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.
Remember that Money flows toward the author, and you won't go far wrong.
Last Updated: 10 July 2005
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 rareeven rarer than a first-time author doing so through traditional publishingbut 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 authorstheir 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:
Of course, the printer has possession of the books, no matter what business model is at issue. This is instead a question of ownership, not possession. One big hint is where those books will be shipped from the printing plant. If they're going to somebody other than the author, the author probably is not the legal owner (although there are rare exceptions, such as a self-publisher who outsources production to a contractor). Another big hint is whether the author has to pay a per-actual-copy charge to get his/her hands on individual copies (as opposed to a single invoice for the entire print run).
This factor, in turn, must include several specific types of costs:
That, however, is not the final list. Sometimes a publisher will require that an author contribute capital to the publishing project, such as a list of two hundred potential customers, or payment of advertising fees, and so on. Too, the costs must be balanced against actual, guaranteed sales, such as orders already in hand. "Capital flow" is a net measurement.
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 pressesnot, 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 chargedin one form or anotherby the newer "POD presses."
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.
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