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Vanity Press by Sarah Dickinson

Updated: Mar 13, 2020

I would like to welcome back guest writer, Sarah Dickinson. Enjoy!


Bookstores refuse to stock their titles, up and coming writers are bombarded by them and experienced writers do their best to call them out. The dreaded, sneaky and all too common Vanity Press. A phrase used often enough, but not everyone knows what they are. Or worse, how to spot and avoid them.

So, what exactly are they? In the plainest words, they are scam artists. Sharks in this big ocean of the written word. And just like a shark they will hunt, jump, attack and possible destroy whatever victim they find. They are commonly called “self-publishing companies” or “subsidy publishers” and they are part of a multi-million-dollar industry that scams authors every day. They will publish any book written by anyone with the funds and right attitude. Their favorite of victims? First time authors.

Thankfully there are ways for new authors to avoid becoming their next mean…. just like I, and many others almost were. So, I’m going to do my very best to break it down, share what I’ve learned and help everyone who’s reading this and grinding away to realize your dreams of being a published author.

1) SPOTTING THE SHARK. Traditional publishers carefully select and invest in books in exchange for a percentage of the profits. With self-publishing rapidly growing traditional publishing has become a door that has proven harder and harder to get your foot into. Self-publishing companies offer services such as editing & design for a fee while the author keeps their royalties and rights. Vanity press however takes a cut of both. It’s unethical, but sadly legal, and they get away with it by targeting newbs to industry who know very little

about how it works. So, here are some things to look for.

A. A website designed to sell to authors and not attract readers.

B. Testimonials fill their sites about helping writers “find their voice”, or their “experts guided them”

C. MOST IMPORTANT : by typing in your name, email & phone number they will give a free publishing guide to download… you will be contacted anywhere from moments till the end of the day.

2) NEXT COME THE PROMISES. Believe me when I tell you these are highly skilled salespeople who will tell you, and then convince you of 3 major lies.

A. Your book will be a best seller.

B. Your book can be a movie.

C. They will get you national exposure. All of these will come at a cost of course, but really is it too much to make your dreams come true? The biggest lie you will be told is that while they believe in your work you are an unknown, unpublished writer. This will be the justifying response to any questions about costs. “They are taking a risk on you” after all. There may be a publishing fee, a fee to get you on Amazon, a reading fee, a fee to buy your ISBN, a marketing fee, a design fee, and even fee’s to get your manuscript featured on Oprah’s book club or sent to one of their agents in Hollywood. In the simplest of terms, THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN!

3) EXCESSIVE FLATTERY. My first run in with a vanity press representative could almost be described as euphoric. She gushed, simply gushed praise about my book. My novel deals with the current opioid crisis and is told through love letters and believe me I heard how this was going to save lives, help people, and win countless awards for its unique voice at a time people desperately needed it. She quoted passages and referenced character traits and believe me she said everything any aspiring author wants to hear. It wasn’t until a few days passed and I began to read the contract that I realized everything she mentioned could be found in the first few pages of my manuscript.

4) THE CONTRACT. This will be very brief; you need to read every line of the contract. If you cannot understand it, GO TO A LAWYER! Most lawyers will do a free consultation, and even if you must pay it will be around $100 for them to review the contract. These contracts will have payment schedules for you to make, and they will also have a section that states you are giving them the rights to your work. Again, as blunt as I can: NO LEGITIMATE AGENCY WILL CHARGE YOU OR RETAIN RIGHTS TO YOUR CREATIVE RIGHTS. I hope when you realize you can be legally obligated to pay thousands of dollars (average $5,000-20,000) as well as having the rights to your work taken from you that you will be willing to invest in legal counsel before signing a thing

5) WHAT TO DO & WHO TO AVOID. Before I leave you, I want to point out the options and resources afforded to you, and what companies to avoid. Writers groups. You can find them on all social media sites. From Facebook to good reads there are a plethora of writing groups and forums to join where you will get encouragement, advice, be able to ask questions and maybe even make connections. Join them and utilize them. There are self-publishing courses and writing workshops where you can make connections, hone your craft and learn about the industry. Kindle Direct Publishing, Ingram spark, KOBO, Barnes N Nobel, and more are all user-friendly sites where you can upload your work, as well as control your book and its revenues, as well as print on demand. There are also traditional publishers as well as hybrid publishers. There is also the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) to go to for information. Another tool to utilize is Google, as many blogs, independent publishers and authors frequently update their sites with lists and names of vanity press scams to avoid.

Here are the top ten that came up on my google search: Austin Macauley (this was the company that approached me), Abbott Press, Alliant Pres, Alpha Script, Archway Publishing, Dog Ear Publishing, Dorrance Publishing and Page Publishing.

If you’re like me nothing excites you more than discovering a world full of new characters as you absorb the beauty of each word written across the page. Nothing is more exciting than a character coming to life and a story unfolding. Writing is simply your joy, and a skill that will get better every day if you work. Your dreams of affecting a reader, entertaining them, transporting them, and having them hear your voice is among the most sacred of things to you. I hope this article helps you, teaches you, and keeps a fucking shark from destroying you and your dreams.



Sarah Dickinson is lifelong resident in upstate New York, mother of 2 humans and 3 rescue pups. She is the author of Silver Spoons: One's Journey Through Addiction. Sarah is currently back in school studying for her BSW.

Silver Spoons:One's Journey Through Addiction can be purchased online at Barnes & Noble


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