Vanity Presses

I’ve been talking about various aspects of publishing for the last few days. Today I want to talk about publishing’s dark side: vanity presses.

What are vanity presses?

So. We’ve talked about how traditional publishing works before. I don’t think I need to go over all that today, since there’s only one part that’s really relevant to this post. All of the money in a traditional book deal flows from the publisher to the author (the author’s agent gets their cut, of course). The author does not pay the publisher a dime.

Vanity presses advertise themselves as publishers. They even send out acceptance letters, as though there was a chance they wouldn’t accept the author’s manuscript. However, unlike a legitimate publisher, vanity presses expect the author to cover all of the production costs up front. They cut corners. You won’t get much, if any, editing. The cover art will probably be a mess. Physical copies of the book most likely won’t be well made, and vanity presses don’t do much (if any) distribution or marketing. The author has to figure that out on their own. Adding insult to injury, the author might have to pay full markup (or close to it) on top of their original “investment” for copies of their book, and the vanity press might also assume rights over the book if the author isn’t careful about reading their contract before signing.

Many, many times, I’ve seen writers post in Facebook groups, “I just got accepted by Xyz Publishing! They want $7,000 to publish my book. Is that a good price or should I submit elsewhere?”

Those are the lucky ones, because someone in the group usually points out pretty fast that it’s a scam.

The sad stories come from the authors who post after the fact. “Xyz Publishing agreed to publish my book for $7,000. They didn’t edit anything, the covers are ugly, and the books–which cost me an additional $20 per copy–are falling to pieces. What can I do?”

I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know if they’d have any degree of success if they sued their publisher, but my gut tells me they’re probably never seeing that money again.

How does this happen?

Part of it is due to inexperience and a lack of research on the author’s part. So shout it from the rooftops: Legitimate publishers don’t take money from authors.

Another part of their equation is high-pressure sales tactics. People who work at vanity presses will flatter authors and try to convince them they’re making an investment to protect their valuable writing. They’ll also try to get writers on the phone so they can apply even more pressure and flattery. Sometimes they’ll outright lie and say things like, “We’re going to do your first print run for $10,000. Once those copies sell, Harper Collins will pick you up for reprints.” That isn’t happening, sorry. Vanity presses appeal to the author’s vanity–thus the name–and then scam them out of their life savings. Don’t let it happen to you.

The final part of this is a lingering mistrust in self-publishing. A lot of people out there assume that self-published books are lower quality, unprofitable, and a last resort for writers who didn’t have the talent to publish traditionally. Unfortunately, there are a lot of self-published books out there that are just bad, and that adds to this problem. (There are a lot of traditionally published books out there that are bad, too, so please don’t think I’m dumping on self-pubbed authors.)

Hybrid Publishers

Let’s make things even more confusing, shall we? Hybrid publishers operate very much like a vanity press–the author has to pay up front, and doesn’t get an advance on their royalties–but they offer real support to writers. Hybrid publishers have higher standards, though; they won’t accept literally any manuscript that shows up in their inbox, unlike vanity presses. Some hybrid publishers even work with literary agents.

With all of that being said, I’d still feel a little iffy about publishing with a hybrid press. Have a good look at the other books they’ve published, and maybe even reach out to the authors and ask about their experience, before signing anything. If your story is good enough for a hybrid, it’s probably good enough for a traditional publisher, too. Keep looking.

One last scam to watch out for

This one isn’t a vanity press either, but it’s still super shady. Webnovel likes to get in touch with writers who post their work online and offer to publish stories on their app. They send those messages to pretty much everyone on Wattpad, okay? (Wattpad is problematic, too, but we’ll discuss that another day). Even fan fiction writers get them, which should tell you something.

Webnovel has two problems that I’m aware of–you have to give up the rights to your work and the pay is next to nothing. Apparently plagiarism is also an issue, but I haven’t looked into that very deeply.

I’ve heard similar things about another app called Dreame, but I haven’t looked into that. Just remember that offers that seem too good to be true usually are. Do your research before you sign anything.

Please do whatever you need to do to protect your work

Phew! That felt like a lot, but it’s good to get it out of the way. The unfortunate truth is that scammers are everywhere these days, and we writers need to look out for one another. Please, please share this post with your writer friends. Let’s do what we can to take business away from vanity presses that like to prey on authors.

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about legitimate places to self-publish. I hope you’ll be back for that. How’s your NaNoWriMo progress going? Please leave a comment below and let us know!

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