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Recently, I contacted a publisher about the draft of a book that I wrote about a year ago. I found their advertisement over the net. This is a scientific book that I have worked on for about two or three years and have revised it more than four times.

The publisher proposed that if I pay a certain amount of money that they can publish my book in a month or two.

Does this kind of pay-to-publish or self-publishing of books confer any reputation in academia? What are the advantages and disadvantages to doing so?

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    Don't do it. The reputation gain will be negative, and your book probably won't even be all that well distributed (eg university libraries generally don't purchase books from vanity presses). – Andy Putman Oct 13 '14 at 8:26
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    Echoing @AndyPutman's comment and the other answers: don't do it. You will spend money, and the situation will not help distribution, and will most likely harm your reputation, if it has any effect at all. It's far worse than the pay-to-publish journals, some of which are apparently legitimate. – paul garrett Oct 13 '14 at 14:09
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    The key phrase in Andy Putman's comment being "vanity presses". There is a vast difference between self-publishing (which carries a somewhat negative influence, but which you may feel compelled to do either for licensing/copyright reasons or because you think it fills a hole that publishers in that market don't think needs filling) and "this book is so bad/wrong that its author had to pay to have it seem like it was published". Self-publishing says caveat lector; vanity presses say "run away!!!" – Stan Rogers Nov 21 '14 at 2:32
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    @StanRogers: I'm not convinced that your distinction between self-publishing and vanity publishing is a real one in the 21st century. We have technologies such as the internet and print on demand. We have different models of production, distribution, pricing, and marketing, including "all-you-can-eat" subscription models for e-books. Terms like self-publishing and vanity publishing really only made sense in an era where there was no way to publish except on paper, and publishing on paper required a large up-front investment. Neither of these is the case any longer. – Ben Crowell Jan 12 '15 at 20:01
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    @BenCrowell: I think the difference today may be in perception and transparency. Self-publishing makes it clear to everyone that the author is choosing to opt out of the commercial publishing model. Vanity presses seem to be attempting to deceive the reader into thinking that a commercial publisher has decided, based on the book's merits, that it is worth the investment of publishing it (for a vanity press the investment is not the publisher's but the author's). – Nate Eldredge Jan 12 '15 at 21:56
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I would recommend that you ask yourself a question: why do I want this book "officially" published? You could, after all, just make the material free online via arXiv or as a webpage or an archival technical report of various types depending on its contents and your situation.

  • Prestige of having a published book? A pay-to-publish press will generally give you negative credibility, since there are so many publishers that will publish your book without making you pay (including lots of dodgy low-quality ones that will publish pretty much anything). Pay-to-publish smells like desperation or resume-padding.
  • Money from sales/royalties? If they thought it was going to make money, they would be paying you, not the other way around.
  • Higher visibility? A pay-to-publish press will generally not be any good at promoting your work. They're not going to invest any real money in promotion if they aren't expecting to make significant money from sales.

Serious and reputable academic publishing houses are always looking for good books to publish. The right ones for your field will generally have booths at the major conferences in the field, with representatives that you can talk to.

  • If you self-publish it as open-access (as with the free, open-source Open Monograph Press software), you don't have to "pay-to-publish" to self-publish. – Geremia Dec 16 '16 at 1:31
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The value of a pay-to-publish book is approximately the same as any other pay-to-publish material.

As described in this answer, the only way for someone to judge a non-peer-reviewed publications is to

Read them, see what they're worth.

So, if this book attracts a large number of readers in your academic community and they are impressed, it will enhance your reputation. This is not likely, unless you are already well-known in your field.

If people read the book and think it's bad, it will detract from your reputation.

If very few people bother to read it (which is the most likely case), it will confer (at best) zero benefit to you and will be a waste of money.

It may also confer negative reputation benefit. People who don't read the book may assume that the book is bad, and that if it was really good, you wouldn't have had to pay-to-publish.

For further reading, there's a relevant article over at InsideHigherEd.

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Virtually none.

The main difference between academic/university presses and trade presses (including vanity presses and self-publishing) are that academic presses engage in a process of peer review before selecting which material to publish.

That is, academic presses will send your ms out to peer academics who then provide reader reports that will be used by the academic presses' board of directors/editors (usually academics themselves) to make the decision to publish the book or not -- usually after revisions indicated by said external readers.

This puts a book from an academic press in the category of peer-reviewed publications.

Note that there are some second and lower tier colleges don't care where a scholar's book comes from. If you suspect you are in one of these colleges -- ask your mentors and senior colleagues what you should do.

p.s. Once you have a certain degree of fame, you can publish with trade presses. Stephen Hawking really doesn't need the CV boost that might have happened if A Brief History had been published by U-Cambridge Press rather than Bantam Books. And if you are in fields that view books with disdain (say... physics) then it wouldn't really matter where or even if you published a book.

  • A big difference between a vanity press and a press like Bantam, is that Bantam likely reviewed the proposal in regards to sales and likely paid Hawkings for the publishing rights. – StrongBad May 23 '16 at 19:49
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In all areas of publishing these days (academic and nonacademic, fiction and nonfiction, books and periodicals), there is a great blurring of the formerly sharp lines between what used to be referred to as "vanity presses" and legitimate publishers. Even within traditional publishing, things are blurry. For example, World Scientific seems to publish some legitimate academic work, but it also publishes crank material by kooks. Your academic reputation is a vaguely defined thing that exists in the minds of your colleagues. Some of these colleagues will be more conservative and backward-looking than others.

One thing that I think should be much more clear-cut is that it is extremely foolish to pay someone to produce and distribute your book. There are zero-cost options such as lulu.com.

Another no-brainer is to do your homework and make sure that the people you're talking to are not an exploitative or abusive operation. Abusive practices are extremely common in self-publishing.

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