Your Money: Biographical directories offer little more than food for ego

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If you are a professional in your field you might be offered the chance to appear in a vanity publication. You might be told that your name and accomplishments will be displayed in a publication with other well-known dignitaries and distinguished leaders.

Don’t believe the hype. Many of these publications do nothing more than boost your ego and empty your wallet.

All too frequently, vanity pitches for Who’s Who-type publications, biographies or nominations for awards or special memberships have a catch. In some cases, honorees who receive such e-mails, letters and calls are not chosen by a select committee, as they are often told, but plucked off mailing lists. Their e-mail addresses might simply be harvested from Web sites. Their name might never appear in the directory.

Vanity pitches often target executives, writers, poets and students. Those who are flattered into providing details of their career or accomplishments could be stuck with a subscription fee, a membership fee, a charge for listing, an inflated price for buying the publication or a solicitation to purchase one or more copies of the publication.

There is no guarantee that the advertised publication will be distributed beyond those people who are purchasing copies for themselves or even that it will be published at all.

To distinguish a reputable biographical directory from those of little value, the Better Business Bureau suggests the following:

• Before agreeing to anything, check with your local library. The public library will stock well-known and useful general biographical directories and can offer you its knowledge of the volume in question. The reputation of professional and business directories might also be checked with relevant trade associations. For student directories, check with your local schools or universities.

• Ask questions. A reputable publisher will be willing to tell you who subscribes to its publication and the number of volumes published in past years.

• Check the list. If the subscribers to the directory are mainly limited to those whose names appear in it, you can infer that it is, in fact, a “vanity publication” only.

• Students should keep in mind that listing your name in a directory will not guarantee college acceptance, nor will it ensure financial aid for college. Admissions and scholarship committees evaluate students on the basis of school records, test scores and other factors.

Be suspicious if the publisher:

• Refuses to provide a firm price. The exact cost of the book should be stated up front and in the contract.

• Claims that the offer is for a “limited time only” or that unexplained circumstances require you to “act immediately.”

• Makes verbal promises that are not duplicated in the contract, like promising a spot on national talk shows, a speaking tour or a national book-signing campaign.

REACH KELVIN COLLINS, THE PRESIDENT/CEO OF THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU OF CENTRAL GEORGIA AND THE CSRA INC., AT (800) 763-4222 OR WWW.BBB.ORG.


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