Monday, October 13, 2008

Ways to recognize a vanity press

Most authors these days know that paying to be published is a sure sign of vanity publication, where the only book that matters is the author's checkbook. So some vanity presses disguise what they are (e.g. by shifting fees to the back end) or come up with an array of reasons as to why it's necessary for an author to pay.

No matter how much smoke and mirrors are produced, though, there are several sure signs of a vanity press. If anything in the checklist applies, investigate further. Some of these are signs of amateur presses or inexperienced micro-publishers as well.

1. Fees

___ The publisher charges an upfront fee before the manuscript will be accepted
___ When questioned about this fee, the publisher responds that it is an investment or necessary contribution on the part of the author
___ The publisher charges for any other aspect of book production and marketing

2. Responsiveness

___ The publisher responds very quickly to manuscript submission, sometimes accepting the manuscript in under a week.

3. Types of manuscripts accepted from unpublished writers

___ Collections of poetry
___ Collections of short stories
___ Non-fiction from writers without a platform
___ Fiction of almost any length and all genres

4. Editing

___ Editing is minimal, often limited to a spellcheck
___ The author is given the option to have the book printed without editing
___ This is couched in positive terms such as the author having complete control over the process or the publisher not altering the author’s unique voice

5. Book covers

___ Authors are asked to write their own blurbs for the back covers. These do not receive editorial input

6. Reviews

___ The publisher does not send review copies out in advance of the book’s release
___ The publisher says it may send review copies out, provided reviewers request such copies
___ Authors routinely provide each other with positive feedback, which is accepted as a substitute for professional reviews

7. Sales of books

___ The publisher relies mostly or exclusively on POD
___ The publisher says that its distributors are Ingram and Baker & Taylor
___ The publisher assures authors that their books will be available on, Barnes and and the publisher’s own online store, and this is presented as an adequate substitute for bookstores
___ The publisher offers discounts to authors if they buy their own books, but does not offer the same or better discounts to bookstores.
___ The publisher encourages authors to buy their own books, especially in bulk

8. Staff

___ The publisher does not make the previous relevant experience of its staff available
___ The publisher provides full names and bios of the staff, but they have no industry experience listed
___ Authors work for the publisher, e.g. reading slush

9. Publisher claims and achievements

___ The publisher claims membership in organizations whose requirements have nothing to do with the way authors are treated, e.g. the BBB, Mensa, etc.
___ The publisher claims to have signed up the largest number of previously unpublished authors, but says little or nothing about the number of books sold
___ The publisher’s advertising is geared to authors, e.g. making their dreams come true
___ The publisher refers to itself and its authors as a family
___ When asked whether it is a vanity press, the publisher responds that it is a traditional publisher, self-publisher, subsidy publisher or co-investment publisher

As long as you credit me for it, please feel free to share this checklist with anyone who might need it.


colbymarshall said...

Good list...I know it's a murky water, the world of the small this is a helpful one!

Mary B said...

What an excellent list. I hope people heed the warnings. The money as an "investment" if you "believe in your writing" is such a huge red flag.

Anonymous said...

VERY good list... mind if I reprint it on my blog this week with appropriate credit and links, of course?

Marian Perera said...

Thanks very much for the feedback, everyone.

And of course you can reprint it, The Writing Runner. I'd be flattered. :)

Becky Mushko said...

Thanks for a great list, which I plan to share with some other writers I know. (And, if you don't mind, I might post it on my blog—with credits and links, of course.)

I have vanity-pubbed some small projects (collections of previousy published columns and stories), but I knew I was vanity-pubbing, I compared prices and services, and I already had an established readership in place. Plus I do speaking engagements and I live in an area with lots of gift shops where these books are sold, so I've made a modest profit.

I cringe when I hear "writers" who have no established local readership and no platform say they've selected a vanity-publisher for their "block-buster" novels. That so isn't going to work.

Marian Perera said...

Hi Becky,

Of course I won't mind if you post this on your blog. :)

As you said, if a writer knows exactly what they're getting into with vanity publishing and have ways to maximize sales within reasonable limits, they're likely to be satisfied with the experience. What's depressing is when people go into vanity publishing hoping for what they'll get from commercial publishing - regional or national distribution for a well-produced and competitively priced product. And, of course, good sales and royalties.

Sometimes, people make this choice because they haven't done enough research. But sometimes, the vanity press contributes to the misinformation by claiming left and right that it is a Real True Publisher and the best in the industry. I hope serious writers will see through such deliberate misformation.

Becky Mushko said...

I posted (with links of course) this morning (Oct. 18) at

Thanks for granting me permission to repost.

Marian Perera said...

Thanks, Becky! Hope it helps anyone who might be considering a vanity press.

And I have got to add to my article that PA offered a contract to a dog. I read that post in your blog and it was unbelievable (also hilarious).

Here is PA's strongly worded tone letter to Jack: "Arf! Arf!"