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.