Saturday, 6 June 2009

Guest Post: Your Search For A Publisher, by Jonathon Clifford

Every wary writer will have heard of vanity publishing. It occupies the shadier side of the publishing business, and involves less-than-scrupulous publishers charging writers for publication. In vanity publication, the quality of the work is never considered, just the willingness and ability of the writers concerned to hand over large chunks of their cash. The books are often shoddily produced and rarely make any decent level of sales: the good writing is published alongside the bad, and while the vanity publishers make money out of the deal, the writers almost never do.

Jonathon Clifford came up with the term of "vanity publishing" a few decades ago, and has worked ever since to expose the truth about vanity publishing. He's written numerous articles about vanity publishing for the mainstream press, and is widely acknowledged as the primary expert on this nasty subject.

My thanks to him for this post.

As an aspiring author it isn’t writing your book that is the problem, it is when (without guidance) you come to search for a publisher that you risk being ensnared by those determined to take your money while giving you little or nothing in return.

So who am I to offer you guidance?

For eighteen years I have carried out a one-man campaign to clean up the world of vanity publishing. During that time I have been sent copies of hundreds of their promotional letters, editorial reports, quotations and contracts. Through this material it has been proved to the satisfaction of the courts that many vanity publishers are guilty of “gross misrepresentation of their services”. As a result many authors have—with my advice—successfully sued the vanity publisher with whom they had become embroiled.

In 1996 I was invited to our House of Lords for lunch to speak about the need to change the law to control vanity publishing. Fifty-eight Members of Parliament answered my call for support, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the law had been sufficiently altered to allow those bodies who wished to take action against dishonest vanity publishers. In 2000 I organised an Awareness Campaign backed by a website and free advice pack (which may be freely downloaded from my website) giving advice on Finding a Mainstream Publisher, Internet Publishing, the Market for Short Stories, Self-Publishing, Copy Editing, Proof Reading and Vanity Publishing

I have also made programmes for both regional and national BBC and Commercial TV, have taken part in a host of national and regional radio programmes and there have been articles about my work in magazines and newspapers both in the UK and around the world.

How (very easily) can you be taken in?

You find an advertisement in a newspaper or magazine which asks for manuscripts to be submitted. You send off yours and it is ‘accepted’.

But you do not appreciate that almost anyone who submits anything gets it accepted and, in the euphoria of that ‘acceptance’, your brain goes out of the window! You do not see the £ sign followed by the noughts. You fail to remember (if you ever knew) that the only publishers who ever advertise for authors are vanity publishers who are there to make money out of the unsuspecting author, not from the sale of copies of the books they publish - for once they have received your final payment they have all the money they are going to make out of you and promotion and marketing would cost some of it.

Along with the ‘acceptance’ of your manuscript you must also wary of two other phrases: ‘Print-on-Demand’ and ‘Self-Publisher’.

The honest print-on-demand outlet is extremely useful, but it is a phrase that can be misleading. If the publisher does not implement an effective promotion and marketing strategy for your book there is little or no demand for it, other than from your own efforts. He can then quite legally print only the very few copies ordered by your friends and family—whatever you may have paid!

Self-publishing cannot by definition be done for you by a third party and there have already been cases in the UK where vanity publishers masquerading as ‘Self-Publishers’ have been taken to task by the Advertising Standards Authority.

However the required payment is described, it is you who are going to pay for your book—not (as you are led to believe) a part of, or a share of, or a subsidy towards, but all of the cost plus a handsome profit and once it has been ‘published’ it will no doubt simply disappear into the woodwork.

Publishing your book should be an enjoyable and stimulating experience, not the fiendish nightmare created by so many vanity publishers. So before you answer an advertisement, go to my website and request a copy of my Advice Pack which is available to all—at no cost.

© Johnathon Clifford May 2009


Derek said...

Here's an interesting hybrid I came across the other day. is ostensibly a channel for submitting manuscripts to ECPA publishers. However, it turns out to be run by a vanity press called Believers Press (which may be connected with another one called Bethany Press).

Nicola Morgan said...

Funny, I came across Johnathon's work while googling "vanity publishing" the other day and blogged about it too! (Think it was Thursday). Can't remember how to put links in comments but you'll find it on under a title about shoes ...

Excellent work, Johnathon - unfortunately, still not enough people hearing your important message.

Thanks for bringing us this, jane.

Unknown said...

Nicola, I suspect people are hearing Jonathan's message, but they're not listening. They're so desperate to see their work in print that they lock their common sense in a cage and feed it half-cooked excuses. I'm about to feed mine some chocolate.

Helen P said...

Johnathon, why not 'name and shame' and then if these disreputable companies have anything to say in their defence they can. We would then know who to avoid in our quest for a publisher.

Sheila Norton said...

This is such valuable work - all authors and would-be authors owe you a debt of gratitude, Jonathon. It's a sad fact that the urge to be published is so strong in any writer, and the possibilities for genuine publication by mainstream companies so limited, that you're quite right: common sense goes out of the window. I think perfectly intelligent and sensible people will readily convince themselves that they know what they're doing and believe it's their only option. Vanity publishers take advantage of this desperation and I agree they should be named and shamed.

David Dittell said...


So happy to see this here; you definitely have an acolyte here, trying to spread the word.

I think Michael has a very valid point -- some people are so primed to get any sort of "leg up" that they'll take opportunities that clearly set off their internal alarms.

But spreading the word so that there is a greater resistance to vanity publishing is an enormous help. The more other people know about its realities, the less one is likely to seek vanity publishing as an outlet. It quickly loses the appear of "being publishing" and carries with it a tarnish one doesn't want to be associated with.