The most powerful inducement of vanity presses that don’t have upfront fees is that anyone can be published without paying a cent for it. This made me wonder how vanity presses which did charge in advance could get away with it. I didn’t think they’d charge very much – perhaps five or six hundred dollars, which would be enough to make a nice profit and still make the authors happy.
I soon found Tate Publishing, which charges $4000 and still has authors willing to defend the practice of charging fees. Tate doesn’t count as many victims as PA does, but the correspondingly larger cost makes up for this. Interestingly, Tate’s website never mentions the hefty price tag. This information comes from writers who have paid and who are justifying it, and from writers who declined Tate’s services when the contract arrived, and the deceptiveness may be one reason why Tate is on Writer Beware’s "two thumbs down" list of publishers.
I read further, wondering how people could rationalize spending so much money. Let me count the ways…
1. The publisher is helping unknown authors and is taking a risk on you.
The guilt trip. In other words, the publisher is doing something nice for you, so why don’t you do something nice for the publisher? That something can range from “ignore warnings about the publisher” to “pay $4000 – or however much it costs”.
The best defence against this is to keep in mind that publication is a business. It is not a charity where the publisher reaches down from on high and plucks you out of the gutter, earning your lifelong gratitude in the process. A commercial publisher doesn’t take a chance when publishing manuscripts any more than a banker takes a chance when giving a loan; both are calculated risks. And a vanity press like Tate takes even less of a chance, since it’s being paid upfront.
2. It’s not actually a fee.
People who have signed up with vanity presses have several euphemisms for the fees. Tate’s website mentions “author investments” in the fine print, and also describes the price tag as an “Author Participation Fee”. Likewise, authors refer to this as a partnership effort and a meeting of the minds (there’s almost as much creativity here as in the manuscripts). Vanity presses may also be renamed “subsidy publishers” or “co-operative publishers”, which sound much more palatable.
3. In exchange for the fees, you will retain all rights to the manuscript.
Vanity presses which make this claim are bargaining on the fact that many new and inexperienced writers will not do the research and learn that writers don’t pay commercial publishers to let them keep their rights. In any case, one of the most important rights is that of first publication – and that will be wasted on a vanity press which can’t and won’t do anything much with it.
4. Every writer is charged.
This is the idea that authors will have to pay at some point along the line for publication, so it might as well be upfront.
With Tate I have "paid up" all at once, and now will concentrate on working with their marketing representative to try to make a profit.
The defenders of vanity presses get extremely creative here as well. Some claim that if you use an agent, that will be money lost too. This ignores the fact that agents get your work before publishers, negotiate for higher advances and enable you to keep those rights that you might otherwise have to pay $4000 for. Others say that if a publisher gives you an advance, production costs will be deducted. Again, they’re bargaining on their targets not doing the research and realizing that this is an outright falsehood. Finally, there is this prediction of doom (scroll down to the end).
JK Rowling was poor and poor for a very long time until her later books when she had to re-sign in order to get more money. You can actually see the same thing happening to lots of authors who didn't 'Pay' to have their book published.
That has to be the ultimate vanity press defense. No doubt Rowling cried all the way to the bank, wishing she’d panhandled enough pennies to go with a vanity press instead.
5. The costs of publishing a book are so high that authorial contributions are needed.
One person who published with Tate justified the expense with, “The $4,000 I paid will not even cover the cost of printing the books, much less editing, promotion, etc.” The idea here is that publishing is a co-operative venture between the publisher and the author, where the author puts up $4000 and the publisher puts up the rest. The publisher may even claim that they are investing $20,000 or $30,000 or whatever amount in the manuscript – there’s no way to verify this claim, but it may make the author feel better. And four grand looks small in comparison to twenty thousand.
Why should the publisher take all the risk? the defenders of vanity presses say. You have to spend money to make money. For an excellent description of this excuse, check out this article from How Publishing Really Works. And for new and inexperienced writers, this can be a convincing reason, especially if the publisher claims to be spending thousands of dollars.
The best defense to this is to keep in mind that you, as the writer, have already done your part by writing and editing the manuscript. You don’t have to do anything more (other than listening to feedback and incorporating what works). The publisher will recoup the costs from selling manuscripts to the reading public. A vanity press which doesn’t sell to the reading public (because of lack of marketing or distribution) will recoup the costs from the author. To increase profits in this regard, the vanity press will keep the costs of publication low by providing a minimum of editing, stock image covers and so on. PA’s costs of printing a title are around $300; I doubt Tate’s are much higher.
As for spending money to make money, just ask yourself if you pay your employer to let you come to work each day.
6. The publisher will refund the money.
The empty promise. The publisher promises to pay back the money if the author does the industry equivalent of winning the lottery – for instance, selling five thousand copies in the first year. For a commercially published novel, this is do-able; in fact, for many genres, this would be a disappointingly low figure. For a vanity-printed novel without distribution? The publisher will never have to pay up.
7. There are no other fees (e.g. editing or marketing fees).
This is like a salesman telling you that if you buy a car from his lot, there won’t be any extra charges for the headlights or the accelerator.
8. The fees are a sign of good faith.
The $4000 Tate asks for is to guarantee that you'll complete your part.
If a writer queries with an incomplete manuscript, why doesn’t Tate simply ask for the rest of the work before offering a contract? Then there would be no need for such a guarantee. Besides, it’s not as though the money is returned to the writer once the complete manuscript is delivered.
I came across a claim that paying the fees was an indication of an author’s seriousness and dedication. This doesn’t even merit a response.
9. You get extra attention for the money.
Tate’s website claims that writers will receive additional services such as assistance with marketing. I’ve also read claims of higher royalties, which are a very safe promise for the publisher since vanity-printed books rarely sell outside the pocket market of an author’s family and friends. So it’s not as though the publisher will have to pay higher royalties on thousands or even hundreds of copies – the average number of sales for a book put out by a vanity press is 75.
Authors may believe that the upfront payment will somehow guarantee distribution from the publisher.
Would TATE not do everything in their power to get my book on the shelf so they could also make more money in the end?
What’s easier – having to be a real publisher or snaring another hopeful writer with money to burn? I’ll bet there’s nothing in the contract which states the vanity press has to do any marketing or distribution in return for the author’s dollars, either.
10. If you don’t pay up, you lack faith in your work.
A Tate author, speaking in defense of the company, said that Tate’s owner had told him, “If you don't feel that your manuscript is marketable, then do NOT do this--we feel it is marketable." Nice pressure tactic, especially if it follows glowing praise from the publisher. I love your manuscript enough to invest my money in it. How could you not do the same? How could you lack faith in your
The best defense to this is to say, “I find your lack of faith disturbing” in a Darth Vader voice. At least that will make you laugh. And then you can turn it back on the publisher and say, “If you think my manuscript is so marketable, go ahead and market it. I give you my blessing. But I will not give you my money.”
There are countless other reasons – the bigger the scam, the harder the scammees will struggle to justify it. People claim that no one forced them to pay, and it’s not illegal to charge fees (though not everything legal is ethical). Others express disbelief in Yog’s Law or say that they’re getting something in return for their money. Ultimately there’s only one reason to spend money to see a book in print – when you know beforehand that you’re signing up with a vanity press, when you don’t expect to recoup the investment or have a publishing credit. There’s nothing wrong with vanity publishing per se, only with fooling oneself that it is anything other than what it is.