It’s one of the most common questions for new writers who are querying their novel. “I got an offer! Is this a vanity press?” “Is this publisher legit?”
A Vanity Press is a publisher who agrees to publish your book for a fee. It’s really that simple. If you are paying anything out of pocket to get published, then it is a vanity press and you are getting scammed. The fact of the matter is, there are too many stories of people being duped a vanity press so I decided to offer this checklist. This checklist is by no means exhaustive but I hope it puts you in the right direction.
It might be a vanity press if:
(For clarity, meeting any one of these things means the press is likely a vanity press. Just because they supply an ISBN or have an LCCN does NOT mean they are not a vanity press.)
- They require you to pay any part of the publishing cost. As I mentioned in my FAQ, a vanity press will use all sorts of language for this, include “editing fees”, “listing fees”, or “promotion fees”. Sometimes they avoid the word “fee” altogether, and use phrases like “share the risk”, “shared interest”, “publishing investment”, and “dual-source funding”. A legitimate publisher will never ask you to cover any part of the publishing cost. Ever.
- Yes, this includes subsidy publishing. Sometimes people will tell you that subsidy publishing (Where the author chips in and basically gives the publisher an advance that gets paid back) isn’t vanity publishing. I believe it is. You won’t convince me different on this matter, sorry.
- They respond quickly after you send your manuscript, and their response is full of praise. This might sound mean or cold, but a legitimate publisher wouldn’t do this; we play our cards close to the vest because we don’t want to give someone false hope while we’re deliberating on whether to make an offer. A vanity press would.
- They guarantee your e-book will be listed in their “exclusive” book exchange. I don’t know why this pops up a lot with vanity publishers, but I have never seen this kind of verbiage on a legit publisher.
- They require you to supply an ISBN. This is a common way for a vanity press to trick the author into “buy-in” and make themselves seem more legitimate. After all, if you haven’t bought your own ISBN, you’re not a real author, right? (Note: your publisher should supply you with your ISBNs.)
- Their titles aren’t cataloged in the Library of Congress. Legitimate publishers request LCCNs for their titles. Many vanity presses do not. Some vanity presses will do this, so simply having an LCCN is not proof of legitimacy.
- They also offer editing services, typesetting services, or other paid services. This is a pretty common vanity press tactic these days too–they will totally publish your book, but you will need to hire an editor first. By the way, they totally do editing. Wink wink.
- Their published titles have cheap-looking covers. This is usually a dead giveaway.
- They self-identify as a “publishing consultant”, “publishing service”, “author assistance”, or basically anything other than “publisher”. Vanity publishers never call themselves a vanity press.
- They have a very dubious web presence. Check to see if the publisher is on Goodreads, has active social media, and, well, exists.
- They carry a ton of unrelated titles. A vanity press will publish practically anything. Look for a huge list of titles that have no discernible pattern. legitimate publishers usually have grouped imprints that cover certain genres. Dragon Street Press, for example, prints only Sci-fi and Fantasy titles.
- Their web site looks like it is trying to acquire authors, rather than to sell books. This is very important. This one might not be immediately obvious, but publishing houses are trying to sell books, not acquire authors. The web site should reflect that. If the only reference to submissions by authors is a single, tiny link at the bottom, that is a good sign.
Do remember that there is a big difference between an Indie press and a vanity press. Indie Presses are small, tend to focus on niche subjects, and sometimes carry few titles. Also remember that it is normal for a publisher to charge you for Authors Copies; often you will receive a certain number of free copies and then have to pay for more (at a generous discount).
When in doubt, check places like Writer Beware to see if the publisher fits the bill. Be safe out there and happy writing!