Don’t get caught out by vanity publishers!

“Guess what! Someone wants to publish my book!”

“Oh Jane, that’s wonderful! I didn’t even know you had an agent!”

“I haven’t. I looked up publishers on Google and this company popped up at the top of the list – so they must be good, mustn’t they? I emailed them about my novel and they came back to me really fast. They absolutely loved the extract I sent them!”

“Gosh, I’m so jealous!”

“They said my story sounds exactly the sort of thing they publish, and they’re sure it’ll do well. As soon as the first payment’s gone through, they’ll – “

“You mean they’re paying you now? Like an advance? That’s amazing!”

“No, no, I have to pay them. It’s what they call a ‘contribution’. Because my book’s so special. As soon as the first payment’s gone through, they’ll be in touch to discuss the details.”

“Hang on, Jane, hang on. You mean, you’re paying them before they’ve even seen the manuscript? How do they know they want to publish it if they haven’t even seen the whole thing?”

“I suppose I must’ve described it really well.”

* * *

Who could blame Jane for getting excited when a publisher expresses an interest in her manuscript?

But beware of publishers who invite submissions and then accept yours straightaway, because they are almost certainly ‘vanity publishers’ – companies who print a few copies of your book, at a price, but then do little to help those copies reach potential readers.

Vanity publishers have been around a long time, often inviting you to submit a short poem for inclusion in an anthology. You can submit as many poems as you want, and, if yours are accepted – and most are – you’ll see your work in print.

The catch? Apart from one free copy, you’ll probably be obliged to buy any further copies of the anthology at an inflated price that doesn’t reflect the physical quality of the book or its contents. Bookshops won’t stock them and neither will libraries. You’ve effectively paid a lot of money to see your poem in print in a poorly produced collection.

Vanity publishers haven’t gone away with the growth of self-publishing: they’ve simply got more sophisticated. They’ll offer a range of packages, but when you examine what’s on offer in each, you’ll discover that the most affordable are little more than your existing manuscript printed and bound. If that’s all you want, you’ll get a better deal with a local printer.

Vanity publishers usually ask for money up front even before they’ve seen a page of your manuscript. They aren’t interested in the quality of your writing. They don’t want to know whether you’ve thought about the market for your novel, or how best to promote your memoir. They want your money and may offer you ‘special discounts’, just for you, to encourage you to sign up quickly. If you decide not to go ahead, they may pester you with phone calls and emails, hoping to win you round.

If you want to see your work in print, and have decided to publish independently, use a recognised self-publishing partner such as Matador, SilverWood Books or Bath Self-Publishing Partnership. Good self-publishing companies are transparent about the services they offer for each package.  They are generally selective about the submissions they accept, and will advise authors to seek further guidance if they feel the manuscript is not yet ready for publication.

Working with a good self-publishing partner should feel collaborative, with both publisher and author wanting the best from the project. Look at their website to see what their customers say about them, and to view their books.  Do the book jackets look attractive and professional? Are the cover prices realistic?

Self-publishing partners will advise authors on marketing, promotion, and distribution. They want authors to use them again and to recommend them to other writers, so customer satisfaction is essential. The production values of self-published books can be every bit as high as for those that are traditionally published, so that libraries and bookshops are happy to stock them.

If you’re keen to see your finished manuscript in print, don’t let your enthusiasm cloud your judgement. Jane was thrilled and flattered to have her manuscript accepted even before the ‘publisher’ had seen it, but if she’d stopped to think about it, she’d have realised the offer was too good to be true.  There’s a wealth of information on the internet about vanity publishing and its variants, so do your research before choosing your publishing partner. Read the reviews other customers have left, and take your time choosing the best company for your project. Ask around among other writers you know, or join a writing group like Frome Writers’ Collective – and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Nikki Copleston

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