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The Dangers of Vanity Publishers

Never heard of vanity publishers, or vanity presses as they are also known? Well, let us educate you, because this is information every author should be aware of.

The Alliance of Independent Authors defines vanity publishers as services that engage “in misleading or, in the worst cases, outright deceptive practices, with the intention not of bringing books to readers but of extracting as much money as possible from the authors.”

Vanity publishing is a concept that goes back several decades to a time when authors paying to publish their own books were considered vain (hence the name). Back then, vanity publishing was simply frowned upon, but there wasn’t anything actually wrong with it. That’s not the case for today’s vanity publishers who are little more than scammers looking to squeeze every penny they can from the authors they con.

Here are just a few of the unsavory practices of vanity publishers:

  • Pressured Sales: Vanity publishers use pressure to try to intimidate authors into working with them.

  • Overblown Prices: Vanity publishers charge for everything and their prices are outrageous.

  • Minimum Book Sales Requirements: These scammers are known to have minimum sales requirements, and if a book falls short, the author is contractually required to buy copies of their own book to make up for the shortfall.

So how do you know if a company is legit? Here are some tell-tale signs that you’re dealing with a disreputable company:

  • They contact you. Rarely does a publisher contact an author and ask to publish them. Unless you’ve recently won a big award or you’ve hit a major best seller list, chances are the publisher who just contacted you is not one you should work with.

  • They pressure you into signing with them. If you feel like the person you’re dealing with is nothing more than a sales agent trying to force your hand so they can meet their quota, that’s a clear indication that something is wrong.

  • You have to pay for everything, and the prices are very high. Some publishers, particularly hybrid publishers, charge a fee for their services, and that’s a legitimate business model. However, vanity publishers charge for every little thing separately and their prices are crazy high. For example, a single ISBN costs $125, but a vanity publisher might charge triple that or more.

  • They have a minimum sales requirement. There is not one legitimate publisher that sets minimum sales requirements. This is one of the biggest red flags you might encounter. If you see anything like this in your contract, run away!

  • They require the author to buy copies of their own book. This might go along with a minimum sales requirement or it could be a separate requirement. Either way, if your publisher tells you that you will be required to purchase a certain number of books yourself, get out. That is not on the up-and-up. (NOTE: This applies to those “send us your poem or short story and we’ll publish it in our collection, and all you have to do is buy so many copies of the book” scams.)

Two important pieces of advice we can offer for when you’re looking at publishers are:

  1. If something smells fishy, it’s probably rotten. Trust your instincts.

  2. Read everything very carefully and, if you can afford it, hire a lawyer to review any contracts or agreements.

Metaphorically speaking, keep your head on a swivel, and watch out for so-called publishers who just want your money and couldn’t care less about you, your book, or your success. Your publisher should be your partner, not your adversary. If the potential publisher you’re talking to gives off a bully or con artist vibe, you should probably walk away.

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