Written by Emily Harstone August 17th, 2023

A New Ruse by Publishers to Make Authors Pay to Publish

Since 2020 there are more authors than ever trying to publish. This has impacted both the self publishing and publishing industry in profound ways. I’m only going to talk about the shift that has happened that is most worrying to me — as a reviewer of traditional publishers, as an author myself, and as an individual who doesn’t like being misled.

The first time I noticed this was in 2020, when Hay House started placing ads on Facebook offering free weekend workshops for authors, these ads regularly appeared on my news feed. As much as I really like free things, it immediately set off alarm bells, because Hay House runs, in partnership with Author Solutions, one of the vanity presses with practices that, in my opinion, are predatory — Balboa Press. I’ve written more about them here. We regularly receive emails complaining about Balboa from authors who published with them. Writer Beware has a very thoughtful post on them here.

There was no mention of Balboa on the Hay House advertisement. At the time I didn’t think of taking a screenshot, but here’s one from 2022, as they are still actively showing up on my newsfeed, mostly during the winter:

Hay House is (or was) a respected traditional publisher, but I know based on feedback from several individuals who have taken one or more of these writing challenges or workshops that it re-directs to Balboa Press. This further blurs the lines I talk about in the Traditional Presses with Vanity Imprints article. As far as I can tell, none of the other companies that work with Author Solutions are as directly involved with promoting their brand linked to Author Solutions.

If you go to Hay House’s submission guidelines the press makes it seem like the Writer’s Workshop Meetings and the Community created are the only way non-agented authors can connect with Hay House. I included a screenshot from their website that I took on July 25th, 2023 that is included below.

Now, I’m not saying that it is not possible to go the route that they suggested and find a place for your manuscript with Hay House. There may well be outliers who have found success this way. But based on reader feedback this is very much the exception, and both the community and the weekends are set up to be a pipeline for Balboa.

Just to make it clear, Hay House is not alone in this. I’ve started to encounter some version of this at other presses; one of the examples is below.

In early May I encountered Exisle Publishing, and while their initial landing page seemed fine and then on their submission guidelines, they led by mentioning “Exisle Academy”. They also forced potential submitters to share their email address in order to see their submission guidelines. I gave my email address and I also received a follow up email encouraging me to learn more about Exisle Academy. I’ve received between 1-2 emails a month since then from them, encouraging me to learn more and become part of their community.

This is what the landing page of Exisle Acadey looked like at the time that I wrote this article, July 24th, 2023.

They claim to give “the only writing feedback you’ll ever need” and offer “quick feedback” and “a free pitching guide”. As someone who gives a lot of feedback on writing for a living, no company should ever claim to be the only writing feedback anyone will ever need. That’s not how publishing actually works.

Since this article was initially written, the landing page has changed slightly from above. Now on August 15th, 2023 it looks like this, although the rest of the page remains the same as far as I can tell.

They follow it up by saying, “Our Bestselling Books for Adults and Award-Winning Books for Children Last. They Are Read Time and Time Again, and Make a Difference to the Lives of Readers Around the World” — this implies that these books were published by their traditional imprint and that some of the books below were found through their academy program. Nothing is stated directly though, which is important.

Here is a screenshot of some of the books.

That picture of books overlaps almost completely with the books they chose to feature in the contract publishing section of their website, where they make it clear people have to pay to publish with them.

From my perspective it seems pretty clear, that they, like Hay House, are reeling authors in with the promise of free education and honest feedback and an insider’s perspective, and then are largely turning those authors over to a vanity imprint (even if they call it contract publishing, what it is at its core appears to be a vanity press). This isn’t to say all of their advice is bad or they haven’t ever found an author they ended up publishing traditionally this way, but for most authors it appears to be a bait and switch approach.

That said, there are also publishers that I really want to like, that offer really expensive courses that also imply publication with them is part of the end goal, and I don’t think that’s any better really. But that’s a whole different ball of wax.

For the purpose of this article, my point is please be wary of free courses attached to presses with any sort of vanity imprint. And if you encounter one, please send it my way. I’m always answering emails at support@authorspublish.com.

Emily Harstone is the author of many popular books, including The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript SubmissionsSubmit, Publish, Repeat, and The 2023 Guide to Manuscript Publishers.She regularly teaches three acclaimed courses on writing and publishing at The Writer’s Workshop at Authors Publish. You can follow her on Facebook here.


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