Prepublishing, Traditional

Vanity Publishers: A Quick Guide to Identify

Vanity publishers prey on the impatient, the lost, and the overwhelmed. They look for writers who don’t know what is standard, they use flowery words and “important” phrases to capture the “I can’t wait,” and they promise to do all the heavy lifting.

It looks good. It looks promising. Until you peel back the plastic and discover while it looked good, it smells rotten to the core and that a pretty label hid the disgusting underbelly of a vanity publisher.

For those unaware of what a vanity publisher is let me break down what a traditional publisher, an indie (self-publish), and a vanity are and how they affect you:

A traditional publishers are companies that handle all the steps for publishing from deciding if your book is worth it before offering a contract to editing, formatting, cover design, getting it on the shelf and more. They never charge for this. (For a better detailed list— )

Indie (self-publish) are a large subsect of writers nowadays thanks to the ease of KDP (Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing). You are in charge of finding editors, cover designers, PAs, etc and negotiating costs/job. If someone is too expensive for your budget, you find someone else to do the job or you learn to do the job yourself.
Don’t confuse indie with Indie publishing company.

Hybrid publishers … we’ll cover this one near the bottom of this post.

Here are some ways to save your time and your intellectual property (IP) by identifying a vanity publisher.

Writer Beware—

Managed by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Association, Writer Beware is essentially the BBB (Better Business Bureau) of the writing world. They are a wonderful source for identifying vanity publishers and even substandard publishers.You can type the publisher’s name and Writer Beware into Google, and read through the various posts you see on it. If WB says vanity, you know to avoid it.

Please realize that vanity publishers play the whack-a-mole game. They disappear when the heat becomes too hot on one name and appear later under a different name. It takes time for WB to cultivate enough facts to post a post about every single vanity pop-up.

When WB can’t make discovery a quick thing, there are other things to look for:

Look at the books they publish.

The books are outrageously priced. Example: Their ebook might be $9.99 and the print copy for a paperback could easily be $19. The standard/average price for the market is $2.99-$4.99 and $12.99 for print and those are indie and traditional publishers until you get to big named authors like J.K. Rowling and James Patterson.The covers are not on par for the genre.The sneak peek is poorly edited/formatted.

They offer you a contract before even reading your work.

Would you offer a quote without ever seeing the amount of work involved?Does the story even make sense? To you, it might, but we’re bias on our own work.Did they ask for a synopsis? Did they read any of it?

Their contract strips you of your rights.

They can have first rights of refusal (which even traditional publishers can do), but it gets so much more dirty than just “hey see if we want it first before you do something else with it.”

  • They can block your control over your book’s universe.
  • They can block the use of your characters by you.
  • They can let others write in your world, universe, book series, characters because you signed over the rights.

They want money to publish.

What starts as a seemingly reasonable price morphs over the phone call/after the contract is signed with “everything is available for an “extra” fee. With these fees, you could have gone indie and done multiple books. The average vanity price is $5,000 once it’s said and done. With that amount of money, I could have done 5 books from start to finish, and include marketing.No matter how much you pay, you will not have a valid product for readers. (See the books they published).

They harass you with phone calls and emails even after you’ve declined.

Vanity publishers aren’t interested in your work. They want the money you’re willing to pay, and they will do the least amount of work possible once they get it.

If you want to have a publisher, then commit to going traditional. Realize it can take years to find a good fit and be honored that your book was picked up by someone AFTER they spent time reading it. To find legit publishers, check out QueryTracker, MSWL, and PitMad.

Hybrid Publishers

Hybrids get a bad rap. They do charge for their services, but they are more like a middleman. They can be used for various areas of publishing and they never take away your rights.

Some indies use hybrids to handle things like marketing. They either pay them a flat fee for x-amount or they offer royalty share.

Other indies use hybrids to handle editing, formatting, and cover designing as a one stop shop, while they’ll handle uploading it to Amazon and the marketing.

And some indies don’t want to fool with anything other than writing, and so they network with a hybrid to handle everything from upload, maintenance, etc. and offer royalty split.

Key points of a hybrid:

They read the work before offering a contract depending on the services you need.

If you’re only using them for prepublishing (editing), they don’t need to know if your book is a good fit for their company. They just have to do a good job; the same way a freelancer would behave.

If you’re using them for marketing and/or everything, they need to know your book is a good fit for their company. They want to determine that before offering a contract.

Hybrids have transparent pricing, and while they may try to upsell you on occasions, it isn’t their standard OP (operating procedure). They may upsell you because what you’re needing could be paired with other services. IE: you’re doing marketing with them, and they might offer you a deal for 6 months instead of 3 months or offer a PA’s services to handle social media. They find relevant things and offer them.

Their contracts are clear. You maintain full control over your works.

At no point does a hybrid hound you. They might email you to ask if you’re still interested in their services, but they aren’t going to call you and try a strong arm tactic.

You can use the same tricks as with vanity publishing (check out the books they publish, consult with Writer Beware, etc.) to investigate a hybrid publisher.

If you feel uncomfortable at any point, walk away.

Have other people look over the contract. Ask people if they’ve worked with them before. Ask for recommendations. That’s one of the beautiful things about knowledge—it can be shared.

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