Vanity and predatory publishing

Vanity and predatory publishing are unscrupulous arrangements where publishers and scammers encourage authors to publish their work for a fee, signing contracts not in their best interests.

While vanity publishing can relate to a wide variety of works and may commonly target student writers or first-time publishers, predatory publishers push authors to pay to publish their articles on often-illegitimate journal websites.

Vanity publishing

Vanity publishing or subsidy publishing are names given to a type of publishing arrangement where the publisher invites authors to publish their work for a fee. The works involved might include books, manuscripts, biographies, screenplays, poems or illustrations.

Sometimes in addition to the fee, vanity publishers ask authors to sign a contract that is not in their best interests, including forgoing the right to publish their work elsewhere despite making little effort to print or promote the work.

The author’s work does not undergo peer review or proofreading to the same level as scholarly publications. Vanity publishers will publish anyone’s work who pays for their services, regardless of quality.

Note: there are some legitimate publishing houses who will require payment from authors to ensure the commercial viability of the published work.

Who is at risk

Vanity publishers target vulnerable people like:

  • an unknown or aspiring author seeking to self-publish their first work
  • schools and students for writing competitions
  • people and families wanting to publish biographies and historical information.

What to look out for

Unscrupulous vanity publishers often:

  • promote themselves as ‘partnership’ or ‘subsidy’ publishers
  • run competitions to generate a pool of potential customers (e.g. short story and poetry competitions)
  • target authors who have been unsuccessful in having their work published
  • make little effort to promote the publication
  • only have a small number of the publications printed, often only enough to distribute a copy to each of the authors who have paid to have their contributions included.

School competitions

Vanity publishers have been known to target schools. They typically encourage schools to enter their students in poetry or writing competitions, offering prizes and the opportunity to have students’ work published.

Parents are later contacted by the publisher and told their child’s work has been selected for inclusion in a publication, for a fee.

Sometimes parents believe their child’s work was one of only a few selected. Although usually the same offer of publication is extended to every entrant.

For their child’s work to be included in the publication, parents are asked to pre-purchase a copy. There are often options for ‘premium’ packages, including everything from being able to include a photo or dedication along with the work, to certificates certifying publication, and offers of online editions or leather bound volumes.

Before participating in these competitions, we recommend schools seek information about:

  • the competition promoter, their history and other competitions they’ve run
  • how the competition maps to the curriculum
  • how the promoter plans to use
    • the work submitted
    • the personal details of the students who submit work.

Parents who are approached by a vanity publisher should:

  • ask other parents if they’ve received the same offer, to help gauge the legitimacy of claims about being ‘selected’ or having ‘won’ the right to be included
  • consider the price of the publication, which is often excessive for a poor-quality product
  • remember that limited copies of the publication are printed and distribution is limited to those who buy it (i.e. parents whose child’s work is included)
  • remember the book will not be available in bookstores or libraries.

Predatory publishing

Similar to vanity publishers, predatory publishers seek to take advantage of authors, often academics and researchers by asking them to pay to have their articles published as open access on their journal website—but these websites are not considered legitimate by scholars.

Unscrupulous predatory publishers:

  • set up websites and send out spam emails that closely resemble legitimate online publishers
  • usually claim to be based in countries with a reputation for good academic achievements such as the United Kingdom, United States, Canada or Australia, but are often based elsewhere.
  • charge a fee but hide author processing charges that are invoiced to the author upon accepting their work.