So, yesterday I wrote about self publishers and vanity presses without making a distinction between the two. But there is a difference in the types of methods various “self publishers” employ to get you to fork over money to publish your book. Although this is not an official definition, I think of vanity presses as those that are not as upfront about the fact that they’ll be asking you for money.
These days, most self publishers are very upfront about who they are and what they do: you pay the money, they publish the book. They expect you to make most of the decisions about how many books you want to print, the size you want, etc. etc. They’re in the business of providing a service, and they don’t care how good or bad your book is, and they don’t pretend to care. Lulu and AuthorHouse are examples of this type of publisher.
Vanity presses, as I think of them, are generally not so forthright; for one thing, they don’t call themselves vanity presses, but use words like “self publisher,” “boutique publisher” or “subsidiary publisher.” They present themselves as “traditional” publishers at the outset. They’ll usually ask you to submit your manuscript as though they were a traditional publisher, then respond by flattering you with talk about how your manuscript has great potential, how you’re very talented, etc. Then, after you’ve been sufficiently puffed up, and possibly after you’ve signed a contract, they pull out the fees by offering various services or asking for a “good faith” offering to help subsidize the cost of a potentially “risky” publishing endeavor. By the time things start to feel a little fishy, you’ve already begun envisioning yourself as a published author and possibly told friends and family that your book has been accepted. Many authors back out when the fees are revealed, but many don’t; that’s how vanity presses stay in business. Tate Publishing and American Book Publishing are examples of this type of publisher.
You’ll find a lot of bloggers writing about vanity presses as though they are run by the devil, and yeah, taking advantage of an author’s desire to be published to make a quick buck is pretty crummy. But in this day of easy and quick Internet searches, there’s really no excuse for not researching a publisher before you move forward with them. Such a search will reveal publishers like this often referred to as “scams” because they’re out for your money, not your success. But if what you want is a published book that you can distribute, sell, and put on your shelf, they will deliver. And honestly, that’s more than most authors will ever see from a traditional publishing house.
So, my opinion? Do your research. Decide whether you want to publish your book badly enough to pay for it. Understand that a publisher that asks you to offer up money for the publication of your book is a vanity press, no matter how they present themselves. That doesn’t automatically mean you shouldn’t publish with them, just that you should know who you’re publishing wtih. Whatever decision you make, make sure it’s an informed one.