Thursday, 2 October 2014

Don't Get Caught in The Vanity Trap - Lynne Garner

A few months ago an ex-student contacted me to say she'd been offered a contract for the picture book she'd written. Needless to say I was pleased for her. However later that day this little voice started to tell me I should check into the publisher she'd mentioned. I did and was glad I took the five minutes to check. The publisher was a vanity publisher. If you've not heard the term before then:     
"Vanity publisher is a term, nearly always derogatory, describing a publishing house that publishes books at the author's expense.....Because vanity presses are not selective, publication by a vanity press is typically not seen as conferring the same recognition or prestige as commercial publication…………While a commercial publisher's intended market is the general public, a vanity publisher's intended market is the author.”

Vanity publishers have become very clever in the way they work and twice I've unknowingly submitted to one. However from the first reply I started to hear that little voice because their letter just didn't feel right: 

“Thank you for sending to us samples of the work you have written. This is currently now being scrutinized by more than one member of the editorial section and a subsequent joint evaluation carried out. We may then ask you to submit the full collection to us.”

But it does sound exciting, doesn't it? So I submitted my story. Just over a month later I received a second letter:

“I am pleased to inform you that after careful consideration our editorial section would now like to view the full manuscript of your work.”

Now they really have me excited. So off goes the manuscript and six weeks later:

“... I am pleased to say that I find your work to have considerable merit and would appeal to the reading public…”

Oh I have a deal…but…

“I have commended your work to the Publishing Board who are reluctant to take on the whole costs… and invite you to make a contribution toward the initial production costs. Please consider this offer carefully… the contribution, which would be a finite figure…”

Alarm bells are ringing, However out of interest I contact them and ask how much. Their reply £3,000! As you may have guessed I didn't bother taking them up on their kind offer.   

Just a month or so later I contacted another publisher who a few letters into our correspondence asked for a small amount towards costs. I knew they were a vanity publisher by this time but I wanted to take it a little further, so I asked what costs my money would help cover and requested to see a detailed marketing plan. Their response:

“I note that you would like some further information regarding your proposed book publication. You did not however, ask us any specific questions concerning ‘detailed financials related to proposed title.’ I have assumed, therefore, that you wish to know how much the contribution towards production costs for your book would be. This information is contained within the enclosed contract… A detailed marketing plan will be sent to you as soon as the contract is in place.”

So basically they wanted me to sign on the dotted line before knowing what I was getting for my money. Out of interest I read the contract. It contained all the bits on copyright, promotion, royalties etc. I then read the clause on advances. Now remember publishers pay an advance to an author, not the other way around.  

“It is agreed the author shall, in consideration of the undertakings, services and expenditures made on the part of the publisher, in accordance with the terms of this agreement contained herein, pay the publisher… The sum of £2,900…”

Again you'll not be surprised I didn't sign the contract. 

So my advice is if a publisher asks you for money know they aim to make money out of you and not the sale of your books. If you're ever in any doubt then visit the website predators and editors or if you'd like to discover more about vanity publishing and look at a list of known offenders click here



P.S. I have three courses starting this coming Saturday (4th November 2014):


  1. Not heard of this before but can see how easy it must be for people to fall for it and probably pay the money too... Thanks for this information!

  2. Gosh, that's scary, Lynne, thanks for the heads up.

  3. Radio 4's consumer programme, You and Yours did a feature on one such "publisher" just this week, with a few authors who felt that they'd been ripped off. It was an American company in this case, which made it harder to chase up contract inconsistencies as ruled by a British court.

  4. Well done for blogging about this, Lynne. These 'publishers' constantly send out enticing emails, and many unwary people must fall for them.

  5. I've known a top lady lawyer, who you'd think would be sharp in spotting this sort of thing, falling prey to one of these companies. They had great interest from a film company, apparently, and so she is paying for somebody to fly from the US to talk to her about it. Really?

  6. Pippa - I really hope this isn't a dodgy as it sounds. However I know a film producer and he covers his own expenses and would firstly suggest a Skype chat before paying for a flight to the UK.