The Vanity Press Sinkhole
I recently received one of those queries that really break my heart. The author paid a large sum of money to get his first novel published. He was promised the money would be reimbursed when he sold five thousand copies. Unfortunately, the sales numbers were terrible, and there were signs that the publisher was about to go out of business. As a result, the author was seeking an agent to handle this novel.
At this point, no agent can do anything for this author’s book.
First of all, this author seemed to have no idea that he was dealing with a vanity press. If a “publisher” takes money to publish your book, you’re are dealing with a vanity press. Any promises of paying an author back with the requirement of selling an unrealistic number of books are a gigantic red flag. This is even true if the editor calls herself an “Acquisitions Editor.”
Going to a vanity press is technically self-publishing. This means all fees should reasonably cover the associated editing, book design, and cover design costs. For the $3500 he paid, this author should have received a professional-grade cover and editorial work, and he certainly did not.
Second, while some authors have self-published their books to great acclaim and massive sales, they’ve generally also been effective in publicizing themselves. Never assume that the shady vanity-press-pretending-to-be-something-else you’ve just paid a used-car’s-worth of money will do your publicity. In this case, the publisher had provided a sad book trailer consisting of the book’s jacket copy slowly scrolling over stock footage. Fewer than 250 people had seen it, and I couldn’t make it the whole way through. I promise, I tried.
Third, I don’t even represent this author’s genre, so even if I were interested, I wouldn’t be the agent to contact. Sadly, he won’t have much footing to be able to get other agents’ on board, due to the low volume of sales of his book.
What would I do if I were this author? I’d give up on trying to find an agent for a book that’s already demonstrated poor sales. I’d work toward getting the rights back and *really* self-publish this time by working with professionals who can commercially edit and produce the book. I’d enjoy the sensation of having a book available to the public. And I would stay far, far away from the “publishers” that prey on naive authors’ dreams.