Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware® is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

November 23, 2009

From Novelists Inc. Issues Position Statement on Vanity Publishing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week, RWA, MWA, and SFWA all issued official statements condemning Harlequin Enterprises' new self-publishing division, Harlequin Horizons.

(In response to criticism, Harlequin has pledged to "chang[e] the name of the self-publishing company from Harlequin Horizons to a designation that will not refer to Harlequin in any way," but as of this writing, both the name and the Harlequin Horizons website appear to be unchanged.)

Now Novelists Inc. has weighed in, with a position statement on vanity publishing and the risks that arise when brand name publishers add vanity publishing divisions.


Novelists, Inc. Responds to Disturbing Developments in Publishing:

Vanity publishing is not new, although the Internet has become a lucrative feeding ground for vanity publishers. Presented with enough enthusiastic jargon and color graphics, a hopeful author might well be convinced that he has stumbled upon a fantastic new way of bringing his stories, his voice, to the reading public.

Alas, the truth is that vanity publishing is still the same old opportunistic hag dressed up in new clothing, with the added flash and dash of savvy marketing. It still exists to part dreamers from their money, with very little hope of return. The dangled bait never changes, the creatively couched language suggesting that all these good things "could, may, might possibly, perhaps" happen for you if you choose one from column A and two from Column B on their à la carte menu of pricey services.

There is now a new, deeply disturbing twist being applied to this age-old money grab. Publishers with brand names, currently enjoying respectable reputations within the industry and with the reading public, are putting both on the chopping block in order to get a share of the vanity publishing market.

It takes years to build a respected name and reputation in this industry. Losing that respect happens much more quickly, sometimes overnight.

No authors' organization can prevent a publisher from setting up a vanity publishing division. Writers' organizations can, however, speak firmly and clearly about the sort of egregious business practices that reflect badly on our entire industry.

Ninc strongly advocates that any and all publishing houses that now operate or are in the planning stages of creating vanity publishing arms do so ethically and responsibly, while adhering to accepted standards of full disclosure. This includes not using the same or a similar name for the vanity division of their royalty-paying publishing house.

Ninc further strongly advocates that these houses either cease and desist or do not institute the practice of steering hopeful writers who are rejected by the royalty-paying divisions of their companies into the open arms of their vanity publishing offshoot.

To do otherwise demeans the publisher's brand and robs credibility from every one of its conventional, contracted authors.

For Those Considering Vanity Publishing

Novelists, Inc. (Ninc) is an international organization devoted to the needs of multi-published authors of novel-length popular fiction. Ninc has no unpublished members; all are experienced, savvy, and educated in the various perils and pitfalls that await the unwary writer in search of an audience.

So why is Ninc addressing the subject of vanity publishing? That's simple. We care about writers. All writers. And we care equally for their audiences, the book buying public.

Vanity publishing, by definition, involves bringing together a writer eager to have his work in print and a company eager to charge that writer for printing the copies. Vanity publishers don't care if the book is good or bad. Vanity publishers will print anything the writer will pay them to print. Quality and sales potential of the work are not priorities; in fact, they aren't considered at all.

Ninc's advice to hopeful authors remains what it has always been: work hard, learn your craft, and network with other writers to share knowledge and information. And remember, if an offer to publish your previously rejected novel and thus become a "real author" by handing over a check sounds too good to be true, that's because it is.


As long as there are people desperate to be published, vanity publishers will exist, and profit-motive companies, no matter the size or prior reputation, may at some point decide that if a starry-eyed dreamer and his money are soon to be parted, why not hold out a hand for their share. All Ninc and other professional writers' organizations and consumer advocates can do, and thankfully are doing, is to educate people on the subject of vanity publishing.

Please, before you open your wallet, take some time to open your eyes. Here are some places to begin educating yourself:

Writer Beware's page on vanity publishing

Preditors and Editors

Bewares and Background Check forum at the Absolute Write Water Cooler

The Price of Vanity, an article by author Moira Allen

An Easy Way to Lose Money, an article by Pan Macmillan's Barry Turner

Is the Publisher Just the Middleman? An article by author Lucy Snyder

Publishing Scams: Six Red Flags That Scream Ripoff, an article by author Karen Bledsoe


nauthor said...


As a hag myself, I take Umbridge.

Unknown said...

Great post, very informative. However, I think it would be helpful if you provided the names of some reputable self publishing companies for us novices to refer to.

S.D. said...

I was telling my dad about this whole thing and he seemed to think it was normal, which really surprised me. (and that made me glad that you and other people online told me better)

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

I'm deeply trouble by the whole thing but I understand it is done for the bottomline and with ePublishing being in i's infantcy there is no tell what is to come.
Thanks for sharing.

Kathi Macias said...

As the author of thirty books and one who continues to publish regularly in the traditional publishing world, I feel qualified to comment on this topic. I chose to self-publish a book a few years ago simply because it made more sense to do so. I needed the book quickly (by self-publishing I got it in thirty days!), wanted to maintain control (I have been able to make content changes since the original publication), and because my primary source for sales on this particular book is selling it at conferences where I speak/teach I wanted to earn more money per book than I would traditionally (I average $3–$6 per sale on this self-published book). Do I have to do most of my own marketing for this self-published book? Absolutely. But I do that for my traditionally published books as well. Since making the decision to self-publish this particular book several years ago, I can look back and say that not only do I not have any regrets at having done so, I would do so again in a heartbeat.

Vicky DeCoster said...

The print-on-demand industry is changing daily. As an author who has self-published four books to date and made every cent of my investment back at the first book signing party and a consistent profit ever since, I can attest that this is an industry that stays on top of trends, listens to its authors, and helps writers who wish to do their own marketing and public relations publish a book at a reasonable cost. Whether a writer is is traditionally published or self-published, we all need to become better at supporting each other in our efforts and nurturing talent.

Carol Hoenig said...

Self-publishing and print-on-demand are not the same as vanity publishing, since vanity “publishing” is really just a company printing a manuscript without any professional editing and then requiring the author to buy a large number of his or her books to store in his or her garage and sell on their own. Print-on-demand does not require the author to buy copies of his or her book. In addition, many print-on-demand and self-publishers do provide authors with editorial and marketing services, if they so choose. I do a lot of speaking engagements at writers conferences and I always stress that every author should attempt to get a traditional publishing deal before going the route of print-on-demand; however, since only a very small percentage of authors actually get a book deal, it’s good to know that there are options, especially if one is willing to invest in his or her career as a serious writer. --Carol Hoenig,

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