Vanity presses and subsidised publishing

Today, the Tortoise Soup blog is looking at the world of the Vanity Press and assessing the pros and cons of using a vanity publisher to get your book into print.


As my last blog made clear, it can be very difficult to find an established publisher who is willing to take a risk on a new or unknown author. Getting rejection letters and emails by the score can soon become depressingly familiar and you may feel like filing your book away forever and putting it down to experience. Don’t give in! There are two paths still open to you: vanity publishing and self publishing. These are two very different options, I will examine self publishing in more detail in my next blog.

Vanity publishing has a bad name: who wants to be thought of as ‘vain’? It conjures up images of a desperate writer paying large sums of money to print books that nobody will ever read. For this reason many of the vanity press companies now refer to themselves as ‘subsidy publishers’. Do not be fooled by this semantic trickery: they are one and the same thing.

The golden rule is that the publisher should pay the writer, not the other way around. If a publisher asks you to pay them in advance then the alarm bells should be ringing. The sums of money that they ask for are substantial and in reality there is little or no hope of recouping the initial outlay.

So how do these companies work? They will ask for a large sum of money in return for publishing the book. A typical ploy is to pretend that they are simply ‘sharing’ the publishing costs but this is simply not true: as I will show in my next blog the costs of publishing a book are far, far cheaper than these vanity presses ask for as a so called ‘subsidy’. Once this money has been received they will print the book and send a small number of copies to the author, typically the book will also then be available for purchase from online retailers such as Amazon. They will often offer ‘marketing’ services and arrange book signings, but all of these extras have to be paid for through the nose.

I contacted one of these vanity presses whilst researching this blog, and asked how they could help me with ‘Tortoise Soup’. They asked for £5000 up front, for which they would print 1000 copies of my book at an extortionate price of £10 each. In the unlikely event of each copy selling at this price I would still have been at a financial loss, and that is before taking any of their ‘marketing’ packages that they were so keen to push. Needless to say, I politely but firmly declined their offer.

How do you know if a publisher is actually a ‘vanity press’? They often do all that they can to seem respectable but remember that you should never have to pay any money to a genuine publisher. The website ‘Absolute Write’ lists many vanity presses and so this is always a fabulous website to consult if you are unsure about a potential publisher.

Do vanity presses have their place? I have spoken to several authors who have used vanity presses, and read some of their books, and in truth some of them were happy with the service that they received. If money is not an issue and you are desperate to see your work in print then by all means consider this option but do be aware that the publisher’s business plan revolves around getting money out of you the author rather than selling books. The sad thing is that many of the books taken up by vanity and subsidised presses are of a high quality and could thrive if they had a different publisher.

My advice would be to avoid the vanity presses and look at self publishing or ‘indy publishing’. This involves a lot more work on your part, but you have more control, the costs are much lower and the rewards potentially higher. I will begin to look at self publishing in my next article. I will also be bringing you some very exciting news about my children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’.

Please comment below and let me know of your experiences with, or views on, vanity presses. Remember my mantra: keep writing and never give in!