Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vanity Presses: Beware the Lure

(Reposted from my Weebly site.)

I still receive a lot of questions on exactly what vanity presses are, how to avoid them, and why you should. Vanity presses are something every writer should be aware of, so here, I'll cover what they are, how to spot them, how they work, and why you should avoid them.

First and foremost, Vanity Presses are SCAM ARTISTS. Nothing hurts me more than seeing innocent aspiring authors taken for their money and work by people who know how to prey on the desperate and the uninformed. If you never read anything from me, PLEASE READ THIS POST. And if you know anyone who has asked you about Vanity Presses, or who has been approached by one, before they answer a single email from these so called publishers, tell them to STOP. Tell them to stop right there, and SEND THEM HERE.

So here's how it works. You've completed your novel, and after months or years of hard work, you're looking for the perfect publisher. Or perhaps you've sent your manuscript out and the rejections have started coming in. Then, one day you receive an email from a publishing company saying they would like to publish you. Your heart soars. All your hard work is about to pay off, and all dreams are about to come true. All you have to do is answer that email, give them the list of things they ask for, and it's done. Best of all, they're not asking for much. A bio, a photo, a list of family members who want to buy your novel, and x amount of dollars. Easy, right? 


Writers, if ever you receive an email from anyone asking to publish you, this is not a publishing company. I repeat, THIS IS NOT A PUBLISHING COMPANY. It's a vanity press. It's a scam, and if you answer that email, you are in for a world of trouble.

For starters, authors who go through vanity presses and sign their books over are not being published, they are being PRINTED. Which poses one of the major issues for authors who ever wish to thereafter be published through a traditional publishing house. When an author writes a book, all rights belong to the author alone until the book has been printed by a business press. Once it has, that novel can never, ever be published.

Let it be said, vanity presses are not to be confused with self publishing. While self publishing is a legitimate alternative to traditional publishing, and authors do pay when they choose to go this route, there are big differences between them and vanity presses. If they are legitimate, self publishing companies always give you full say on your layout and cover art, the book is always stamped with an ISBN code (this allows the novel to be scanned by computer in stores and libraries, or via internet sales), and, provided you pay for it, the book is copyrighted by, and registered with, the Library of Congress, just like with a traditional publishing house (though traditional ones register it for free). Vanity presses do not always give ISBN's, they often steal the rights, take over the cover and layout, editing is poor if done at all, and if they register the book, the author's name or the novel title is often altered without the author's consent. Or, they offer to register it for a cost, and then it mysteriously never happens. With vanity presses, when registration occurs, it does prevent the work from being copied, but the alterations to the title or author's name are also a clever way to steal the rights. And even if the novel isn't formally registered, once you've been printed, you lose the rights to publish the work regardless. Furthermore, if any publishing house realizes you've been printed by a vanity, they will never touch you, not even with another book. Because of the reputation vanities have, associating with them tells publishers you don't know how the business works. Publishers network. They have ways of checking things out. While some traditional publishers will take works that have been self published, once you have dealings with a vanity, they blacklist you. Your writing career is over before it starts.

Typically, a vanity press works as follows. They promise, for a set amount of cash, to send out x amount of copies of your book to a known publishing house, where it will be sold and you will be published upon the acceptance of the book. Or they promise to sell your book if you provide a list of people who wish to buy your novel (and the money), whereupon you will receive the required amount of copies by such and such a date. Quite often, however, either you never receive the promised copies, or you do, but they come back with poor editing jobs, horrible covers, cheep bindings and no registration. And no publishing company will promise to send your novel to another company for you, free or otherwise. That's just not how it works. When these promises are made, poor authors who get sucked in find themselves out hundreds, even thousands of dollars, with nothing to show for it but a broken heart and a shattered dream.

In addition, Vanity Presses are good at disguising themselves as traditional publishing houses, to those who are uninformed about how the publishing business works. They disguise their name to make it sound like a real publishing house, and they use careful wording to hide loopholes so that when authors try to take legal action, nothing can be done to restore the author's rights to the book and return their lost income. Sometimes they also have a list of so called published authors or agents with whom they have worked. After all, why would someone risk using the name of an author or agent if the author or agent isn't real? Well, fact is, they shouldn't. But they do. Most often, these companies are banking on the author being so desperate that they won't check to see if the person is a real published author, or if you try to check the name, it comes up with nothing, and desperate authors will often overlook that. They wouldn't make up the name, would they? Yes. They would. Not to mention, it is easy enough to post a real author's name on a site, because there are millions of them and, unless the author is a well known name, the mentioned author will probably never find out. 

One of the most well-known vanity presses is a company called Publish America. They claim to be a traditional publishing house, but they aren't. Publish America is nothing but a con. There's a great post about them here. If you Google the words Publish America Scam, you will find hundreds of reports done on them, and horror stories from writers who have been conned by them. Also at the same link, you can find other great articles about how publishing really works. I also recently did a post, Book Deals: How They Do (and Don't) Work. Please check that out as well for more information on what to expect from legitimate publishing houses.  

So, you ask yourself, if vanity presses are so clever, how do I avoid them? How do I know if the company I'm considering is for real? Here's are six tips to avoiding the scam of vanity presses.


Above all, remember this - publishers pay YOU. If a company is legitimate, the money always flows FROM the publisher TO the author, not the other way around. Unless, of course, you choose to self publish. Save the small cost of postage, real publishing houses never ask for any money, EVER.

2) Publishers never solicit authors.

How many times have you seen that on your Google page, a posting that reads, "Calling all Authors," or "New Author's Wanted!" Yes, you guessed it, those are vanity presses. Case in point, Publish America does that all the time. Real publishing houses never, never advertise for writers. They get thousands of MS's or queries a month. Even the small out of the way publishing companies get dozens. They do not have time to email people asking for more.

3) Contracts.

Many vanity presses do not offer contracts. If you do your research, and everything looks on the up and up, you send in your manuscript to a company, and they finish said MS, when they send the letter back saying they are interested, they should be sending you a contract as well. Or at the very least, they should tell you they want to offer you one, and as soon as you say you want to see it, they should send it. If they do not, RUN. Likewise, if they send you one, and upon asking questions, they become evasive, confrontational, or otherwise inappropriate, they are a scam. No one should ever be afraid to ask questions in any business, and anyone who makes you feel that way cannot be trusted.

4) Watch For Promises of Success.

Publishing companies who know what they are doing know that there is never any guarantee a novel will sell. No matter how good the book, the agent, or the publisher, there is never any guarantee the book will do well. If they make this promise at any time, they are a scam. Also watch out for anyone who promises to make all your dreams come true, that they specialize in the frequently rejected, or makes a promise that they will take your book to Hollywood. No publisher can promise that. Ever. (Side note: I saw an agent online once who had that in her bio - "Specializes in the downtrodden, the disheartened and the rejected." If an agent has that on their page, turn away. Fast).

5) Do your research.

No matter how much you think you know about the publishing business, you can never know too much. Before you go with any publisher or agent, always do your homework on them. There are two great websites that list agents and publishers with dubious records, or who are known to defraud authors. Writer's Beware Blogs, and Preditors and Editors. If a publishing house or agent is red flagged by either site, avoid them. Likewise, if a publisher or agent disparages either of these sites, the agent or publisher is trouble.

6) Watch the wording.

As I mentioned before, vanity presses are great at using careful wording, in everything from their company names to their ads, from their emails to their agreement clauses. They will give themselves names that have the word "publish" in the title, or use the word "Printing" or "Press" in a euphemistic fashion. In their ads, they say things like, "publish with us," or, "Copies of Your book are free." First, just because they use the word "publish" doesn't mean that's what they will do. Second, notice that it said "copies." So the copies go out, but this still means you have to pay for the copies themselves, (so it's like getting free shipping and handling), and the promise of free copies does not say how MANY will be free. So you might get the first two free, but after those, you have to pay. And don't be surprised if the price of the books, which come back with poor quality to begin with, are hugely inflated. And that's if they show up at all.  

One last note. I am not trying to scare all the hopeful authors out there. Most publishers and agents are good people who just want to sell books. The key is not to let your hunger for the dream blind you to the crimson flags when they go up. The promise of publication is a powerful lure. Especially for authors who have been rejected many times. Vanity presses, like all good con artists, know how to prey on the vulnerable and the unaware. But friends, no matter how badly you want the dream, no matter how far away it seems, it isn't worth sacrificing everything to trust a vanity. Keep sending out those queries and MS's. Keep improving your manuscripts. Revise. Rewrite. And then try again. Trust me when I say, hard as the business is, good books do get through, and you'll be better off for it.

Well, that's it for this time, folks. Are there other red flags you think authors should know about when scouting for the right agent or publisher? Have you had an experience with a Vanity Press that you'd like to share? 

Until next time, everyone, write on!


  1. As always your blogs are very in depth and cover every question I might have had. I have heard of these vanity presses, and have some friends who have paid to have their work published but it was with the intent of distributing to close family and friends. Not serious stuff, more like family recipes, memoirs etc...
    I'm definitelly going to keep a wary eye out for these. :)

  2. Oh I've read this before I think, on your old blog site. But you've added some things I see. I have yet to experience anything besides a few emails here and there promising my novel in print for a 'steal' but I know just to hit delete. Lol. Nobody is stealing my work. I'd hate to have that happen. Great post Raven :)

  3. I read this when you posted it but couldn't comment. OMG! Thank you so much for posting this! I almost bought into this whole thing and didn't even realize they were trying to scam me! Now that I know I've cut off communicating with them. I'm going to be real careful from now on.

  4. Yay, the commenting thing works again! *Happy dance*. lol! Thank you, all of you for reading and sharing your thoughts. It' a matter that is important to me that fellow writers don't get duped into losing their work, so it means a lot to know that you guys are all aware of it. Thanks again.

  5. Fortunately, I have never fallen prey to that, but I am quite sure down the road I will run into it. I'll be armed and ready...thanks!

  6. You're welcome, CYW. Forwarned is forarmed, right? :D



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