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Vanity Publishing

Johnathon Clifford
Johnathon Clifford's Vanity Publishing page

Those who tell you there is never a need for an author to pay to have a book published or that all vanity publishers are "bad", simply display a lack of knowledge and understanding of the publishing world. So what is vanity publishing?

There are over 100,000 books published every year in the U.K., but apart from this simple weight of numbers, there are other good reasons why mainstream publishing houses cannot handle most of the manuscripts offered them. They may not fit that publisher's list. The subject matter may not command a wide enough readership for it to sell well enough to make a profit. Although you may feel there is a huge market just waiting somewhere 'out there' for the publication of your book, you must face the reality that if your subject is of interest to only a minority - a local landmark, a local personality, Book-Binding for the Amateur, Marble Championships of the 20th Century, your own autobiography - then the corresponding marketing possibilities are equally 'minor'. This is where the good vanity publisher comes into his own.

What is a Vanity Publisher?

A Vanity Publisher is - as stated in the Advice Note, Publishing, July 1997 issued by the Advertising Standards Authority - "any company that charges a client to publish a book or offers to include short stories, poems or other literary or artistic material in an anthology and then invites those included in it to buy a copy of that anthology."

Since Self-Publishing became a viable and acceptable form of publishing some vanity publishers try to pass themselves off as self-publishing organizations. But you will appreciate, simply by definition, self-publishing is not done for you by a third party. It is you the author finding yourself a printer and doing all the other work (the preparation, the design, the marketing and promotion) yourself.

The dishonest vanity publisher makes money, not by selling books, but by charging a client as much as possible to print as few copies of a book as he can, while undertaking as little marketing as possible (whatever you think was promised in the initial promotional material). he therefore does not need (or want) to sell your book - and don't think the contract you've signed will do anything to protect you! The phrase 'vanity press' or 'vanity publisher' may well be applied to those who do not feel they warrant the title, but anyone in the business of charging for publication or selling anthologies to those who appear in them must accept that they are vanity publishers. The fact that the phrase has acquired very unfortunate undertones has to be laid at the door of those who mislead and misinform their clients.

However, it does not follow that all vanity publishers are underhanded. There are companies in this very necessary business who are perfectly honest and above board in all their dealings.

Where to Find a Good Vanity Publisher

It has long been suggested that the safest rule-of-thumb is "don't answer any advertisement in a magazine or newspaper that appears to offer a publishing service or competition - proper publishers don't advertise." But that is too simplistic, as there are good vanity publishers who do advertise. It is safer for you to contact one of the professional bodies rather than answer an advertisement. Try the lists of UK Publishers in the Writers' and Artists' Year Book. Or if you are looking for genuine poetry competitions try The Poetry Society (0171 240 4810) or The Poetry Library (0171 921 0943). If trying to publish religious material contact the Christian Booksellers Journal (0161 833 3003) for possible outlets.

How to Pick Your Vanity Publisher

The genuine vanity publisher will not:

You have to look on the whole process of vanity publishing not as money invested to make you a return, but as money spent on a pleasurable hobby which has provided you with copies of your book - the quality of which you can be proud and where you have been in control of both the production and costs from beginning to the end.

Johnathon Clifford 1997

This article was first published by The Writers' Club Ltd Foreword Magazine Vol 2 issue 1 (December 1997).
and is also published in the European Christian Bookstore Journal, January 1998.
Iota Magazine January 1998
The Association of Writers' Groups LINK magazine, February 1998
Beaumonde Publications Hertfordshire Countryside magazine, March 1998.
The Overseas Service Pensioners' magazine April 1998