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The Decline and Fall of the Vanity Press

cover image, decline and fall of the vanity press
Vanity presses — predatory companies that sell authors worthless or overpriced services — profited mightily with the rise of indie publishing.

The growth of that industry (or perhaps more accurately, the spread of that cancer) was aided by publishers who eagerly partnered with the worst vanity presses. Simon & Schuster (Archway), HarperCollins (WestBow), Harlequin (DellArte), Writer’s Digest (Abbott Press), and others all funneled unwary authors into the unkind hands of Author Solutions. Those hapless authors were held upside-down by ASI and shaken until the last penny dropped from their pockets.

Penguin Random House, apparently intrigued by the jingling of coin hitting the pavement, bought up ASI in 2012. It proved to be a poor decision on the part of PRH. In 2016, after four years of declining sales, they washed their hands of it by selling it to a private equity firm.

During that period, many of ASI’s partnerships have crumbled. Writer’s Digest has severed ties. DellArte was abruptly shuttered. Bowker, the Authors Guild, Crossbooks, The Bookseller, and more have distanced themselves from their ASI partnerships.

Author Solutions is generally regarded as the most “successful” of its kind, the apex predator of exploitive vanity presses. As such, its decline may be a bellwether for the fate of other vanity presses.

Another One Bites the Dust

Take Tate Publishing, for example. Like ASI, Tate Publishing has a long history of complaints and more recently, serious legal troubles.

“This company’s never been in a better position,” CEO Ryan Tate protested in a 2012 leaked audio recording. (The recording, incidentally, is a 20-minute rant in which Tate alternately threatens his employees and promises to pray for them, is a stark look at the corporate environment behind the doors of a vanity press.) But, as of the end of January, “transition” information replaced Tate’s website. The company has ceased operation. Although they are rumored to be resurfacing under a new guise, Lux Creative Concepts, it’s unlikely that Tate will ever recover from this collapse.

Whether it’s Tate’s spectacular implosion, or ASI’s gradual withering, it seems that vanity presses are falling on increasingly hard times. Will other questionable operations like Austin Macauley and Outskirts Press soon follow? And why, with the explosive growth of self-publishing, are these predatory operations failing now?

Pest Control

I credit the strength of the author community for that turnabout. The scams and schemes of vanity presses depend on the naievete of authors, but today’s authors are better-informed about their industry than ever before. I believe that’s having a direct impact on the scammers and vanity presses.

The increased awareness of predatory operators is due largely to the work of tireless watchdogs like Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware, and David Gaughran, who regularly shine a light on the industry’s vermin. If you’re not following David and Victoria’s work, you should be; it’s vital news for any author. Additionally, ALLi offers condensed ratings of self-publishing services and contests for quick appraisals of prospective companies.

Please share these watchdog resources with your community! By sharing knowledge of vanity press scams, you help to inoculate authors against them.

If you’re not yet part of an author community, be aware that we are blessed with some of the most supportive, innovative, and knowledgeable communities of any industry. On Facebook in particular, there are tremendous resources available for indie authors. ALLi members have a lively Facebook group for authors that’s a priceless resource for all facets of self-publishing. The Indie Author Group is one of the best-established writing groups on Facebook, with a strong panel of professional authors contributing. (Disclosure: I am a volunteer moderator for IAG.) Self-Publishing Formula 101 and the BooksGoSocial Authors’ Group are excellent, spam-free forums for marketing and promotion advice.

OVER TO YOU
What else can indie authors do to spread the word about exploitive vanity presses? Let us know your ideas in the comments below.

Are #IndieAuthors hastening the death of the vanity press? - by @johndoppler Click To Tweet

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4 Responses to The Decline and Fall of the Vanity Press

  1. Anon March 13, 2017 at 9:13 pm #

    Anyone heard of UK vanity press, Austin Macauley? (AM). They claimed to like my book, but there was a catch, they wanted fees ranging from £1900-£4400, depending on which publishing route I wanted to take. According to a recent post by Victoria Strauss who runs ‘Writer Beware,’ only 4 authors have been offered ‘traditional’ publishing contacts, by AM, whereas everyone else has been asked to pay enormous fees of £2000 plus. Also, Victoria Strauss said in an earlier post she ‘had gotten scores of complaints about AM.’ The sad thing is, the likes of AM and their ilk will always exist as long as people are willing to pay such fees in the hope of seeing their books in print and in a bookshop.

  2. Marian Armstrong Rogers February 22, 2017 at 7:13 pm #

    I really like Createspace, but wish I were more electronically savvy. When I call for help, they respond immediately, and through their help I’ve learned a lot. Also, you can order as you like, and price your book yourself.

    What I wonder is about awards: I submitted my book to 4 last year:

    Writer’s Digest – gave judges comments, as promised. They judge on 5 categories. I had 4 out of 5 on three, 5 out of 5 on one, and 3 or of 5 on my cover, which is helpful information.

    Karmakindler and Knight and Grey Publishing – gave me 3rd place, with no award, but the promise of promotion, which I have not been able to find on Live Oak Review (where the 1st place winners are), or anywhere else. This may have to do with my low electronic ability, for I did sell 4 books in January. Not many, I know, but for me, good.

    QUESTION: What do you know about Karmakindler and Knight and Grey Publishing awards?

    The other two that I entered (Winning Writers and a Mae Sarton contest), sent a list of their winners, which was all that they promised.

    Thank you. Marian Armstrong Rogers

  3. CHINA ALEXANDRIA February 22, 2017 at 12:37 pm #

    SPENT A FULL DAY ON A TRAIN TO SEE A SO CALLED PUBLISHER IN BURY ST ALBANS TO BE THEN TOLD HE WANTED £4,500 and give ME TWENTY COPIES FOR FRIENDS, IT STINKS. china.alexandria33@gmail.com

  4. Don Foxe February 10, 2017 at 1:03 am #

    What we learn so late, but never too late. I used Archway, and did so because (stupid me) the association with Simon & Schuster. First time attempting to put out a book, and I so wanted it done correctly. That a brand like S&S would allow their name to be dragged through such mud is beyond me. I own a business, and reputation is everything.

    My experience was expensive, but I will debit it to lesson learned and do anything I can to stop anyone from dealing with Archway — ASI — Simon & Schuster and now, Penguin Randall.

    So I will pass this information along, and hope others do more research. I thought I had, but I did not know of the number of good writer support programs until after the fact.

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