If you’re ever tempted by an advertisement in the press requesting ‘authors’ or ‘manuscripts’ (and who hasn’t been?), don’t hesitate for a second! Rip it out immediately and use it as toilet paper, line your shelves with it, or wrap your fish ‘n’ chips up in it. Don’t EVER, however, be tempted to respond, as all you’ll get back for your money is grief.

These ads are placed by the dreaded ‘Vanity Publisher’, who’s sole aim in life is to make sure you and your money are soon parted.

Only on very rare occasions will a reputable publisher ask authors to contribute towards the publication of their work. For instance if the work is of an extremely specialised nature with a limited market and/or makes a valuable contribution to its field. In such cases grants from academic or scientific foundations are often available to the author in order to aid publication.

The vanity publisher, on the other hand, will gladly accept anything you care to give him (enthusing about how brilliant it is and what a blockbuster it’ll become) and promise to print, market and distribute it for a measly few thousand quid. Once he’s got your cash safely pocketed, though, he strangely loses the incentive to sell. After all, the printing and publishing costs are a mere fraction of the money you’ve so kindly donated, so his profit is made. Why then, he reasons on the way to the bank, bother further?

He may try, in half-hearted fashion, to shift a few copies (if he can find anyone to take them - see below), but you’ll be expected to sell the rest. After a (usually) short while, you’ll then be expected to take back his unsold copies and try to sell those as well.

The obvious lesson here is that if any publisher asks you to pay for publishing or any other costs, steer well clear, as they’re almost certainly a vanity publisher.

And bear in mind, as an indication of the vanity publishers shady reputation, that many newspapers and magazines refuse to place ads from vanity publishers, and almost no high street bookshops will stock books published by them.

Often, too, they take your money but only bind a handful of hardback covers, leaving the rest as flat sheets in case they can’t sell them – which they usually can’t- thus reducing their costs (and increasing their profits) even further.

If, however, you’ve got money to spare and fancy throwing some of it away, here are some vanity publishing considerations:

1.       Treat the claims in their advertisements with extreme caution.
2.     Be wary when they immediately tell you (which they undoubtedly will) that your book will be the next Harry Potter.
3.     Don’t sign ANYTHING without first consulting a solicitor.
4.     Ask to see references, i.e. press reviews.
5.     Ask to see one of their already-published books, so you can get an idea of what the finished product will look like.
6.     Try to ascertain that they have outlets.
7.     Never hand over more cash than you think you can safely lose, since the chances are that you will lose it.
8.  Even in the unlikely event that you don’t lose your money, don’t expect to make any profit. At best, you’ll just about break even.


Self-publishing is often confused with vanity publishing. There are, however some vital differences. Although it might, in the end, cost you as much as vanity publishing (although the likelihood is it’ll cost you a lot less), you remain in control of sales, production, editing, designing, printing etc. You also retain the proceeds of all sales.

Many well-known authors have self-published, including D.H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, Balzac, Rudyard Kipling, Alexander Pope and Byron. William Blake published no other way, even making his own ink and getting the long-suffering Mrs Blake to sew the covers.

The first thing to realise is that self-publishing involves an awful lot of work and takes up an awful lot of time. Obviously the more you can do yourself (binding, research, desktop publishing, printing, graphics, distribution, promotion, publicity, design and so on), the cheaper it will be. You’ll still need a fair bit of capital, though, and probably quite a bit of expert advice.

Secondly you’ll have to do a lot of research before you even begin and familiarise yourself with such terms as verso, recto, prelims, typeface and point size.

You’ll also need an ISBN number, which you can get by writing (with basic details of the book) to the Standard Book Numbering Agency, 12 Dyott Street, London WC1A 1DF.

Take an example of books whose layout and style you like, plus your manuscript, to as many low print run printers as you can and get quotes. Be warned though – a pamphlet can cost as much as several hundred pounds and a prose hardback can set you back thousands. You can save some money if your talents run to home binding. Bear in mind, however, that what you want is a commercial-looking book that’s able to compete with the rest of the commercial market if it’s to stand any chance of selling, so a good deal of professionalism is called for.

Plan the cover design carefully. After all, it has to stand out amongst some pretty hefty competition on the shelves.

Make sure you don’t produce too many (that you won’t be able to shift), or too few, copies (the more copies you print out, the cheaper the cost per book).

Before you decide how many copies to have printed, you need to do some intensive distribution/outlet research.

Finally, if it all goes wrong, chuck your unsold copies in a cupboard or give them away to friends, family and neighbours, pat yourself on the back, tell yourself you tried and put it all down to experience.

Useful Addresses:Edit

Association of Little Presses (ALP)

32 Downside Road


Surrey SM2 5HP


Author-Publisher Network

6 Kelvinbrook

West Molesey

Surrey KT8 1R2

Tel: 0208 979 3060

Low Print Run Printers: (look in the Yellow Pages for local ones)Edit

Anthony Rowe Ltd

Bumper’s Way

Bristol Road

Chippenham SN14 6LM

Book-In-Hand Ltd

20 Shepherd Hill

London N6 5AH

Evergreen Graphics

Meadow Lane

West Wittering


West Sussex PO20 8LR

Ex-Libris Press Book Production

1 The Shambles

Bradford on Avon

Wiltshire BA15 1JS

Further reading:Edit

How to Publish Yourself by Peter Finch.

Allison and Busby 1997

Editing, Design and Book Production by Charles Foster

Journeyman 1993

Publishing A Book by Robert Spicer

How To Books 1998

© Andrea Lowne 2001