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What You Need to Know About Vanity Publishers – Part 1

For today’s writing Definition of the Week (as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page), we’re going to skim the surface of what a vanity publisher looks like… being careful not to get too close as we do. Not when we’re unprotected, anyway.

This is the dangerous side of the fascinating world of publishing possibilities. So we need to keep our guard up.

Cue the Jaws music. Because you’re swimming with some very large, very hungry and very capable predators if you opt to jump on in with vanity publishers.

The water here is most definitely not fine.

Vanity publishers, you see, are the internet results that pop up whenever you do a search for “publishing packages” or “get published” or even “publishing companies.” These guys are everywhere in the publishing world.

Absolutely everywhere.

That’s because there are plenty of authors-in-the-making out there stirring the water with their pen-pricked fingers. And vanity publishers really are like sharks… they can sense those drops of blood in the vast online ocean from miles away.

Am I freaking you out a little?

In that case, I’m not doing my job very well. I mean to freak you out a lot.

This species of publisher is extremely aggressive and will happily take off your arm or leg, particularly if you’re holding money in your hand or a wallet in your pocket.

They’re companies who publish your works because you pay them to. Unlike with self-publishing companies, such as Amazon’s CreateSpace, there are no free options with these guys. You have to pay to play.

And if they have their way – which, incidentally, they’re really good at getting through either sneak attacks or repeated rushes – you’re going to pay a lot.

Vanity publishers are not a cheap option. Their “most affordable” packages might run at $400, giving you an ISBN number and perhaps 10 “complimentary” printed copies. That’s it.

Their more “worthwhile” options can cost $10,000. Easy.

Why am I using so many tacky quotation marks in this blog post? It’s to emphasize the extreme skepticism I have for dealing with these “professionals.”

Take one such establishment, which we’ll call Fred Publishers so as to avoid getting sued. Its cheapest publishing package costs $900 and includes:

  • Digital formatting (i.e., an e-book – which I could format for you in a few hours tops for an estimated cost of $50.)

  • Paperback publishing (which just means Fred’ll have it formatted and available for further purchase)

  • Cover/interior customization (possibly worthwhile; probably not)

  • Up to 25 image insertions (like e-book formatting, this is fairly easy to do)

  • An electronic proof (once your book is formatted, this costs Fred nothing to offer)

  • Interior revisions – one block of 50 (honestly, I have no idea what this means)

  • Fred Publishers bookstore availability (that simply means he’ll list it… among thousands of other copies… online)

  • Online distribution through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other book retailers (your ebook will be listed… among millions of other copies. Good luck finding it!)

  • ISBN assignment (which you can get for free through Amazon’s CreateSpace)

  • 3 “complimentary” copies of your very own book (Whoopie! More than likely, that’ll cost Fred less than $20, including shipping.)

  • Amazon Look Inside (the ability to read a chapter before buying it)

  • Google Preview (I’m assuming the same)

  • Barnes & Noble Read Instantly (I’m assuming even more of the same)

  • Social Media Set-Up Guide (no idea what this means, and it’s probably Google-able information regardless)

  • A book listing on a single issue of some publication I’ve never heard of (again, no doubt among thousands of other listings)

Meanwhile, its most expensive listed package goes for $13,000.


When you can do it for free.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to pass on that supposedly generous offer.

I can’t say I’d rather swim with actual sharks. Those critters creep me out.

But vanity publishers are about as close to land sharks as you’re going to get in your authorial pursuits, so I strongly advise that you observe them from a distance or behind a giant pane of glass.

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