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What is vanity publishing?

‘Vanity publishing’, ‘subsidy publishing’ and ‘vanity press’ are old-fashioned terms that refer to a certain type of publisher that invites authors to send in their manuscripts and then charges them a fee or co-payment to assess and/or publish their books.

The terms went out of fashion when vanity publishers began to gain a bad reputation for charging authors considerable fees and asking them to sign contracts that were not in the writers’ interests.

In some cases, aspiring authors spent tens of thousands of dollars on only a handful of copies of their book. In other cases, writers unknowingly gave away many of their rights, including the right to re-publish their book somewhere else. And because vanity presses published anyone who could pay for their services, regardless of quality, their publications haven’t always offered the same sort of recognition or prestige as traditional, commercial publishing houses.

Vanity publishers usually have little or no selection criteria. They tend to respond to submissions almost immediately, usually with a positive offer to publish your book. Be careful – this can be an early sign that they’re trying to sell you something.

Vanity presses tend to charge higher fees than similar self-publishing or printing services, and their contracts can be restrictive. Because they are paid a fee to produce your book and don’t make any more money if the book is successful, they don’t have a vested interest in marketing it on your behalf.

Today, you’re more likely to see this sort of agency market themselves as a ‘self-publishing agency’ or even just a ‘publisher’. Many of these are reputable and professional services that help writers self-publish their work for a fee. But we encourage you to be wary of any publisher that asks for a co-payment.

You should always seek legal advice before signing any publishing contract, but be particularly careful of any publisher who asks you to provide a co-payment.

Check out this great article on the rise of vanity presses on the ABC Radio National website.

For advice on your contract, visit the Australian Society of Authors or Alex Adsett Literary.

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