It depends on the company. The bulk of what calls itself vanity press, is not actually vanity press at all.
Morris Press (http://www.morrispress.com/) is NOT a scam, and it's the only one I can verify to not be a scam as I've used them myself in the past. If you want to go with an online, not local, vanity press, then I highly recommend Morris Press. They will not scam you like others do.
However, there is NO legitimate vanity press company out there who EVER contacts the author, or says anything about offering free stuff. If you are ever contacted by such a group, run from them, because they are scams.
Please know as well that there is NO SUCH THING as vanity press ebooks. If a "vanity press" is offering you an ebook service, they are an even bigger scam then the rest.
There is NO SUCH THING as vanity press print on demand books. If a "vanity press" is offering you print on demand book distribution service, it is ALWAYS a scam.
REAL vanity press is ALWAYS and ONLY hard copy paperback books, delivered to your door and you sell them yourself to local book shops.
ANYTHING ELSE calling itself vanity press, is ALWAYS a scam.
Let's take a look at vanity press vs trade publishing vs self-publishing vs publishing scams, perhaps it'll help you to see the difference between them.
REAL vanity press, is you bypassing a publishing house and going directly to the print shop yourself.
A publishing house owns no printing presses, they are simply a middle man, who does the middle ground work of getting the book published. Each publishing house may have 5 or 6 or more print shops that they work with. MOST of the large press publishing houses use Morrish Press for a lot of their book publishing.
The problem with ACTUAL legitimate vanity press, is you have to be prepared to do everything yourself (typesetting, cover, etc) and foot the bill.
If you want to go vanity press, here's what you do:
Go to your local yellow pages, look for the nearest print shop (also called a Copy Shop or a Fax Shop) (not places like Staples, FedEx, or Kinkos, as they are copy shops only and do not offer book printing services). Almost every town with a population greater then 10k residents has at least 1 local print shop, though not all offer book printing. Usually you'll need to look to larger towns with 20k or more residents, places with a lot of businesses. Look for print shops that deal with a lot of Chinese Take-Out restaurants, as they are usually the ones who have book printing services. (most Chinese take outs, print up 100k menus at a time and mail them to local residents as advertising... any print shop with a press heavy duty enough for that job, owns a printing press heavy duty enough for book printing...next time you get a Chinese take-out menu in your mail box, make note of which local print shop printed it up, because they are your best bet for finding a local printer who has the equipment to handle book printing.)
Once you have found a local print shop that has the ability to print books, tell them you are a local author and would like to print up a special edition of your book, designed to sell at local book shops as a "local author promo".
Know up front, that you are talking about at MINIMUM having 1,000 copies of your book printed p and sitting in your garage, and in most cases large big city print shops are going to require you order a 10,000 MINIMUM copies.
You are going to need to create a mock-up of the book to provide them with. And you will need to be well versed in printer lingo about margins and swamps and bleeds and font types and that sort of thing.
It'll cost you around $4 to $20 per book, depending on trim size, page count, and the type of font you request used. Meaning it'll cost you $4,000 to $20,000 to have 1,000 copies of your book printed.
It'll take them a week or so to switch out the font plants of their machines and get it set up for your book. Once that is done, they print up the pages on one machine and the covers on another machine, have the paper blocks cut to trim size, and then bound. About a week later you can expect to receive about 500 large boxes on your front doorstep, containing your books. They will not fit in your house, so plan on renting a storage unit to hold them.
Now, comes the hard job of knocking on the door of every bookshop in your area and saying: "I'm a local author, will you sell my book?" In most cases they will accept 3 copies on commision. f those sell they may request more.
You'll have better luck selling your book at booths in carnivals, festivals, fairs, car shows, geek cons, and tourist gift shops, however. Note that most fairgrounds require you provide your own 6 foot fold up table, your own 10x10foot white capped tent, and they only provide you with a space 12x12 to set those things up in.
If you can get a booth in a game or comic book convention, this is going to be the thing that'll sell the most books.
If you are really into vanity press, you can do what I do and build yourself a book truck (like a food truck only for selling books instead of selling food) here's mine:
The advantage of a book truck is you can drive it to all your events. The brighter coloured it is, the more attention it attracts and the more sales you'll get (thus why mine is neon dayglow pink that glows in the dark under a blacklight). People who wouldn't normally stop at a book store or attend an author book signing ALWAYS sow up at my book signings because they are curious as to what the hell is that thing parked over their. Then they realize: "OMG! IT'S REAL GYPSIES! I GOTTA BUY SOMETHING JUST SO I CAN SAY I MEET A REAL LIVE GYPSY! YAAAAAAAAY!" (Being a Gypsy helps books sales, it's one of the few races that can do vanity press book selling and succeed just because of the way customers act when they see us.)
The car show circuit and monster truck rallies are great for selling books, so if you have a car that can get you into those (here's mine:
you can sell books out of the trunk of your car.
A bit more difficult to do, as we Gypsies rarely let outsiders in our group, but if you can get a deal with a group of carny Gypsies, you can set up a booth with them when they set up side-shows ans such. This gives you an advantage as their buskers will already have the sales skill to drive customers to your books and all you have to do is smile and give autographs.
I LOVE vanity press and have been doing it since the 1970s. But I was also a door-to-door salesmen for 16 years and have the right personality to get my foot in the door and make a sale. And if you don't have VERY good people skills and VERY good professionalism and VERY good salesman skills, then you really want to avoid vanity press, because not a lot of authors realize how VERY difficult it is to sell books one on one to people face to face.
Far too often an author prints up 10,000 copies of a book, stuffs them in their basement and then wonders why no one is buying their book.
Vanity press is NOT an easy or cheap way to go. You have to do EVERYTHING yourself, including hustle the book on sidewalks like a sleazy watch salesman. It's a lot harder to succeed in vanity press.
Sadly, scam artist companies, don't tell you any of this. They make promises, take you money, and leave you with a garage full of books you have no clue how to sell.
It's far easier for most people to just upload their books to Kindle for free. Gives you an ebook and a print paperback for no upfront cost and you aren't stuck with 1.000s of books in your garage.
ah... thank you for posting this link.
I just read it and, yes, Page Publishing is most definitely a scam. They are NOT a legit vanity press.
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