Just a while back, the big trade publishers ruled the market. They only accepted one percent of submitted manuscripts through agents, often called their gatekeepers, and those authors became rare celebrities admired by others regardless of what they had written or how much money they had made.
It was a dream of virtually all the writers to sign a contract with a trade publisher. Times have changed. Now anyone can self-publish and market a book. The self-published books may be good or not, but the point is that anyone can now become a published author, and it is up to you to create your reputation and market your book.
This is a multi-billion dollar business. Inevitably it started attracting some dishonest players to get their share. Vanity or subsidy publishers have been around for decades. The market is now full of self-publishers so vanity publishers will easily find new customers, who have never heard of vanity publishing. Much money flows from fresh would-be authors to vanity press that will happily count their money. They’ll convince you to pay for publishing your book, yet they do no worthwhile editing, distribution, or marketing. There is a stigma attached to them, and public libraries, bookstores, and reviewers won’t touch vanity-published books. Vanity publishers are also called subsidy publishers because you subsidize the publishing by paying everything. They will find writers who are so eager to see their name as the author of a book that they don’t take time to get informed whom to trust and whom to avoid.
Vanity is an apt name for something worthless or trivial to be excessively proud about, like being an author without producing quality work. It would cost a lot, thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars, to publish your book by a vanity publisher. It’s unlikely you would ever recover your money and, even worse, your new book published by them is worthless and will never find reviewers or customers, and you might get discouraged to find a better way.
Vanity publishers would print any book without any criteria as long as you pay. They would then turn around and sell you copies of your own book at a high price to give or sell to friends and family members since there is no other market for those books. It sounds terrible and it is terrible. It is happening all the time. Since decades, boxfuls of vanity-published books were piled up, unsold, unwanted. Now that there is print-on-demand (POD), who knows how many or rather how few books are printed at all regardless of the contract and regardless of the payment exchanging hands from the author to the vanity press.
When I was doing research for my book, Sell Your Words, I contacted five vanity publishers pretending to be interested in their services. They are good talkers and surely find many customers. When I asked if they are vanity publishers, they all acted surprised as if they didn’t know what that term means. When I asked about using my own ISBN, they said it is much better and safer to have them as a big company behind my book. They explained how great their services are and said that my book would be available at tens of thousands of bookstores. They promised to do everything from editing to cover design to worldwide distribution. When I explained how much I knew about the self-publishing business and vanity publishers and why I will not use them, they promptly ended the call.
Some big trade publishers now operate also as self-publishing services benefiting from their reputation and experience since decades. Check them out to see if anyone of them is reputable. Read Writer Beware to educate yourself about vanity publishing. Ask the crucial questions to find out who is honest. Google for possible complaints about their company, complaints that are available publicly on internet rather than on their own website. Transparent self-publishing services will give you honest information about every detail they’ll do for you including detailed pricing such as editing, cover, distribution, and marketing. Compare several companies before choosing one and before parting with your money.
Beware that they all usually start with a low-priced package and rapidly add extras as soon as you are committed. Read the fine print to see how much it would cost to terminate the contract. Always use the ISBN of your own. Ask others you trust for referrals and about their experiences, good and bad. Be a bit suspicious before trusting new contacts.
In addition of vanity publishers, there are also some fraudulent companies who are trying to sell you their ISBNs. In the U.S., Google myidentifiers.com by Bowker. Only Bowker can assign legitimate ISBNs to the U.S. publishers. In Canada, Google ISBN Canada. Canadian publishers and self-publishers get free ISBNs. Get a list of 100 numbers, to have one for each edition, printed or digital, to identify your company imprint for each book. Elsewhere, contact National Library, ISBN Agency, of your country.
Consider self-publishing as a viable option even if you end up using a self-publishing service in the end at least for some services. You would learn a lot and you will save money. Read reputable books and articles. You will encounter a huge amount of information. Whatever you do, write a good book, get informed, and proceed slowly to understand what you are doing. Self-publishing is not for everyone but there are other options depending on your topic.
Don’t destroy your book’s future by using a vanity publisher. They are out there to get your money. They make their money upfront from you so they have no incentive to work on your book. Some trade publishers using their good reputation of many decades might operate as vanity publishers too. Be vigilant. There are also good companies as self-publishing services if you have money to spend, so it gets confusing to know who is who. Exercise caution, follow your intuition, compare several services, and ask several relevant questions.
You might find another good option for your book, or you might discover a whole new world as an indie author. Compared to vanity publishing, self-publishing would cost just a fraction even if you pay for professional editing and cover artist, you would own your ISBN, control everything, and your book would have no stigma for marketing and publicity that is associated with vanity press.