Guest Blogger – Melissa Bowersock on Vanity Publishing

Vanity Publishing

For those who don’t know, vanity publishing is the catch-all term used to describe the pay-to-publish industry.

In traditional publishing, a publisher reads an author’s book, likes it and if they think it will sell, then offers the author an advance on expected sales. They then publish and market the book. Over the last decade or so, advances have gotten smaller and smaller (unless you’re Stephen King or J. K. Rowling), but the fact remains that with traditional publishing, an author never pays up front for this service. Obviously, the publisher does not do that work for free; with their cut of royalties, they hope to meet the cost of the process and then, with luck, make some profit. You can tell by this arrangement that selling the book is in their (and the author’s) best interests.

Not so vanity publishing. With this sort of arrangement, the author pays the publisher up front for all the costs associated with publishing. This can run from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Some of these processes are bare-bones: taking the book and formatting it, slapping a cookie-cutter cover on it and loading it onto Amazon. Other agreements can include all sorts of “expert” services that the novice writer might feel compelled to spring for: editing, custom cover design, extra promotional or marketing packages. Too often these extras are more a reflection of the newbie author’s lack of confidence than of the state of the book, and they can run into many more hundreds or thousands of dollars.

But the kicker with vanity publishing is not even that it can cost so much; it’s that once the author pays up front, the publisher has absolutely no incentive to sell the book whatsoever.



Why should they? They’ve gotten their money. Oh, sure, their contract will have a royalty clause in it and they will definitely get their share of any books sold, but guess what? The book’s sales will likely be very low. The promotional and marketing plans may start and end with an online store on the company’s website, but who shops on Books-R-Us? Or they may spam the hell out of their Twitter followers and the author’s friends if the company has been glib enough to wheedle a list of friends from the writer. But taking the pains to promote a book to possible readers of that same genre? Not gonna happen.

But if vanity publishing is the same as pay-to-publish, we have to recognize one twist to this. PublishAmerica. This company proudly says it doesn’t want your money—and it doesn’t. Yet. They will take a book and publish it for no upfront cost whatsoever (unless you want to spring for some of their “expert” services). The kicker here is two-fold. They price the book three times higher than it should be, and they market almost exclusively to … the author. Yes, you read that right. Beyond their online store and an Amazon presence, their marketing plan is very simple: offer the author a “discount” on their own books (now only twice as much as they should be), and offer it repeatedly and often. Any author who signs with them can plan on getting bi-weekly and tri-weekly e-mails touting these “sales” because who will pay $24.95 for a 200-page book?

not going to happen

So, what’s an author to do?

There are three ways you can go.

  • Traditional publishing. This means researching publishers for a good fit and sending off query letters or getting an agent who will do that for you. This includes both big publishing houses and small presses.
  • Vanity publishing. This means paying, often through the nose, for an uninspired version of your dream only to have it disrespected because of the publisher’s reputation.
  • Self-publish. This means doing all the work yourself (or hiring it out), but creating the exact book that you imagine. You can do this for as little as about $10 if you’re savvy on the computer.

Whichever way you go, do your homework. Research. Check the online forums on LinkedIn and Goodreads. Mine the nuggets of information in the archives of IndiesUnlimited. Check Predators and Editors. There are a zillion options out there, some very good but some very bad. Arm yourself with as much information as you can and find the best fit for you and your book.

After all, it’s your dream. Don’t waste it on scammers.

hifive selfie

Melissa Bowersock

Author of Queen’s Gold


13 thoughts on “Guest Blogger – Melissa Bowersock on Vanity Publishing

  1. Bravo! I was silly enough to go with Publish America (first novel) because my brother recommended them. I have 18 month before the rights are mine again. I’ll live that long just to spite them.

    • Mari, just FYI, you don’t have to wait that long if you don’t want to. I sent e-mails to PA telling them I was buying NO more books from them and I was sure no one else would, either, since the price was so high, and they might as well give me my rights back. After some stalling, they finally offered me a buy-out for $100 “administrative fee.” I still had a couple years to go on my contract, so for me it was worth it to buy out. But I completely understand living long enough to spite them, too!

      • They offered it to me for $99.00. I refuse to pay those bandits one dime. I do need to go have my will redone so that my children can inherit the rights. That’s a just in case scenario. I’m going for the live long enough.

  2. Thanks so much! Believe me, many of us have fallen for PublishAmerica and other scams, but that’s how we learn. If I can help just one writer avoid the pitfalls, I’m happy. Thanks, Lucy, for having me on your wonderful blog again. Always a pleasure.

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