Is the Publisher Misleading You?: Subsidy Publishers Posing as Traditional Publishers

Guest Post by Irene Watson

Recently I was contacted by an author for advice regarding an acceptance letter to publish her book she received.  She was all excited but cautious for good reasons.  I remembered hearing about this specific company and decided to do some checking.  (Did you know if you enter into Google search the name of the company and add “scam” or “fraud” you will get hits of posts, if there are any,  in that regard?)

The publisher, on the home page, states:

We do not require any money from any of our authors for any aspect of production. We are not a self-publisher in our approach, operation, or philosophy in any way.

Although this may be true in some aspect the contract the author received said differently.  If signed, the author was committing to using their fee-based editing service, cover art, publicity package, and purchasing bulk quantities of the book.

The author didn’t sign the contract. 

After this incident I went on a search to see if I could find others that misled and I did:

We are not a subsidy publisher because the fee we charge covers only part of our cost; we pay the rest. Makes no difference, a fee is a fee is a fee whether it covers all the costs or not.

We are a traditional publisher.  We don’t charge fees to have your book published.  However, when I perused the site I found that actually they are a co-publishers and require the author to buy a minimum number of books. 

I’m sure there are others but what I realized is, because of the bad rap that subsidy/vanity presses get, some are trying to justify so as not to get pigeon holed into that category. 

There are many self-publishing firms (aka subsidy/vanity) and it seems like new ones are popping up daily.  I’m constantly getting emails alerting me to the new service. 

No doubt there is cost involved, whether you truly self-publish or use a self-publishing firm, and it’s important not to get distracted.  If you go with a self-publishing firm keep in mind you are buying a service and not specifically chosen to be published.  If you choose to go that route it’s important to be sure the service is honest and reputable as well as cost-effective.  Doing your research and comparison-shopping is a must.  An honest self-publishing firm will be upfront with the fees and will have no need to justify or try to convince you to go with them.

There are many experts that are totally against self-publishing firms and are adamant in their opinions.  They encourage authors to self-publish for many reasons and one is that you are apt to make more money.  However, it’s one of those decisions you have to make yourself.  Do you have the time to put into self-publishing your own book and make more money or would you rather have someone else do it for you?  I equate it with deciding whether you are going to hire a housekeeper or do the housecleaning yourself.  Which one will it be?

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews  of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity  and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.


Posted on May 15, 2011, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Thanks for exposing the bad apples. You are 100% correct in that if the author pays even 1$ it is no longer "Traditional" but "Vanity" Press. Folks, Subsidy means Vanity by the way as well. In six years of operation, our press has never accepted a single penny from an author for printing, publishing, editing, typesetting, advertising, or marketing a book. If you don't make money, we don't make money. That's the way it should be. So far we have yet to have a profitable year, but the authors get paid like clockwork and that's all that matters.The rule is simple: Traditional publishers make their money from readers buying books, Vanity publishers make their money from Authors buying books. It's a subtle but necessary distinction. Repeat the mantra until you've memorized it.

  2. In six years of knocking around in this evil, depressing, tiny, misleading Industry, the ONLY person I have "met" who knows what they are talking about, AND is honest, is Irene Watson.

  3. The biggest misconception that I see with authors who become involved in a vanity/subsidy press – by whatever name they call themselves – is the belief that their publisher will be marketing their books for them. I challenge any author considering that means to do research – first – and know what means of marketing really work for books. Most of these companies offer lots of promises and "packages" – and they can be costly – simply because the author doesn't truly know what they are getting. For example, if you believe simply having a website will sell lots of books, you have a lot to learn. (And yes, some do believe that.)My favorite rule is "trackable ROI" (return on investment). Any marketing that can be tracked (how many dollars you spent equals a known quantity of books sold, directly due to that marketing). If you can track your sales and see a visible profit from that means – do it again and again. If you don't, stop, or make sure the "gamble" (and that's what it is) isn't going to cost you much. Much of the so-called marketing offered by many vanity/subsidy presses is eye candy designed to make the author believe they are getting a lot for their money.Having been a book designer for over a decade, working with authors who desire to truly publish their own, I've done my best to educate my clients (and perspective clients) on the differences of all the different types of publishing as well as after publication marketing. Some listen to my advice, some spend their money like they are at the horse race track.

  4. Having been in the public relations field for 25 years, and with a strong sales background as well, I knew what I was getting into when I decided to self-publish BACK TO THE GARDEN: Getting from Shadow to Joy. I'm glad I did it–hand-selling $10,000 worth of books in the first year at talks & workshops, at events where I circulated, even in line at the post office– I was able to recoup the production costs (beautifully designed by Jamie Saloff of This approach is not for the faint of heart, but at least while I'm building my platform I'm now keeping all the profits It works if you're into sales & marketing. Even "real publishers" still expect unknowns to market their own books, and they keep the profit.

  5. Irene, I like to take what I can get for free — Smashwords, Createspace, Amazon KDP — and pay reasonable amounts for what I can't do: editing, creating a cover, getting honest reviews, and marketing. But I want nothing to do with the V-word subsidy "publishers."

  6. A problem for many new authors is finding a publishing house right now that is currently accepting manuscripts. The economy has swallowed many small publishing houses whole so many are turning to subsidy publishing. There is definitely room in the publishing world to redefine the game. Airlines now charge to check your baggage, a service that used to be done for free. There are more than a few small publishing houses who are at least looking into the idea of charging for their services. The key is to be honest with your clients and charge reasonable prices for the services that are provided. Maybe when enough honest and quality subsidy publishers are created we may rethink the term subsidy publishing and accept it as an economic necessity.

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