Chris A. Baird | April 12, 2023
Vanity Press: What it Is & How To Avoid Publishing Scams

You might have heard about vanity press but are not quite sure if it is the best route to go. Here’s what you need to know about vanity press and how to avoid publishing scams.

Have you considered going with a vanity publisher? Well, you're going to want to stick around because I'm going to tell you what the red flags are and the things you need to look out for if you've decided you want to go in this direction.

So, today, we're going to be looking closely at Vanishing Vanity Press, what it is, and how to avoid publishing scams. Let's get straight into it: what is Vanity Publishing? Vanity publishing is a self-publishing model where the author pays for a publishing company to produce almost every aspect of the book. 

You come with the book, and they come with several services like editing, covers, the book blurb, and reading the book through all of the different aspects of self-publishing, but they take all of those things on themselves. You still have control over the content of the book, the design, and some of the marketing as well.

You're going to have a decent amount of control over some of those aspects of it. One of the challenges, though, of course, is that it can be so costly. It can be very expensive to go this particular route.

But then again, they are taking a lot of the burden, and this is a great way to substitute for the author substitute the time and energy it would take maybe to learn some of the self-publishing skills that I teach, and instead, you replace that with someone who can just do it all for you, sort of a one and done.

But there are a couple of things we're going to want to look at because, in reality, there are three different models that are at play, a key role in all of this. 

Hybrid Publishing vs Vanity Publishing Vs Self Publishing

That's one of the things we're going to be looking at, which is hybrid publishing vs vanity publishing vs self-publishing. Now, I know it can get very confusing with a lot of the different models that are out there on the market, and that's why we want to just break it down. So, hybrid publishing, hybrid-published publishing, is sort of a combination of the two other types of publishing. 

Hybrid publishing has some of the aspects that we do find within vanity publishing, where you're going to have a lot of the services that are provided. They're going to have editing and these sorts of things that are already there, so you aren't going to have to find your editor and your cover designer. 

Some of these things will be there. But you're going to have more flexibility upon which one you choose and how it's going to exactly play out, and you're going to be able to take some of the jobs and the portions of that yourself and do some of the work yourself.

So, it's not just handing it over to somebody, it's completely done. In addition, this is kind of an interesting model because sometimes you can do a split in terms of the royalties so that you'll get a portion and they will also get a portion. They would generally only do this if they knew your book was going to sell.

But that also is a possibility there, and you're going to want to choose this model if you do wish to give some input. You want to have a little greater control. But at the same time, there are still so many of these tasks you don't want to do yourself, including finding freelancers to do the editing and all of the other aspects of the process.

And so, if you don't want to have to do too much of that sort of work of finding that, well, this is perhaps a perfect option for you. But you want to make sure that it's a reputable hybrid publisher.

The next one is Vanity Publishing as we were already discussing. In this particular model, there are several things you're going to want to keep an eye out for. That would be some of the issues that can show up, including quality problems.

That can be there on the final copy, depending upon who you choose to do this exact model. And a couple of things I wanted to say when it comes to vanity publishing: it's that when you're putting your book out there for this, is that there's an awful lot of upsells that are usually done.

So that's the first thing you're going to notice: initially, it sounds almost like an actual publisher publishing house because they'll say, 'We'll see your book and then we'll let you know if you've been selected.' The problem is that everybody gets selected, they may even reject and say you need to change a few things.

And after you've done that work, then you'll come back and they'll say, 'Oh wow, your book has been selected,' so you have that feeling and sensation of an actual traditional publishing deal.

So, it has that from the start, but that then takes a quick turn when we get to the point where they say, 'And we want money to do this' as opposed to paying you money to write your book. They want the money to do all of that, but they tell you that you're going to make your money back and all of this sort of stuff.

And we're going to get that in a little bit, but this price that's associated with it can be a serious challenge when you're coming down the vanity publishing route. Finally comes my favorite, which I like to do: very easy, it is self-publishing.

And with self-publishing, you have complete control over every single aspect of your book, which of course is also the downside. If your book looks terrible, it's because you've chosen things that would cause it to look terrible.

But if you wanted to look better, you can just fix them. You don't have to get anybody's permission for anything that you're doing. This is a low-cost option on the one side, but then again, it's going to take a lot of hours. It's going to take hours, and you're going to be spending time and getting better with this now.

I have some clients who have sometimes asked me, 'So I got my first book, now when am I going to start making thousands of dollars a month?' The answer is, well, you're going to need to put more than one book out. And then you're going to build an audience, and we're going to do all the marketing and stuff.

We're going to show you exactly how, like I do in my 1-On-1 programs as well as my group coaching program, where we're going to break down these steps and keep it simple so that you can go through it at your own pace. One of the things I recently heard, also on the self-publishing side, is that it can be frustrating because of the technology involved.

That's one of the reasons why, with my clients, I make it very clear that even if you don't know how to use anything with computers, I'm going to be able to show you step-by-step how to do it. Click-by-click, we're going to get through the process when it comes to self-publishing.

And that's one of the reasons why I recommend self-publishing. Because it's not necessarily the easiest route, it is the cheapest route. But in the long run, you're going to keep coming back to your books over and over again, so you want to make sure that you're getting them published correctly.

And then you can go back and optimize the books, as opposed to having to pay some hybrid or vanity publisher every time you want to make a change. You can make the changes yourself, which is fantastic. 

Why Do People Fall for Vanity Publishing Scams?

But why do people fall for vanity publishing scams? Now, there are several reasons. The first one is a lack of knowledge. Many aspiring authors get involved in going down the rabbit hole here, and as they're doing it on the vanity publishing side, they just see the glittering and all of the positive reviews on the page.

And they just don't know to understand that they are not necessarily, by the way, getting scammed. Sometimes I've talked with people, and they said, This vanity publisher scammed me.' And I'd say, 'Oh, what law did they break?

And they'd say, Well, they told me this would be easier, they told me I could get my book out, and I said, Well, is there any law that they broke?' They're like, 'No, but they sort of misled me and they pressured me.' And the reality is that is one of the common things.

But if you know, you're going to be able to avoid a lot of the pressure that they're trying to apply to you to get you to buy their services, their overpriced services, for them, for many of them. The second aspect of this is the desire for validation. So many authors just want somebody to tell them, 'Your book is great.

It's amazing, you're a real author!" as a result, they fall for these scams where they come in and tell you, "Look, you're going to be a real author if you come with us," as opposed to, of course, if you do it with self-publishing, you're still a real author. You don't need somebody else to tell you if you're making sales on your book.

In my opinion, you're a real author. One of my family members said, "I needed to sell a thousand books before you're a real author." Now, that's not a true statement, but when I hit a thousand, I didn't feel like a true author.

It's hard to say, you know, but once you hit like 40,000, 45,000, or hit 50,000 sales, then you're just like, "Am I a true author now?" It's kind of an interesting question, but it's not a good question we should be asking. We're an author the second we're published authors, the second that our books are published on the market.

Check out this related article: The Best Self-Publishing Platform For Authors

So, we don't necessarily need this service to do it, but it could theoretically motivate us, and that's an aspect of vanity publishing that sometimes is underplayed. Fear of rejection - some authors don't want to approach the traditional publishing houses because they're so scared of giving their baby, their manuscript, to these houses where they may not even read your book and just reject it.

They don't even know which books are going to succeed or which are going to fail - Random House, right? The random side of Random House exactly gets into this particular point - the idea that seems a little bit random of sometimes which books are winners and losers.

Now, I have a whole series of secrets that I show my clients, of course, on how to figure out the power ratio when it comes to your books and figuring out what exactly that book should look and feel like. How do you know which books are your competition to help you figure out what exactly your ideal readers are buying, or are there even readers? These are the sorts of things I like to look through with my clients.

Sometimes, one of the problems is that people can decide to go with a vanity publisher, expecting that they're going to be selling a million books. However, when the book hits the market, it doesn't sell that well. The final problem and this is the one I don't like on this front, is emotional manipulation.

If somebody wants to go ahead, for example, I offer services, but I don't pressure people. I offer my services when they're ready, in other words. If you're at a certain point and you're getting stuck, when you're ready, here are the services I offer, maybe they'll be useful. If you resonate with me, that's great.

However, if you do not resonate and you're listening to my podcast, watching my videos, or reading my blogs, and you're finding you don't resonate, then I would not suggest you buy anything from me because you're not going to like any of my courses, coaching, and other services that I offer.

However, if you do resonate, find, or at least find somebody who you do resonate with. Somebody who, when you listen to them, just makes a lot of sense, as opposed to emotional manipulation, where people are just pushing you, asking you to buy now, telling you that you should do it. This sort of thing, as opposed to giving a lot of value.

That's one of the reasons why I give a huge amount of value, and I also ask people to buy. I do call to action, and that's something that some people are annoyed by. They're like, 'How dare somebody ask me to buy something?' and I'm like, 'Look, all the commercials you watch every single day are doing that, and in reality, at the end of the day, it's a business. Everybody's in a business.'

I just don't think it's a good idea to use emotional manipulation to get somebody to buy. When somebody's ready to buy and they connect with you and they feel that you get value, at that point, you're ready to buy. There's no need for emotional manipulation.

Because usually, the way you know you've been manipulated is that after you've purchased and gone through the process, you feel dirty. You feel like, 'Well, this wasn't what I was expecting. This is not at all like what I was hoping for.' That dirty feeling you have means that somebody just manipulated you, and that is a bit of a problem.

I know exactly how that feels, but I can say, at the same time, sometimes you buy something, and it does deliver the value that you were thinking it was going to. It just didn't work for you. And sometimes I do have clients like that too, you know, where they'll go through the program and they'll think, 'Well, maybe I was expecting to get infinite sales, or I was thinking it would be even easier.'

I always say right from the start that nobody can guarantee that you'll put your first book out, even if it's in a good market, that you're going to be getting massive sales. But there's no need to emotionally manipulate people to get them to purchase your particular thing. Over time, we're going to start to see ourselves building an audience and getting those sales in.

Publishing Company Red Flags to Avoid

Publishing Company Red Flags to Avoid is a really important list that I'm going to cover now. 

They Want Money AND Royalties

One of them is when they want money and royalties. What exactly do we mean by that? Well, we mean that this publishing company is a little bit greedy. They're a vanity publishing company that not only wants the money in advance but also wants to get the royalties too.

Even worse, if it's all under their profile, you're dependent upon them to tell you what the royalties are, so they can decide what amount of the royalties are costs on their end where they don't want to deliver those over to you. That can be incredibly frustrating for so many authors.

Their Book Examples Are Limited

 The second one is that their book examples are limited. They don't have a lot of examples of what their books look like because in reality, they may not have done that many or they may not look very good. So that causes us to think, "Well, maybe this isn't a good match for me."

Reading Fees

The third one is reading fees where they're going to charge you just to read your book. I mean, even the major traditional publishers will read through your book and then decide and evaluate whether or not they're going to be willing to publish it.

But the idea of having to charge you for each time they're going to read through it is ridiculous. Now, editing of course makes sense, but just charging for reading? What is that even supposed to mean?

Big Promises

The next one is big promises. This one's a huge red flag. I can tell you that for my services, I do not promise you that you're going to make a million sales. Even though I know some of you, who you are, think that your very first book out there, since the book's quality is so good, clearly it's going to be a New York Times bestseller.

I can tell you I've never seen that happen, not a single time. I can say that my most successful book was making a thousand dollars a month after immediate release. And I think even in the last week, I had, let's see, what was a book that hit the market in a single day was pulling in, what was it pulling in? It was pulling in fifty dollars a day.

Check out this related article: Can You Make Money Self-Publishing

This was a new book, so that was the kind of impression I was playing with Ingramspark. And that's one of the reasons why I have a whole pile of secrets and the main strategies that I do with my clients regularly, where we go through these sorts of things.

But you know what it takes to get a book out that's going to do that? Well, I'm going to tell you one thing, you need to make sure it's in a profitable niche, that you're targeting the right keywords, and you've got the right cover on that book. If you're going to simply lose every time.

The next one is big promises. If they're making big promises, we're going to ignore that. This is not a company we want to go with because how would they know how your book is going to do? Even major traditional publishing houses have no idea how the books are going to do.

They're just making a guess, and for me, I think we should optimize the book. We see how it does, we learn from it, and when we put out another book. And if you're thinking, "I only want to put out one book, and then I want to live off that one book for the rest of my life," then I would tell you that you're playing the wrong game.

But then again, there is no game. You can't just jump to cryptocurrency or drop shipping or something else. No, all of these things have huge risks, and if you ask any of them, do they have big promises where they can tell you, "In only two months, you'll be making six figures a month," or something like that?

It's craziness, it's complete nonsense. So, you need to stay away from companies that are promising you how many sales you're going to be making, right?

You'll Make Your Money on Book Sales

The next one is, they say you'll make your money back on book sales, right? So the idea, and that's kind of coming back to the promises once again, is the idea that looks, we may seem expensive because we're charging you one, two, five, ten thousand dollars for this process. But don't worry, you're going to make the money back in book sales.

I can tell you, I've never had a client who ever had that work within a vanity publishing house or a publishing house for them. Well, the publishing house didn't have to pay anything, but vanity publishing, I've never seen them make the money back.

And one of the ways you would know this is if you're in contact with other people who've gone with the same vanity publisher. Now, how do you, there's a key question you'd ask them, have they published more than one book? In self-publishing and publishing in general, it is impossible to win this game with a single book.

Now, there are some examples where somebody published one book. I think To Kill a Mockingbird was one of them, right? Published a single book, and then that single book went on to be a bestseller by itself without having to put multiple books on the market.

Alright, however, multiple books are, in fact, the way that you're going to make your money in the long run. So if they tell you you're going to put the single book out and you're going to make a lot of money off of it, that's a complete lie. For the most part, you're not going to get your money back on your very first book, especially not if you've spent thousands of dollars.

That's the reason why I like self-publishing. We keep the cost low, we do it ourselves, we can control the quality of that book exactly, and then when we put it on the market, we put it out at such a low rate that we don't sell that many copies to get our money back. And that is such a really powerful thing when it comes to getting your books sold.

The Ownership Is Unclear

So, the next item we're going to look at is the ownership is unclear, and that's another one of those red flags we're going to keep an eye on. Who owns the book? I can tell you, I've had a couple of clients where somebody else published the book, and they did it under their own Kate Kendall direct publishing, their own KDP account on Amazon.

Check out this related article: Optimize Your Amazon Book Page

They couldn't be able to see how many sales they were getting. And once they've already got their money out of you, the only time they want to hear from you is when you're complaining about the number of sales. So they can sell you their marketing and social media marketing packages, which often tend to be huge scams.

Pros of Vanity Publishing

So what are the pros then of vanity publishing? There are a couple of things. You have creative control; you're still able to control the content of the book when you're dealing with the creative side of things.

So whether it's the cover or some of these things, they're not just telling you it has to be this, like traditional publishing can often do, unless you're a big-time author. They decide all of the decisions. The other thing is faster publication. 

Maybe you don't have too much time or too much motivation, you just want to get this project done as fast as humanly possible, and that can be a definite way to do it. The next one is greater profits. Now, I don't personally fully agree with this particular concept of greater profits.

But I do if you're not doing the research and understanding the power ratio and your covers are off, well then yes, I think they're going to be a lot better at these vanity publishing houses. To get your book optimized to sell then if you try to do it yourself. 

And the final thing is more access some of them have a really good network, so they're able to get your book on expanded distribution. Then again, you could just do it yourself, but of course, there's a learning curve on all of this. If you aren't technically minded and you have the cash, then vanity publishing may be right for you. 

Cons of Vanity Publishing

But what about the cons of vanity publishing? Because there are some cons that we want to take note of here. The first thing is the high cost - they're going to charge you a fee of thousands of dollars to get started with them.

Then they're going to continue to try to upsell you on better premium services across the board. And when you get to the end, there's no end to the number of charges that you will face. When it comes to your ads and things like that, the cost can be exorbitantly high.

The next con is limited distribution marketing; some vanity publishers are better than others. That's why you should do your homework, and I tell you, do not go with a vanity publisher unless you've personally spoken with one of their clients who has done more than one book with them.

If they've done two books, that is enough information to know that this vanity publisher is probably okay. But if they're in the middle of it, and I can tell you, I've met many prospects and clients who are in the middle with us with one of the vanity publishers, and they were still very happy with the process.

Because that's the whole point of these companies, to keep you happy until the book hits the market. At that point, if it doesn't sell, they sell you on marketing as opposed to saying, "Look, you need to write more books and learn this process as you go. But the cost can be high.

The next one is limited distribution. Alright, hit limited distribution. The next one is poor quality. Believe it or not, even though they charge so much, some of them are just outsourcing everything, so the quality levels can be suboptimal. So, I would not recommend it.

That's another reason why you want to check with people who've already been through there at least twice. And you're going to find it incredibly difficult to find these people. You would think there would be a Facebook forum or someplace that these authors could go because they're all so excited about going with the same vanity publisher. But for some reason, these groups don't seem to exist from anything I've seen.

And the final one there on the cons is their reputation risk. Some of these companies are right out doing illegal practices. And you're getting your book connected with the practices that they're doing when they're marketing your book, and that will also reflect poorly on you when somebody goes in and opens up that copyright page and sees kind of the name of the publishing house.


So in conclusion, you can see that there are a lot of things to keep in mind when it comes to vanity publishing. It's not necessarily all that bad. I think it's better to go with one of them if it means getting your book on the market.

If you feel you don't have what it takes, I can tell you I've worked with people in their 90s and their 80s going through step by step, click by click, the process of self-publishing, and they never looked back and thought, 'Well, that was a bad idea.' 100% of them were very happy with the results that they got out of it. 

But if you don't feel the energy is there to do that, then I would highly recommend going with a vanity publishing house. Find one where you have multiple people who can vouch for them and then place your order with them and let me know exactly how it went.

But my question for you today is, which vanity publisher have you considered going with? Have you considered one of the big ones? If you have, let me know with a "yes" below in the comments. And if you've not, write "no" below in the comments because I need to know exactly where you're coming from. Check out my other blogs and videos for more answers to your self-publishing questions.

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