Literary Scams

Printing Costs

The best defense against fraud and bad deals is a combination of skepticism and adequate information. If you've come here, you hopefully have the skepticism already.

More in the printing segment of publishing than anywhere else, there is in fact objective information available to help avoid fraud and bad deals. Unfortunately, it is difficult to come by, and its reliability is difficult to assess absent almost constant contact with the printing industry. A little later on this page, I have provided a simple JavaScript estimator of printing costs. Before we get to the estimator, though, a few words of caution about publishing procedures and vanity presses.

Remember that Money flows toward the author, and you won't go far wrong.

Last Updated: 10 July 2005

Vanity Presses

Vanity presses, under whatever name, are seldom a good choice for authors. The few "success stories" of authors using vanity presses and then finding their way to literary fame and fortune are not only exceedingly rare—even rarer than a first-time author doing so through traditional publishing—but they are almost invariably from nonstandard publishing environments (before the current industry structure was established, or in niches that don't follow the normal "rules"). Aside from this, they are horribly overpriced, and often produce shoddy goods (if at all, as many vanity presses are outright scams). Many of them, in fact, are actually self-publishing efforts, not true "vanity press" efforts at all.

A vanity press preys on the vanity of the authors—their opinions that their works are unjustly neglected by the publishing industry. The publishing industry does have its blind spots, and some works that should be published cannot make it in the door (and vice versa). However, this is quite a small proportion of the total number of works offered to the industry every year, the vast majority of which are objectively unpublishable.

But what is a vanity press? Does it matter what it calls itself? Not at all. A vanity press has two characteristics, both measured at the moment the first copy comes out of the bindery:

Applying these rules, many of the so-called "POD presses" are in fact vanity presses. To name a few at this writing, iUniverse, AuthorHouse, XLibris, and PublishAmerica are vanity presses—not, as their marketing materials state, assistance for self-publishers. This does not mean that vanity presses are inherently evil; a vanity press may be appropriate for some types of projects, such as family histories with extremely limited audiences. Nonetheless, deception is never appropriate; substance, not formal name (or marketing label), is what matters. Don't allow the name of the press to fool you; a "vanity press" is to a "subsidy publisher" as a "garbage collector" is to a "sanitation engineer." Remember, too, that "POD" is a printing technology, not a business model.

The printing cost estimator should give you an idea of what you'll get for the $9,000 (or more) typically charged by old-line vanity presses, or the average $900 (once all the absolutely necessary options have been accounted for) typically charged—in one form or another—by the newer "POD presses."

A Printing Cost Estimator

The following JavaScript estimator function is based on data validated on 03 June 2004. It is intended only to help you judge the value of printing services offered to you, whether from a vanity press or someone else. It will not help you understand the costs of color interior work, nor the costs of actually getting something typeset and ready to go to the printer.

You should also understand that this estimator is intended only to show the general cost. Very good and responsive printers may vary as much as 15% from a given estimate, and occasionally more. It is also very much a "plain vanilla option" estimator, giving only a few options for paper and bindings.

The estimator also ignores the cost of shipping the finished books to you (or to wherever). As of mid-2004, this will cost around $13/carton for up to 600 miles from the plant; a carton holds approximately 22 spine-inches of 6x9 trade paperbacks. However, shipping charges are highly variable and seldom repeat from order to order, even only a few weeks apart.

Page Count

other lengths require direct quotation

Print Run

larger quantities are not appropriate for self-publishing and require direct quotation

This estimate is based upon prices validated on 03 June 2004, and does not guarantee any prices. It should be used only to help determine if costs for printing quoted by a publisher or printer are unreasonably high. It does not create any relationship or contract with or its principal.

direct-to-plate (PDF text, EPS cover)
interior: black only, 
, pp., " spine
average delivery weeks FOB plant,
about  cartons at about  books/carton
 per book,  total
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Charlie Petit

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