Sunday, 4 December 2011

Vanity publishers, how to recognise them

Writers want to be published. That applies to about 99% of us. Which is fair enough, but the way to publishing can be a bit of a mine field as there are plenty of companies out there that try -- and often succeed -- to take advantage of the desire. Scams, or vanity publishers will e-mail desperate, on a fine string of hope clinging, writers, telling them how much they liked their manuscript and that they want to publish it.
The immediate flattery will often cause a fuzzy warm feeling and let the writers' hearts swell and often enough, it will lead to acceptance and a signature on the dotted lines. Not long after that, they'll wake up, realising the mistake they made. They often give away their rights, they pay for the printing and non-existing marketing, sometimes they pay nothing, but won't earn anything either, since the book won't sell. They don't get their books edited, often only formatted and the royalties are ridiculously low. They are encouraged to do the marketing, beginning with friends and family; their 'publisher' won't move a finger.

And there are quite a few on the hunt for new and inexperienced 'victims'. The concept seems to work, since those vanity publishers pop up everywhere.

A twitter friend has signed with one of those, his e-book cost £3.50 on the publisher's website, £3.45 on amazon. If you want to read a sample, you need to log into the publisher's website and 'add it to cart', even if it's for free. You can download the sample without any problems through amazon's kindle store but there's not hint on the site. The publisher makes it difficult for a potential buyer. I know from the author that they didn't edit the book. They also offer a proofreading service for money. Big fat warning sign.
Companies like that are usually listed at Preditors & Editors, a site I would urge everyone to check out before signing anything. The offer might sound wonderful, but the traps are hidden in the small print. Also check the company who's contacting you by googling them.

Here are a few signs that should have you running for the hills:

- they ask for money upfront
Money always flows to the author
-the publisher mentions many books and famous authors, but their website doesn't list any 
It's always worth to check the website first, then do your reseach. Do you know the authors? Heard of the books? Many claim to be a long-standing successful company, but their only success is to lure unsuspecting writers with a dream who pay a far too high price in the end.
- the publisher contacts you and praises your book based on a small excerpt seen on a writers' website or on your blog
Unless it's a start-up company, publishers usually are flooded with manuscripts in their slushpile and don't need to actively search for new talents. But even a start-up company would always ask for a full manuscript and  your book will go through all the editing and proofing stages like it would with a one of the big six
- the publisher offers you a contract a few days after you send either, a partial or full ms
A publisher won't offer you anything unless they've read the full ms (fiction only) and they normally ask for changes and rewrites, even if mininal, assign you an editor, meet you/talk over the phone, etc. before they offer you anything. There are a few exceptions when an author has been offered a contract immediately, but it's not common. Publishing is business and they don't throw their money/time at someone unkown.
- the publisher presses for the signature
No publisher will put pressure on you. They will give you the time to read the contract carefully, have it checked by someone (there are specialists for this industry), will be open to negotiations
- the publisher doesn't answer your questions
Usually means they have something to hide. Wishy-washy answers or turning into a 'what we can do for you and your money' is not the practise of a reputable house.
- the publisher says your ms is perfect and doesn't need any edits
Every publisher will edit to a certain extent. Sometimes, your ms might be rather clean, but they will still try to adapt  it to their house-line. And there's no manuscript that doesn't need editing. Even famous authors have their ms edited.
- the publisher offers several services like editing, proofing, formatting, etc. for money
A reputable publisher won't have time to spare to do such jobs.

If you receive an offer, even if it's one of the big six, always have your contract checked by a professional. Never sign anything without it. If you have a solid offer, it shouldn't be difficult to find an agent (worth if you have more novels in the line) or find a solicitor who specialises in that field.

That's all for today.  If you have something to add, please do so; the more people are aware of the techniques of vanity publishers, the better.


  1. I'm afraid its a case of 'buyer beware' Stella. For every one true publisher out there, you have to wade through a couple of thousand - sadly.

  2. Nah, Jack, don't make it worse than it is. There are really great publishers out there and with the e-book market, they become more; one just has to look out for certain signs to rule them out. I have 'dealt' with two vanity publishers in about 2.5 years, both of which I had contacted to 'see it for myself'. Both offered to publish my book which was in a real state, and both wanted money upfront. I reported one to preditors & editors, the other one was already well known.

  3. It always leaves kind of a bad taste in my mouth when I'm looking at an "indie publisher" website and they're hawking their for-pay editor service. Shouldn't a publisher be busy editing their product books? It makes me wonder how many writers submit to them and get a rejection with a nudge toward purchasing services.

    I get the changing models thing, and maybe that's the way it's gonna go for editors, they're gonna be selling services to writers unaffiliated with a publisher rather than on payroll. But jesus, separate the two. How hard is that?

    (Love your blog.)

  4. Exactly my sentiments.

    I wonder the same and yes, they should be busy editing their own authors' books.

    If they have one or two editors working with them freelance (which is often the case with new, small pubs), those editors usually have a separate site for their services. I wouldn't take a publisher seriously if they sent me a rejection with a 'nudge' or offering editing services on the same site. Straight onto my black list.

  5. Great advice.
    Also beware the publishers who are unreasonably rude and evasive when you ask them normal questions about basic rights and payment.

  6. Eeleenlee, welcome to my blog.

    Yes, that's a big warning, too. Those vanitiy publishers often play the darkest tricks.

  7. I'd like to ask a question. What if your publisher has been around for a few years and accepted your book over three years ago. Just got around to editing it after giving you several release dates that never happened. What can you do as an author. The contract has been signed years ago but as of this date the book has yet to be published?

    Still Waiting?

  8. I'm so sorry for the late reply, really didn't see your comment until now.
    I would advise to seek legal advice. It seem that the publisher has broken the contract. Did they give you valid reason for the delay? A friend of mine was in the same situation. It can have several reasons, either they had a sponsor who got cold feet and they are in touch with a new sponsor or they're just dragging you along. It's normal that it takes a year to publication, but postponing the release date is very unprofessional. Personally, I would talk to them, ask them to let me out of the contract, give me back all my rights, then I would take my book and run as fast as I can. If you start out on such grounds, they'll most probably try to trick you with anything else.