When you are ready to publish your new book, you’ll notice that you have several different publishing options available to you. One of those publishing options is a vanity press. The main difference between a vanity press and every other type of publishing option is that you are paying the publishing house to publish your book, and in most contracts, you are obligated to purchase a certain number of your print books.

How to Identify a Vanity Press

The short answer is if the publishing house asks for money upfront, it’s probably a vanity press. Most publishing houses either pay you an advance or they pay you royalties for each book you sell. In most instances, they don’t ask you for money upfront. However, there’s an exception to this, it’s called hybrid publishing, which is not quite an independent publisher and not quite a vanity press. For the purposes of this article, we’ll stick with vanity presses. It’s important to note that vanity publishers are sometimes referred to as subsidy publishers or subsidy publishing.


Have You Recently Finished Your book? If You Have, We’ll Publish It!

If you hear this line on a TV commercial, radio commercial or in print anywhere, it’s a good indication that you are looking at a vanity press. Vanity presses will publish anything of any quality. Why? Because you’re paying them to do it! These guys don’t give a shit about the quality of your book or how well it sells. They want your money, and once they have it, they could give a rat’s ass about the quality or whether or not it ever sells, and there’s even worse news. In signing the contract and agreeing to let the vanity press publish your book, you could have written away the publishing rights to your book for X number of years, meaning you can’t immediately switch publishers if you are unhappy.

Who Are the Vanity Publishers?

Vanity publishers were more popular prior to the self-publishing boom. This was because the only other way to publish your book other than traditional publishing was to choose a vanity press and pay thousands of dollars to have your book published. Today, vanity presses are still in business, and a few common ones include:

  • Page Publishing – You can guarantee if you hand these guys your email address, your inbox will be overflowing with emails related to your book and when you want it published. The bad news is that Page Publishing doesn’t list their prices, so you’re left to guess, or I guess you could find out after you submitted your manuscript to them.
  • AuthorHouse – They’ll publish your book for as low at $900 or as much as $5,600. This is for sure a vanity press. They also use Kirkus for book reviews. Kirkus charges for book reviews, and as you all know, paying someone for a book review is a big NO!
  • Christian Faith Publishing – I’ve seen the TV commercials for these guys. That’s how I know they’re a vanity press. If you’re looking on their website, there are no prices listed, and they appear to be a self-publishing house. The line that tells you these guys are a vanity press is in the FAQs. Neat the bottom, they have the question: How much will this cost me? The answer starts with: “While the investment required of our accepted authors to bring a book to the world-wide market varies based upon the intricacies of each book...” Bottom line – They want your money. It’s a vanity press.

The Bottom Line – If you are paying a publisher money, there is a good chance it’s a vanity or subsidy publisher. Avoid it. The three listed above are simply the three that first came to my mind when I thought of a vanity publisher. There are hundreds more out there. 

Why Do Authors Fall for Vanity Presses?

They just don’t know or didn’t realize that the publisher they chose was a vanity publisher. After all, it seems reasonable that a publisher would charge for certain services, like editing, formatting, cover design and book promotion. Here’s the deal. It’s expensive to publish and promote a book, and a true publishing house accepts 100 percent of this liability because they believe your book will sell, and they are willing to put the dollars behind it to make sure it sells. The publishing house also makes up the cost of publishing your book through the sales of the book. This means that the amount the publisher takes from the sale of each book may be pretty high, leaving the author with very little percentage of royalty per book. This also means that if the book doesn’t sell, the publisher loses money, and the author doesn’t get their contract renewed.

1. The Publisher Praises the Author’s Writing Skill

Your work is amazing! We can’t wait to publish your book! Who doesn’t want to hear that? Every author wants to hear that their work is fantastic and everyone will read and love their book. The truth of the matter is that publishing houses don’t offer praise without critiques. We loved your book and we want to publish it, BUT… and here’s for 50-page list of edits that you must perform by X date or you lose your potential publishing contract. If the publisher doesn't offer any critiques, and it’s just praise at how brilliant your book is, stop right there. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

2. You Submitted to What You Thought Was a Traditional or Independent Publishing House and Now Have Numerous Emails

Real publishing houses are busy. They are not going to send you numerous emails a week wanting to know if your manuscript is finished and when you are submitting your work to the publishing house. They don’t have time. If it’s a real traditional or independent publishing house, you will submit your material and hear back months later, if at all. If they do get back to you, it will be to either get the full manuscript (if it wasn’t part of your submission package), or it will be an offer for a book deal. Once you sign the contract, the editors at the house will take a long hard look at your manuscript and recommend changes. These can be light or extensive, but either way, there will be changes, and your book may go through several rounds of editing before it is deemed good enough to publish. Then, you will get some input on the book cover, blurb, author biography, and once the publishing house has everything, you will be put n the publication schedule, and they will let you know when your book will be available for sale. If your book sells, you’ll get royalty checks every X number of months.

3. Edits? What Edits?

Let’s say the author missed the above warning signs and submitted their manuscript for publication, and the edits never came. OMG… My book must be perfect! Nope. Sorry, it’s not perfect. They just don’t care about editing it. They may tell you that the book is being edited, but you may never see the results. Or, if you did get it back for edits, you made them and that was it. The edits may not have even been that extensive.

4. The Author is Terrified of Cover Design, Editing and Book Formatting

This could be because the author is technologically challenged. They don’t understand what’s involved in getting a book ready for publication, and they are intimidated by the process. When this is the case, the author wants to offload all that hassle to someone else. Enter the vanity press. The vanity press promises to edit the book, format it, create a cover and list it on popular publishing websites, like Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Kobo, and get it into bookstores, like Barnes and Noble. Once the author submits the book, just leave it to the vanity press to get it ready. Seems like a great deal, especially if you’re anxious about the actual pre-publication processes. Vanity presses prey on this insecurity.


5. They Insult the Other Guys

They send the author material telling them how terrible it is to go with a traditional publisher or self-publish their book. This tactic relies heavily on preexisting stereotypes. For traditional publishers, the vanity press may highlight the fact that only 3 percent of books submitted to traditional publishers are actually accepted. They may also state that you could be waiting years to see your book in print even if you are accepted. By contrast, the vanity press tells you they can have your book to market in as little as a few months. What a bargain!

When it comes to self-publishing, they’ll tell the author that self-publishing doesn't make you a real author, and all self-published books are shit with typos and bad plots. Not to mention, you’ll be required to plunk down thousands of dollars for professional editing, book formatting and cover design. Then, after you’ve paid for all that, you’ll still have to upload your books to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo. Who wants to do all that? Just let the vanity press handle all your book publishing needs for about the cost of one developmental edit from a professional independent editor.

You May Be Screwed if You Ever Cancel Your Vanity Press Contract

If you accidentally choose a vanity publisher to publish your book, you may be in for a surprise when you finally cancel your contract and move to either a traditional or independent publisher or completely self-publish. This is because vanity presses often put certain clauses into their contract, like they still own the ISBN, even though it’s been attached to your work. The contract may also state that they own all the rights to the book cover images and the typesetting and any special formatting they inserted into the body of your manuscript. If this turns out to be the case, you’ll have to find other people to typeset, format and provide you with another cover, or you’ll have to do all those things yourself before you move to a new publishing company or self-publish.

Is There Ever a Reason an Author Would Want to Choose a Vanity Publisher?

No. I can’t think of a single solitary good reason to ever choose a vanity publisher over other methods. When it comes to publishing and selling a book, the author is the one who should get paid. This payment should either come in the form of an advance or as a percentage of the book sales. An author should never pay to have their book published.