5 Signs to Spot Vanity Publishers (And Which Ones to Avoid)

For most aspiring authors, getting that first book out into the world is a dream come true. So it makes complete sense that many of them would jump at the chance to get published—after all, who wouldn’t? But getting a book “out there” doesn’t always equate to successful publishing. In fact, many aspiring authors fall prey to vanity publishers, and unfortunately, they often realize it too late.

In order to help you avoid the trap of vanity publishers, we’ll break down in this article how to spot them from a mile away, and we’ll offer alternative routes to publish your books.

vanity publishing

In this article:

What Is Vanity Publishing?

Coined in 1959, the term “vanity publishing” describes any publisher or press that doesnt profit from book sales. They rather profit from charging authors extortionate rates for the publishing services provided. The problem, however, is that the money the authors pay is usually spent in vain. Instead of using this money to produce high-quality books and promote them, vanity publishers pocket most of the money and spend the minimum on the publishing process.

While a traditional publisher pays typically authors for the right to publish their books (in the form of an advance and royalties), a vanity publisher charges authors to do the same. For instance, in a contract with a vanity press, authors would find themselves paying for editorial, production and design, and sales and marketing services. 

It’s not just that authors often pay very high and unreasonable rates to get their books out into the world, but they rarely receive a proper return on their investment. Because they get the money for publishing the book upfront from the author anyway, vanity publishers lack the incentive to make the book a successful one. 

Unlike traditional publishers, whose investment in books is returned via book sales, vanity publishers don’t carry that kind of financial risk, and so they’ll cut costs on the services they provide, rendering their books of subpar quality. 

This is why vanity publishers are often seen as operating on what is known as a predatory business model. They will usually promise a bestseller, great book marketing, and outstanding distribution to bookshops, and then fail to deliver. Therefore, their business model appears attractive to authors on the outside but ends up misleading and taking advantage of them.  

vanity press

Characteristics of Vanity Publishers: How to Spot Them From a Mile Away

So how exactly does an author who is new to the publishing industry recognize a vanity publisher? Although it’s not always clear straight away, there are a number of tell-tale warning signs, such as: 

1. Charging Suspicious Fees

Vanity publishers tend to charge authors a lot of money to publish their books. Moreover, there is very little transparency in the sense that authors are not given insight into where exactly their money is going. 

In fact, not only will vanity publishers charge authors fees upfront (usually for editorial, sales, and marketing services), but instead of repaying their authors after publication, these presses end up taking a big cut of any sales revenue generated by the books they publish. In other words, it’s a bad deal for the authors!

Of course, there are legitimate printing and self-publishing services out there that charge authors fees to help produce their books; however, these fees are reasonable and it’s always clear exactly what the author is paying for. 

2. Compromising on the Quality

Vanity presses will likely be looking to cut down on costs, so it’s common for them to hire inexperienced staff and freelancers who will end up producing a low-quality version of your work. This means that many books published by vanity presses are badly edited, with design layouts that are typically based on already available templates.  

3. Offering Unethical Contracts

Regardless of whether you’re an experienced author or an aspiring one, you should always obtain legal advice before signing any kind of publishing contract. However, there are some red flags that typically point toward vanity publishers. 

Authors should be aware of the following: 

  • A contract that traps authors into signing away the copyright to their works indefinitely. This means that authors would be unable to take their book to another publisher even when their contract expires, or that they might be forced to give up foreign rights or adaptation rights to their work with little or no royalties in return.  
  • A contract that contains a “minimum sales” clause, which basically requires authors to purchase copies of their own books if they don’t sell enough to meet the minimum figure set by the publisher.
  •  A contract that does not offer fair book royalties to an author, giving the publisher a huge cut in any sales revenue generated by the work. 

4. Making False Promises

Many vanity presses will attract authors by making grand claims such as: We guarantee that your book will be a bestseller! or We will ensure that your book reaches all major bookstores! The first claim is definitely a red flag because no publisher, no matter how well-established, can guarantee a bestseller. 

As for the second claim, it’s usually an empty promise because vanity presses rarely have the sales connections needed to get bookshops to place book orders. If you look closely at a contract with a vanity press, you’ll find that what they’re actually promising is to list your book on a distribution service. However, that doesn’t guarantee orders, and you can always easily list your book yourself.  

5. Chasing Authors to Publish Their Work

Let’s face it; the publishing industry is one of the most competitive industries out there. Publishing houses receive countless manuscripts every year, with many publishers now no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Instead, they rely on agents to bring in books that are a good fit. Therefore, you should be suspicious if you are directly approached by someone claiming to represent a reputable publishing house. 

Vanity presses can easily obtain your contact information from social media, and they tend to chase aspiring authors, offering them false promises of a great publishing deal. So, although it would be great if getting published were that easy, always be wary of deals that sound too good to be true! 

alternatives to vanity publishing

Vanity Publishing Companies: How to Avoid Them?

Now that you know the main characteristics of a vanity press, it’ll be easier to steer away from them. However, it isn’t always that straightforward. There are, however, a number of useful resources out there that keep track of vanity presses authors should avoid. 

For instance, Writer Beware is a Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers’ group that aims to address problems faced by writers. They have a Thumbs Down Publishers List that offers writers an updated list of publishers to avoid (which are usually vanity presses), largely based on complaints they’ve received and evidence that has been compiled against those businesses. 

Moreover, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) offers authors free access to their Self-Publishing Industry Ratings, which rank the different publishing businesses out there to help authors decide which they can trust and which they should avoid. 

A Sample List of Vanity Presses to Avoid

If you access these author resources, you will find that certain presses keep getting flagged as untrustworthy. Here are some examples of the names you will encounter on ALLi’s watchdog advisory list and other reliable sources:

Abbott PressQuality, Value, Service, Communication, Transparency, Marketing, LegalSells expensive services to authors with the promise of improving their book sales.
Author SolutionsQuality, Value, Service, Communication, Transparency, Marketing, LegalSubject to multiple lawsuits in the USA. 
America Star BooksQuality, Value, Service, Communication, Transparency, Marketing, LegalDoesn’t pay royalties, sells books it no longer had any rights to sell, and neglects or fails to place books into bookstores.
Adelaide BooksService, Communication, Quality, TransparencyRequires authors to purchase 45 copies of their books, even though this purchase requirement is not included in their sample author contracts.
Avro Basim YayinCommunication, Practices, Legal, OtherContacts authors and offers to buy Turkish rights to their books and then fails to pay for those rights.
Amazon Digital PublishersTransparency, Quality, Marketing, Service, OtherClaims to be affiliated with Amazon, but actually has no connection to Amazon or Kindle Direct Publishing. 
Archway PublishingQuality, Value, Service, Communication, Transparency, Marketing, LegalAttracts aspiring authors on the basis that it is an imprint of Simon & Schuster. It makes empty promises that authors could have a chance of getting their book to the S&S board. However, this imprint is actually outsourced to Author Solutions, who are themselves on the watchdog list. 
Austin Macauley PublishersTransparency, Legal, Communication, OtherAsks for a huge “contribution” fee from the authors for publishing their books.
Book Agency PlusLegal, Transparency, Practices, Marketing, OtherClaims to have offices in London, New York, California, and Texas, yet no addresses or phone numbers for those locations are available. It also claims to be affiliated with the ALLi in order to induce authors to enter and pay for a book contest.
Book Vine PressTransparency, Quality, Marketing, Service, OtherOffers overpriced services and inadequate editing, and has been accused of poor communication and unprofessional behavior by staff.
IdeoPagePress SolutionsValue, Service, Communication, Transparency, Contract, Practices, Legal, OtherClaims to be headquartered in New York, but is actually operating out of the Philippines. 
Just Fiction EditionQuality, Value, Service, Communication, Marketing, Contract, LegalDoesn’t pay owed royalties, and charges thousands more than the contract.
OmniScriptumQuality, Value, Service, Communication, Marketing, Contract, LegalFamous for copying Wikipedia articles verbatim and passing them off as books. It also has a suspicious legal structure.
Page Turner PressCommunication, Marketing, Quality, Service, Transparency, ValueThis is an exploitative vanity press that operates out of the Philippines and impersonates Big 5 publishers.
Pegasus Elliot MackenzieCommunication, Legal, Transparency, ServicesClaims to operate as a traditional publisher then charges authors for publishing their books. 
signs of vanity publishers

Alternatives to Vanity Publishing 

It’s understandable that all this information about vanity presses and publishers can be somewhat overwhelming for any aspiring author. However, there is an abundance of legitimate publishers and printing presses for authors to choose from. 

Here are the different options available to authors when it comes to getting their work out in the world.

1. Self-Publishing

Although traditional publishing will always be associated with the “dream-come-true” of getting published by a reputable, big-time publisher, many authors are moving toward self-publishing their work because of the creative control it provides them. 

When you self-publish your book, you manage your own book production, editing, marketing, etc. So even though you’ll probably hire the services of editors and book designers, you’ll always have the final say in any decision-making process. 

Moreover, you can always get the help of a self-publishing company. Although it sounds a bit contradictory to have a company offering self-publishing services, many businesses do an excellent job of being one-stop shops for authors, such as Blurb, BookBaby, and Lulu

The way this business model works is that the author pays for a range of publishing services. Some might say that that sounds suspiciously like what a vanity press does, but that isn’t the case. In the following table showing self-publishing vs. vanity publishing, we’ll highlight three key differences:

Self-Publishing BusinessVanity Press
The author maintains control over every publishing decision, ranging from the cover design to the way the book is priced and marketed.Vanity presses will rarely consult authors at any stage of the publishing process, so authors have no control over their final product. 
Authors maintain their copyright and are the legal owners of their work.As soon as they submit their manuscripts to a vanity press, it’s common for authors to be asked to sign away their copyright, which means their books become the legal property of the vanity press.
The author pays for the services of the self-publisher; however, there is complete transparency. This means that authors know exactly how much each service costs and what they will be receiving in return.Not only will vanity presses charge excessive fees to publish the books they receive, but they are also unlikely to share a breakdown of these expenses with authors. 

If you are looking for a reputable platform to publish your ebook while keeping 100% of the royalties, then you might want to give Kotobee Books a try. And if you need any assistance with the publishing process, you can check out the various services they offer to get your book looking its best.

Kotobee Books

2. Hybrid Publishing 

Another type of publishing that can sometimes be mistaken for vanity publishing is hybrid publishing. The word “hybrid” points toward a mix of traditional and self-publishing business models. Essentially, hybrid publishers charge authors to publish their books. However, authors are paid back in the form of higher royalty rates. 

Let’s examine how hybrid publishers are completely separate from vanity presses. 

Hybrid PublishersVanity Press
Like traditional publishers, hybrid publishers have set selection criteria and a formal submission process. They don’t publish just any book that comes their way, which is why they are considered reputable businesses in the publishing world.Vanity presses are unselective—all they need in order to accept a book for publication is money. This is why vanity presses are notorious for publishing anything, even if it means accepting low-quality work.
In order to offset the fees that their authors pay for some of their services, hybrid publishers are required to pay much higher royalty rates than traditional publishers do. This increase in royalties also serves to compensate authors for not receiving an advance, which they usually get from traditional publishers. Vanity presses not only overcharge authors for low-quality publishing services but they are also known for offering very low royalties. Moreover, since they are not invested in selling the books, there are often minimal book sales which means little-to-no royalties for authors. 
Hybrid publishers are run like traditional publishing businesses in the sense that they have publishers acquiring books, as well as experienced in-house and freelance editors and designers. The difference, however, is that since authors are investing money into the publishing process, they have more creative control than they normally would under a traditional publishing contract. Effectively, authors form a team with their hybrid publishers.Vanity presses will typically outsource all their publishing services to the lowest bidders. Thus, they’re happy to compromise on the quality of their books since it means they get to pocket more money. In addition to this, authors will have very little say in the publishing process and are rarely consulted, if at all.

Concluding Thoughts 

In today’s competitive publishing industry, when it comes to getting their work out into the world, aspiring authors often find themselves bombarded with so many options. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and discouraged—which is where vanity presses come in. They offer up their shady contracts in attractive gift wrapping, and many authors are just so relieved to have finally found a publisher that they end up taking the bait. 

When authors are armed with awareness, however, and know how to spot the red publishing flags, they can then learn to avoid all kinds of vanity publishing practices and instead seek out alternative routes that are legitimate as well as rewarding. 

Whether it’s traditional publishing, self-publishing, or hybrid publishing, there are many routes to choose from. The key takeaway here, though, is that even the most experienced authors should always obtain some form of legal advice before signing any type of publishing contract.  


Read More

The Truth About Hybrid Publishing in 2022

Best Free Digital Publishing Platforms for Aspiring Authors

The Basic Guide to Self-Publishing Books


  • Shushma ~Arora

    June 29, 2023

    very very informative for new writers. showing what is going on with publishers after covid 19 period to their businesses. I feel we will have to make good and informed decisions regarding our first book.

    Thanks for the help. lots to learn.

    • Kotobee

      September 10, 2023

      Hello Shushma,

      Thank you for your comment, and we’re delighted to hear that you found the article informative! Making informed decisions, especially when it comes to publishing your first book, is crucial.

      If you have more questions or need further guidance on any aspect of the publishing process, please feel free to ask. We’re here to help and support new writers like you on your journey.

      Happy writing and publishing! 🙂

    • Jenny

      September 15, 2023

      Is AlphaBookWriters a vanity publishing company?

      • Kotobee

        November 5, 2023

        Hi Jenny,

        We don’t have specific information on AlphaBookWriters. However, we recommend thoroughly researching any publishing company you’re considering. Look for red flags such as upfront fees, lack of transparency, or poor author reviews. Additionally, check reputable author forums and publishing watchdog websites to gather more insights about AlphaBookWriters before making any decisions.

  • Gary W. Loyd

    August 17, 2023

    Please provide the whole list of vanity publishers and bad publishers to deal with. I am trying to publish my book , but there are so many publishers, they all sing a good song. but who can I trust ? I am retired and living on Social Security , with not a lot of money . I need the best bang for my buck. I can’t afford to get scammed.

    • Kotobee

      November 5, 2023

      Hi Gary,

      We understand your concern about finding a trustworthy publisher, especially on a limited budget. While we can’t provide an exhaustive list, we can offer some guidance on identifying reputable publishers. Look for publishers that don’t require substantial upfront fees, provide transparent contracts, and have positive reviews from authors. Reputable organizations like the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) also offer resources and recommendations. Additionally, consider self-publishing platforms like Kotobee Books (https://books.kotobee.com/), where you have more control and can minimize costs. Research thoroughly, read testimonials, and seek advice from fellow authors to make an informed decision.

      We have also updated the list in this article to include more publishers that are more likely to be vanity press. So check it and please don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any questions.

  • James Jackson

    September 24, 2023

    What’s the word on SCRIBE MARKETER? Are they legit? Do they have a decent track record with clients? They seem to want to push for paying up front for audio books and claim to get the printed and audio out at the same time.

    • Kotobee

      November 5, 2023

      Hi James!

      Unfortunately, we don’t have specific information regarding Scribe Marketer being a vanity press. However, it’s essential to approach any publishing service that requests upfront payment with caution. Reputable publishing services typically do not require authors to pay upfront for publishing services, especially for audiobooks. It’s advisable to research the company thoroughly, read client testimonials, check online reviews, and seek opinions from author communities or forums before making any decisions. Additionally, consider reaching out to industry watchdogs like the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) for their insights on the company’s reputation.

  • Mindy OConnor

    October 2, 2023

    I would love to receive more articles like this. Newsletters, writing classes, etc. Thank you for a great article!

    • Kotobee

      November 1, 2023

      Hi Mindy, we’re so glad that you liked our article! if you’d like to receive our weekly newsletter which includes updates on our latest articles and any new classes or offers, please visit this link to sign up https://bit.ly/3FHuFMY

  • Jan Buchanan-Medina

    October 9, 2023

    Interesting, thank you Kotobee, but very worrying, too. Do you have any advice for authors who think they might have been caught up in a fake contract? I am asking for a progress report and it doesn’t seem to be available.
    Thank you for the warning…

    • Kotobee

      November 6, 2023

      Hi Jan!

      Thank you for your comment, and we totally understand your concern. If you suspect you may have been caught up in a fake publishing contract, it’s crucial to take immediate action. First, carefully review the terms and conditions of the contract to understand the cancellation and refund policies.

      Next, gather all correspondence and documents related to the contract, including emails, receipts, and any written agreements. Reach out to the publisher in writing, requesting clarification on the progress report and expressing your concerns. Keep a record of all communication.

      Simultaneously, consider consulting legal advice from a lawyer specializing in publishing contracts. They can provide guidance on your specific situation and help you navigate the legal aspects of the contract.

      You can also report the suspicious publisher to consumer protection agencies and organizations, like the Better Business Bureau (BBB), to alert other authors about your experience.

      We hope this advice helps, and we wish you the best of luck in resolving your situation.

  • Lynn

    October 14, 2023

    Everyone should know Randall J Andrews who is Jay Brown is a self publisher scam artist. He has JaCol Publishing Inc. He has rewritten m y novel with another author. That happened in 2019 when I never received any royalties from Amazon, so I withdrew. Jealousy prompted him to rewrite my novel, and in July 2023 he sold in it all Amazon stores without my permission He denies this repeatedly, but I took screenshots my novel in all stores. He took all the royalties—I can’t afford a lawyer.

    • Kotobee

      November 6, 2023

      Hi Lynn!

      We are truly sorry to hear about your situation with Randall J Andrews and JaCol Publishing Inc. It’s essential to document all evidence, including screenshots and correspondence. While legal help might be challenging, consider reaching out to pro bono legal services or author advocacy groups like the Authors Guild or ALLi for assistance. Reporting the incident to platforms like Amazon can also help.

      We hope you find the support you need.

  • James McDonald

    November 4, 2023

    Good morning. Unfortunately I was taken in by one of those so-called Publishers and have been presented with lies at every stage of the process which I have evidence of.
    Is there an ombudsman or some organisation who I can make a complaint to about this behaviour?
    My complaints go back the 3 years I have been with this mob and wish to take all my concerns to an independent organisation.
    Don’t get me wrong here, they actually have rectified all of my complaints but I have reached the point where I want things done without having to complain.
    Thank you.

    • Kotobee

      November 5, 2023

      Hi James!

      We are truly sorry to hear about your negative experience with the publisher. It’s great that your complaints have been resolved, but we understand your desire for a more permanent solution. We recommend reaching out to organizations like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) for further assistance and guidance. They can provide valuable support in handling such situations. If you need legal advice, consulting an attorney specialized in publishing matters might also be beneficial.
      Wishing you the best of luck in resolving your concerns.

  • jameslara

    November 17, 2023

    Thanks for sharing informative post, i ask some question with you admin? please tell me The Writers Tree is also vanity publishers?, please think about it

    • Kotobee

      December 27, 2023


      We’re glad you found this post informative. 🙂

      Unfortunately, we don’t have any specific information on The Writer Tree, but we advise you to research the company thoroughly, read client testimonials, check online reviews, and seek opinions from author communities or forums before making any decisions.

      Best of luck with your writing and publishing endeavors. 🙂

  • Frank Cantone

    December 19, 2023

    A few weeks ago I literally stumbled onto a company named American Self Publishers. I wasn’t interested in their pitch but then I remembered a script I had written back in the 80’s so I contacted them about it. They were very polite so that was a positive. When I told them the pages were not in order they said that’s okay and they offered to put them in order which I thought was odd. They also asked for a copy of the script so I printed a copy for them but they never gave me the mailing address which again was odd. I did give them a synopsis and they seemed interested and wrote up a critique. However in their last phone call they finally brought up money and payments. They were not very high but I am not working due to an accident last year so I told them I can’t do anything until I start earning an income. They seemed okay with that but then I saw a very negative review of them and that led me to this site. I had heard of vanity presses so that was a red flag. I am sure they will try calling again soon although again I can’t put up money until I have a job first.
    Actually the script is a mis-mash of different events that dont’ make much sense, but I may go back to it one day. My real goal is to write a screenplay for a James Bond movie. Any comments, suggestions etc are welcome.

    • Kotobee

      December 27, 2023

      Hi Frank,

      Thank you for sharing your experience with American Self Publishers! It’s great that they were polite and accommodating in the initial stages. However, it’s wise to be cautious, especially when it comes to financial matters and after discovering a negative review.

      Given your goal of writing a screenplay for a James Bond movie, it might be worthwhile to explore more established and reputable avenues for script submissions. There are many legitimate platforms and competitions that could provide valuable exposure and opportunities without the risks associated with certain vanity presses.

  • Cynthia

    February 5, 2024

    Thoughts on Fulton Publishing please

    • Kotobee

      April 21, 2024

      Hi Cynthia!
      It’s great that you’re researching publishers for your novel. When it comes to Fulton Books, we recommend proceeding with caution. While they may have positive reviews from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), some reviewers have labeled them as vanity publishers. So try to explore other alternatives, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you need any help.
      Good luck with your publishing endeavors 🙂

  • Laurie

    February 16, 2024

    Do you know the best way to publish a children’s picture book that has original songs to listen to while looking at the pictures and lyrics?

  • Corey

    April 24, 2024

    Any thoughts on Manhattan Book Group?

    • Kotobee

      May 13, 2024

      Hello Corey!

      Manhattan Book Group is a hybrid publishing company that offers authors creative freedom while providing professional services. Their approach empowers writers while ensuring high-quality support throughout the publishing journey. Notably, several reputable websites have endorsed the services offered by Manhattan Book Group, reinforcing its reliability and viability as a great choice for authors seeking professional publishing services.

  • Suzanne Paul

    May 11, 2024

    Hi! I signed on with Amazon Publishing Library assuming it was Amazon – I now learned that it isn’t the same company – are they a scam/ vanity publishing? Also, rather than downloading my children’s book myself, if I worked with Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing) or Kotobee Author, with either of these companies, do they offer services where I can work with one of their representatives to take care of that?

    • Kotobee

      May 13, 2024

      Hi Suzanne,

      Amazon Publishing Library operates as a hybrid publishing company, blending traditional and self-publishing models. Their range of services includes editing, design, and marketing, with costs shared between the author and the company. It’s worth noting that numerous reputable websites have endorsed their services.

      Regarding Kotobee, we offer a comprehensive suite of ebook services encompassing consultation, design, conversion, scripting, and publishing. You can explore detailed information about each service on our website: https://www.kotobee.com/en/services
      Additionally, we encourage you to schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our ebook experts through this link: https://www.kotobee.com/?livedemo . They can provide personalized insights and guidance tailored to your specific needs and aspirations.

      Best of luck with your ebook publishing journey. 🙂


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