How to Self Publish without Being Scammed

Recently, news came of Tate Publishing’s demise–a Christian vanity publisher in Oklahoma that has long weathered multiple complaints. Authors stuck in the aftermath are left without their books, owed royalties, and are nursing a giant headache because of Tate’s documented predatory practices.


A few years ago, the industry walked through another high profile Christian vanity press going under, this one well established. Winepress publishing spectacularly failed with allegations of cult-like leadership in addition to other nefarious business practices.

A friend of mine ended starting up his own press (though they no longer publish manuscripts; they concentrate on theological resources for the under-resourced) in response to his own predatory experience with a Christian vanity press.

This grieves me.

Vanity presses (particularly Christian ones) should not be predatory, but so often they are. They capitalize on a writer’s pride and naivete.

  • Pride because writers want to hold their books in their hands, no matter what.
  • Naivete because new writers have often not done their homework about the self publishing process, leaving them highly vulnerable to predatory practices.

Here’s the truth: You could hold your book in your hands next week for about $7.

(That’s a little misleading. But if you already have your interior file of your book–get it at Fiverr for a very reasonable rate, and your book cover design, you can upload your book to Amazon’s Createspace in an hour or so. I walk you through the entire process below.) Your only cost will be the price of the book in proof form, mailed to your door. (And, no, I don’t have an affiliate relationship with Createspace).

The nice thing about Createspace is it’s POD (print on demand). This means there is no inventory (no garage full of books for you!). When someone buys your genius book, the press prints it and sends it. Typically you make a good profit on that book. Most 200-page books cost about $6 to produce. If you price it at $15, then you split the $9 profit with Amazon. To contrast that, a traditionally published author makes about 78 cents per book. And vanity presses don’t typically give as good a revenue share as Amazon AND they charge you up front.

I write this post to empower you, to help you NOT spend a bucketload of money for services you may not need or that are grossly overpriced in a vanity press. The few hours of research it would take to know how to do this yourself is invaluable and will insulate you from having to spend over $10,000 for a print run where you could spend less than $500 and have your book published next week.

Here’s a really good summary from The World’s Greatest Book blog about what vanity presses do:

“Also called “vanity presses,” subsidy publishers offer production services like editing and cover design that make them attractive to writers who want “one-stop shopping.” For a fee, you can have your rough manuscript turned into a book and made available through major book distribution channels. Basically, you pay someone to be your publisher (hence the term “subsidy publishing”). The bait and switch happens when your book becomes part of the “publisher’s” catalog. Subsidy publishers assign your book an ISBN number that belongs to them;they become the publisher of record which entitles them to receive an additional royalty whenever a book sells. Charging for editing, design, and production services is perfectly acceptable, but charging an additional publisher’s royalty is unethical unless they’ve taken some risk. Also, the publisher sets the book’s retail price so don’t be surprised if your book is priced higher than you’d like it to be.”

Be very careful about signing a contract with a vanity press. They may end up owning your book, and they may charge way too much for services you could get elsewhere at a fraction of the cost.

Vanity presses hook you in through:

  • Promising the moon. They appeal to your desire to be a bestselling author, and mention things like publicity on TV, large print runs (for all those people clamoring for your book), and promise to get you into every bookstore. You pay for all these services, and, often, the vanity press under-delivers on their promises.
  • Stroking your ego. I seriously doubt vanity presses take a deep look at your work. But they will say that they do, and they’ll say all sorts of kind things about your writing. Be wary of excessive praise, especially if you are a new author. Most new authors aren’t polished, haven’t been edited, and actually need a lot of training.
  • Churning out boilerplate content. When a vanity press says they’ll send a press release to media outlets, it’s typically a boilerplate email that nearly 100% of stations ignore. You’re paying for nothing. You’re paying to be deleted. Keep in mind, too, that their words of praise toward you are also from a form email.
  • Providing nefarious contracts. Every author should know how to read a contract, but often vanity contracts are difficult to discern and understand. Be sure you have a contract lawyer familiar with book contracts read over your contract to spot any predatory language.
  • Charging for things at a highly marked up price. They may charge you several hundred dollars for an ISBN that you get for free on Createspace, or can buy for about $50 on They’ll charge you for a publicity package that costs you $2000 dollars, but only cost them about $25 to implement. They may charge you $800 for a cover design that you could crowdsource on 99 Designs for $199. They may charge way too much for a substantive or line edit that isn’t even up to industry standards.

So, writer: beware. Just because a “publishing house” is associated with a Christian publisher does NOT mean the company has your best interest in mind. Be highly wary of shelling out money for services you could outsource yourself. (Here’s a list of my recommended editors). Hear me when I tell you that YOU CAN LEARN how to do this yourself. Besides, wouldn’t it be great to use the money you’ve saved from using a vanity press to really move copies of your books? Or creating more books with that extra money?

How about you? Have you had an experience with a vanity press? How did it go?



2 thoughts on “How to Self Publish without Being Scammed

  1. Kent Sanders Reply

    Mary, thanks for this informative and honest post. I haven’t used a vanity press myself because I self-publish my own stuff. But about a year ago, a friend of a friend asked me for help with her father’s manuscript, which was sort of a memoir of his life in the military. I walked her through the self-publishing process using CreateSpace, getting a cover designed, finding an editor, etc.

    However, they were also considering using a vanity press, which was going to cost several thousand dollars. I emphasized that they didn’t need to spend anywhere near that to self-publish, even considering the costs of editing, cover design, and even formatting. However, they ended up going that route, and when I saw the final product I was a little heartbroken because it indeed looked very self-published, even though they used “professional” services.

    You are absolutely right that vanity publishers prey on the fear that first-time authors face because they feel intimidated by the whole process. But with a little bit of an adventurous spirit and a willingness to learn some simple processes, authors can create a great-looking book for nowhere near the cost of using a vanity publisher … plus, they keep all the rights.

    Thanks again for a great post.

  2. Yvonne Reply

    Thanks for this Mary!
    I am someone who has been ripped off by Tate and now I’m left trying to sort it out!
    Quick question about create space I usually order 25-50 books a time for events. I do need copies at hand. Which is better for this- create space or Ingram? What has been your experience of this? I am about to self publish my first book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *