Have you heard me rant about vanity presses yet? No? Well, then, you’re in for a treat today.

I don’t know what it was, but last week, it felt like vanity presses were everywhere. People were asking about them in at least three different Facebook groups, an acquaintance published through one (and since it was too late to do anything about it, I had to just smile politely and hope he didn’t get too ripped off), and then, maybe because I was starting to research some of the more notorious companies, I started seeing ads for them everywhere.

But I digress. To start off with …

What IS a Vanity Press?

In a nutshell, vanity presses are companies that call themselves publishers, but unlike a true publisher—which pays the author—vanity presses require authors to pay them for the costs of book production.

Now, if you’ve got more money than time, there’s nothing wrong with paying a company to deal with things like editing, cover design, printing, etc. The problem with the vanity press model is that all too often authors not only pay (usually through the nose) for the privilege of getting their books published, but they also give up a share of their royalties along with control over the final product, and tie up their intellectual property in complicated contracts that aren’t always easy to get out of.

Neither self-publishing nor traditional publishing are perfect, but vanity presses manage to combine the worst of both worlds—all the expenses (or more) of self-publishing with none of the control. A very bad recipe. Worse, many vanity presses are subsidiaries of legitimate, well-known publishing houses, and they often imply to authors that by publishing with them first, they’ll have a better chance at being picked up by the household-name publisher. 

In all honestly, this is unlikely—if being published by a Big Name House is your goal, then get a literary agent and do it right. (And while we’re on the subject, literary agents who demand a fee for considering your submission should also be avoided like the plague.)

Vanity Press or Legit Publisher—How Do You Tell?

Some simple steps to take before signing any publishing contracts:

  • Avoid any “publisher” that demands money to publish as well as any part of your royalties
  • Equally, avoid any “publisher” that demands any kind of service from you as a condition of being published. (I kid you not: I’ve come across presses that require authors to edit other authors’ books or serve unpaid internships)
  • Check out the Preditors & Editors and Writer Beware sites
  • Google “Publisher Name”
  • Google “Publisher Name + scam” or “Publisher Name + vanity press”

Should you be tempted to go with a vanity press because you think that self-publishing is too difficult or confusing, please first download my Self-Publishing Checklist. It not only gives you all the steps (in the right order) to launch your book, but gives you approximate costs for everything.

Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have about what it really takes to publish a book, the better you’ll be able to spot scams.  Let me know if you’ve come across any of the dubious companies and what your experience has been!