The Pitfalls of Vanity Press Publishing

Great news! You’ve finished writing your book. Over many days, weeks, months, and possibly years, you’ve poured your heart and soul into every word. Your family and friends either supported you or rolled their eyes at your “little hobby.” Black ink courses through your veins as you hold the final masterpiece in your hands. But now comes the big question—what do you do next?

It’s time to find someone willing to publish your book. How difficult can that be, right? Well, in one word—very. To give you an idea of how hard it is to find someone to take a chance on an unknown author, here’s a few people who lived through it, but managed to finally land their big break:

  • K. Rowlings—12 rejection letters for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  • John Grisham—16 rejection letters for A Time to Kill
  • James Patterson—“dozens” of rejection letters
  • Stephen King—30 rejection letters for Carrie
  • William Golding—20 rejection letters for Lord of the Flies
  • Margaret Mitchell—38 rejection letters for Gone With the Wind
  • Suess—27 rejection letters until he ran into an old friend on the street, who worked in publishing
  • Beatrix Potter—received so many rejection letters over a two year span, she chose to self-publish 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit (And that was in 1902!)
  • Kathryn Stockett—60 rejection letters from literary agents for The Help
  • Agatha Christie—4 years of rejection letters before someone took a chance on her novels
  • Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen—134 rejection letters for Chicken Soup for the Soul

Many of these authors did not have the luxury of starting their careers in the computer age where scores of literary agents and publishers could be found with internet access and a click or two of a mouse. However, with all technological advances come those who will find a way to exploit it.

Welcome to the world of vanity-press publishing. You send them the query letter they asked for, plus the first few chapters of your manuscript, and wait with crossed fingers, hoping whoever reads it will like it. Then, suddenly, they send you an email within a week or two—or they contact you out of the blue without a submission. The person says they’ve discussed your book with their “board,” everyone loved it, and they want to publish it! O.M.G!

Great, right? Wrong!

First off, if they want to send you a publishing contract after only reading the first few chapters and not the whole book, this is your first major red flag. Here are some more of them:

  • You did not approach them, instead, they approached you. They saw a little something you wrote in a Facebook group or on Wattpad, and thought it was fantastic. Or they found your book on Amazon or another sale site, and they want to rerelease it under their publishing company and they’ll get it out to a wider audience.
  • They want you to send them money for whatever reason—for editing, a book cover, finder’s fee, advanced copies, etc. No respectable publishing company will ask you for money. They make their money by taking a cut from the sales. In fact, with a legitimate company, you may even get an advance on anticipated sales.
  • When you get your “edited” copy back (usually after it’s too late to get out of the contract), it is still riddled with formatting errors or typos you missed. (This happens when you’ve read your manuscript so many times that you start seeing only every third or fourth word, increasing the risk of missing the typos. An experienced editor would spot those right away.)
  • They require you to purchase (for a wholesale rate) a certain number of print copies (to give away or sell on your own). This could be anywhere from a few dozen copies, to hundreds or possibly thousands of them.
  • They will put your book on their website, as well as a host of other online, book-selling sites, such as Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and GooglePlay, all of which are very easy for anyone to do on their own. However, they will not get your books into any physical stores or libraries unless they receive an unsolicited request. (Usually, they will list your print book through CreateSpace, IngramSpark, or a similar print-on-demand site, where libraries and third party retailers can order directly from them.) All these sites are simple to use, and you can do it yourself without paying someone else to do it for you or you can pay a formatter a flat rate to do it for you. There is no need to hand over a large chunk of your royalties to someone for the next five or more years! .
  • When you go to the publisher’s website, look closely at the covers of “their” books. Are they professional looking or do they look like a third grader did them using Photoshop? Find those books on the major online retailers. What are they ranked at? Book and author rankings are based on sales. If the publishing company’s self-proclaimed “bestseller” is ranked between 500,000 and 4 million, that isn’t a good thing. That’s is equivalent to less than one book sale per day. When a book is retailing for $3.99, after the retailer takes their cut, and then the publisher, the author’s daily royalty is approximately $1.09. That doesn’t even buy a loaf of bread these days.
  • While you’re on the sale sites, check the reviews for those books. Do the readers state there are a lot of issues with the books such as typos, formatting, plot lines, etc? And how many reviews do they have? Less than 10 and the book was published over a year ago? Not good. Legitimate publishers will send your book out to their long list of reviewers to get your name out there and increase its visibility on the sale sites.
  • Does the “publisher” require that you must do a majority, if not all, of the promotional work on social media? If you’ve already paid them to publish your book, where is their incentive to promote you? Even some of the bigger, legitimate publishers will require you to do some self-promotion these days, but since they only get paid based on your royalties, they’ll be doing a lot of promoting too.

There are hundreds of these vanity-press publishers out there, although they will do everything they can to convince you they aren’t one. They’ll stroke your ego and give veiled promises in the garbled legalese of a contract. They may even swap out the contract you reviewed and agreed on at the very last minute and you end up signing something you thought you had approved.. If a company wants your book, and they’re not in the top 5 or 6 publishing companies in the world, then do yourself a favor—research them, heavily, before signing the rights to your book away. (And, yes, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing—most vanity press contracts are written with the publisher having full rights for up to five years or more.) Plug their company name into a search engine and start reading—not just the first few URLs that come up, but several pages worth. Add the words “problems,” “trouble,” “complaints,” or “scam” to the search.

Go into your favorite author groups on Facebook and ask if anyone has ever dealt with the company before. Hire a lawyer to review the contract before you sign anything. This is your book-baby and you don’t want to lose it to anyone!

So, in conclusion, congratulations on completing your book and, hopefully, you are one of the very few who get a contract with a legitimate publishing company. There are some out there—small, medium, and large. But until that happens, get ready for those rejection letters, consider self-publishing, and research, research, research.

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