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Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Vanity Presses

Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Vanity Presses

Many of us have firsthand experience with an exploitative vanity press, so when we see a friend falling prey to that same seductive sales pitch, it’s especially heartbreaking.

Vanity presses are frequently substandard publishers and incompetent marketers — but they are masters of manipulation. They have honed the art of the sales pitch to a fine edge, and they know exactly what buttons to push to appeal to a novice author’s hopes and insecurities. The end goal is not to sell books to readers, but to sell overpriced services to authors.

So how do you explain the reality to an author who desperately wants to believe the sales pitch? Negative reviews and watchdog ratings can only go so far to dissuade someone from stepping off that cliff. But there’s an easy way to demonstrate that a vanity press is a poor deal for the author: show them the results.

I’ve examined some of the worst offenders in that shadowy corner of the publishing industry. For each, I’ve gathered a random sampling of twenty titles on Amazon. To be included in the analysis, a book must be currently available in paperback, and in print for a minimum of six months. By finding the median number of reviews and the sales ranks for those books, we get a snapshot of how the typical vanity press publication performs in the real world.

The results were shocking.

Sales rank is Amazon’s measure of how well a book is performing compared to other titles. The larger the sales rank number, the worse it is performing. How do vanity presses stack up?

Sales Rank

The table below shows the median sales rank for these companies. But pay close attention to the N/A column. That’s the percentage of books whose sales were so bad, Amazon was unable to calculate a sales rank for them.

Company Median Sales Rank N/A
Pegasus Elliott Mackenzie 5,728,036 45%
Austin Macauley 4,850,732 45%
Xlibris 5,776,290 30%
Christian Faith Publishing 3,430,204 20%
Page Publishing 3,262,395 15%

Of the books I surveyed, nearly half of the ones published by Pegasus Elliott Mackenzie or Austin Macauley last year have no meaningful sales. One third of Xlibris titles are dead in the water. One in five from Christian Faith Publishing fail to generate sales.

To get a basis for comparison, I ran the numbers for two popular independent publishers, one using a traditional publishing model, and the other a hybrid publishing model. Both scored three times higher than the “best” vanity press above. And, more significantly, not one of the books examined lacked a viable sales rank.

Company Median Sales Rank N/A
Indie Publisher A 1,114,172 0%
Indie Publisher A 1,134,710 0%


I chose to focus on the quantity of reviews rather than the scores. We’re not concerned here with the quality of the writing, but rather, how many people are purchasing these books and reviewing them. The number of reviews is an imperfect metric at best, but it can spotlight some obvious failures in the publishing process.

And failures abound where vanity presses are concerned.

Company Median Number of Reviews Books Without Reviews
Christian Faith Publishing 0 75%
Austin Macauley 0 65%
Xlibris 1 65%
Page Publishing 0 50%
Pegasus Elliott Mackenzie 1 45%

The numbers above barely convey the magnitude of just how horrifically inadequate these publishers are. After months of exposure, three out of four books published by Christian Faith Publishing failed to generate even a single review. Well over half of Austin Macauley and Xlibris publications had no reviews whatsoever.

But how did the legitimate publishers compare?

Company Median Number of Reviews Books Without Reviews
Publisher A 73 0%
Publisher B 23 0%

Every book we examined from our two control group publishers had reviews. And while the number of reviews ranged from a handful to hundreds, the overall pattern was clear: the neglect shown by the vanity presses stands in glaring contrast to the overall success of a legitimate publisher.

The authors who hired these questionable services wasted thousands of dollars on a book that’s now invisible, unread, and consigned to the lowest levels of Amazon’s sales rank. Those authors will likely never recoup their costs.

Performing Your Own Test

You can apply this same informal test to the publisher of your choice. First, run a Google search like the one below, substituting the company’s imprint: +”Publisher: Exploitative Press”

Now click through each of the search results, and see how many reviews they’ve gathered, and what their sales rank is. If the majority of books you examine have few (or no) reviews, and their sales ranks are abysmal, you’ll have a good indication of what kind of publisher you’re dealing with.

Over to You

Do you have a friend who was considering a vanity press? How have you helped steer them in the right direction? Let us know in the comments below!

#IndieAuthors beware: vanity presses are so much worse than you think. - 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.

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. I was extremely fortunate that I was advised against going down that route by author Debbie Viggiano!
    Thanks to her that I aborted my plans and self-published my debut book – The Ivory Towers & Other Stories (Amazon, Dec 2018)

  2. I tried, I really tried, to convince a friend not to go with the vanity press that was promising them the earth – but they paid thousands up front for a (preposterous) 3 book deal – one of theirs and one from each of their 2 children!!! They paid up even though the books weren’t even finished being written 2 years on they still have no thing to show for their money. Sometimes it’s impossible (sadly) to deflect people from a course of action that they are determined on.

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