Friday, December 3, 2010

Vanity Press Scams

A post in the archives, A Review of WestBow Press, has been getting a lot of attention. People are continuing to ask questions—not only about WestBow Press but other similar companies as well. I try to answer their questions as well as I can, but sometimes it is anyone’s guess as to whether a vanity press is any good or not. So, I’m going to offer some of my thoughts on the vanity press industry and most of them aren’t good.

The people who decide to go with a vanity press want one thing. They want their book published. They may have tried the traditional route or they may not have, but they’ve decided that they want their book published and they’re willing to pay for it. These people are not what I call self-publishing enthusiasts. They don’t get their kicks out of designing the book interior and cover. They’re willing to pay someone else to do that work for them. These are the customers of the vanity press industry. The vanity press industry uses a number of different methods to attract these customers.

Almost universally, vanity press companies use terms that don’t mean what their customers think they mean. One of my favorites is the statement that “your book will be made available to bookstores like Barnes and Noble.” What many of their customers think that means is that someone at the publisher will be actively promoting the book to Barnes and Noble. They envision someone sitting across the table from a store's book buyer and showing the buy the author’s book. What it actually means is that the title of the book will be included in a catalogue with thousands of other books the publisher produces and if the buyer happens to be interested, there is a mechanism by which the book can be ordered.

Vanity presses seem to have a distaste for the concept of the vanity press. Rather than coming right out and saying that they publish books at the expense of the author, many portray themselves as a traditional publisher. The bad boy of the vanity press industry, PublishAmerica even goes so far as to pay a one dollar advance, so they can call themselves a traditional publisher. Besides being accused of some unethical behavior, PublishAmerica has poorly designed books that are overpriced, compared to similar books. The overpricing is necessary for them to recover the cost of printing the books. Real traditional publishers are able to keep their prices low and advances high by being selective in which books they publish. When your average sales per title is higher, you can afford to lower book prices and pay the authors more.

Another vanity press that claims to be a traditional publisher is Tate Publishing & Enterprises. Most people know it as simply Tate Publishing. This is the one that will surprise you. If you look at the website, it looks like a great deal. It has a former Miss America talking about how great it is. On their FAQ page they describe themselves as “a traditional, mainline, royalty paying publisher. We have relationships with buyers and management of all major chains, including Barnes & Noble, Borders, Family Christian, Books-A-Million, Lifeway, Hastings, Mardel, Waldenbooks, and others.” They talk about the commercials they air on national television. (Odd that I don’t remember ever seeing one when I was watching television.) They are accredited with the Better Business Bureau and have few complaints listed there. What is noticeably missing from their website is any mention of the $3,985 investment they ask for from their authors. The thing is, if they were completely upfront with their pricelist instead of hiding behind the guise of a traditional publisher, I would have no reason to think there was anything wrong. But that $3,985 is a huge elephant in the room. The fact that they’re trying to hide it makes me wonder what else they’re trying to hide. There are so many things about Tate Publishing that make it appear to be run by Christians and yet they’re hiding some things in order to appear more attractive to potential customers.

Here’s what I would like to see out of the vanity press industry: I would like to see them explain the services in terms that their customers can understand instead of using publishing industry jargon. I would like for all vanity presses to publish a price list showing the services they provide. I would like for them to stop including items on long check marked lists that cost the company little and provide little advantage to the author. I would like to see vanity presses embrace the concept of providing publishing services for a price and stop implying that they are traditional publishers when they are not. I think vanity presses can be a great thing for those authors who can’t break into the traditional publishing route but don’t have the do-it-yourself attitude of the self-publishing enthusiast, but vanity presses need to start being honest with their customers.


Marikyn Z. Tomlins said...

Hi Timothy,
Thank you for this post. I found it very interesting. You may perhaps look into Raider Publishing International ...

Timothy Fish said...


Thanks for the suggestion. I'll try to write a post about them later this month. It will probably appear after Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post on vanity press scams; I was about to consider Westbow as a potential publisher for my second christian book, but you made me realize how blessed I was to be directed to a self-publisher who did not scam me in prices with add-on as the book reach its final stages. I have had the manuscript out there with 2 traditional publishers with no yea or nea and now I think I will move ahead on them myself.

Timothy Fish said...

Anonymous 9:17,

As I've said in other places, if I were considering going with one of these types of companies, WestBow Press would make my shortlist and my understanding is that they are more upfront with their pricing than many of these types of companies. Every author who considers self-publishing must decide what he is willing to do himself and what he will pay for. Once he knows that, he should choose a company that provides the services he wishes to pay for and is honest about what they charge for the services.

David said...

Hello, Timothy,

I have written a bit as a hobby, but have never published anything. I have finally come to the point where I am both satisfied with my work and can afford to self-publish, but am not sure who to go with. I find complaints against every single self-publishing company online, but don't know if I can trust the complainers, either. I followed a trail through Thomas Nelson to Westbow to your blog. Here, I followed the links on your books and noticed that you used Booksurge 4 times (in 2007 and 2008), and finally, in 2010, published something yourself. I have 3 questions: What made you change? Are you happy you did? And, finally, how did you do this the last time?

Timothy Fish said...


In actual fact, I didn’t change. When decided they wanted to get into the print on demand business they bought Booksurge and eventually renamed it CreateSpace. I have used them for most of my books, including the one with my name on it as the publisher, though I have used other companies when I saw benefit in it. When I publish a book, I do everything except print and distribute the book. For that, I rely upon them.

theendthebook said...

I guess I missed something. My experience with WestBow Press has been very gratifying. They did exactly what they said, and more. As far as "adding on" options, it seems that's up to the author. I am glad they have the options. I purchased a $ 6000 marketing option to help, and they are doing a fantastic job. It seems a lot of self-publishers believe the publisher should do their marketing for free.. Good luck on that. Pay the professionals and get professional results.

Anonymous said...

Nice service, and thank you. As a new author, I have been scammed on my first try. Makes me wish I had found this site sooner.

My book was published and I am quite satisfied with the quality. Overlooking a few minor flaws, the real problem was with the "book consultant".

I had bought the publishing package that included 60 soft covers and 20 hard covers. Before receipt of those that consultant called with a hot deal. I specifically told him that I do not need any more soft covers because my contract covered 60. And I would be interested if he had a deal on hardcovers.

The deal seemed to be very good (too good) for hard covers, so I ordered 150 plus 10 complimentary. It was too good, and you can guess what I received after paying for hardcovers.

Yep, paperbacks which I had specifically said I did not want. Any recompense? The only concession has been a mythological 5% above usual discount from cover price for the books I wanted at the beginning.

I have given every opportunity to make some sort of adjustment, but that 5% which anybody could get anyway was the only offer. So, I'm stuck with over $1,800 of inventory I did not want. I need cash flow to get started. I offered to have them sponsor a large book-signing, but they don't do that.

To be fair to WestBow, the final net price of all books and shipping is just shy of 50% off cover price. Under the circumstances, that is insufficient.

I cannot say if any other publishers deal in such a manner, because I don't know. If anyone has an alternative suggestion, I would appreciate it.


Anonymous said...

Hello Timothy, I was considering published my book through Westbow press; but they never return my calls back, I`v left several messages with no returns, but e-mails of promising to call back; with no phone calls as promised. I know that the term christian! is widely used today, but people that I can not get ahold of,(if my book is published through them) is scary!! I am turning to somewhere else.

Cindee Pratt said...

I published my first book with Westbow and found the whole experience from start to finish to be excellent. I DID design my own cover, every tile and icon for every chapter heading, every detail CONTRARY to what you report about vanity publishing. By the way, why is banking your own book any different than starting your own company or publishing through other means? Why is one venue considered more vain than another? Don't all authors have the goal of getting their book published as their primary obejective?
I found WESTBOW to be very upfront about costs and very thorough in moving me through each phase of the process. I had complete control. My only disappointment would have to be some typos that remain in the finished work- but that was my error in misunderstanding their editing and failing to get someone else proof read. I have seen such errors in traditionally published work.
Perhaps my caution would be that while it is nice that you are advising people it would be best to check things out before making incorrect blanket statements. Westbow was quite different from Tate , Deep River and a host of other "vanity publishers" (your words) with whom I discussed my book.

Timothy Fish said...


I glad you had a pleasant experience. It wasn't my intention to put WestBow Press down in any way. I have said in other places that if I were to decide to go with a vanity press, I might consider WestBow Press. But many people see some of the marketing phrases the companies use and assume they mean more than the company is able to promise.

Anonymous said...

I have met and read many books by IUniversse, Xlibris, etc., and they are wonderful! I have a friend who is on her 2nd book with Tate Publishing, and she loves them! I think "Self Publishing" is a wonderful way to go, in lieu of depending on someone else's opinion of liking or disliking your book.

Anonymous said...

Am very late to this discussion. My only real concern about these so called vanity presses is that they tout themselves as "publishers" when they are just printing presses. Never pay for their "editing" it is totally ineffective. I wish they would be honest about what they do and not pretend they are the same as legit publishers who actually pay you for your work. If you have to pay them, they are not doing anything but printing your work. If it gets sold, you can do it one way: from stacks of copies in the back seat of your car transported to your own reading events far and wide at every library and book shop and coffee house along the road; all of which you and your Mom have to schedule working together.

Anonymous said...

Tate Publishing is a scam. I received a contract from them and it is truly all about the money. You are asked to pay almost $4,000 up front before anything is done. They give you a percentage of distribution sales but you are not told how many books will be distributed. You are not told how many books are even printed. That's just the beginning. The contract is a play on words. Don't do it, its a waste of time.

George Levy said...

The real test is when you demand a sample copy of your printed book before forking over thousands of dollars. These criminals, without exception, say no. They want my money up front. Traditional publishers are happy to furnish a copy to edit. Now, I am searching for a real publisher. Failing that, I have started another book.