Ok, so as I was doing my daily round of soul destroying book promoting on Facebook I stumbled across a group where a fellow was proudly boasting that he had landed a publishing deal.

Living the dream? or…

Well done I thought, that’s someone living the dream right there, but pretty quickly my happiness for this author turned to one of annoyance and dare I say it anger. For you see dear reader this publisher was not a proper publisher at all but instead a vanity press (shudder).

What is a Vanity Publisher?

According to Wikipedia- ‘A vanity press, vanity publisher, or subsidy publisher is a term describing a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published. Additionally, vanity publishers have no selection criteria as opposed to other “hybrid” publishing models. The term appears in mainstream U.S. publications as early as 1941.’

When I was first starting out as a writer I did a bit of research into publishing and at the time my younger more naive self contacted a company that seemed to offer the world. In reality, the company was a vanity press. After making initial contact with said press I was then harassed on a weekly basis by someone urging me to sign up with them, great you may think, but alas when I did some digging into the fine print I discovered that in order for them to publish my work I would have to pay them thousands of my own money for the privilege. It’s basically like me going to work and then paying my employer to use my work.


Jo Herbert’s piece on the Writers & Artists website sums it up nicely: ‘Authors owe it to themselves to be very clear on one point – traditional publishers never ask the author for ‘a contribution’. Traditional publishers only take on work they believe is worth investing their own money in, confident it’ll make a return when the book hits the shelves. Indeed, this is precisely the reason (or one of) it’s so difficult for new authors to get published. The publisher has to be sure that the book will sell.

Vanity publishers are cunning. They know many authors will be worn down by rejection. They know the elation authors will feel to finally receive a glowing report about their manuscript. However, once you’ve signed your name on the dotted line, the vanity publisher will take your manuscript, take your money and print several (usually poor quality) copies of your book. They won’t consult you and they won’t offer any help marketing or distributing the book. The vanity publisher isn’t interested in selling copies of the book, it doesn’t need to – they’ve already made their profit from the hefty ‘contribution’ fee they charged the author.’

Writers need to stop

The only reason these companies exist in the first place is because they prey on naive and foolish writers. Those that pay these scammers are giving these companies the means to exist in the first place. If you want to see your work in print then for the love of god do not pay for the privilege! Self-publishing allows you to achieve that goal without having to cost you a penny! (Paying for cover art and editing is optional but advised), but even if you do pay for those, chances are high that you will pay a hell of a lot less than if you used a vanity publisher.

The worst part is that writers who give these crooks so much cash actually think that the vanity publisher will actively promote and sell their books…sorry but that isn’t the case. Often they still demand the author to do all of their own marketing. Just look at the Amazon rankings for people who have gone down this route. Their books often languish at the bottom.

Would you use a vanity publisher? Have any tips to expose and avoid them? If so post them in the comments.

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14 thoughts on “Vanity Publishers – A rant

  1. It’s called vanity publishing for the simple reason that it relies on vain people wanting, and being prepared to pay for, publishing their book. There isn’t a long enough pole to touch them with.

  2. I set up my own publishing company. When I hired a lady to design a cover for my second book, I made an enemy. She wanted to know what I paid for copies of my first book which was printed by Lightning Source. It was less than $5.00 per copy with postage for my 244 page trade paperback. She had worked with one of the well known “self publishing companies” and had paid them over $6,000 for publishing her 110 page book of poetry in paperback. She could buy all of the copies she wanted directly from them for $18.00 per copy.

  3. Thank you for sharing this information.
    I have come across vanity publishers but didn’t know what they actually were till I read your post.
    How do we find actual publishers?

  4. Wonder how these paid to publish companies stay in business when Amazon.com through its subsidiary CreateSpace offers authors [and others]
    a simple way to publish their masterpieces. Not only is it easy to use CreateSpace, but once published the books are available for sale on a number
    of sites including of course Amazon.com The advantage is the opportunity to buy your own published books at a fraction of the retail cost, and sell them
    on your own site [or if living in NYC, on the street corner!]

  5. Most ‘Traditional’ publishers now take on just 0.5% of submissions. What I have noticed in the last six months trawling literary agents websites is how many authors they have on their books who are unproductive. Not only that, most of their books are dismal failures. I am mystified as to how anyone makes any money. I am self published with a reputable company, five books, two of which are well into profit now, and four have been bestsellers. Yet none of the ‘trad’ publishers were interested in them. An odd business.

  6. Vanity publishers are bad business. Avoid them at all costs.

    Unfortunately, I have worked with a small press publisher who was just about as bad. The covers on my books were horrendous, and even though I paid for an editor, they sent theirs in and butchered my book. They tried to change, and even delete, some of my characters, and the so called “editor” they had didn’t know proper grammar and didn’t understand what author’s voice was. By the time he was done “editing”, my book had several typos, my voice was shattered, and the content was unrecognizable. I was ashamed to put my name on it. Not only that, they categorized it improperly on Amazon and did zero promotion. I no longer work with that publisher. I got my rights back, ditched them, and have since gone solo.

    The publishing industry is all about making money. Even traditional publishing companies want to make money. To accomplish this, they take a work you’ve slaved over (mind you, to even get accepted, you have to write what they want, not something you want to write), and change it to fit their formula and meet their “reader’s” needs, which usually means your book is going sound and look like every other book they’ve published in that genre. They basically buy the manuscript from you and do whatever they please with it. Not all traditional publishing companies market their authors either, unless they are already best sellers. Often, traditionally published authors have to do their own marketing.

    Each has it’s pros and cons. Which publishing route you choose depends on your priorities and your reasons for publishing in the first place. Personally, I’m not in this to make big money. I just want my characters to be heard.

  7. A good post. One thing I hate is being called Vanity Press. I’m not. I know the difference. Vanity – as you say charge you at the start, the hassle you and they try and make you pay for marketing, books covers and costs are prohibitive.

    I have my own Publishing Company too. I not sure what to call mine. Yes i do get paid though only after the final manuscript is accepted by the client. They retain all royalties, copyright etc. I also do and interview, put them in my marketing magazine (which is free) I will blog and share their book on social media. My invoices only go out after work is accepted. My main joy is formatting. I love it. I’m also an Indie Author. My business is also a non profit business at present due to still building and learning. Any money i make goes back into the business and technologies needed to keep up with trends. I sometimes contract out for book covers and editing (I don’t edit) shudder. I also do work swaps…I’ll format for editing or illustrations etc.

    More importantly I help Indie authors get their work out and looking professional. At present I am re-working my on novels due to lack of editing skills.

    May I call myself a Small Press Publisher? I’m not sure. Needless to say, overall i’m happy to help. Just don’t call me Vanity….I’ve had to deal with them via clients and re done some horrible work for free, last thing they need is to pay out again.

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