now that I’ve been through all this set up, I won’t have to do it again. Next time will be easier. What seems like monumental tasks will become routine.

So a larger vanity/subsidy publisher would have the process down to a routine. What an author is paying for is not having to go through the learning curve, and skipping all that aggravation.

But now that I’m on the other side of the hump, I can say paying a few thousand dollars was too much to avoid a few days aggravation.

So the lesson again is you can pay someone else to take care of these details, but they’ll be making money off you. A little time, research and patience can save you lots of money.

Something to remind myself when I get bogged down in details that don’t resolve themselves easily.

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