Stop: Vanity Publishing aka Subsidy Publishers

30 Jan


99% of All Manuscripts Will Be Accepted
Within half an hour I was asked today about two different “Self-Publishing” companies who had the authors’ manuscripts accepted. Both writers had tried to find a trade publisher and after receiving numerous rejections, they were glad to get an “offer” – as long as the authors are willing to pay totally inflated prices for printing, editing and cover art. It took me only one minute, using the word “complaint” along with the companies name to find long lists of complaints on author websites, blog posts and “Writer Beware” on Google.
Vanity publishers are often working under several names, change addresses and their websites. Some trade publishers, up to at least one of the “Big Five”, affiliated recently with subsidy publishers and also directs authors, who’s manuscript they had previously rejected, to these companies. The main goal of these vanity publishers is to have their printing company busy, so they are not really into executing the work of a traditional publisher. A background check reveals in almost all cases that they are either printers or affiliated with a printing company. Even one of the best Canadian book printing companies went into vanity publishing a year ago.

You often might have seen these small ads in literary magazines or on the internet: “If your book deserves publication, send your manuscript now to …”. And authors do not have to wait long for a response to their submission.  A real publisher doesn’t need to advertise!  They are overwhelmed with queries from authors.

Money Upfront
Authors are certainly surprised when they encounter a “publisher” who wants money up-front. It should be the other way around shouldn’t it? After the author, having signed a hefty check, eventually learns that paying for publication is no guarantee that a single copy of his book will appear in any book shop, not even the local ones.
Many vanity publishers will charge somewhere between $8,000 to $20,000 (or even more) to publish a book depending upon its length. Why would an author pay $20,000 when he or she can have the same book printed for $2,000?

Contract Full of (Empty) Promises
Nevertheless, the contract will be full of promises, it will state what exactly will be paid to the author for subsequent reprinting, subsidiary, for audio and e-books, mass-market paperback rights, for TV & Radio rights, merchandising and commercial rights and even film and foreign rights – to make the author believing that his “publisher” actively solicits his manuscript in Hollywood.

Free Copies
Vanity contracts include usually a certain amount of “free” copies for the author; sometimes even as much as 10 books and if he/ she require more, they have to be paid.  Which means, that the author is paying for them twice…  I also have never met an author who goes into the print shop to watch his or her books manufactured or to see them stored in the warehouse. In most cases, only a certain number of copies (I suspect not even this will happen) in an edition will actually be bound; the rest will remain in the warehouse as flat printed sheets until required, which is probably never.

Reviewers are Wary of Vanity Presses
Vanity / subsidy publishers are not concerned with editing, promotion, sales or distribution – unless the author pays additionally. For most vanity books, neither exists, and should review copies really being sent out: Reviewers are wary of vanity presses because they know that little attention is paid to the editing of the book. Unless the vanity house has a proven distribution and sales organization, authors will have to sell their printed book themselves and usually it will sell fewer than 200 copies.

As seen in a Vanity publisher contract:
“In the event of bankruptcy or liquidation of the publisher for any cause whatever, the author shall have the right to buy back the publications at fair market value to be determined by agreement or arbitration.” (That means, die author has to pay a second time for all his unsold books). “If the author does not purchase remaining copies of the book, the representative of the publisher shall have the right to sell same at the best obtainable price without payment of royalty to the author.”
Unbelievable! Unethical! Criminal!

Beware of These Signs:

  • Don’t trust flattering letters concerning your manuscript.
  • Be suspicious of vague promises of quality production. You will not get it in writing…
  • Be wary of promises to sell television and film rights, serial books and other money-making options.
  • Read, read and read once more the contract.
  • Don’t pay a dime, get a copy of the contract and show it to a lawyer that is specialized in contract / copyright law.
  • Watch out for contract clauses, that allow the publisher to renegotiate his initial pitch, and also where the “Publisher shall have the right to license the rights set forth”.

Bound to the Vanity Publisher for Life!
Beside their over-the-top printing prices, Vanity publishers might cheat you in a contract that expires only 50 years after your death and with worldwide rights, even universe rights – a contract that a friend of mine signed in Renfrew, Ontario, Canada (and paid dearly) stated:

“The author hereby grants the publisher, during the full term of copyright, the sole and exclusive right to manufacture, print, publish and sell and to otherwise use, as set out further in this agreement, including, but not limited to, acting as agent and/or exercising any or all subsidiary rights, throughout the universe the work.” And: “The copyright remains with the author, until fifty (50) years after the death of the author. All covenants and grants of the author shall bind the author’s successors or assigns.”

Vanity Publishers / Subsidy Publishers are not actively promoting books. Their business is not publishing, but printing and selling authors all kind of over-priced services. Despite so many warnings all over the Internet, there are still writers who fall into the trap of vanity / subsidy / self-publishing. And as soon as one vanity publisher stops his “business”, another fills the gap.

Please read also a comparison of Publishers – Vanity Publishers – and REAL Self-Publishing here:



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5 responses to “Stop: Vanity Publishing aka Subsidy Publishers

  1. M. Zane McClellan

    January 30, 2014 at 4:15 am

    Reblogged this on M.Zane McClellan and commented:
    Well worth a thorough read!

  2. Yvonne Hertzberger

    January 30, 2014 at 9:46 am

    It is crucial that new authors talk to MANY others about their experiences before paying money for publishing. 95% of these are scams and they know how to hook the naive..

  3. Andre Gensburger

    January 30, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Excellent article. There is a niche market, you did not mention, for people who need help. We do all the front work, after the author has rewritten, with no charge at all for the author. This includes professional editing, proofreading, cover design, printing and marketing. We only make any money when the book sells and we share the royalty, usually equally with the author. We have an exclusive term for a few years only but copyright remains with the author.

    It’s a tough business. We reject a lot, but also work with the authors we believe can improve their book. Even though we are only a year old we have four titles last year and another nine in production, so far, for this year. I hope that is because we strive to be clearly honest and very upfront in what we promise.

    I mention this to show that while vanity presses have soured everyone, not all small presses are alike. I think it is prudent for anyone considering signing up, anywhere, to check out the company, read the contract carefully and even have someone check it – you can use the AskLawyer service online for a small amount. There should be NO costs for the author. Period.

    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify this.

    A. Gensburger
    BYCT Publishing


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