Written by Emily Harstone June 27th, 2019

The Problem of Traditional Publishers With Vanity Presses

Vanity presses have been around for a long time. They charge writers significant amounts of money to get a book published, offering services such as editing, design, and marketing, often for many thousands of dollars. I have many problems with vanity presses in general.

More recently, there has been a recent trend of vanity presses that bill themselves as self-publishers. This trend came along as part and parcel of the increase in popularity of self-publishing. My problem with it is that it makes writers think they have to spend thousands of dollars to self-publish, when that is not the case.

You can self publish on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) without spending any money. You might not make money by doing this, but more importantly you won’t lose money while doing this.

As much as I loathe vanity publishers for re-branding as self-publishers, I have an even bigger issue with Big Five publishers and established traditional independent publishers getting in on the trend of “self-publishing” by starting what are essentially vanity imprints, or partnering with established vanity presses to create Big Five branded vanity imprints.

Recently, I was in a bookstore and a woman was selling her children’s book. She had a signing table set up but no one was around. She approached us to try to sell the book. When I asked who the publisher was, she told me it was Hay House, an established and respected independent publisher. I turned the book over and saw the logo for Balboa Press, the vanity imprint for Hay House.

One of the issues I have with Balboa Press, and other vanity imprints of traditional presses (although not all), is that they mention this as one of their selling points: “Acquisition Potential – Hay House keeps an eye out for titles gaining attention in the marketplace.” This is a really misleading thing to offer, because it is nebulous and you shouldn’t have to pay to for a chance to get a traditional publishing contract.

I talked to a Balboa Press representative to inquire about numbers, in terms of authors whose work had been acquisitioned by Hay House and they told me that any information about that was private and arranged between the author of the work and Hay House. So, even though they promise the potential for Hay House to acquire a book, it seems they are completely unaware as to whether that happens or not. I would love to be corrected about this, if it is wrong.

Archway Publishing is the vanity imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc who partnered with the vanity press Author Solutions. They have a similar offer to Hay House in terms of attracting authors. As they phrase it on their website, “Simon & Schuster is always on the lookout for fresh stories, and a high-performing Archway title may catch someone’s eye.”

Archway has gotten a fair negative press for running questionable contests and other practices. But they’ve been around since 2012 and they are probably here to stay, unfortunately.

Sometimes the Big Five avoid having self publishing imrints in the US and Canada, but they are braver abroad. Partridge Publishing which is an imprint of Penguin that exists in India, Africa, and Singapore, is another self publisher/vanity press. It is also a partnership with Author Solutions.

There are other vanity imprints out there. So stay alert. A lot of authors are more open to these imprints because of the branding, but they are generally even more expensive than other vanity presses.

Emily Harstone is the pen name of an author whose work has been published internationally by a number of respected journals. She is a professional submissions adviser and spends much of her time researching manuscript publishers. You can follow her on Facebook here.


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