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July 12, 2019

From Writer Beware's Files: The Six Most Prolific Vanity Publishers (Plus Two Honorable Mentions)


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Vanity publishers, unfortunately, are not in short supply. Writer Beware's files include hundreds of them, large and small. But there's a select few about which we hear over and over, via writers' questions and complaints. These companies reel in not dozens, not scores, but hundreds and even thousands of writers, doing business on an industrial scale.

I'm going to provide a snapshot of each of these below. But first, some common deceptive terms.

Hybrid Publisher: There's some disagreement over whether there actually is such a thing as a hybrid publisher--a company that charges substantial fees yet provides a service that's otherwise equivalent to traditional publishing, including rigorous selectivity and editing, high royalties, offline distribution, non-bogus PR, and more. Regardless, the term is extensively misused by vanity publishers trying to look more legitimate. Any publisher billing itself as "hybrid" demands further investigation.

Co-Publishing and Partner Publishing: These are also euphemisms beloved of vanities. The implication is that the publisher contributes something of value to match or exceed whatever the author is being asked to pay or buy: the lion's share of publishing costs, for instance, or some kind of deep publishing expertise.

However, vanity publishing is a whole different business model from traditional publishing, with profits primarily derived not from book sales to the public, but from author fees and self-purchases. Far from being a contribution or a share, your fee will likely cover not just the entire cost of publishing your book, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well. And vanity publishers have little incentive to cut into that profit by providing high-quality publishing and marketing services.

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Writer Beware receives more reports and questions about self-styled "hybrid" Austin Macauley Publishers than we do about any other vanity. Based in the UK, AM has aggressively expanded over the past few years, extending its tentacles into the USA, the UAE, and Australia.

Fees in AM contracts Writer Beware has seen range from £1,275 to £7,700 (the heading of fee disclosure section of AM's contract is "Advances," except that this is an "advance" the author has to pay the publisher). Some authors are offered a choice of fees depending on which book formats they pick.

AM does occasionally offer a fee-free contract. But these are no bargain: among other things, there's no stated term for the grant of rights, and discontinuance of publication is "entirely at the discretion of the publisher"--in effect, a life-of-copyright grant with completely inadequate provisions for rights reversion. Also, as pointed out above, vanity publishing is a very particular business model. It's unlikely the vanity will have the staff expertise, distribution channels, or budget to provide a service that's anywhere near equivalent to what you'd receive from a traditional publisher--even if you don't have to pay a fee.

AM is currently recruiting writers via deceptively-headlined Google ads, which encourage authors who use certain search phrases to believe they are submitting to a Big 5 publisher:

For a more detailed look at AM (including its scurrilous rebuttal to my criticism, which has been removed from the web but survives thanks to the Wayback Machine), see my 2016 blog post: Questions For Vanity Publisher Austin Macauley Yield Few Answers.

As of this writing, AM is overdue on filing financial statements.

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UK-based Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie is the oldest of the companies mentioned in this post, having been in business since the early 2000s. Like Austin Macauley, it claims to offer both traditional and "shared-cost inclusive" (i.e., pay to play) contracts to its authors, which "enables us to provide equal opportunities to both new and established authors" (claiming that new authors are a greater risk than established ones is a common rationale used by vanity publishers to justify their fees).

Like many vanities, Pegasus doesn't mention any actual money amounts on its website, but per reports Writer Beware has received, as well as others that can be found online, fees average around £2,500, with some going lower or higher (the highest we've heard about is £4,500). This is presented to authors as a "contribution"--supposedly, just part of the cost--but as I've explained above, claims of cost-sharing or partnership should be treated with skepticism.

Again like Austin Macauley, Pegasus's contract describes its fee as an "Advance". And speaking of similarities between these two vanities: with just a few exceptions, their author-unfriendly contracts are word-for-word identical.

Coincidence? Synchronicity? Well, consider that AM and Pegasus have shared people, too. Mr. Bu-Azal Bedar, who briefly served as Pegasus's Director and owns more than 50% of shares in the company, was Secretary at Austin Macauley from 2007 to 2012.

That's not all. Mr. Bedar is also Director at Ashwell Publishing Ltd., which does business as Olympia Publishers. Writer Beware doesn't get questions or complaints about Olympia nearly as often as we do about AM and Pegasus, but we've gotten enough to know that it charges similar fees and, amazingly (or maybe not) offers the exact same word-for-word identical contract.

Finally, check out the comments on this review of Olympia by The Independent Publishing Magazine, in which numerous authors report receiving offers not just from Olympia, but from AM or Pegasus as well--or as with this poor fellow, all three:


Things that make you go "hmmmm."

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I've written several times in this blog about Morgan James Publishing--most recently in 2018--regarding its repeated inclusion on Publisher's Weekly's annual list of fast-growing independent publishers.

Morgan James may be "independent," but it's also a vanity publisher. It requires its authors "to commit to purchasing, during the life of the agreement, up to 2,500 copies [of their book] at print cost plus $2." Reports Writer Beware has received indicate that at least some writers are asked for a "deposit" of as much as $5,000 on contract signing. I've also had reports of additional fees for editing and PR.

To make this sizeable outlay of cash seem more palatable, MJP claims on its "compare" page that "Many major houses require authors to purchase 5,000 copies, or more, of the book upon its release", and that even with self-publishing, "[the a]uthor is expected to purchase however many copies required to sell to the general public." Neither of these claims is true.

A "branded imprint" of Morgan James, Koehler Books claims to offer traditional contracts, though it appears heavily dependent on a vanity model, which it interchangeably describes as "hybrid publishing", "joint venture" publishing, and "co-publishing". Debut writers are shunted into its Emerging Authors Program, which "is designed primarily for debut or emerging writers who have the talent, but not necessarily the experience or platform, to merit a traditional publishing deal." As I mentioned above, relegating first-time writers to second-class citizenship is a common ploy by which vanity publishers justify their fees.

According to reports I've received, Koehler's fees run between $3,500 and $5,500. I also saw a Koehler contract that required the author to buy all remaining stock if their book didn't sell 1,500 copies within a year of publication.

Koehler is very active on Publishizer, a crowdfunding platform that allows publishers (both reputable and not so much) to scout for manuscripts--so active, in fact, that it has a special recruitment page for Publishizer authors. But hey--they get a discount!

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Page Publishing is one of a triad of sorts, a group of US-based vanity publishers that have very similar fees and business models, and present and advertise themselves in very similar ways. (The other two are Christian Faith Publishing and Newman Springs Publishing, both of which I discuss below). I haven't been able to find any proof that the three are connected (with the exception of one possible coincidence, detailed below), but as you'll see as you read on, the similarities are striking.

Page is the oldest of the three, with a 2011 founding date--although I didn't start getting questions about it until 2013. Many of the authors I've heard from missed the brief reference to "a manageable investment" on Page's About Us page, and assumed its claim to be a "full-service publishing house" meant it was a traditional publisher.

No actual prices are mentioned on Page's website, but based on the many, many reports, questions, and complaints I've received, as well as others that can be found online, Page's fees average in the $3,000-$5,000 range, paid on an installment plan over 10 or 12 months. As with so many vanity publishers, authors can spend hundreds or even thousands beyond their basic fee if they spring for optional promotional packages and materials, such as video trailers and sell sheets.

Page is an aggressive advertiser, with multiple Google ads and the kind of TV ads that run on channels like CNN or Fox News or the History Channel during the afternoon hours and late at night. Its BBB listing is stocked with an improbably large number of five-star reviews (the BBB is not normally a place where writers flock to leave reviews of their publishers)--however, it has also gathered some complaints, which paint a very different picture and echo what I've heard from writers who've contacted me.

Page is one of the most prolific vanities out there; if Amazon is to be believed, it has published over 7,000 books to date. Austin Macauley knows a competitor when it sees one:

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Founded in 2014 by an alumnus of disgraced Christian vanity Tate Publishing, Christian Faith Publishing describes itself as a "full-service book publisher" that "partners" with its authors to deliver "personal care and national marketing exposure." All that's required is "a short-term, affordable monthly installment plan".

Sound familiar?

As with Page, CFP's fees--which it doesn't disclose anywhere on its website--average between $3,000 and $5,000, paid in installments over a period of months. Marketing is an add-on: for instance, $3,400 for a package that includes a "High-Definition Video Trailer", a press release, and a page on CFP's website. (This is not marketing, it's junk. It's not worth one cent, let alone four figures.)

Again like Page, CFP is an aggressive advertiser, with a similar range of Google and TV ads. Its BBB listing too boasts hundreds of five-star reviews...along with the inevitable complaints that tell a different story.

Remember the possible coincidence I mentioned in my discussion of Page, above? Check out CFP's corporation directors:


See the third name on the list? Dustin Roberts is the name of Page Publishing's CEO. Could this be a different Dustin Roberts? Sure. But given the nature of both businesses, one could be pardoned for wondering.

CFP is currently the subject of a wage and hour lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleges that they and others were not paid overtime. Dismissed in 2018 in favor of the plaintiff due to CFP's failure to appear or defend, the case was re-opened in 2019, and the plaintiff is now seeking a class action.

This summary of the lawsuit includes some interesting details about what CFP employees do:


Full-service, indeed.

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Newman Springs Publishing, the third of the triad, is the baby of the bunch, having opened its doors in early 2017. Its first books didn't come out until June 2018, but it hasn't been idle: according to Amazon, it already has a catalog of nearly 400 titles.

Like CFP and Page, Newman Springs styles itself a "partner publisher," and employs a similarly modest--and non-specific--description of its fees ("a relatively inexpensive initial investment"). According to reports I've received, as well as others that can be found online, "relatively inexpensive" means the same price range as CFP and Page: somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000, paid in installments over 10 or 12 months. Additional money may be due for extras like video trailers.

Newman Springs uses the same advertising tactics as CFP and Page: Google ads and late-night TV commercials. Also similar is its BBB listing, which includes a suspiciously large--and growing--array of five-star reviews. It hasn't been in business long enough to score any complaints, but I'm sure those are coming.

11 comments :

Teresa Fannin said...

excellent article, so complete in description of each of the vanity publishers. Thank you. As an RA with SCBWI it's wonderful to have such a site available when asked!

 Ashley said...

It beggars belief that people still fall for this when self-publishing is a straight-forward proposition, even if you have to pay a cover artist and editor.

Victoria Strauss said...

The secret of these vanities is that they present themselves as publishers. Their target customer doesn't want to self-publish; they what they see as the validation of being chosen by a publisher, and because they don't realize that reputable publishers don't charge fees, they are vulnerable to this kind of deceptive advertising.

Antaeus said...

Thanks for the article. It was very informative and well written. I appreciate all that you do to help us aspiring authors.
A few years ago, I sent a query to a Polish publisher. They responded that they were interested, and asked me to send then the manuscript. I was unable to get a response from them after that. My sister-in-law is from Poland, and she went back to visit relatives a year later. Her cousin was reading my book which was published in Polish by that publisher.

Victoria Strauss said...

Antaeus,

That's illegal. Poland is a signatory to the Berne Convention, which requires member countries to treat the copyrights of creators from other member countries at least as well as they treat their own creators. I know the time has probably passed, but you should have been able to take legal action.

Christine Keleny said...

Great post, as usual. Keep up the good work! - Christine K.

PT Dilloway said...

For a little while they showed ads for Page and Newman Springs on Pluto TV. I forget which one it was that hilariously lamented big publishers in "high rise towers" not publishing people. Because the best publishers are housed in garages apparently.

Alana said...

In the world of academic publishing, "hybrid" is generally considered to be a respectable publishing model, with many major publishers like Wiley, Emerald, and Springer Nature having several hybrid journals. For scholarly publications, "hybrid" indicates that the journal will--at the discretion of the author--publish articles traditionally (where readers have to pay to access the article) or as open access (where any reader can access it). The articles that are published open access usually require an author processing charge that can often be covered by the author's institution. Since academic authors never get paid anyway (except in prestige, exposure, and/or qualifications for tenure) and the peer review process should (in theory) ensure that the article is of quality regardless, the hybrid journal model doesn't run into the same pittraps as vanity publishing. This isn't to say that academic publishing doesn't have its own problems (hello all the predatory journals on Beall's List!) or that everyone agrees that hybrid publishing or author processing charges are good things, but it goes to show how different the publishing world can be depending on what part of it you're in.

Bud Ramey said...

I am a published author having written six books, and dealt with several publishers. My best experience has been with Koehler Books. We are currently preparing for a major international release of a book about the future of healthcare. After forty years in communications, I have never dealt with anyone as competent and professional as John Koehler, Joe Coccaro and their team. I have had books rejected by Joe and John because of flaws in the narrative flow. They hold up a quality standard second to none, insisting that everything is perfect and correct, and that the book has a solid marketing plan. Joe Coccaro, the lead editor, has a background in newspaper publishing and is an accomplished writer and journalist. There is nobody better.

Please revise your assessment of Koehler Books. I do understand that there are a lot of firms out there who will publish anything and charge too much for doing that. This is not one of those firms.

If anyone wants to contact me about this, please do. My email is budramey4@gmail.com.

THANKS FOR ALLOWING AN OPPOSING VIEW.

Bud Ramey

Allen F said...

@ Bud

What did she say that was incorrect about Koehler Books?

From their own web pages (http://www.koehlerbooks.com/publishing-services/publishing-options/co-publishing/) I get:

A co-publishing package with Köehler Books ranges in price, depending on the size of the book, the quality and craft of the manuscript, and the number of graphics and illustrations used on the interior of the book. Pricing ranges from $2750 – $3750 for a children’s book, $4300 – $5450 for a small memoir or non-fiction book, and $5200 – $7600 for a full-sized novel requiring developmental line editing.

I did enjoy the several warnings not to try that self publishing thingy - they seem to think it's just too hard for those little writers just starting out.

noelle44 said...


Thanks for this info - forewarned is forearmed. I'd thought about a vanity publisher but now maybe not so much....

 
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