Vanity Publisher Villains

The desire to get published and have people read your work is every writer’s dream. Some writers want to reach people with a certain kind of message. Other writers seek fame and fortune from their work. Having said that, the internet has made finding an audience and getting your writing exposed and published easier than ever, to a degree. In spite of the vast opportunities on the internet, it’s a noisy distracted place that can make it hard to get the reader’s attention.

The self-publishing industry is getting better all the time, more professional, and it offers far greater profit margins; however, authors that go this route seldom understand the enormous mountain they must climb with regard to marketing their book. If they don`t have accesses to a network or if they haven`t built a network prior to the books release, they will find it difficult and almost impossible to sell their book. How many of us see the thousands of tweets and Facebook ads about some new book?

These and other circumstances have helped to bolster an older industry that is making huge profits off of naïve authors—Vanity Publishers.

I remember the first time I met a self-published author. I didn’t know she was at the time, but later, as I remembered the situation when I became a writer, I felt this woman’s pain, and I recalled what I saw the day I met her. I was at a biker event in the North Georgia Mountains and this woman had a table set up with her cards, some other trinkets, and about three stacks of books, maybe 20 in all. I don’t remember the subject of the book, or the genre, but I recall how irritating this woman became as the day went on because she spent all of her time hawking her book.

That was my memory of self-publishing.

It’s memories like that that drive the vanity publishers success. The sad part of it all—most authors don’t even know what a vanity publisher is. Those who find themselves in the middle of what they think is a great book deal with a real publisher, when confronted with the facts, often argue that they are being traditionally published—they are not.

Vanity publishers charge you money to publisher you book. Traditional publishers do not—it’s that simple. Vanity publishers will have several “publishing packages” for you to consider. Most of these packages will never exceed $5000 to $10,000 dollars; however, even if some poor author can afford the higher package of $10,000, this is still not enough money to get a book marketed properly. Especially if the author is unknown.

These vanity packages usually include editing, layout and design, marketing packages that have several bells and whistles like custom book marks, a so-called media blitz wit radio ads, they may have a celebrity endorsement, they may include a small book tour, but the fact remains that it’s on your dime—not theirs. They have to make a profit so if you pay this $10,000 (keep in mind I’m throwing figures around based on what I’ve seen), then not all of that will be spent to promote and market your book. It may be as little as $2500 of the actual $10,000. That won’t buy much advertising folks. Don`t fall for this trap. And if you insist, then you really are publishing for vanities sake.

A traditional publisher will generally be found by the author through a literary agent; however, some big publishers like Penguin (I’m quoting that from memory so it may have been one of the other “Big Four” publishers) recently took open submissions through email. The agents in the industry didn’t like that so much, and I`\’m sure the assistant editors had their hands full sifting through the garbage for that one gem of a manuscript. I heard that out of 4000 emails they published one manuscript that sold very well. That is an indication of the daunting task of getting published and the stiff competition. However, it`s not impossible.

The whole purpose of this post is to expose these vanity publishers so that good writers don’t get ripped off and poor writers don’t fall for fake compliments about bad writing when what they really need is truth so that they can develop better skills and try again in the future.

For question in this topic email me at swbiddulph_at_gmail_dot_com


  1. You are right that the Internet is a rowdy place and it can be tough to get attention. I stated writing on the Internet and do consider it a part of my writing future, but I am looking at other horizons. Self publishing is very tough, I know this by assisting my son’s efforts to be published, our memory of self publishing are similar to yours, trying to sell at a book fair, where everyone breezed past uninterested. It is tough to get a break. You are right to warn readers about such publishers and the challenges involved.

    • Thank you, Peter, and I agree you will do just fine seeking traditional routes of publication. Getting a “rejection” does not mean that we are not good enough to get published. It generally means we need a bit more work, or, more importantly, that we submitted our work to the wrong agent, publisher, etc. You would be surprised at how many authors do not read an agent or publishers genre list or submission requirements. I know you will find the right agent. Good luck.

  2. Good morning, Scott; it is a shame that many writers don’t understand vanity versus traditional publishing. I have a good friend who has no space in his garage for his car because his “guaranteed best seller”, published for $26,000 three years ago, didn’t sell.

    Another friend who gives hers away because looking at the stack of unsold books is too depressing.

    Both of these are books I read. Both have merit, but neither was properly edited, formatted, or marketed. And each writer ran out of money for a revision and were so discouraged (not to mention poorer) by the experience of vanity publishing that they no longer write.

    And that is part of the shame of vanity publishing.

    All the hype, accolades and praise just to get a writer’s money. Unfortunately, each of these books needed some simple editing, revising and reworking, and then they would have had a worthwhile book. With a better product, they could have found a legitimate agent or self-published with a reputable source.

    Oh, I lecture today; sorry, it’s just I know the message both my friends have, and it’s valid and appealing, just not published correctly.

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