ready to publish? beware vanity presses.


Being both an author and a freelance editor, I spend a lot of time on various publishing-related groups on social media platforms. Without fail, the same questions come up again and again. I often respond to them. Unfortunately, my experience leads me to believe that many new authors don’t do their research before they agree to the first offer they receive for their manuscripts. That leads all too many down the perilous road of vanity publishing.

Vanity publishers masquerade as one-stop shopping options for naive, ambitious authors who are too eager to get their stories published. They want their books launched to the public now, not later. Vanity publishers cater to that false urgency.

In short vanity publishing is pay-to-play publishing. They masquerade behind the name “hybrid” publishing.

Don’t get me wrong: there are several respectable and reputable hybrid publishers out there. They, too, offer pay-to-play publishing, but there’s a key difference between vanity publishing and hybrid publishing: care. In many instances, hybrid publishing is a good decision, especially for thought leaders and business leaders who want to impart their insights and build credibility and authority. Hybrid publishing offers a much faster time-to-market schedule than traditional publishing, which takes a good 18 months or so from the date the publisher accepts the manuscript. That 18 months doesn’t include the time and effort spent on writing a book proposal and query letter and shopping the package to myriad publishing companies and literary agencies.

Fiction or nonfiction, whatever genre you envision, publishing is a business. Not to put too fine a point on it, publishing is a cut-throat business. When someone complains literary agents and acquisition editors all rejected his or her manuscript, that generally means the agents and publishing houses decided the manuscript wasn’t marketable, didn’t fit in with their current catalog of offerings, or was too late in market trends to capitalized on a popular trope. Other reasons for not accepting a manuscript include an author who didn’t follow submission guidelines or a manuscript riddled with copy errors. Regardless of the reason, if an agent doesn’t believe he can sell the manuscript to a publisher or a publisher isn’t convinced the book will turn a profit, then the author has a choice to make: pay-to-play publishing or self-publishing.

When it comes to hybrid publishing, it behooves the author to check on the company offering to publish the book in exchange for a good deal of money. A vanity press may charge anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 to publish your book. Some hybrid presses offer à la carte services, so the author need only pay for the services he or she wants. The list of expenses entailed in publishing include:

  1. ISBN (Purchase this from Bowker.)
  2. Copyright registration (Purchase this from the Library of Congress)
  3. Library of Congress Control Number (Purchase this from the Library of Congress)
  4. Developmental editing
  5. Line editing
  6. Copy editing
  7. Book design
  8. Copywriting for the back cover blurb
  9. Proofreading (the whole package: book interior and full cover)
  10. Marketing.

Other expenses may include artist fees if your book has illustrations, use fees if your book includes music lyrics (music copyright holders often require payment for limited rights to use their content), use licenses for copyrighted photographs, and more.

The publishing process itself, should you decide to self-publish, is free. That’s right: publishing your book does not cost you a cent. A hybrid press manages the process for you. They understand what needs to be done and when—and they charge you for that expertise and service. Some vanity presses will require you to purchase hundreds or even thousands of copies of your book, and all of them will command a lion’s share of the royalties earned from book sales. Vanity presses also provide absolute minimum services for the highest price and have earned well-deserved reputations for taking undue advantage of authors and producing a shoddy product.

Before signing that contract and believing the , check your eagerness and do your research. A reputable source for information on predatory vanity presses (and literary agencies) is Writer Beware. Find their website ( and their Facebook page ( I used to recommend Preditors and Editors, but the site and Facebook page have been “under construction” for a long time and I fear its usefulness has ended.

If you’re leery of hybrid publishers, whether they’re masquerading as ethical businesses or are vanity presses, and prefer to exert control over the publishing process and guarantee your book will be published, then self-publishing always remains a viable option. You’ll still have many (if not all) the expenses listed above, but you can shop around and hire the vendors whose work best suits your manuscript.

If you want to produce a book and not pay anything at all, you have a choice: you may pursue traditional publishing via querying literary agents and traditional publishers, or you may forgo the process of ensuring quality and do everything yourself. If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know that I do not recommend that second option. Writing your book may be a solitary effort, but the publishing process should be a team effort.

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