The changing face of vanity presses
We’d never tell a writer to swear off self-publishing. Yes, some snobbery still surrounds the profession, and it’s absolutely not the right choice for everyone, but it can be an ideal (and lucrative) solution for certain writers, especially genre authors.
But we’d also never recommend something in good faith that preys on authors. Some companies, commonly known as “vanity presses” in the industry, pose as traditional publishers, offering to print and publish an author’s book in exchange for a steep fee. How is this any different from a self-publishing company? one might ask.
At a legitimate self-publishing company, you should know exactly what you’re paying for each time you lay money on the table. You will receive X amount of books. You will receive availability at X amount of online retailers. You will retain X rights. At a vanity press, you pay one amount, and a few copies of your book arrive. You typically have no control, no marketing assistance, and, worst of all, no rights to retain. Worse, you may receive emails and letters asking for more and more money in exchange for outlandish services, and the amount of money they’re asking for is in no way proportionate to the services they offer. (Read one author’s cautionary tale with a vanity press here.)
But vanity presses aren’t new in the industry. What is new is how vanities are increasingly marketing themselves as “hybrid publishers,” warned Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) at “What’s So Bad About Vanity Presses?” along with fellow panelist and ALLi member Alexa Bigwarfe. Typically, a hybrid publisher will also ask for financial assistance from the author like a vanity press, with one key difference: While a vanity press will publish absolutely anything and everything without blinking an editorial eye, hybrid presses often have an editorial submission process. These publishers actively seek quality and turn down submissions. Since they’re putting a stake in the marketing game, too, they have a vested interest in seeing their titles succeed. And while they do generally claim rights to exclusively distribute the content for a few years, the author retains the rights to the content itself – a major difference from vanity presses.
So what should authors look out for when trying to identify a vanity press? “Vanity is still a valuable term,” said Ross. “The vanity comes in when the author doesn’t ask any questions” – that is, when authors’ own vanity about their work prevents them from seeing the facts. Watch for companies that stroke your ego. Watch for companies promising to make your dreams come true, but without any mention of how specifically they’ll do it. Be wary of promises of “Hollywood” or being forced to buy additional copies of your book. And always keep an eye on what rights you’re signing away. When it comes time to sign on the dotted line, you can also check this handy guide that ALLi has created to help identify problem presses.
Moving forward, it’s clear that authors need to keep an idea on technology and the changing face of publishing to succeed. Writing is an art, but publishing is a business, and the savviest authors are the ones who keep a finger on the pulse of the industry – without sacrificing quality of content along the way.