How to Spot a Vanity Press

by Barbara Mende, Grievance and Contract Coordinator
If you’ve been looking for a publisher, you’ve probably run into the ones that say they will publish your book if you pay them somewhere between $1,000 and $10,000. We always suggest that authors stay away from those. If you want to pay to publish your book, you can self-publish it through outlets such as Ingram Lightning Source or Amazon KDP, and hire your own editor to turn your book into camera-ready copy and your own publicist to market it.
But there are other presses that promise to publish your book without charging you, and to pay you royalties that are usually generous. We urge members to ask an advisor from the NWU’s Grievance and Contract Committee (GCC) to review your contract, partly so we can spot the red flags. Here are some of them:
  • Requiring you to buy a certain number of books. A member signed a contract that required her to buy 50 books without stating the price. After she signed, she was told that the price was $100 per book.
  • Making you sign onto a marketing plan for a few thousand dollars. The publisher tells you that it will arrange for premium distribution channels, and “you only have to pay for” editing and marketing services to make the book palatable.
  • Telling you that you will start to receive royalties after the costs of printing the book are recovered. In other words, that you’re paying to print the book.
  • Promising a “cooperative” or “hybrid” approach. That means that there will be up-front charges that you’ll be responsible for. Some hybrid presses are perfectly honest, but you have to know exactly what you’re in for.
The member who agreed to buy books tried to file a grievance when she learned what the cost would be. But it was too late. So please remember that the GCC is there primarily to help you improve, or scrap, contracts before you sign them. Just contact us at