The Publishers that Prey – A word of caution about vanity presses

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by Parker J. Cole

Earlier this month, I received a call from a vanity press.  I’m not sure how they got my name, but I figure they’re another arm of Westbow Press which I published my first book under. At that time, I spent about three thousand dollars on them listing my book on different websites 

Nothing else. I KNOW what they told me but looking back, I SAW what they actually did. 

The vanity press stated the same spiel I’ve heard before, but I wanted to at least see if they were going to say something different that I didn’t know. 

From my experience, vanity presses PREY on authors; but, they prey on a CERTAIN type of author. 

Talking with other authors who have been preyed upon by vanity presses, the type of authors they reach out to have some of the following criteria: 

  1. An author with one book out there for at least a year. This is significant because they can tell what your experienceisbased off your backlist. One book only usually means a new author. 
  2. The book doesn’t have that many reviews. The vanity press that called me confused my name with someoneelse,but I was able to use the mix-up to see the author they went after and saw a pattern. 
  3. They know every author wants to talk about their book. They are willing to sit there and listen to you tell them about your novel. So,while you’re waxing on greatly about your sci-fi novel or that you’ve written the greatest love story of all time, they’re learning your behavior. This happened to me before withWestbow. I was on the phone with the woman for an hour, but she got my money. 
  4. They lure you with fine-sounding phrases, “You were recommended by X.” “You were discovered…” This makes it seem as if there are people out there looking for your work, talking about you. Of course, that would make you feel good. Especially when you just have that ONE book out there. If you’re like me when it happened, and you heard those words, it eased that little nugget in your gut that was saying, “No one’s reading your book. No one gives two pins about your book.” I know when I heard those words, I felt like, “Okay, people are looking for me!”
  5. They are personable people. These people at vanity presses are skilled, and soundgenuinely nice. The lady on the phone with me had a slight accent but she was nice. Mind you, I am not criticizing individuals, just the institutions.
  6. When she saw mybacklist andlistened to a couple of things I had to say, she jumped on my slipped tongue and I was like, dang! Listening is an underrated skill.  
  7. I know they’re just doing their jobs. Theygottaeat and pay bills just like the rest of us. However, they do use skill to prey on authors and their dreams.  

A real-life example of a vanity press that preyed upon authors is Tate Publishing. In the link here, you can see how the two principals of the company stole money from authors who only wanted to see their dreams come to life. In discussing this with other authors, two of them and others were ‘published’ by this company. 

Admittedly, not every vanity press out there is one of disreputable disposition. Although, I remain skeptical, there are those out there that seem to want to ‘help’ authors.  

I’ve yet to come across them, but I suppose they are out there. 

In writing this post, I was reminded of a different kind of publisher that does a lot of what vanity presses do but with out the predatory attitude.  

There are hybrid publishing houses that will work with authors on a consulting basis. They offer some of the same services that a vanity press does. The difference is that they have skin in the game. Many of them are authors or author service providers who have been in the industry for some time. Their focus is on you as the author and they will tailor their services to what you need not what they want to sell 

I find these companies especially helpful for new authors. Whereas a vanity press works on selling packages, these companies work on crafting and customizing a set of services for you. They often walk you through the process and don’t leave you hanging.  

Vanity presses are essential cold call centers. They’re salespeople.  

Like with most things in life, you must use discernment and prayer to ensure it’s the best option for you.  

If you receive a call from a vanity press, but they introduce themselves as a publisher, here are something they are going to tell you. 

  1. They have packages. I’ve seen packages ranging from $500 to $5000 and more 
  1. They talk a big game about royalties but often skew the examples. “If you publish with us, you’ll keep all your royalties.” Well yeah, you will. If they get you to buy the package, why do they care how much money you receive from the sales? You just coughed up $500, $1200, $2000. What do they care? 
  1. Scrutinize what they offer. Many of the things they do you can do yourself or get one of those publishing consultants I spoke about to help you 
  1. Nothing is free. One author mentioned there was a typo on her copy and the vanity press said to change it would cost $300. There are always other fees they do not mention in their packages. I heard of authors paying thousands of dollars for nothing. 
  1. They are going to make you feel like a star. They are going to cater to your ego. The longer you talk to them, the more information they’ll receive from you. Their whole goal is to get you to buy the package.  

In closing, Author BEWARE of vanity presses. If you get a random call with any of these things I’ve mention, please don’t just take the offer. Ask questions of authors who have been in the industry for a time. See what they say. You can contact me and I’ll be glad to assist if I can. 

If it is your dream to write, don’t let a predatory entity like a vanity press prey on your dream.

About the Author:

Parker J ColeParker J. Cole is a writer and radio show host who spends most of her time reading, knitting, writing, cooking, and concocting new ideas for stories. Her first novel, Dark Cherub, won Best of Spring Reading 2013 from eMediaCampaigns. She lives in Michigan with her husband and beloved dog Sarah.

Visit her site at

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