Tuesday, September 20, 2011

PUBSLUSH Press

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've been getting a number of questions lately about PUBSLUSH Press.

From PUBSLUSH's FAQ page:
What is PUBSLUSH Press? PS Press (as we prefer to call ourselves) is a full service publishing platform that connects writers directly with their readers using social media. We operate like a traditional publishing house, except we let the reading public decide what gets published. Best of all, we give you the power to change lives. For every book purchased, we will donate a book to a child in need.
What this means, basically, is that PS functions rather like Kickstarter, Unbound, and other crowdsourced funding websites--except that instead of pledging cash, donors promise to buy books once they're published. Writers submit 10 pages plus a summary of their manuscripts to the PS website, where the submission is displayed for 120 days. Potential supporters can read the material and, if they like it, pledge their support--from $25 to receive physical and digital copies of the book, to $500 to receive the books plus a variety of perks such as a dedication and a copy of the original manuscript (you must submit your credit card information in order to make a pledge, but according to PS's FAQ, your card is only charged if the book is selected for publication). Once a book receives 2,000 supporters (though see below), PS will publish it, and pay $5,000 to the author (again, see below). There are no entry fees or other fees to participate in the site.

Leaving aside any reservations about the effectiveness of crowdsourcing as a way of locating quality material, and any doubts as to whether it's possible to convince 2,000 people to contribute $25 based on 10 pages of manuscript, and the silly "the traditional system is broken so we need a new process" stuff in the About Us section of PS's website, and concerns about PS's apparent use of spam-style emails to publicize its service and recruit aspiring authors...leaving aside all those things, PS seems like an interesting idea. Rather than focusing on funding the creative process--which then may or may not make it in the marketplace--PS cuts to the chase: book sales. Essentially, supporters are pre-ordering books, which means that any author who attains the publishing threshold is guaranteed at least 2,000 sales. Not too shabby, in an overstuffed book market, where sales for small press-published books often struggle to rise beyond low three figures. Plus, there's that $5,000 payment.

But--and you knew there would be a but, didn't you?--there are some unanswered questions, as well as a number of concerns.

- Who is PUBSLUSH Press? What experience does PS's staff have with publishing? There's no information whatever at the website. You thus have no assurance that your book will be competently edited, published, distributed, or marketed. Pre-sales or no, that's still a very important question. (A bit of digging yields this interview, which identifies PS's founders as Jesse Potash and Hellen Barbara, who say they have "extensive experience from a wide array of industries"--but not which ones.)

- If you submit to PS, you're done submitting, at least for a while. PS's Publication Agreement--to whose terms you agree simply by uploading your submission--requires that for the 120 days you'll be on the PS site, you cannot submit to any other publisher or service similar to PS. If you submit while the site is still in beta, the 120 days extends from the website's official launch, not from your actual submission date. Do you really want to put your book on hold?

- While your submission is available on the PS website, PS promises that it will also (theoretically at least, since manuscript display websites haven't proven to be major magnet for editors) be available to publishing house editors. If a contract offer results, PS will "act as your agent to facilitate the contract." I could find nothing on the PS website, or in its Terms of Service, to indicate what that entails, or what sort of commission, if any, might be due. This needs some major clarification.

- According to PS's FAQ, 2,000 supporters are need for publication. According to the Publication Agreement, the number is 2,500. PS is in beta, and I'm thinking this discrepancy is a startup glitch--but since submitting to PS constitutes automatic acceptance of all the terms of the Publication Agreement, this is something that really needs to be resolved.

- Another discrepancy: the royalties mentioned in PS's FAQ (35% for ebooks, 20% for direct sales, and 10% for trade sales) don't match the royalties in the Publication Agreement (40% for ebook sales, 25% for audio sales, 10% for trade sales, and 7% for direct and book club sales). Although royalties may be a moot point; see below.

- And another discrepancy: Authors chosen for publication receive $5,000, a payment that PS's FAQ describes as an advance. Per Paragraph 5 of the Publication Agreement, however, the $5,000 is not an advance at all, but a publication bonus that "shall not be used as a credit against the royalties payable to Author pursuant to Paragraph 7 of this Agreement."

What does that mean? Well, according to Paragraph 7,  "Author shall not be entitled to royalties on the initial printing of the Work, and shall receive only the initial publication bonus set forth in Paragraph 5 with respect to income from the initial printing." Royalties become due only on subsequent printings.

This sounds horrible, but in some circumstances--theoretically, at least--could work out in the author's favor. Per the Publication Agreement, the initial printing is 2,500-3,000 copies (remember, most of those copies have been pre-sold). If the print run is 2,500 copies and your book retails for $12.99, your royalties (10% of list price) would have been $3,248, so you'd actually be $1,752 to the good.

It's a bit hard to see how this makes sense, from the publisher's standpoint. Of course, it's possible that when royalties do become due on subsequent printings, they will be withheld till the unearned balance of the bonus is recouped--there's nothing in the Publication Agreement to suggest this, but there's nothing to preclude it, either. Also, any author advantage disappears as cover prices rise--for instance, for a print run of 3,000 and a cover price of $18.99, royalties due would be $5,697, saving the publisher over $600. Keeping cover prices high, therefore, would seem to be to PS's benefit--if not to readers'.

- Again per Paragraph 7, authors receive royalties on electronic and audio versions of the book. Will those royalties be subject to the same first-printing embargo? The contract doesn't say. This is another issue that really needs to be clarified.

- Still in Paragraph 7: "Royalty rates are subject to modification by Publisher for administrative and financial reasons, at Publisher’s sole discretion, and royalty rates shall not be confirmed with respect to a particular Work until such date as Author is notified that its Work has been selected for publication." In other words, authors must agree on submission to a Publication Agreement that offers them no assurance as to what their royalties will actually be.

- These are far from the only issues with PS's Publication Agreement. It's a life-of-copyright agreement with a completely inadequate reversion clause ("out of print" isn't even rudimentarily defined; moreover, authors can't demand reversion until the book has been out of print for at least two years); there are sweeping claims on a wide range of subrights despite the lack of any evidence that PUBSLUSH is capable of exploiting them; there's an onerous competitive works clause; and there's an option clause that amounts to a perpetual option on sequels and related works. Moreover, because submitting to PS constitutes full agreement to all these terms, the author forfeits any possibility of negotiation.

- Did I mention that you bind yourself to all the terms of the Publication Agreement simply by submitting? Yes, I did, several times--but it's a point that bears repeating, especially since writers so often gloss over the fine print. In any situation where submission constitutes automatic agreement, you owe it to yourself to carefully consider what you are agreeing to, and whether you are willing to be bound by those terms if you're picked for publication.

- As I said above, I think PUBSLUSH is an interesting idea, and--except for the founders' possible lack of publishing experience--all the issues I've identified can be fixed pretty easily. However, PUBSLUSH has no track record at the moment. It's an unknown quantity. (As of this writing, only 2 of the 10 properties on PS's website have garnered any pledges, for a grand total of 7 supporters.) Given what it's asking authors to commit to, that constitutes a major risk. Do you want to be a guinea pig?

EDITED 9/23/11 TO ADD: PUBSLUSH contacted me after they saw this post, and we had a cordial email exchange. They've made a number of changes to answer some of the issues identified above. See my update.

EDITED JULY 2013 TO ADD: Pubslush's business model has been re-worked--it is now a crowdfunding site, a la Kickstarter, and has de-emphasized the publishing program, although publishing is still part of its mission. See the note at the bottom of my update for more.

17 comments:

Hiroko said...

Huh. I had just visited this site a few days ago. The idea is nice, for certain, but after reading through this dissection, one definitely has to ask where exactly this site came from in the first place. Noble intentions, but sloppy (and suspicious) set-up.

P. David Gardner said...

Thanks for looking into this site. There have been more than a few questions I've been seeing from various people about it on Facebook and Google Plus, as well as the site spamming both of those sites.

Jennifer said...

I give no rights without a contract. As intriguing an idea as this is, if I was going to try this method, I would likely do it myself. (It's something I've considered if I ever go the self publishing route as a way to get the capital needed to edit the manuscript, buy cover art, etc).

Frances Grimble said...

This is not exactly it, but I've always wondered if it would be possible (for some books) to return to the 18th-and early 19th-century idea of publishing "by subscription." The author went round to every colleague, friend, relative, and supporter he or she could find, and persuaded them each to prepay for one copy so that the author, in turn, could prepay the printer. Once the books were printed, the author delivered the copies to the subscribers.

Then there's always the route of buttering up a wealthy patron so that he or she pays your entire printing bill ...

Kerry S. said...

I was one of those contacted by PS. It was indeed an intriguing concept, but as the old saying goes, "anything that seems too good to be true.... is." Time will be the tell-all.

Once more, all of us benefit from your sharp-eyed analysis. Thank you.

Victoria Strauss said...

Just to note, because it has been pointed out to me that this may be confusing: PS (as in PUBSLUSH Press) should not be confused with the very excellent PS Publishing, a UK-based publisher of speculative fiction.

BuffySquirrel said...

TWO years!!!!!

*exits building*

fantasydreamer12 said...

If your that desperate to publish, put your book up on the Kindle or Nook store. Don't fall for these vanity publishers. Use services that have good reputations. And a known track record.

Thanks again Writers Beware for exposing these scams!

Jenn Sloane said...

I reached out to pubslush directly because I had some concerns as well. They responded immediately and seem to be very legitimate. I don’t think scams often involve donating books to kids who need them. Probably not the right option for everyone but I’ve struggled to get my work read by an agent, let alone a publisher, so for me it's worth a shot. If anything, it's another venue to get some added attention for my book. Here’s to hoping!

Pubslush said...

Hi everyone!

Thanks for your concerns. We’ve just emailed Writer Beware to clarify some of the issues raised here.

First of all: we apologize profusely for the discrepancy between the publication agreement and FAQ that could be seen on our website until yesterday. We have since fixed the issue and the correct publication is now available to view on the site.

Just to clarify, we understand that our model may not be for everyone. We are merely attempting to offer an alternative medium for writers to be seen, heard and possibly published, while simultaneously promoting literacy for underprivileged children.

We chose the 120 day model because we think it is a reasonable amount of time for readers to gain momentum and get proper exposure without binding them for too long. The 120 day period of exclusive exposure begins from the day you submit.

In regards to the author’s rights of reversion, two years is standard in any publication agreement. The same thing goes for royalties being subject to modification; this is standard procedure.



We urge potential submitters to be aware that they are entering a legal agreement upon submitting. We are not trying to con you.

We encourage authors to remember that this is not self publishing, and while there is a risk of being a "guinea pig" we believe the potential reward is much greater.

We’d also like to remind you all that we have just launched. We are very interested in your feedback and comments. We want to cultivate community and communication and give voice to aspiring writers and readers. Please feel free to send any queries to hello@pubslush.com.

rob! said...

Dear Ms. Strauss-

Thank you for this blog, and in specific the posts on Morgan James Publishing.

I've been having a hell of a time getting my book published (even with an agent), and then I came across MJ and made some inquiries. They now want me to come aboard and sign on the proverbial dotted line, so I decided to do some research online them, and that led me to some of your older posts.

I have to say I was terrified at what I read, it seems like no one has anything good to say about MJ, and that's going to keep me from going with them.

Sorry for the OT nature of this comment!

Victoria Strauss said...

I'd like to thank PUBSLUSH for commenting here, and for their willingness to make changes. I've received their email, but I haven't had a chance to go over the documentation they sent me yet; once I do, I'll post an update.

Just to note, though...PUBSLUSH said,

In regards to the author’s rights of reversion, two years is standard in any publication agreement. The same thing goes for royalties being subject to modification; this is standard procedure.

I'm sorry, but neither of these things is true. The author's right to request reversion should be triggered by the book going out of print (and "out of print" should be very specifically defined, but that's another issue). There shouldn't be a waiting period. I'm not saying that there aren't contracts that, like PUBSLUSH's, impose a waiting period--I've seen just about every crazy thing in contracts, so I rule nothing out. But this is most definitely not standard. To the contrary, it's a contract red flag.

As for royalties being subject to modification...you might find some provision for modification of specific royalties in a publishing contract--for instance, if you sign on for an ebook royalty of 20%, and the publisher subsequently raises its standard ebook royalty rate to 25%, your royalty rate would rise also. Or if the publisher decides to exercise a subsidiary right rather than licensing it to a third party, the contract may oblige author and publisher to come back to the negotiating table to figure out what royalties should be paid. But it truly is not standard for royalties to be modifiable at will, on a blanket basis. This would be a nightmare for authors, who would be forced to sign contracts without any assurance of what they would actually be paid. Again, a red flag.

BuffySquirrel said...

What the heck is the advantage to any publisher of sitting on rights to an out of print book for two years?

Katharine Swan said...

BuffySquirrel --

The same advantage as, when you don't want some piece of furniture or clothing, sticking it in your basement instead of giving it away or selling it. It doesn't cost you anything to hang onto it, and if you change your mind you still have it.

That sounds to me like what these guys are doing. They're ensuring that just in case one of their out-of-print authors, say, puts out a bestseller, they still hold the rights to the earlier book and can bring it back in print, to their benefit. I would never, ever sign a contract that was such a bad deal for me.

BuffySquirrel said...

Thanks, Katherine. I guess that does make a sort of sense--for the publisher.

(word ver: notfund)

BuffySquirrel said...

Sorry I spelt your name wrong. Bad sqrl.

Anonymous said...

I've read through this and thank you for this posting! I was looking at PubSlush and considering them.
Having read through your post, it reminds me of another company that turned out to be a scam: American Book Publishing. I know a lot of authors and editors who are owed a lot of money by them - and that was seven years ago! If anyone is with this group and contact names keep changing, or if your contact comes down suddenly with a horrible disease, GET OUT! This could be them - again.