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Critical Thinking, Thoughtful Writing, Second Edition
John Chaffee et al.
Guide to Publishing Your Work
Vanity Publishing

One thing to be wary of as you enter the world of publication is what’s known as vanity publishing. This is a situation in which the writers themselves are asked to foot the bill to have their work published. Sometimes, publishers will be very upfront about the fact that they do not pay authors for publication, but rather charge authors to publish work. It’s better to think of this kind of company as a printing company rather than a publishing company, since all they really do is print work and charge authors for that printing.

In many cases though, so-called "publishers" will run writing contests. The publisher notifies "winners" that their work is to be published, but that to support the publication, winner must purchase copies of the book, anthology, or journal. If a publishing outlet is legit, they shouldn’t need to solicit funds entirely from the authors they’ve chosen for publication.

Don’t confuse this kind of arrangement with legitimate cases in which a publisher asks contrubutors to pay a small fee in advance. Often, a small journal running a contest will require entrants to pay what’s called a reading fee (usually between five and fifteen dollars) that goes toward the costs of operating the journal. In the best cases, this reading fee will buy the contributor a subscription to the journal running the contest.

Note also that most smaller places do not pay writers even if their work is published. Writers who are just beginning to publish can expect to be paid with a free copy of the issue in which their work appears. (This clearly doesn’t apply for publishing on the Web.) But just because you aren’t getting paid doesn’t mean that the publishing company is running a scam. Beware only of those situations in which you are asked to pay to have your work published.

Vanity publishing is unfortunately a way that dubious entrepreneurs often profit from the desire that writers have to see their work in print while finding it difficult to get work accepted in established venues. Having vanity publications to one’s credit is not usually seen as a good thing. Not only have you paid to see your own work in print, but your work is likely sharing space with other work whose value may be questionable. Vanity publishers are out to make money off of writers, so they will publish whatever anyone is willing to pay to have published. Vanity publishers are not in the business of selecting high instead of low quality work. What’s more, vanity publishers specializing in book-length projects now operate on the Web as well. They will generally not provide editorial guidance and feedback to help you improve your work, nor will they do anything to promote or market copies of the printed book—for that, you're on your own.