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Encore Month: 5 Reasons Authors Fall For Vanity Presses

Encore Month: 5 Reasons Authors Fall for Vanity Presses

When stories surface about authors defrauded by unscrupulous vanity presses, sometimes for tens of thousands of dollars, the reaction is sometimes unsympathetic. In today’s encore post, John Doppler explains the five reasons authors fall for vanity presses.

“It’s their fault for being so gullible.”
“They should have done their homework.”
“That was a stupid mistake. Google is your friend.”

It’s true that authors have more information at their fingertips than ever before. Why, then, do authors keep falling for scams and schemes from the same exploitative companies?

1. High-pressure sales target author psychology

Vanity presses are notorious for their aggressive pursuit of authors. Once they have an author’s contact information, vanity presses often flood the victim with inquiries and “reminders”. One “manuscript referral service” I tested resulted in more than 120 emails from some of the worst vanity presses in the industry.

Throughout, these solicitations push the author to initiate a phone conversation. A sales rep can apply even more manipulative sales tactics in direct conversation. Once a vanity press gets its hooks into a victim, the pressure is relentless.

Learn how to defuse high-pressure sales tactics.

2. Vanity presses provide emotional validation

Vanity presses flatter prospective authors by assuring them that only the best manuscripts will be selected for publication by their “editorial board”. I decided to put that to the test by submitting a manuscript so epicly atrocious that it reduced more than one editor to tears of laughter — or just tears.

Mr. Bumpkins is always the sweetest little frog, and I look forward to our delightful conversations. I had never seen him this excited before!!!

“Croak croak!” he repeated urgently, hopping down the garden path between my organic cucumbers and the compost box where Mr. Slimy and his slug friends live. “Croak croak!”

“My goodness, what’s all this commotion about?” I queried querulously.

“Croak!” he croaked.

“Really? There’s something you want me to see?” I enjoined skeptically.

“Croak!” he replied matter-of-factly.

“Well, hurry up and show me!” I demanded happily.

I scooped up Mr. Bumpkins off of the ground and carried him to the front yard, where I set him very carefully back down on the ground.
He sat there, blinking his squishy brown eyeballs while he waited patiently for me to connect with the wisdom of the Universe.

And that’s one of the better passages.

This forty page “autobiographical metaphysical self-help book for adults” was submitted to eight of the most prominent vanity presses. Unsurprisingly, every single one replied to let me know they were interested in publishing this masterpiece.

To a novice author uncertain of the marketability of their work and eager for validation, a positive response from a perceived authority is powerfully seductive. Unfortunately, it’s honesty and practical advice authors need, not ego stroking and half-truths.

3. Vanity presses prey on an author’s insecurities

Flattery is seductive, but that’s not the only way that vanity presses worm their way into an author’s psyche. Many vanity presses will try to persuade authors that they are incapable of producing a professional book without an expensive full-service publishing package. This is particularly effective on authors who may not be comfortable with new technology; the idea of handing off the details of publishing to someone who will take care of it for you is alluring.

Vanity presses tend to bombard the author with the message that they cannot succeed alone, and that the fees are really just a “manageable investment”.

What these authors may not realize is that the “manageable investment” referenced by vanity presses may exceed $20,000.00. As ALLi authors can attest, professional quality is within reach of any author willing to put in the time and effort, and it doesn’t require a $20,000.00 publishing package to achieve.

Learn to recognize fear-based sales tactics.

4. Prejudices about self-publishing

Despite a decade of rapid evolution, the self-publishing industry still faces prejudices and unfair assumptions, such as:

  • Self-published books are amateurish
  • Self-publishing is prohibitively expensive
  • Self-publishing requires the author to do everything themselves
  • Self-publishing is a last resort for authors who couldn’t secure traditional publishing contracts

Vanity presses routinely exploit those prejudices, persuading novice authors that they cannot succeed without the company’s help, and that their only other options are years of fruitless queries to traditional publishers or a difficult and lonely self-publishing process that’s doomed to failure.

To the author, the sales pitch may confirm their erroneous beliefs. They may have encountered amateurish self-published books and assumed that is the state of all self-pubbed books. They may never see evidence to the contrary, because a professional self-published book is indistinguishable from a traditionally published book. It’s only the amateurish books that are a thumb in the reader’s eye.

5. Reliable information is lost in the noise

Trustworthy sources of information about self-publishing companies are few and far between. ALLi’s Watchdog Desk has evaluated and rated hundreds of services, but that barely makes a dent in the thousands of services out there. Other industry watchdogs like Writer Beware are an invaluable resource, but they are also limited by time and staff constraints.

Authors may not know of these resources, and may lack the technical skills to find them on search engines. That problem is compounded by the volume and the prominence of misinformation on the internet.

Vanity presses purchase highly-visible ads for top searches, snaring unsuspecting authors looking for information. Supposedly respectable publications take ads for substandard vanity presses, legitimizing those companies. Consumer watchdog charities like the Better Business Bureau sell out, whitewashing negative ratings for companies that purchase “accreditation”. (For example, notorious vanity press Author Solutions carries an A+ rating with the BBB, despite hundreds of complaints and a majority of negative reviews.)

Some vanity presses flood the internet with glowing testimonials from authors they have deceived. Others wage despicable smear campaigns against self-publishing watchdogs in an attempt to discredit them.

When searching for reliable information on how to self-publish, the deck is stacked against authors.

You can help arm unwary authors against schemes and scams by sharing watchdog service ratings and alerts.


In the end, it’s not the author who should be blamed for falling victim to a rip-off; it’s the deceptive vanity presses that have made an industry of defrauding authors.

Over to you

How do you help your fellow authors avoid these traps? Let us know in the comments below?

Why do #indieauthors fall for vanity press scams? - by @johndoppler Click To Tweet

John Doppler

From the sunny California beaches where he washed ashore in 2008, John Doppler scrawls tales of science fiction, urban fantasy, and horror -- and investigates self-publishing services as the Alliance of Independent Authors's Watchdog. John relishes helping authors turn new opportunities into their bread and butter and offers terrific resources for indie authors at Words on Words. He shares his lifelong passion for all things weird and wonderful on The John Doppler Effect.

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  1. I fell prey to one of these horrid companies. The most mysterious aspect of it was that I had been writing my first book for a year, had told very few people, and had not given an ounce of thought to publishing. Out of the blue came an email — the hook — asking if I was interested in writing a book. Foolishly, I bit and saw it as a sign. I did not investigate or question until it was too late. After losing not a small sum of money and being cut loose, the best part of the tale is that I found Alli and John Doppler!

  2. Which services do you consider vanity presses? In my opinion it is those services that publish books or ebooks as content is received, without benefit of editorial development or copy editing, based strictly on amount of money received. This serves to flood the indie market with poorly written books. BookBaby, Authorhouse, are vanity presses in my opinion.

    1. A vanity press is ANY publisher who expects an author to pay for publishing services. If you sign with a publisher the money should be flowing one way- to the author. Publishers are paid via their cut of royalties. I would advise all authors to check out Writer Beware before they sign a contract. Victoria Strauss has a list of vanity presses to avoid and contract red flags.

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