It’s a jungle out there – watch out for the vanity presses #wwwblogs #amwriting #selfpublishing

I had a phone call the other day from an elderly gentleman who was trying to find an agent. I explained the process to him and then he said that he’d already published a book, but he still couldn’t get an agent. Digging deeper, it seemed that he was under the impression that if he had a book out on Amazon, an agent would come calling.

He’s published with a small press. I took a look on Amazon. His book has been out for almost three years. The blurb and the cover are terrible. He has zero sales and zero reviews. Getting a little bit cross now, I decided to dig a bit further.

It turns out that he paid money to a vanity press that seems to masquerade as a publisher. This organisation states on their website that they open to submissions. They give the impression that they are looking for books to publish.

Digging even deeper I discovered that what they do once you’ve sent your submission is to ask for the full manuscript (and your hopes are raised). They then come back and give you some flannel along the lines of how they love your work, think you have real potential, but the economy and the market and blah, blah, blah, so they want to publish you but they need you to make a financial contribution.

Further investigations revealed that this contribution can be anything from £1500 to £3000.

So, a vanity press then.

(I’m not naming the company in question here as they apparently have a tendency to send out emails from their lawyers to anyone who criticises them and I really don’t have time for that rubbish).

Now I understand that no one is holding a gun to anyone’s head while you give them your bank details. But still – this seems unethical at the very least. And to do this to an elderly man is downright cruel.

So lovely writers, please be careful and remember that you shouldn’t be paying a publisher, they should be paying you. If they ask you for money, they’re a vanity press. If you’re happy with that, then that’s up to you (though why you would pay someone to do something you can do yourself, I don’t know) but please be very, very sure about what you’re getting yourself into. It’s very easy to get carried away, and unfortunately there are people out there who are only too happy to exploit that.





  1. Oh no! What a terrible, but oh so familiar story. What confuses the situation even further are those companies that provide good self publishing services, for which you pay, but don’t try to pass themselves off as publishers. It is difficult for them to separate themselves from the reputation of the vanity presses.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Indeed Georgia. If people are happy to pay for a vanity press that’s fine, and if they want to pay for someone to publish for them, that’s fine too, if they are actively looking for that service. But these ‘publishers’ are misleading at best.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What’s worse than ripping off the old gent (or anyone else) is that they seem to be selling through Amazon, which is free to use. Of course you need to do your editing and your cover work somehow, but the whole process, as I am currently finding, is really very simple.
    Worth mentioning the name to Writerbeware and similar sites.
    If anyone is in any doubts about a publisher, or even if you just want to be sure,google them for problems. Never, ever pay money without checking the contract with a magnifying glass first, and be aware of what you are being promised. Never sign a contract without getting it vetted by someone else.
    These people prey upon the idea that a publishing contract is a gold medal – that it’s a sign that you’ve made it. It’s not: it’s a sign, in this kind of case, that you’ve got the cash to spare/throw away and you’re desperate enough to fork out whatever they ask. They won’t edit your work, or proof-read it, or advertise it – they will stick it up on Amazon and say they’re selling it for you.
    There are more honourable vanity publishers out there: shop around, and get the best offer going. Don’t be blinded by the idea of a contract. It’s too often just a piece of paper that requires you to cough up your cash.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. If you do pay for a publisher and you feel it hasn’t worked out or the royalties aren’t rolling in then use that experience as an indication of what you need to know and potentially, with some additional research, able to do yourself to publish your next book. Learn what parts you need expert assistance, that is you have much better uses for your time than to learn how to do that bit properly (which might take a lot of study and experience to get it right).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good advice Suzanne – thank you. And i don’t have an objection to authors paying for publishing, or for paying for the things they can’t or don’t want to do. I just wish that some publishers would be more honest about what they are.


  4. I think I may have the record here! I was utterly gobsmacked to get a call from an author who had PAID £35000 to ‘publish’ a book!!! She wanted advice to extract herself from the contract to update and republish the work on Breast Cancer, but the contract was so tight that there was nothing to be done. This was a company touting themselves as a mainstream publisher. In fact the same outfit have been nominated in the IPG Independent Publishing Awards – you can bet that the IPG don’t realise what a rip-off they are!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Timely reminder, I was caught by an agent back in the 1990s for about $750 dollars and got nothing out of it. The small detail which still steams me to this day was that this agent was in a UK writer’s year book, and so you think…hmm must be respectable. We live and we learn.
    (On reflection just as well it wasn’t published….vanity or any other way… was not just bad…it was very weird, and not in an artistically challenging way)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Unfortunately I don’t think inclusion in that book guarantees that they’re legit – you would think the publication in question would want to avoid these types of ‘publishers’ but it seems that anyone who is willing to pay for advertising is welcome. As you say, you live and learn.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sucks. If only everyone would read these sort of blog posts, but I sometimes wonder if the only people who read all the advice we put out are those who already know about it. Poor chap. At least you were able to put him on the right track, though.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Never fails to amaze me – Julia’s always got tales to tell me, too. And as for the small press writers who still think they’re ‘better’ than the self-published – yep, they’re all still there, too, some in particular!!!!

        Talking of that, and going off topic, a very nice book blogger expressed surprise that I hadn’t been taken on by a publisher. She actually didn’t know that some people choose to self-publish, and thought it was the last resort, when all else had failed. If some book bloggers think that, we still have a long way to go!! I think the point to make is that ‘self published by choice’ means that we don’t submit our books to publishers in the first place, not that we’re putting brave front on it!!!!

        Liked by 2 people

  7. I was accepted by an agent in theUS (I’m from the UK). The agent sent my book to a publisher who then offered me a contract where I would pay, I think it was half the publishing costs. Anyway, it came to more money than I had to spare. I told both the publisher and the agent to get on their bikes and did it myself with Amazon for nothing.

    This story of yours is terrible. I hope the elderly gentleman has done the same and is no longer with this publisher. It just goes to show that there are many sharks out there, both publishers (so called) and even agent who are conniving with them by sending writers’ work to them

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think you re better off, always, going down the self-pub route for adult fiction…and paying independently for editing services etc. Then you have total control..there are plenty of people who will help out with uploading tips, and small printing services if you want to produce books. VERY FEW small publishers are taken on m=by Bertrams or Gardinbers, so your chances of making it to Waterstones etc is practically nil.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for this cautionary tale, Alison.

    I, too, nearly fell under the “We LOVED your work. Here’s a hybrid contract. Sign it and we’ll let you know how much you owe us.” Actually, I got a similar email from TWO publishers.

    Following the initial elation, I took a deep breath and sent a thanks but no thanks email to both. The first got defensive when I accused them of offering a vanity contract. The second just kept sending auto-generated emails. I think they’ve stopped now, as the one I got yesterday advised me that the time envelope had expired, so the offer was now void.

    I, too, had aspirations of being a traditionally published author with my memoir. As it turned out, following a number of rejections, I went down the Amazon KDP route. To date, that has meant around 600 sales and, while Amazon royalties are woeful, I have raised around £400 in donations to my local air ambulance charity.

    Additionally, as I had hoped to go down the traditional route, I bought ISBNs. That had the British Library contact me, asking for six copies for the national libraries.

    I may not trouble the likes of Stephen King or Lee Child but I am very proud of my modest success and those library copies have now earned me my own little bit of immortality.

    I am writing more now and, if I can’t find that traditional, non-vanity publisher, I will once again take the KDP route.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great, Steve, 600 sales is fabulous and you should be proud! I think more and more authors are coming round to the benefits of self-publishing. If done properly it is a great option. Good luck with your new work 🙂


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