An author recently mailed me to warn me off a certain publisher because they were a crook. So I did a little digging, and it didn't take me longer than a minute to discover that said author's publisher was a notorious vanity press.
But I'd like to point out this salient fact: it took me less than a minute to call up the information I needed on my cellphone. At the time I had been sitting in my car parked outside a shopping centre. It is *that* quick and easy to do a background check, folks. And it's been so for years, thanks to our friend Google.
So, for those of you who're not in the know… What is a vanity press, you might ask… Here's the rub: any "publisher" that offers to bring out your book but then charges you, the author, for that pleasure, is a vanity publisher. These companies fool unsuspecting authors into parting with hundreds, if not thousands of clams – with all sorts of heartache attached to the aftermath.
Here's the thing. A publisher (generally) *should* have an idea of what novels will sell to readers. They will solicit and accept submissions, and contract works that they deem as having merit.
The publisher will then pay professionals to edit a book and design the cover. The publisher is naturally going to be picky about what they will bring out, therefore they will only offer a contract on high-quality content. (In a perfect world, that is.) They are, of course, taking a calculated risk that they will sell enough copies of said novel in order to recoup their costs.
And the vanity publisher? Let me tell you, the vanity publisher doesn't give a warthog's left testicle about the quality of the writing. Why? Because the author is the one throwing the money at the publisher, and the publisher is going to tell the author her dog's runny turds do in fact taste like a double-thick chocolate Oreo milkshake.
Here are a few links on the old interwebz…
It's a scam…
What you should know…
Now while in theory, companies that offer legitimate services to self-publishing authors, such as editing, design and layout aren't necessarily a bad thing – these folks, if they're charging reasonable, industry-relevant rates, take a huge load off. But I don't think these sorts of service providers should ever fool themselves (and others) into thinking that they're an actual, honest to dogness publisher.
If in doubt, remember this: money should always flow to the author; not the other way round.
At the heart of the matter, the onus is on you, the author, to do a thorough background check on every agent, editor and publisher you decide to entrust your work to. As I keep telling everyone, Google is your friend.
The first place I stop is a useful site called Preditors and Editors. After that, I run a search on the Absolute Write forums which will often deliver up to date information from your peers. This entire site is a goldmine. Last, but not least, there's Writer Beware.
These resources are freely available. Use them. Don't use them. But don't come crying to the interwebz if you get schnaaied and you didn't do your homework.
To finish off, I'd like to remind you that if someone is offering you something that sounds far too good to be true, it probably is. You spent months, if not years of your life working on your manuscript. What's an hour or two spent on research to make sure you find a good home for your story?