vanity presses

Vanity Presses: Don’t Get Trapped!

One of my favorite things to do is rescue authors from the clenches of vanity presses and other services that exploit them. The only reason I didn't fallvanity presses into a similar trap is because I didn't have the discretionary funds when I first started out.

That's how I got into self-publishing in the first place, and I DIYed my way through the entire process including book covers which is why I tell you not to! Everything else is fair game if you have the knowledge or time to learn.

That DIY spirit has followed me for the duration. I outsource a lot more than I used to, but I learned how to do it all first. That's something else I recommend.

I'm one of the few out here who will tell you that you can self-edit if you need to. However, I'll also be the first to tell you that an editor and book coach will change your world and writing for the better.

So, What’s a Vanity Press?

A vanity press is a company that pretends to be a publisher. They draw in authors with promises of done-for-you packages that include everything from editing to marketing. There are two very big problems:

  1. They are no more than a self-publisher themselves, with no extra pull in the industry than you would have if you did everything yourself.
  2. They charge thousands.

There's nothing I hate more than someone lining their pockets with the money of vulnerable people. Short of publishing a list and calling these flakes out by name which could land me in a world of trouble legally, I'm going to expose them and provide you with some tools to help you vet any service you are considering.

The number one most obvious red flag is any company that is acting as a traditional publisher, but trying to charge you for their services. Run. That's the definition of a vanity press.

Exposing Vanity Presses

Vanity presses are brimming with good ideas and interesting titles languishing in obscurity. I get mad every time I visit their websites.

You might be wondering how I'm going to expose these vanity presses if I don't plan on naming them. Here's the plan:

  1. Get a list 5 popular vanity presses.
  2. Check their sites for what they claim their top-performing books to be.
  3. Google them to see how much of a footprint they have on the web.
  4. Check their Amazon Best Seller Ranking (BSR).

Ready? Let's go!

List of Vanity Presses

I'm not disclosing my list, but they are 5 well-known vanity publishers that I pulled from Writer Beware and the ALLi Watchdog Desk.

These are two resources that I highly recommend you check before you consider using any publishing service.

The only hints I can give is that you may have seen TV commercials for a couple of these and at least 1 of them is aimed toward Christian authors.

We'll look at 3 books from each site and see how they're fairing on Amazon. I'll only be looking at Amazon.com for the sake of brevity.

So, the anonymous list will go as follows:

  • VP 1
  • VP 2
  • VP 3
  • VP 4
  • VP 5

Vanity Press 1

Longevity: 6 years in business

Cost: Unlisted

Book 1

Genre: Children

Date Published: Sept. 2019

Reviews: Yes, 77

BSR: 294,337

Currently selling less than 1 book per day.

Book 2

Genre: Memoir

Date Published: June 2020

Reviews: Yes, 25

BSR: 3,043,073

Currently selling less than 1 book per day.

Book 3

Genre: Non-fiction

Date Published: Feb. 2023

Reviews: Yes, 3

BSR: 1,673,032

Currently selling less than 1 book per day.

VP 1 Observations

A+ Content: No A+ content on any of the 3 books evaluated.

Author Central: Yes, on only one of the three books evaluated. There was no Author Central set up on the other two.

VP 1's website is lackluster and not very informative. They have the basics in place and do display their authors on their site. Covers in general are professional, but nothing to write home about. Otherwise, there's not much going on.

Vanity Press 2

Longevity: 26 years

Cost: $$$$ to $$$$$

Book 1

Genre: The cover, description, and title were so incongruent and generic that I cannot tell the genre of the book. I think it's a utopian fiction of some sort.

Date Published: July 2018

Reviews: No

BSR: 4,440,769

Currently selling less than 1 book per day.

Book 2

Genre: Mystery

Date Published: July 2023

Reviews: No

BSR: No purchases

Currently selling 0 books.

Book 3

Genre: Self Help

Date Published: July 2023

Reviews: No

BSR: No purchases

Currently selling 0 books.

VP 2 Observations

A+ Content: No A+ content on any of the 3 books evaluated.

Author Central: No Author Central for any of the authors.

Oh no! The Covers are terrible! I can tell the categories for the first book haven't been updated for quite some time. One of the books I attempted to evaluate wasn't even on Amazon at all.

Normally, I wouldn't evaluate books published so recently, but the featured books on the website were few and far between. For the amount of money this vanity press charges, I saw nothing that justified 4 and 5 figure fees. I've seen first-time authors do better work than this press with TWENTY-SIX years in the business. I hope the lack of books in their catalog means folks are running far away from this one!

Vanity Press 3

Longevity: 8 years

Cost: $$$$ They had ONE package below $$$$ and it was just for eBook formatting and distribution. It was upper $$$.

Book 1

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Romance

Date Published: Oct. 2016

Reviews: Yes, 8,883

BSR: 10,650

Currently selling 15 book per day.

NOTE: While this book was listed on VP 3's website, they were not listed as the publisher.

Book 2

Genre: Young Adult Epic Fantasy

Date Published: Apr. 2018

Reviews: Yes, 3

BSR: 6,797,868

Currently selling less than 1 book per day.

Book 3

Genre: Biography

Date Published: Oct. 2015

Reviews: Yes, 60

BSR: 1,475,121

Currently selling less than 1 book per day.

VP 3 Observations

A+ Content: No A+ content on any of the 3 books evaluated.

Author Central: Yes, on two of the three books evaluated. There was no Author Central set up on the other one.

VP 3's website was difficult to navigate. It was hard to find the information wanted and there were no author books listed on their website. I was only able to find books they'd worked on via their testimonials and, as you can see, one of those wasn't even published by them. This vanity press did offer marketing services at a premium. Nothing under 5 grand. Surprisingly, they didn't offer the standard press release. They had some decent avenues, but everything was one-off and some of it was easily done free, like 3D covers and metadata optimization.

Vanity Press 4

Longevity: 11 years

Cost: $$$$ + portion of royalties

Book 1

Genre: Romance

Date Published: Aug. 2022

Reviews: No

BSR: No purchases

Currently selling 0 books per day.

Book 2

Genre: Children's

Date Published: July 2022

Reviews: 1

BSR: No purchases

Currently selling 0 books per day.

NOTE: Possibly a chapter book. No look inside, but appears to be 6x9.

Book 3

Genre: Fiction

Date Published: Sept. 2022

Reviews: No

BSR: 4,519,740

Currently selling 0 books per day.

VP 4 Observations

A+ Content: No A+ content on any of the 3 books evaluated.

Author Central: Yes, on only one of the three books evaluated. There was no Author Central set up on the other two.

VP 4's website didn't have much information about pricing for their services. I was limited by the 6 books pictured on the main page. Book 1 was published in August of 2022 and still no sales to speak of. Why? Because the description is bad they've priced the book at $8.99 for the eBook. Book 2 and 3 followed suit, only they were a dollar more. If you're going to charge top rates, your cover and description must be top-notch work. I don't see much hope for these authors and that just breaks my heart.

Vanity Press 5

Longevity: 8 years

Cost: $$$$ + portion of royalties

Book 1

Genre: Fiction

Date Published: July 2023

Reviews: No

BSR: No purchases

Currently selling 0 books per day.

Book 2

Genre: Self-Help

Date Published: July 2023

Reviews: No

BSR: No purchases

Currently selling 0 books per day.

Book 3

Genre: Historic Fiction

Date Published: July 2023

Reviews: No

BSR: No purchases

Currently selling 0 books per day.

VP 5 Observations

A+ Content: No A+ content on any of the 3 books evaluated.

Author Central: No Author Central.

Here we go again with the high prices for Kindle books with descriptions that look and sound like they written by Elmo. I think these vanity presses use the royalty amount as a selling point, and they charge a premium so their percentage doesn't look as bad. I also think they try to use pricing as a means of presenting a level playing field between indie authors and well-known authors. Newbie authors who don't know any better can get enchanted with numbers. It's not a good look!

Overall Thoughts

I feel like the least these vanity presses can do is offer authors a spot on their website, but some of them don't even do that. Mediocre covers are a mainstay. I didn't see even one cover as good as the worst one by OliviaProDesign.

A good number of them only list newer releases on their sites, so when you see a book with no reviews or BSR, I guess they can say it's because it's still new. They don't bother with great marketing tools like A+ Content and Amazon Author Central which would provided authors with some real value for the large amounts they are spending.

Overall, my thoughts are all negative. Most vanity presses are terrible and pretty much guarantee you'll never make any money from your book.

What Can You Do If You’ve Used a Vanity Press

If you are dissatisfied with your publishing experience, vanity presses will show little sympathy. You can be sure they have covered themselves from their end amply via the contract you signed.

The first line of defense is to read your contract thoroughly and find out your rights. Contracts have durations. If you've fulfilled the time commitment, you should be free to do as you please with your book. Also, most contracts only apply to the edition of the book that's been published which means you can publish a second edition on your own and have control over your work that way.

The edition previously published will most likely remain available. There's not much you can do about that, but you can outrank it in search.

You can also just ask your publisher to release you. They got your money, that should be enough.

If you give them enough time, they'll eventually phase out because of their crappy practices. Here are a couple examples:

I love it when the trash takes itself out.

Remember, you're not alone! Many authors have fallen in the vanity press trap. Check out SPwD community member, Bill Latoria's story.

Need Help Getting Out of the Clutches?

Reach out. I love nothing more than helping authors regain control of their hard work. Comment below or visit my contact page!

 

 

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