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Predatory Publishing and Vanity Presses, oh, my!

As my focus moves from teaching spiritual care to mentoring new writers and seasoned writers who want to move from articles to books, I find myself back in the classroom once again to complete a Book Coach certification. Not that I mind, as I am a lifelong learner and am always on the lookout for interesting things to fill my brain with new ideas!

Unfortunately, as I speak with writers seeking my services as a book/writing coach I have discovered that predatory publishing is not only a reality, but many have become unsuspecting prey to these predators resulting in the loss of large sums of money, and/or loss of copyright and control of their writing.


Predatory publishers or journals are those which charge authors a fee for publication with no intention of providing the expected services – such as editorial or peer review – in return. Charging a fee is a legitimate business model, but the publisher should be providing a good publishing service in return. Authors, realizing that they have submitted their paper to a questionable publisher, can find they are charged a large fee if they want to withdraw their article.

Vanity press is a type of publishing, where authors pay to have their work published; either in money or – more often – in the author’s publication rights. During the publication process, no peer-review is promised by the publisher and no quality control is done. Vanity press usually does no editing, and the authors are left to do all the formatting and spell-checking by themselves. Their works are then published in self-publishing outlets, such as on Amazon, and physical copies of their books have outrageously high prices. The authors, of course, get no income from the sales.Vanity press usually targets young academics with no experience, that have just finished their degree and produced a thesis. They offer publication of their work in a book form for free. If, however, the author wants to publish their research in the form of an academic paper afterwards, they are usually not permitted to do so, because of the legal contract with the vanity publisher.

Here are some common red flags:

  • Unsolicited Emails: Are typically generic and overly flattering offers to publish your work.

  • Promises of Guaranteed Acceptance: They often promise fast publication times and guarantee that your manuscript will be accepted without any substantial peer review.

  • Sales techniques. While all companies use sales techniques, not all companies use them ethically. If you feel like you are being excessively flattered and there is an unusually fast response time something may be off, as legitimate publishers don’t typically give you a sales call within hours of being contacted.

  • Hidden Fees: While legitimate publishers often charge fees, predatory publishers are often not upfront about the costs. They may offer free services, only to demand high fees at later stages in the process. For example: “There are no submission fees, but a processing fee of $1,000 is due upon acceptance.” A vanity publisher charges you an excessive amount upfront and may also take part or all of any unlikely future revenue!

  • Poor Quality of Published Works: Their journals and books may be filled with grammatical errors, formatting issues, and lackluster content. The editorial board, if one exists, may include fictitious or unqualified members. Some services promised by vanity publishers are not things you should be paying for at all, while others are made to sound a lot more complex or valuable than they are. ALWAYS READ your contract! (yes, every word, including the small print… especially the small print).

  • Lack of Peer Review Process (for Journals): A critical component of academic publishing is the peer review process, and this takes time. Predatory journals often skip this step or conduct a very superficial review and inform you that the reviewer has no comments or recommended revisions.

BEWARE! Do your homework and investigate before committing your work to anyone.

A Calico cat staring through an antique magnifying glass

Research the publisher’s reputation; Check using tools like:

Most importantly, seek advice from mentors, colleagues, and writing groups so that you do not fall prey to predatory publishers or vanity presses.



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