Dear Miss Snark, I was wondering if perhaps you would know the answer to my question. I'm looking to apply for a assistant position with a small publisher. My question is, how do I know if they're really a vanity press?
I'm not an author, so I'm not submitting anything so I won't find out if they charge fees. Their website (and 2 sister imprints) looks on the up-and-up. Ethically it would bother me if I went to work for a vanity press, but is there any way to find that out before hand?
The best way to do that is pretend you ARE an author. Look at the website. Read the submission guidelines.
Is there a lot of talk about what they DON'T take? Good sign.
Is there a lot of talk about how competitive submissions are? Good sign.
Is there mention of the fact that they don't take over the transom or unagented submissions? Good sign.
Are there specific but standard QUERY guidelines? No publisher who is legitimate as far as I know, will take full manuscripts on the first go round.
Does the website try to sell the prospective author on the publisher? Most small publishers would rather have LESS than more in their query stack so the tone of the guidelines tends less toward the Amway pitch and more toward the Snark view of the world.
Look for the books in the bookstore, and at the library. Bookstores and libraries don't as a rule carry books published by vanity presses.
Do a google search. If it's a vanity press you'll be able to tell because there won't be any independent reviews. If you need to tune your eye for this, do a google search on some very good and legitimate smaller houses:
You will fast see that despite being small, they have nimble pr folks who get the word out about books, have a pretty clear publishing identity and their books are for sale in stores, and have distribution.