Why vanity presses will never go away

With apologies to David Gaughran.

A year or two ago, an ex-colleague of my husband’s (he works as contractor in IT, changes jobs a LOT, so there is nothing dramatic about the ex bit) mentioned that he was writing a book. The book was historical fiction and he wanted to know how to publish it.

My husband passed him my email and I wrote him with some pointers about publishing and self-publishing.

Today, my husband met him. He’d published his book–with a vanity press.


I can hear people cry.


The book he got is nicely designed. He received promotional materials, postcards and bookmarks. He didn’t have to shop for and negotiate with an editor. He didn’t need to figure out how to format an ebook, and buy software to do it.

He didn’t even need to open an Amazon account, or do all the tax stuff that’s related to it.

Likely, he paid thousands.

Could he have done it cheaper? Sure, but it would have cost him time. This is someone who has no interest in the business side of writing. Someone who has a really good job, I might add.

But what about the false hope these companies sell?

Well, he got a “launch package”. Not sure how much it cost, but he thinks it’s cool. He gets to invite his friends and be the centre of attention for a night, while he reads from the book and signs copies.

He’s hoping the book will take off on its own. Well, loads of people who self-publish believe that their books will take off, too. They didn’t pay thousands, but spent a lot of time on producing their books.

One way or the other, they’re unlikely to sell unless the author does the hard work. At the start, the author probably has unrealistic hopes.

My husband’s ex-colleague spoke to me, and I told him what I do. He chose to go with a vanity press, because what I do is a lot of work (like, a metric shit-tonne of work), and he had no time or wish to do it. He just wanted the book. He had no trouble paying (through the nose) for a one-stop shop.

That’s why there is a place for vanity presses. Of course it’s heartbreaking when people spend wads of money they can’t afford to lose, but really, how much do we need to protect people from their own stupidity anyway? Like, if you don’t have the money, don’t gamble with it in any shape or form. Some people really just want the book, want their hands held and don’t care about the money.


  1. I can understand just wanting to get a hard copy of your book and not caring about the money. You spend hours and hours crafting this thing, and when you are finished all you have is this electronic file on your computer (and hopefully backed up in a gazillion places). It is hard to have any real sense of accomplishment until you feel the weight of it in your hands, and printing it off on 8 1/2 by 11s just doesn’t make it.

    For someone that has a good day-job, as I do, and has very little free time, as I don’t, vanity publishing can give them what they want; a tangible result from a labour of love. (I tried using American spelling on that and it just looked wrong.)

    As for me, I write to be read; to have my creation received and understood by others. All art is communication, and I simply don’t feel I am communicating if no one receives my communication. That means I have to receive an acknowledgment of some sort for my communication. Book sales is one way to receive that acknowledgement. Publishing through a traditional publisher is another way to receive that acknowledgement. (And let’s not forget the acknowledgement intrinsic in receiving a check!)

    So, much as I would love the heft of a hard copy in my hands, vanity publishing is just not a solution for me. Unfortunately, until I can free up some time to do that “shit-tonne of work” you mentioned, that leaves me shit-out-of-luck. Although, if I had a detailed checklist of everything I would need to do, I might be able to start chipping away at it. Of course, there are always “how-to” books out there. But they are typically by people of whom I have never heard, with minimal experience in a related genre, and the steps are buried beneath a shit-tonne of verbosity inserted for no other purpose than to somehow lend credence by way of sheer volume to the author.

    Hmm. This reveals a need, does it not? Perhaps I should get with successful e-pub authors (one such comes readily to mind) and put together a concise and succinct guide for the would-be e-pub author. As a veteran technical writer, I can see how such a publication, heavy on process and light on conversational narrative, would be a great reference tool for many. Not to mention, I could use it myself once it is complete. I could use it to publish the guide itself.

    I wonder of such a project would appeal to you. Of course, as you may say, you already have a lot of information on the subject on your website. This is true and while there would definitely be some overlap, what I am talking about would be quite different from that. Are you familiar with information mapping? It is a very handy technique, I have typically employed it to some degree in most of my professional work as a tech writer. So much so, that I can practically do it in my sleep. This type of work is very different from fiction, though not nearly as fun or rewarding.

    I have always hated the “for dummies” approach. It blurs the line between ignorance and stupidity. I am thinking more along the lines of a title from a satirical book/movie from decades ago, such as “How to Succeed in E-Publishing Without Really Trying”. (A bit of a misnomer, for sure, as a shit-tonne of work is still a shit-tonne of work, but it’s better than calling the reader a dummy.) With a subtitle of something along the lines of: A concise, step-by-step guide to successful e-publishing.

    I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. Meanwhile, I’m going to read some more Ambassador. I’m on #5 and am disheartened to see there is only one more after this one.

    • There are already books like those and programs like it.

      The best advice I can give is to listen to the self-publishing podcasts because they mention the latest advice and the newest programs. Especially these ones:

      – Sell More Books Show
      – Creative Penn Podcast
      – Marketing SFF Podcast
      – Self-Publishing Formula Podcast

      I could mention some sites and books, but they will be out of date within six months. Also, join the Kindleboards, because a lot of news gets shared there.

      As for the Ambassador books, it’s an open-ended series and there could be a lot more books. I’ll be writing book 6 once I’m done with the Moonfire Trilogy.

  2. Argh! I hate not being able to go back and fix my typos on this! 😉

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