Author Alert: Is Your Book Held Hostage by a Subsidy Publisher?

by | Oct 28, 2015

What a tangled web they weave … In the past two months, I’ve worked with several private clients and fielded numerous phone calls/emails from authors who have issues with their “publishers.” In all cases, they’ve been duped. They’ve been lured, hooked and now are sinking. The cause: a publishing predator is in their midst.

Their publishers are really not “publishers,” at least in the sense that they have the infrastructure to create and support a quality book and its author or that they have their internal team—from editing to some semblance of book design and publishing marketing and publicity and that they are accountable in the critical accountability departments of actual book sales and responsibility.

I attended a national conference a few months ago where the attendees were professional speakers. Many were well established, but a majority—new to the industry—gobbled up information that would hopefully turn them into a star on the platform. Having a book helps. Within the Exhibit Hall, several booths proclaimed that they were publishers … they would publish your book for a small fee. What they were, vanity presses “(or as some people call them, subsidy publishers)—nothing more, nothing less. The predators of the print world … and they were signing up people … their next victims, left and right.

Are there Red Flags that can help you spot the vanity press in sheep’s clothing? Sure, start with:

  1. We publish your book for ONLY $___. This is called “pay-to-publish”—know it by the true name. When you are told that there is a fee to publish/print your book—that’s what is being done. Quality has zip to do with it; if you want editing, marketing, publicity, redoing mistakes found or their layout, etc., you will pay, and pay for it and anything else to fix, create at a very over-inflated cost.
  2. We list your book on Think big freakin’ deal here. Anyone can list on Amazon—set aside 30 minutes, fill out the form and you are listed. Should you be listed on Amazon? Yes indeed. You can do it … anyone can do it. Vanity presses’ shot in the arm was Amazon—otherwise, their books never got any type of national/international presence for their authors.
    But, and it’s a big BUT, if you dream of getting your book in a bookstore, wake up! The cheap workmanship, quality of what is usually produced, will never make it there. In a phone conversation with a key person at the Tattered Cover here in Denver, CO, he said, “We don’t purchase vanity press books—they usually fall apart … not to mention, they are so costly per unit, and the return policy is usually not available—it’s a clear pass for us.”
  3. We have the solution for author success. So do I—it’s work your tush off, although that’s not what they will tell you. Their success will be to always buy all their add-on packages, driving your “investment” with this enterprise to many thousands of dollars—success for them, mostly likely, not you.
  4. Publisher looking for authors. Yes, there is always the rare gem, break-through author that the media loves to profile …BUT here again, this is a rarity. Publishers have authors up the gazoo … what they want is an author with a Platform and a Plan … that’s the part where you work your tush off.
  5. Author Beware notices from credible sites. Start with a search on Google and put in the name of the publishing entity you are checking out. Follow it with the word: complaints, scam and problems and see what pops up. Websites, such as Rip-off Reports at, Writer Beware on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at and Preditors and Editors at will become your best friends. Ripoff Reports has a section dedicated to comments from former employees; Preditors and Editors states in red which publishers to avoid; and Writer Beware includes case studies from authors sharing their ill-fated experience.
  6. Bait and Switch. Many of these companies pitch (after all, most have a boiler room type of operation—it’s about quotas) and you don’t realize that you have to pay them to publish your book. Not until you have submitted information—from your name, contact, book title, even the manuscript—do you realize you need to pony up funds to keep the process going.
  7. Partnering with a well-know name. Let’s face it, authors want their books published. When a vanity press partners, or purchases one that is well known, the assumption is that it’s a marriage made in publishing heaven. Not likely. With the rapid growth of the self-publishing world, both large and small presses are looking for avenues to carry them to the masses of self-published authors that came through the vanity press door. Get out of the book daze and stupor and do your homework before you head down the aisle. See #6 above.

Do “publishers” rip-off authors? And, if so, do they do it deliberately?

The answer is simply yes. A big yes. Your best defense: don’t get involved with anything that looks like, feels like, or acts like a vanity press. In my opinion, when you look at all the online complaints about companies like:

  • Author House
  • Xlibris
  • iUniverse
  • Trafford Publishing
  • Palibris
  • Author HouseUK
  • Wordclay
  • Westbow
  • Archer
  • Balboa Press

I wonder how any writer signs on with them.

When people are victims of scams, they often report the incidents on the Internet—it’s time to let your fingers do the clicking. Before doing business with POD publishers, a pay-to-publisher operation or any other person or company that wants your money, make a Google search for:

(company or person’s name) + Scam
(company or person’s name) + Problem
(company or person’s name) + Complaint
(company or person’s name) + Fraud
(company or person’s name) + Rip-off
(company or person’s name) + Lawsuit
(company or person’s name) + “Better Business Bureau”

Read the reports and be advised. Unfortunately, too many walk away woven with shame that they got sucked in the first place and/or so ticked that they got taken, they just want to take the shower and get as far away as possible.

Publishing predators are the T-Rex of the industry—save your sanity, your credit card and your book. Avoid.


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Andy Holligan

    Thanks for saying. I also fell into the Dorrance trap. My book sold hardly anything for 10 years! The book price was very high $19 and they wouldnt let me change anything. So I ended the contract. Plus they put on regular book displays costing extra money. I paid for a few of these and never got one single sale. Yet Dorrance said my book was great. People…stay clear of DORRANCE

    • Judith

      ANdy … my regret, you got sucked it Dorrance … and you waited 10 years to bail out. It’s (and their look likes) a scam. Judith

  2. Lynda Alsford

    I did look at a few of these companies when I was planning my first book. Fortunately for me there is no way I would have been able to come up with the money anyway.

    I self-published using a POD printer/publisher. It ended up costing me just the amount of 2 or 3 proof copies of the book. And yes it was a lot of hard work writing it, formatting it and getting a cover sorted and so on.

    But it was possible and I did it – twice.

    • Judith

      Learn the process of publishing AND the dollars, cents and sense of it Lynda. You will be way ahead of the game. Judith

    • Judith

      Bravo! Judith

  3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    My copyright letter came from the Library of Congress a short while back. Within a week I had three pushy emails from Dorrance – another one of the Vanity Publishers.

    Coincidentally (and late last night), I also managed to self-publish my first book – and you are absolutely right: you work your tush off.

    And that feels good.

    Just remember, copyright information is PUBLIC – and one more place where the sharks feed.

    • Judith Briles

      Ahhh… Alicia … the vanity/subsidy are surfing the LCCN … it also would mean to me that they are most likely cherry picking on Bowker as well. Jeeze … love “the integrity”!

  4. Diane Tibert

    Long ago–it seems–I was going to go with iUniverse. I’m so glad I waited, then I found out about them. Through networking with other writers and my own research, I discovered which ones to stay away from.

    The reason these companies continue to trick people is because of what you wrote: “Unfortunately, too many walk away woven with shame that they got sucked in the first place and/or so ticked that they got taken, they just want to take the shower and get as far away as possible.”

    I witnessed this happen first hand. People are too ashamed to say they made a mistake. This is why I wrote the following post regarding publishers. It’s a nice way of warning writers about joint-publishers or publishers who want to publish your book for a large sum of money. I made a distinction between joint-publishing and vanity publishing because I feel they are slightly different. Joint-publishing makes you feel as though you are participating in getting a book published more traditionally whereas vanity publishing is straight-out paying for someone to publish a book. Here’s the post:

    I agree with the comment above: we should always keep this discussion open and on the table. The more writers who know about these companies, the less who will be taken advantage of.

    • Judith Briles

      You are so right Diane … we need to keep the channels open … share the bad … and the GOOD when we come across. On the Author U group on LinkedIn, one of the members asked about Balboa Press with an opening something like this: Does anyone know anything about Balboa Press–it’s a Christian Publisher … I mean it has to be good .. and the stream of comments rolled out –over 300 of them. Yikes! And from my recommends and those of others, yours truly has a wee bit of a target on her back from the AH crew.

  5. Aleta Kay Dye

    Thank you so much! My first novel was published by a company like one of those mentioned above. I have been hounded by a couple of those mentioned, and because one of them is supposedly a subsidiary of a Christian publisher, I was considering using them. Thanks to this article, I most definitely will not. I’m posting on my FB, Google+, and Twitter sites to let others know who may not have seen this.

  6. John Maberry

    Yup, fortunately I learned that the easy way–didn’t get taken because I read the many reports that are out there about these “publishers.” Every chance I get I repeat the message–don’t go there!

  7. Cathryn Wellner

    This is a good one to post from time to time. A couple years ago I downloaded what looked like an interesting free e-book of self-publishing tips. At the time, I had not heard of Balboa Press. It took me nearly a year to shake them off. Their sales rep made outrageous claims of the sort you detail, such as citing a big-name house they would present my work to. (Sure, and pigs fly.) The three books I’ve self-published this year would have cost me about $30,000 through them. Imagine how much marketing that would pay for. Predators indeed!

    • Judith Briles

      Catharyn — so many believe when the discover that Balboa Press is part of Hay House (and don’t discover that Balboa Press is really run by Author House in partnership with Hay House) … that Louise Hay will see their book … and fingers and toes crossed … HH will pick it up. A few months ago, Balboa swooped through Denver, charging $300 plus for a one day event about “publishing” … of course it was a lure to get people signed up with a carrot … someone will “win” a “contract” in a drawing.

      For me, it’s a “gag me with a spoon” … a ripoff to the umph degree.

  8. Yvonne Hertzberger

    I was caught, as a naive first time author, by iUniverse in 1997. Now I have the rights back and have self-published three books and am avout to publish my fourth.

    • Judith Briles

      Good for you Yvonne … wonderful news that 1-you recognized you were in the wrong spot pronto; 2-instead of grumbling, you took action and broke away; and 3-WOOT … #4 is on the way! Judith

    • James Okun

      Him How did you get your rights back?

  9. Sally Cronin

    My first book was published by one of the companies on your list back in 2001 and the experience was one of the main reasons that we set up as an independent in 2004 to publish my future books. We had learned some valuable lessons the hard way. When we began offering the service to other authors we made sure that we treated them as we expected to be treated. We rarely advertise and work from recommendations and so far authors with follow on books keep coming back. There are honest and professional indie publishers out there and even when we are approached our first words are.. go and do your research. It is easy to tar self-publishers with the same brush however and the one expression that I dislike is ‘Vanity Press’. As a first time author in 2001, with a book that meant a great deal to me it was the worst insult that was levelled at me.

    • Judith Briles

      Sally–I love to hear that authors are taking publishing seriously. Creating your own imprint and now taking that “not so good” experience and reaching out to other authors is the best of news. It’s why I started … I was sick of hearing naïve authors get misinformation and led down the path of sometimes no return. Judith

    • Terry

      I have had books published in a variety of ways. A few years ago my family wanted me to publish a Christmas book so my brother and I created a “publishing company” and did all the work ourselves. That company eventually (several years) turned into a full-time business and I have probably helped more than 50 writers get their book published (several multiple books). Complete self-publishing is not as easy as the article makes it seem (try keeping up with Amazon’s requirements). The fee I charge is very reasonable and I work directly with each writer. Essentially they are hiring me to take care of design, editing, and all the leg work necessary for creating a book. It is unlike the companies you listed in your article. We don’t take advantage of people. It is not correct to suggest that unless you do it yourself your are being ripped off.

  10. John Alan Saunders

    I read your words about I Universe being a ‘rip-off’ publishing company. You may be correct but one has to start somewhere. It is a matter of with whom. I am now being published by Create Space, affiliated with but I do wish I had known what you knew much earlier. I believe it may be either just not knowing whom to trust or possibly desperation that is the motivation for folks who like to write, like me, to choose such ‘vanity publishers’. Thank you for your efforts to help us undiscovered writers to make a name for ourselves, while doing what we like doing — to write. John Alan Saunders

  11. Judith Briles

    And those publishing predators are breeding like crazy–smelling “easy money” … some are superb at marketing where others are almost what I would call sleaze bags–yet they consistently hook naïve wannabe authors. Makes me both sad and ticked. Judith



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