Self publishing, is it worth it ? An illustrator´s point of view 3 – How vain is your credit card ?

Vanity press can not only ruin your publishing dream but also can leave you broke in the process. And to top that, vanity press can make you hostage to their company when it comes to you not owning your own files. So how vain are you ?
How desperate are you to put your book out there and becoming a successful children´s book author ?


So what is – “vanity press”  ?
Well it´s a pejorative name attributed to those types of “publishing” companies that arrived when the self publish desire of many people out there became an actual market for people to be prayed upon. Attracted with promises of – exposure- to say the least and – overnight success- in many cases.
Things and catch phrases are a lot more toned down nowadays but when the first companies arrived on internet if you were an author wanting to find an alternative way of publishing your book, you could really think any one of these companies could put you on the spotlight and make you a really known and established author – like the real ones . Better even they all promised to do that without you having to go through the traditional route of desperation, rejection and disappointment people like Stephen King had to go through before the internet was invented and there was no vanity press.

You can recognize a vanity press company by the fact they all tell you that you can “publish” your book for free. They will give you your own store on their site and then you upload your book and nothing happens in sales.
Usually the only sales you make are when, either you buy your own book or your friends and mum get a copy.
This is the more traditional print on demand side of these companies. You have your book “published” , a copy will only be printed when someone orders your book on your store and that´s it. The company does not promote your book at all and so if you´re one of those authors that expect to spend your days just writing instead of putting at least 90% of your daily creative time on doing your own self marketing you can forget fame and fortune and you can forget sales because nobody will visit your shop because nobody will know that you exist.


You can order yourself a copy of your book and generally the print quality is actually really good; many times awesome really and so you stare at the “published” result of your work with pride. You should be. If you actually have a good book , when it comes to print on demand technical results out of vanity press companies, if you created a really good design overall you should really end up with a great looking book which will feel as professional as any other.
But that´s it.
Nobody but you will likely see your work when you self publish through a vanity press company. It´s like if you are steering at yourself in a mirror.
Therefore, – “Vanity Press”.


But if you think that´s bad, you haven´t seen nothing yet.
In truth there is nothing wrong with – vanity press – companies within a specific context. They are really capable of delivering a good product out of your work (if you have a professional looking graphic design you will not look self published) and also it´s true they provide you with a free online store and even a few good free tools for you to promote it by yourself.
So what´s the problem then ?

The dark site of vanity press sites is revealed when you are enticed to actually pay them for their “publishing packages” and there are lots of different options out there , each one with different characteristics, objectives, scope and of course price.
I´m not going to detail everything here for that reason but let´s just say that if you really want to spend a lot of money to publish your book , they of course will charge you (a lot) for their graphic services if you need help with designing your book, they will charge you for different types of marketing packages also and some companies even use to have something like almost a non-official illustration service option where I´m sure they commissioned artists and illustrators like me for original cover artwork and even full interior book illustrations; for example for children books.

Some vanity press companies were pointed to make you believe that you just need to show up with your original text , your credit card ready and they will do the rest because – they – have the ability to put your book under the spotlight, either by charging you for additional distribution packages or charging you double and triple for publicity you could do yourself on Add Words if you knew how.

The dark side of vanity press companies is in the way they prey on the lack of knowledge of authors who just want to have their book “published”. Of course , it´s business as legit as any other but it´s the mostly over inflated prices for those “special publishing packages” that make everything sound so … sleazy, sometimes. We can even sense the slime when we look at some of the options put out there promising the world to each and every author that is willing to spend sometimes not just a couple of thousand dollars but a lot, lot, LOT more trusting that on the other side there will be “an editor” and “a publisher” that actually will care or believe in their work beyond of how much is the limit on your credit card.


I´ve worked for a couple of vanity press companies when I started to illustrate online. But not for long, once I got to understand what was happening in the shadows, of the particular places I was doing work for I just got out. I actually have to thank many of their (or “my”) clients there for the eye opening at a time when I was just trying to find my first jobs online.
The vanity press companies I did work for targeted specifically self publish children book authors. They had all the regular offers for printing and sell your book and on top of that they offered illustration services.
They of course prevented direct contact between the client and the illustrator and it was in three of these situations (in different places) that I started to understand how that whole thing worked.

Even though we could not communicate directly and freely without having the vanity press company controlling what message content would go through or not to both sides, some of “my illustration clients” managed to reach out to me through google search and they started to pose me some questions related to their doubts and concerns about the whole creative process. Among many things we soon discovered that for example one of my clients was charged around $12.500 for the illustrations alone as part of an “illustration package” for a children´s book work and was told the value was based on my professional rates vs their own fee for the “representation” service.
In reality when I was approached by the company to work on that project, they said it would be a great opportunity for me as I was just getting started on this online thing if I did this book for them. The only catch was that that children book offer was supposed to be for a really small side project of theirs at the company and the client could not afford to spend much in artwork , but even so after the company deducted their fees I would still get around $750 for my illustrations. And if I accepted to work for that book, I would end up getting some good exposure too.
And of course it was promised that if I did that, the company would then take me on for more expensive projects where I could make some real money.

As I was still doing this online illustration thing as a part-time trying to put my name out there without much knowledge of how to go about it on these early internet days, and because I still had my main illustration/design work here in my country, I accepted the project, actually believing I was really working for a small budget book. After all I was finally getting work from a real company out there and so this lack of transparency never crossed my mind in those days.
It was only when “their” client contacted me in private that we both understood someone was really spending a ton of money on “packages” and the person was beyond chocked that I actually didn´t had asked for $12.500 in illustration fee but I was just getting $750 out of the money payed to the company for that objective.
Then I learned that there was other concerns about the other “marketing or publishing packages” the client had also payed for on top of the “illustration package” and to cut this story short, the client simply gave up on the project, ( recovered about half of what had spent due to some – guarantee – clause somewhere in the contract ) but to my knowledge this person simply quit on trying to becoming an author.


This is what I mean when I say vanity press can really kill your dream if you go into this field picking a real bad one. Maybe there´s some really good ones out there that can get you good publishing results, but even in the marketing department I don´t know of anyone that has used a vanity press company , payed a ton of money to publish a book and then ended up selling books after the first couple of weeks where the vanity press really tries to pretend it cares about the client´s payed for marketing needs. After a few days when something really feels it´s happening with your book , what usually happens is that an author that ends up spending a ton of money through vanity press soon realizes that that money should have been a lot well spent if that person would have invested in online adds herself instead of relying on a vanity  press company.


Then there´s the “hostage” aspect of things too.
99% of the people when they pay for a work , expect to own it but if you go into a vanity press company beware of what you´re allowed to get.
I had a client of mine for which I did the book illustrations and then those were given to a vanity press company for publishing the final book and create a graphic design , which despite all the lack of quality in a lot of aspects still managed to put the book out there. Of course with not much results out of their “marketing package” at all. And let´s not even mention other “design issues” that came out of that insane client-company relationship after a ton of money was also spent.
Recently this person found a really good publishing alternative but needed the original files which the vanity press company kept and then the company refused to release the files…not claiming exactly they own them, but doing everything they could not to release the print ready pdfs , either by not replying to emails, presenting a ton of bureaucracy or doing everything you can think of not to allow access to what the client originally payed for.
The situation was actually very similar to what happened to this person here with the same company; so, when there´s smoke there must be fire. Read it and form your own conclusions.

So, overall, should you go into a vanity press company to have your book printed ?
Like I said, there´s no harm in using their print on demand services if you don´t mind about their overpriced printing costs and – shop fees.
You can get your nice online store and if you do your market right you can actually sell a bunch of books every month for as long as you know how to promote your book. As I mentioned keep in mind that the print on demand system will take from you most of what you can make on your cover price; for example if you´re lucky you can get about $2 out of a $15 cover priced book you publish. But this is the way POD or print on demand makes money so you either accept the rules or not.
And like I said, the good side of all this is that you can actually start to put your work out there. I would rather have one book of mine on an vanity press print on demand online shop , than ten books forgotten in a drawer forever.

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Take advantage of the positive things the vanity shop print on demand can do for you when it comes to exposure but I would never pay any of them for any of their “publishing packages” if I were you.

And like I said in another post, if you are really serious about becoming an author, there´s other ways of self publishing your book that gives you more control. They are expensive because you will have to buy copies of your book in bulk and learn to navigate the distribution and marketing stuff yourself; but if you do that with money you had putt away to get a “publishing package” from a vanity press instead, you can bet in the long run you will get a lot more better results than if you were scammed by those fake “publishers” and you´ll totally make sure you own all your files too.

Authors are becoming so aware of all this that there is even a new term for “vanity press” ; trying to escape the bad hype many publishing options out there are now presenting themselves as “hybrid publishers” which in essence in most cases are just vanity press companies in disguise, so beware of that too.
In short, if you want to be safe publish your book, do it yourself, learn how to paginate, hire a cool illustrator and/or a graphic designer with the money you would pay a vanity press and print your books anywhere in the world. Then sell them yourself.


Not easy, you´ll not become the overnight author sensation vanity press promises you´re gonna be but take your time and don´t worry. If you have a good product based on quality work chances are you will get noticed. Just don´t be in a rush.





If you are searching for how to hire a children´s book illustrator or concept artist take a look at my illustration portfolio (Fantasy or Childrens Book art ) no matter what your budget is don´t hesitate to contact me and let´s see what we can do together.








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