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Vanity publishing

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The ranks of the would-be novelists are filled with Holocaust deniers, men who question whether women have souls, followers of Ayn Rand.
—Howard Mittelmark & Sandra Newman[1]

For every Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare in the world, there's also six zillion talentless schmucks who couldn't write their way out of a wet paper sack yet are nevertheless convinced they're God's gift to literature. How are these 'unsung geniuses' to grace the sheeple with their prose? Vanity publishing.

Legitimate publishers will cover all the costs of publishing a manuscript (e.g. printing, binding, distributing, and marketing fees) for a cut of the sales. For this reason, publishers will only accept a manuscript if they think the book will sell well enough such that the production costs will be met (hopefully exceeded). If the publisher decides the book won't be popular enough, they will reject it.

A vanity press, on the other hand, pretends to do the above, but in reality it does what no reputable traditional publisher would ever do: it forces the writer to pay all the costs of publication, plus hefty "editing fees", in advance. This means that a vanity press earns a fat profit even if none of the books they "publish" sells a single copy, which is why they accept almost any book submitted to them no matter how badly written it is. Of course, they make it sound like their acceptance is based on a painstaking editorial process, but this is meant solely to act as an ego boost to the writer they're hoping to milk bilk (hence the name "vanity publishing"). Basically, if your book is legal to sell in your country, a vanity press will take it on. They don't care if it's horribly written, they don't care if there's no market for it: as long as it's legal to publish, they'll handle it — as long as you pay. And pay. And pay. The cost of publishing something through a vanity press can be over one hundred times that of self-publishing.

Vanity-published literature is not limited to ghastly Twilight knock-offs by teenage girls with bloated egos. Oftentimes, vanity publishing is what cranks, quacks and conspiracy theorists turn to once they find that no serious publisher is willing to touch their nonsense. Said publishers milk said authors' persecution complexes for all they're worth. You can bet your ass that a neo-Nazi up in arms about the Zionist Occupation Government preventing his screed about the Jews promoting race-mixing through the media from being published through legitimate channels will be overjoyed to utilize a publishing house that he thinks has "seen the light". Since the 1990s, it has, of course, been possible for cranks to simply post whatever bullshit they've pulled out of their ass on the internet, but having written a published book and being able to refer to oneself as an author affords one a certain air of credibility, so this variety of scam has not yet completely died out. If nothing else, you might take comfort in the fact that buffoons such as creationists and woo-meisters are being conned out of their money in this way instead of innocent people. Another thing to be aware of is that, given the egos of the typical customers of these companies, an author may very well be aware that their publisher is hoovering their pockets but simply be so keen to see their name in print that they'll put up with it regardless. They may be under the delusion that they merely have to get the word out, at which point people will start "appreciating their genius".


See the main article on this topic: Pseudojournal

In 2014, Harvard scientist Mark Shrime wrote an article titled "Cuckoo for Coco Puffs? The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals" using a random text generator and submitted it to 37 vanity journals, of which at least 17 accepted the article for publication pending a fee to be paid by the author. Many of these vanity journals have names that sound professional and similar to real journals, e.g. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology is a real journal but Global Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology is a vanity journal.[2] Vanity journals do not have a peer-review process, or they only have the veneer of one. It should be noted that some legitimate peer-reviewed journals have sometimes charged authors a publication fee, usually to partly defray excessive publication costs (e.g., to print color images).

Taking ad-Vantage[edit]

During its time, Vantage Press (1949-1992) was the largest vanity press in the United States.[3] It met its demise after being court-ordered to pay $3.5 million in damages to 2,200 authors who were defrauded of advertising fees.[4] Vantage had charged authors between $3,000-$20,000 per book title; the lawyer for the plaintiff had charged that "Vantage operates a sham operation rife with fraud and phantom editors."[4] After suspending Vantage Press in 1992, president David C. Lamb closed the business completely in 2012. Vantage Press and Lamb were sued again in 2014 for "deceptive business practices of not disclosing facts that would have influenced Plaintiff from not entering into an agreement."[5]

Examples of vanity publishing[edit]

Written in FORTRAN, according to one reviewer[6][7]
  • Atlanta Nights — a deliberately bad novel concocted by a group of science fiction and fantasy writers to humiliate and get revenge on PublishAmerica, a publisher that had made some highly disparaging comments about the aforementioned genres. After the manuscript was accepted by PublishAmerica,[9] the publisher's offer was subsequently withdrawn. They author's chose to published the book with a self-publishing company instead to that the issue would not be forgotten.[10] PublishAmerica had long been accused of being a vanity press, an allegation that it strongly denied, claiming that it only accepted high-quality manuscripts. To test this claim, the writers sent their terrible manuscript to them to test precisely what their standards were; sure enough, it was accepted, with PublishAmerica hastily retracting the book after the hoax was revealed.
  • The infamously bad song "Friday" by Rebecca Black was produced by a vanity record label called ARK Music Factory,[11] which spawned many, many parodies.
  • Latawnya, the Naughty Horse, Learns to Say "No" to Drugs, where a horse overdoses[12][13] — if only the Ivermectin abusers had read this first!
  • Maradonia and the Seven Bridges by Gloria Tesch[14]Bible plagiarism (and worse) plus an author with a planet-sized ego[15]
  • Moon People by Dale M. Courtney.[16] A science fiction book published through Xlibris Publishing that looks like it was written by a ten-year-old. The book contains abundant typos, misplaced punctuation, no quotation marks, random capitalization, flat characters, wooden dialogue, telling instead of showing, a gushingly over-perfect lead, tons of filler and padding, almost no conflict, no plot, bizarre references to Star Trek and Led Zeppelin, an imperialistic alien race depicted as heroes, designated villains etc. It also has two sequels.
  • Too many others to count.

Not to be confused with[edit]

  • Self-Publishing — Where an author could also be of questionable talent/sanity, but once the books are printed, they take care of promotion, etc. on their own — the printer delivers the books, and makes no false promises.

External links[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them — A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark & Sandra Newman (2008) William Morrow. ISBN 0061357952.
  2. Why A Fake Article Titled "Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?" Was Accepted By 17 Medical Journals: A Harvard scientist wanted to see exactly how easy it is to get medical research published. In some cases, $500 is pretty much all it takes by Elizabeth Segran
  3. Vantage Press Closes by Jim Milliot (Dec 19, 2012) Publishers Weekly.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Jurors' Vanity Press Review: Publisher Defrauded Authors by Ronald Sullivan (April 7, 1990) The New York Times.
  5. EXCLUSIVE: Lawsuit Filed Against Vantage Press and Former Owner by Mick Rooney (January 19, 2014) The Independent Publishing Magazine.
  6. Birth Control is Sinful in the Christian Marriages and also Robbing God of Priesthood Children!! by Eliyzabeth Yanne Strong-Anderson: Customer Review by Ronald J. Conlon (January 2, 2010) (archived from 5 Jul 2022 20:26:34 UTC).
  7. Birth Control is Sinful… (book) by Khun Kao (September 11, 2014, 12:54pm) MMA Underground Forums (archived from July 5, 2022).
  8. BIRTH CONTROL IS SINFUL IN THE CHRISTIAN MARRIAGES and also ROBBING GOD OF PRIESTHOOD CHILDREN!! by Eliyzabeth Yanne Strong-Anderson (2007) AuthorHouse. ISBN 1425992609.
  9. Atlanta Nights by Meg Phillips (December 07, 2004 12:53 PM) PublishAmerica (archived from January 5, 2007).
  10. Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea (2002) Lulu. ISBN 1411622987.
  11. Rebecca Black - Friday (Sep 16, 2011) YouTube.
  12. Latawnya, the naughty horse, learns to say "No" to drugs by Sylvia Scott Gibson (1990) Vantage Press. ISBN 0533091020.
  13. Illustrations talk by themselves
  14. Maradonia and the Seven Bridges by Gloria Tesch (2007) Liberty's Book Press. ISBN 0615214797.
  15. Gaze into the horror
  16. Moon People by Dale M. Courtney (2008) Xlibris. ISBN 1436372135.