Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wow: a refreshingly honest and competent pay-to-publish company

This blog and my books frequently criticize and warn about lying and sleazy pay-to publish companies. Most of these companies want to be called "self-publishing companies," and critics call them "vanity publishers."

The worst of them make dishonest promises about book sales, produce ugly and poorly edited books, and grossly overcharge for promotional trinkets like bookmarks and posters. They lie about providing "free" publishing, or offer lowball prices (as low as $195) to attract writers, and then use high pressure to sell profitable extra services. They have no standards for book acceptance. (Lulu's boss bragged about publishing a huge number of really bad books). Many authors are disappointed with their books and their income.

There is one company that seems to stay way above the predominant sleaze.

Vantage Press has been in business since 1949. While that's not the Gutenberg era, it was long before print-on-demand, and Internet marketing. The company has a history, tradition and perspective that johnny-come-latelies can't match. Vantage has published more than 20,000 titles for more than 15,000 authors. It has a  strong brand name and a good reputation in the book publishing industry. Every Vantage title can be stocked by bookstores because Vantage agrees to accept returns. Its competitors often make their authors pay hundreds of dollars more to comply with the custom of the bookstore business.

Vantage won't publish you for $195 -- or even $595. Competing on price is ultimately suicidal, and it's no good for customers, employees or stockholders if a publisher can't afford to provide service and stay in business.

The cost of publishing with Vantage will probably be $5,000 or more, but includes copyediting, copyright registration, sending out review copies and other services that are often optional add-ons with other publishers. Authors will receive a specific proposal typically within three weeks of receipt of a manuscript for examination. Authors receive a generous royalty of 40% of the retail price. Books are readily available at,, and at some terrestrial bookstores.

Unlike its competitors who imply bestsellerdom for every customer, Vantage Press has some honest advice: “Please be realistic. Most books by new authors do not sell well, and most authors do not recoup the publishing fee.”

However, if you want something to strive for, be aware that the all-time Vantage bestseller sold more than 100,000 copies.

Vantage Press has an unbeatable “A+“ Better Business Bureau rating, with complaints from only two out of thousands of clients over the last five years. This is MUCH better than some competitors.

Former investment banker David Lamb purchased Vantage Press at the end of 2009 with the intention of building on Vantage’s long history "while improving client rapport, adding new services, and operating with the utmost integrity." According to Crain's New York Business, "He plans to turn the 61-year-old company into a premium player at the high end of the market, publishing a relatively small number of authors and offering 'concierge service' provided by top talent."

Alone among pay-to-publish firms, Vantage seems to like what _I_ do, and provides a link on its site to this blog. David (or one of his brilliant, honest and perceptive employees) wrote, "Michael N. Marcus's acerbic and entertaining blog crusades for true self-publishing, noting that self-publishing by using a 'publisher' is a contradiction in terms. His book "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don't Be a Victim of a Vanity Press" provides a blueprint for the stalwart author who really wishes to go it alone. We're certain he takes exception to the Vantage Press program but authors should definitely consider his point of view."

With an endorsement like that, I can't regard Vantage Press as the evil empire.

I've looked over about a dozen Vantage books. While their authors' writing abilities varied, and a few book covers were just plain dull, the books (ranging from small paperback kiddie-lit to weighty academic hardcovers) were professionally edited, properly formatted, and well-made. I would not be embarrassed to have my name on a Vantage book. I would not say that about Outskirts Press or Infinity Publishing. 
Some Vantage book topics are obscure -- but that is the choice of the authors, not the publisher, and companies like Vantage enable authors to produce obscure books if they choose to. A history of Presbyterians in Utah is thick, heavy, expensive, has no reviews on Amazon, and has probably very few readers. OTOH, a Vantage book about the origins of bird names was authoritative and interesting.

If you have the urge to get published, but don't want to spend years chasing agents and publishers, or don't want to become a publisher, you can get full service, good service, and first-class books from Vantage Press. Even if you don't need Vantage yourself, you should not be reluctant to recommend the company to other writers who would benefit from Vantage's experience, expertise and honesty.


  1. I don't need Vantage myself, but I know someone who could use the company. Thanks for the tip.

  2. I've actually been looking at Vantage Press again over the past few weeks for a forthcoming review of their services. I have to say, from what I have garnered so far, I would be the first to raise my hand and say that up till now I have perhaps unfairly placed this company in the old-style vanity bracket along outfits like PublishAmerica and Dorrance.

    Hopefully - quite soon - I can make some humble amends to that!

  3. This is an incredible endorsement, especially from you Michael.

    Vantage seems like an excellent choice for the following:

    1. Non-fiction
    2. Obscure topics, historical, or technical works
    3. Those who are proficient writers, but who do not have the computer savvy or the time to learn how to self-publish.

    In the grand scheme of things, $5,000 is not a lot of money to have a book well designed, proofread, and then formatted with a custom cover and professional interior.

    It's close to what a writer would spend if you contracted all those tasks out, anyway. I spend a LOT on editing these days, and I've started paying for cover design, too. None of it's cheap.

  4. Michael,

    Very interesting report. Vantage was one of the "bad guys" in the old days of vanity publishing. The turnaround by the new owner is clearly good news. The key word for me was "integrity" because if there's anything the vanity publishers lack, it's integrity. Will look forward to Vantage being another trusted source for aspiring self-publishers.

  5. Wow, Christy paying for cover design? Things are changing, that's for sure. Unless you're using those people Mark Coker's always going on about, the "cover designers" who charge $35. And sure, although you can do it for less, $5,000 is in the ballpark for editing, design, typesetting, cover and so on.