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.

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 last month where the attendees were 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—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 Amazon.com. Think big freakin’ deal here. Anyone can list on Amazon—set aside 30 minutes, fill out the http://www.Amazon.com/Advantage 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 http://www.ripoff.com, Writer Beware on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at http://www.sfwa.org/beware/ and Preditors and Editors at http://pred-ed.com/peba.htm 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. Your best defense: don’t get involved with anything that looks like, feels like, or acts like a vanity press. Companies like Author House, Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford Publishing, Palibris, Author HouseUK, Wordclay and Balboa Press are to be avoided like the plague.

Publishing predators are the T-Rex of the industry—avoid, avoid, avoid.