Vanity press

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A vanity press or vanity publisher, sometimes also subsidy publisher,[1] is a publishing house where the author pays to have the book published, and signs a restrictive contract which involves surrendering significant rights.[2] It is not to be confused with hybrid publishing, where the publisher and author collaborate and share costs and risks, or with assisted self-publishing, where the author pays publishing services to assist with self-publishing his own book, and retains all rights.

Vanity publishing vs mainstream publishing[edit]

Mainstream publishers never charge authors to publish their books; the publisher bears all the risks of publication and pays all the costs. Because of that financial risk, mainstream publishers are extremely selective in what they will publish, and reject most manuscripts submitted to them. The high level of rejection is why some authors publish with vanity presses. James D. Macdonald says, "Money should always flow towards the author",[3] a concept sometimes called Yog's Law.

Vanity publishing vs hybrid publishing[edit]

Hybrid publishing is the source of debate in the publishing industry, with some viewing hybrid publishers as vanity presses in disguise.[4] However, a true hybrid publisher is selective in what they publish and will share the costs (and therefore the risks) with the author, whereas with a vanity press, the author pays the full cost of production and therefore carries all the risk. The vanity press has absolutely no interest in whether the book is saleable or suitable for publication.[5]

Given the bad reputation of vanity publishing, many vanity presses are rebranding themselves as hybrids, leading to exploitation of writers. The Society of Authors (SoA) and the Writers' Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) have called for reform of the hybrid/paid-for publishing sector. Trade unions representing 14,800 authors jointly published a report[6] to expose widespread bad practices among companies that charge writers to publish their work while taking away their rights.

Vanity publishing vs assisted self-publishing[edit]

It is often stated that many famous authors, such as Mark Twain and Jane Austen, have used vanity publishers. This is incorrect and confuses self-publishing with vanity publishing.[7]

In a variant of Yog's law for self-publishing, author John Scalzi has proposed an alternate definition to distinguish self-publishing from vanity publishing: "While in the process of self-publishing, money and rights are controlled by the writer."[8]

Self-publishing is distinguished from vanity publishing by the writer maintaining control of copyright as well as the editorial and publishing process, including marketing and distribution.

Vanity publishing scams[edit]

Vanity presses often engage in deceptive practices or offer costly, poor-quality services with limited recourse available to the writer. In the US, these practices have been cited by the Better Business Bureau as unfavorable reports by consumers.[9]

One common scam is when a vanity press pretends to operate a traditional publishing arm, where the publishing house bears the full cost. However, when an author submits his work, he is told it does not quite meet the standards required for traditional publishing, but that the company will still publish it if the author pays for something—engaging their professional editor, committing to buying a large number of copies of the book, or another similar excuse. In reality, the exorbitant fee charged for these services will fully cover the vanity publisher's costs for producing the book.[10] Such a scam is a plot point in Umberto Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum.

Vanity publishing in other media[edit]

The vanity press model exists for other media such as videos, music and photography. A notable example is ARK Music Factory, which, for a fee, produced and released Rebecca Black's 2011 viral video "Friday".[11]

Vanity academic journals also exist, often called predatory journals, which publish with little or no editorial oversight, although they may claim to be peer reviewed. One such predatory journal, the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology, accepted for publication a paper called Get me off Your Fucking Mailing List[12] consisting of the sentence "Get me off your fucking mailing list." repeated many times.[13]

Vanity photography magazines often have little or no physical circulation, relying instead on the submitting photographers buying the magazine after publication.[14] Some also charge a submission fee. Magazines such as Lucy's, Jute, and Pump – all managed by parent publisher Kavyar – often accept photograph submissions for free, or for a minimal fee to be featured on a magazine cover.[15]


The term vanity press appeared in mainstream U.S. publications as early as 1941.[16] In that year, C. M. Flumiani was sentenced to 18 months in a US prison for mail fraud, arising from his scheme that promised book promotion (a line in a catalog), expert editing (they accepted all books), and acting as agent bringing books to his own publishing houses.[17]

By 1956, the three leading American vanity presses (Vantage Press, Exposition Press, and Pageant Press) were each publishing more than 100 titles per year.[17]

Ernest Vincent Wright, author of the 1939 novel Gadsby, written entirely in lipogram, was unable to find a publisher for his work and ultimately chose to publish it through a vanity press.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bernstein, Leonard S. (1986). Getting published : the writer in the combat zone. Internet Archive. New York : W. Morrow. ISBN 978-0-688-06423-5.
  2. ^ "Self-publishing, Hybrid & Vanity Presses: A Simple Guide". 28 August 2022. Retrieved 31 October 2023.
  3. ^ Lundin, Leigh (3 May 2009). "Crossfire of the Vanities". Self-Publishing. New York: Criminal Brief. Vanity publishing is like T-ball: Everyone gets a chance at bat, gets a hit, and takes home a trophy. But don't expect anyone other than your mom to applaud.
  4. ^ "HYBRID PUBLISHER OR VANITY PRESS IN DISGUISE?". Medium. The Writing Cooperative. 21 December 2018.
  5. ^ "Vanity/Subsidy Publishers". SFWA.
  6. ^ "Is it a steal? An investigation into 'hybrid' / paid-forpublishing services" (PDF). Society of Authors. April 2022.
  7. ^ "Self-publishing vs vanity publishing". 27 July 2012.
  8. ^ "Yog's Law and Self-Publishing – Whatever". 20 June 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  9. ^ "America Star Books, LLLP". Archived from the original on 23 June 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  10. ^ "When a Vanity Publisher...Pretends to be Traditional". Writers' Weekly. 11 January 2017.
  11. ^ Hundley, Jessica (30 March 2011). "Patrice Wilson of Ark Music: 'Friday' is on his mind". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  12. ^ Mazieres, David; Kohler, Eddie (2005). "Get me off Your Fucking Mailing List" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Bogus Journal Accepts Profanity-Laced Anti-Spam Paper". Scholarly Open Access. Archived from the original on 22 November 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  14. ^ York, Nicole (30 August 2017). "Why You Shouldn't Submit Your Photographs to Magazines". Fstoppers.
  15. ^ York, Nicole (26 September 2017). "Should You Get Published? An Interview With the Editors of Lucy's and Jute Magazines". Fstoppers.
  16. ^ "Books: Literary Rotolactor". 22 December 1941. Archived from the original on 9 June 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  17. ^ Harger III, Stover E. "Paying for prestige: the cost of recognition". Daily Vanguard. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
  18. ^ "Thumbs down publishers list". SFWA. Archived from the original on 9 September 2019. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  19. ^ a b Span, Paula (23 January 2005). "Making Books". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
  20. ^ Bad Art – A verse-case scenario (Boston Phoenix)
  21. ^ Margo Stever, The Contester: Struggles for Legitimacy. Poets and Writers Magazine
  22. ^ Comeau, Tina. "Newbia sequel: Dartmouth author with Digby County ties looking forward to launch of 2nd dream-inspired novel". Saltwire. Retrieved 16 December 2022.
  23. ^ D. T. Max (16 July 2000). "No More Rejections". New York Times.

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