If dreams of poetic grandeur are leading you up the steps of
a vanity publishing house, stop and make sure you know what is inside.
Vanity, or subsidy, publishers catch unsuspecting authors
off guard with glorified ads in newspapers and magazines that promise huge
profits. These companies publish almost anything they receive because they know
their profit is assured. The authors take all the monetary risks.
Vanity, thy name is expensive
Vanity publishers solicit original manuscripts from writers
through direct mailings or classified advertising. After writers contact them,
however, they find they have to pay all the costs of production and promotion,
which can involve thousands of dollars. Subsidy publishing contracts do not
give writers any control over expense management, so authors have no say in how
their money is spent.
Starry-eyed amateur writers keep the vanity publishing
business flourishing even though sales of books they produce are very low.
Rarely does a subsidy publisher put out a commercially successful book. The few
exceptional success stories are often repeated to potential authors. Authors do
not usually recover even a fourth of their original investment. Writers are
often promised royalties of 30 to 40 percent, but they never see these profits
because the publishers have already been paid by the authors. This removes the
incentive for the company to sell and the writer is stuck trying to generate
Unfortunately, writers and their families are usually the
biggest customers, so the authors often end up paying for books twice – once to
publish and once more to purchase.
Some vanity publishers contact young writers claiming they
were nominated by school personnel to be nationally recognized as talented
young authors. These claims are usually false. The companies offer to place the
student’s poems or short stories in books if they agree, in advance, to
purchase a certain number of books. Often family members purchase several books
because they believe the publication involves a special honor. However, the
only reason these books are published is because authors are willing to pay for
the placement of their material.
Vanity book publishers and their operating procedures are
well-known to those who buy books for resale to the public. Books published by
the so-called vanity press are recognized as such. News releases and other
publicity or advertising reflect the vanity status of the books, which are
reviewed in this light. Vanity publishers have developed such a poor reputation
in the trade that most book periodicals read by libraries and retailers will
not even review their titles.
Another common contact involves vanity publishers that
contact individuals claiming they have been selected to be featured in a “Who’s
Who” book –- Who’s Who Among Female Executives, Who’s Who of College Students,
Who’s Who of American Engineers, and many others.
The publishers always claim they received an anonymous
nomination to include your name in the publication and want you to pay a
“membership fee” to join this exclusive listing. They also offer to sell
volumes of the “Who’s Who” book and count on people being willing to pay to see
their name in print.
If someone wants to include you in this type of publication,
first ask questions like these:
What is the selection process? How were you nominated, and
for what specific accomplishments? If the answer is vague, suspect the
publisher may have bought your name on a mailing list or found it elsewhere.
Who else made the grade? Sorry, but can you really be considered
among the nation’s top executives for running a small store when Fortune 500
CEOs are ignored?
Who writes your bio? Legit registries may ask for background
and do their own write-up; vanity books turn the pen over to you.
Find out who they are and who is going to pay the costs.
When you think about it, it is not really much of an honor when you have to pay
for the recognition.
Many families receive contacts to purchase family histories
or genealogy listings. Often you are told that the book is a one-time offer –
never to be available again. Do not count on these publications containing
extensive background on your family tree.
Publishing is competitive
Conventional publishers pay all the costs of publishing and
promoting a manuscript, so they are very selective about what they publish. A
typical publishing house does not advertise for manuscripts, nor does it ask
authors for any type of advance payment.
If you do decide to have your work published by a vanity
publisher, read the contract’s fine print carefully and make sure that all
conditions, including production, promotion, and other expenses, are clearly
Be wary of claims such as:
None of their books have resulted in failure.
Sales will result in more than one edition of the book, so
more copies will be produced.
Only those manuscripts which have literary merit and sales
appeal are published.
The publisher supplies authors with the same promotional
services that the largest book publishers give to their big-name, best-selling
The publisher has salaried traveling salespeople who spend
all their time selling only clients’ books.
Leading libraries generally purchase large numbers of books
from the vanity publishers.
The promotion of a book always results in its placement in
stores located in the author's vicinity.
The book will be nationally advertised.
If you are hesitant about vanity publishing, but would still
like to see your manuscript published, consider self-publishing your work
through a local printer.
If you think your book is the next best seller, mail a
letter of intent, also known as a query letter, and a copy of a chapter to an
established publishing house. Your local library will be able to assist you in
locating information about how to contact major publishing companies. Libraries
can also assist you in obtaining information on how to conduct legitimate
genealogy research or locate established “Who’s Who” directories.