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December 21, 2016

Questions for Vanity Publisher Austin Macauley Yield Few Answers

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware



This post has been updated.

Over at The Writers Workshop, Harry Bingham is taking a look at UK-based vanity publisher Austin Macauley.
Are they legit? Or are they scammers?

I don’t know. I honestly have no idea. But I’ve heard some concerns raised about the firm and I think the fairest thing to do is ask the question.

If it turns out that the firm is an honourable one, seeking to do the very best for its authors, then fair play to them. I will take this post down and offer the WW as a platform for the firm to market itself. I will make it absolutely clear that we have no bad word to say about them, in public or in private.

And if they’re scammers – well, then, I hope they perish. I hope they perish soon. And I hope that those responsible for the company are deeply injured, financially and reputationally, by that collapse.
To try and solve this conundrum, Harry has formulated a list of questions that he has invited AM to answer.

Now, not to steal AM's thunder, but Writer Beware has gotten a lot of reports, complaints, and questions about AM over the years, and we've gathered a good deal of information and documentation. I thought it might be illuminating to share some of that, using a few of Harry's questions as a template. (Note that I'm not attempting to speak for AM, nor am I accusing them of doing anything illegal; I'm just sharing data that I've collected.)

Question 1: What proportion of AM’s titles are ‘traditional mainstream’ and what proportion are via ‘partnership agreement’?

This is an important question. AM does reveal on its website that it offers "contributory" contracts (using the newly trendy euphemism, "hybrid," to describe its publishing model), but it also presents itself as an "innovative independent trade publisher" and states that "we look at every new manuscript with a view to offering a traditional mainstream publishing deal." This certainly encourages authors to believe that they have a good chance of a traditional offer.

But do they? Writer Beware has heard from just four authors who were offered contracts they didn't have to pay for. By contrast, we've gotten 60+ reports from authors who received fee-based offers (along with lots and lots of inquiries about AM's reputation and business practices; it's one of the publishers we receive the most questions about). Now, I'm sure that the writers who've contacted me represent only a fraction of those who've submitted to AM. Even so, the proportion of fee offers to no-fee offers does suggest--to me, at least--that the bulk of AM's business is pay-to-play.

You can see many many many many many many other author reports of Austin Macauley's fees online.

Question 3: What is the median cost to the author of these partnership agreements?

Fees in contracts Writer Beware has seen range from £1,275 to £7,700 (the heading of fee disclosure section is "Advances," except that this is an "advance" the author has to pay the publisher). Some authors are offered a choice of fees depending on which book formats they pick.

Speaking of AM's contracts, I've seen a number, both "contributory" and not. In my (non-legal; I'm not a lawyer) opinion, they are substandard. There's no stated term for the grant of rights, and discontinuance of publication is "entirely at the discretion of the publisher." In effect, this is a life-of-copyright grant, with completely inadequate provisions for rights reversion. (I've written before about the vital importance of having a good rights reversion clause in a life-of-copyright contract.)

I've also seen a number of AM's acceptance letters. There are differences depending on the rationale for offering "contributory" contracts (new author, can't take the risk; previously published author, not successful enough) but other than that it's clearly cut-and-paste, with whole passages used verbatim in multiple letters.

Question 4: Partnership implies some joint sharing of risks and rewards. So, do you contribute a sum broadly equivalent to that contributed by your authors? If, for example, your launch costs for a book are expected to be £6,000, do you ask the author for £3,000 and contribute the other support yourselves? And if not, then, please, how does it work?

Obviously, I can't answer for Austin Macauley, nor would I attempt to do so. Speaking generally, however, many pay-to-play publishers promise or imply that they are contributing part or most of the expense, and the author fee is just a portion--but in fact, what authors pay is far more likely to cover not just the whole cost of publication, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well.

Also, since fee-based publishers' profit typically comes primarily from author fees and book purchases, rather than from book sales to the public, most have little reason to invest in professional-quality editing, marketing, and distribution. In fact, they have substantial incentive to skimp on these things, since they reduce profit.

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AM has responded to Harry (sort of) in an email that can be seen at the bottom of Harry's post, and also in a post on its own blog. Neither response comes close to addressing Harry's questions. Here's AM explaining why. (UPDATE: AM has objected to Harry reproducing its email verbatim, so what appears now is a paraphrased version.)
We would like to be as transparent as possible in answering your questions. However, as I am sure you understand, many of the details you ask for could potentially require us to break confidentiality, in terms of both our business and of our authors. We plan to discuss these issues fully with Austin Macauley’s lawyers, who will tell us precisely how much information we are able to divulge to you.
Color me unimpressed. I can kinda sorta maybe understand that AM might not want to spotlight particular authors (though if their books are bestsellers, I doubt they'd mind)--but there's no confidentiality attached to most of the information Harry is asking for. Other publishers have no problem providing public information about sales and revenue.

Harry isn't impressed, either. He sums up his opinion in a followup blog post, concluding: "I think [Austin Macauley] is a vanity publisher that trades on the legitimate hopes and excusable ignorance of its clients...if you’re considering entering into a partnership agreement with Austin Macauley, then don’t. Just don’t."

I agree.

------------

A few more observations:
  • Coming to America! AM is UK-based, but it is expanding into the USA. It has a glitzy new US website, and a brand new office in New York City--a virtual office, that is, on the 28th floor of 40 Wall Street. Basically, a PO box. (Am I alone in finding it hilarious that this is a Trump-owned building?) Just 73 AM books are listed on Amazon US for 2015; for 2016, the number is 474. 
  • The morning after I did the research for this blog post, I clicked into a couple of news sources I like, and discovered, yet again, the power of tracking cookies.


UPDATE 12/22/16: Harry Bingham's two posts have resulted in a demand by Austin Macauley's solicitors that he remove all mention of them from his website. He is not backing down. "In our view, the instant resort to threat is a classic telltale sign of firms whose business practices fall on the wrong side of the ethical tracks."

Author and writing teacher Jurgen Wolff also received threats of legal action as a consequence of posting information about Austin Macauley.

UPDATE 4/25/17: Harry Bingham has posted copies of and commentary on Austin Macauley's contract (which is seriously substandard in a number of respects, notably its complately inadequate termination/reversion language) and its cut-and-paste acceptance letter (the several I've seen aren't precisely identical to this one--there are minor variations--but follow the same structure and include whole swaths of identical text). His conclusion:


UPDATE 6/5/17: Oh dear. Austin Macauley has decided that it's being bullied by big bad SFWA.

First, it reached out to fellow victim The Write Agenda--an organization with impeccable credentials (snert)--to ask for support (apparently not noticing that TWA hasn't been active on Twitter for over a year):
Next, it posted a long, long (long) screed accusing me, Writer Beware, and SFWA of "Bullying, Insults, and Lies"...and worse. With footnotes.
Then, to make absolutely sure the world (well, Twitter) got the point, it spammed a link to its screed to people who mentioned SFWA, including recent Nebula Award Weekend attendees:





Eventually causing SFWA to take exasperated action:
Finally, AM reached out once more to its good friend The Write Agenda, with a plaintive plea:
So far, no RTs.

UPDATE 8/16/17: A general rule of thumb: if you have to devote an entire blog post to denying (among other things) that you "trick and swindle authors," you've already lost the PR war.

Austin Macauley is currently running a contest, for which the prize is a "traditional" book contract. The contest guidelines indicate that authors are subject to "behavioral guidelines" and must refrain from "abusive language toward AMP staff at any stage in the process"--provisions you don't normally find in contests from reputable publishers (and why are they anticipating that authors might become abusive, anyway?)

The winner will receive AM's "standard traditional contract," which has serious defects, as outlined above. Also, as outlined above, pay-to-play publishers don't have much reason to invest in quality editing, marketing, distribution, etc., so even if you don't have to pay, publication may not be a prize worth winning.

UPDATE 8/24/17: AM is doubling down on its defamation of SFWA (among other things) in a new essay defending its business practices. If you have to devote an entire article to denying that you "trick and swindle authors", claiming that you don't work in a virtual office, and debunking negative employee comments on Glassdoor, you've already lost the PR war, in my opinion.

46 comments :

Pat Dilloway said...

They do sound shady.

Larry Yoakum III said...

They are not to be trusted. I had two books with them. I guess shame on me for fooling me twice. Anyway, the contracts are expired, I have my books back, and I have self published them now.
I may not be a best selling millionaire, but I wasn't going to get that with them anyway, and at least now I am my own man and on my own terms.
It isn't easy to break into the big time these days, with millions of us out there publishing our own books. But, try to maintain the mindset of 'I write because I must and not because I want money'.

Anonymous said...

Are you degenerate cyber bullies still in business?

Victoria Strauss said...

Yes, Barbara. Yes, we are.

glenda higgins said...

I just had a really bad experience with them. on top of wanting over 5000 dollars Canadian they sent me a contract wanting 75% royalties, first dibs on all my writing (no time limit in years) and a refund of some money if they haven't done anything in 60 days. UNBELIEVABLE!!!! What are they thinking?

Glenda Higgins.
by the way, they said they are doing all this because I'm an unpublished writer. I had given them my site saying, indeed I am a published writer. They are obviously brain dead on top of everything else.

Anonymous said...

One point. They have just (Jan. 2017) moved into Trump Tower on 5th Avenue. That could be because the sane tenants in the Tower have skeedaddled after the US elections. Or, it could be coincidence. At any rate, I'd love to know whether A & M is a Murdoch property. Anyone know?

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 2/21,

It's not Trump Tower, but another building Trump owns, at 40 Wall Street. And it's a virtual office, not a real one.

As far as I know, AM has no connection with Murdoch.

Anonymous said...

The actual response has been added since this, which you've failed to update with.

Victoria Strauss said...

Hi, Anonymous 2/23,

I've noted AM's response in my post above (it's paraphrased--because AM demanded removal of the actual response--on Harry Bingham's blog). Is there another one that I'm not aware of?

as is ongoing said...

I was just about to walk headlong into contract with them,but was not impressed with the demand for a contribution. I am sure they say the same seductive things to everyone those being that they 'found it an engaging and absorbing read'. My daughter objected to my paying and said she would write to Austin Macauley, she thought it was the same as self publishing but with ties and commitments. Hence I have not followed the offer up. She is writing to them to quiz them about their offer, meantime I will not- in view of what people say pursue it. Gillmahoney@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Ref: Austin Macauley,

Hello Victoria Strauss,

In August last year, I emailed you saying AM liked my children's book, but they wanted payment ranging from £1900,£2400 and £4400, depending on which route I wanted to take with getting my book published. You responded very quickly saying other writers had paid AM's enormous fees and regretted it. It's outrageous that AM can justify charging hopeful writers such extortionate amounts of money, and that they are falling for their spiel when there is so much information that can be sourced regarding vanity publishers at the click of a button. Thank goodness people like yourself, and forums like yours are here for people such as myself. Unfortunately, however, AM and their ilk will always exist as long as people are wiling to pay to be published.

Anonymous said...

Self publishing gets a bad rap for the most part because some of the most prominent companies in the industry are super sketchy. Meanwhile, there are some very credible companies out there offering transparent services to writers wishing to have their manuscripts turned into books, and those books delivered to the market. Of course there will be an investment required to have a team of professionals assist you in this process, but if you wish to share your message or story, the option is there for you to do so. Those who think there is an easy route to publish without incurring some costs along the way are in for a long and frustrating journey.

I encourage anyone who wishes to publish to do their diligence, such as coming to a site like this for reviews, and push for clear definitive responses when it comes to things like copyright, royalties, cost for printing, requirements for ordering personal copies etc.......also, who will be working on your project? Is there transparency with the team who will be working with you, or are those services being contacted out to the lowest available bidder by the publisher?

I know of some companies who are doing an amazing job for their clients, receiving positive reviews, offering up full transparency throughout the entire process, and I hate that there are several companies in the industry who are casting a shadow over those who are operating under very credible circumstances and doing an impeccable job of it.

Self publishing is a choice, and when done right it is a privilege for writers with quality manuscripts to have the option of getting them to the market when it wouldn't have been nearly so easy to do so in years past.

My two cents.......I have nothing to contribute on Austin Macauley however, as I'm located in Canada and not so familiar with the practices of those companies overseas. However, I have appreciated the information I've read here, so gratitude for that!

Anonymous said...

What can i do if i already sent them a signed contact? Having second thoughts...

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 5/10,

Please email me at beware [at] sfwa.org. All information shared with Writer Beware is held in confidence.

Anonymous said...

Hi, can you confirm how many non upfront fee contribution books AM have published here in the UK. I have received a contribution contract from then (as an unknown author they say) asking for £2,500. They say for this I also get hard copies of the book, paperback copies and promotional material. I am being gullible about them publishing my work? Thanks.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 6/06,

AM claims about a 50/50 ratio of fee-based to non-fee-based contracts, but as far as I know it hasn't provided any verifiable numbers to support that claim. I can tell you that while I've gotten a handful of reports from authors who weren't asked to pay (fewer than five), I've heard from scores of authors who were asked for thousands of pounds.

The fact that you're an unknown author does not mean you must pay to be published. If traditional publishing is your goal, I encourage you to pursue it; no reputable publisher will refuse to consider a marketable manuscript just because the author hasn't published before or isn't well-known. They are well aware that future best-sellers and literary stars come from the ranks of the previously unpublished.

If you'd prefer to self-publish, you can get a similar package of services (with a much less restrictive contract) from any number of self-publishing service providers. For more information, see the Self-Publishing page of Writer Beware.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I signed a contract with AM over a year ago and have paid them a substantial fee (as an unknown author, so they explained). I now appreciate this was naive, because we're 13 months on and I still haven't got a final draft. When i phone the offices, i get told the only person i can speak to is the head of publishing, by he is dodging my phone calls and is not answering my emails. Any ideas what i can do? All they keep telling me is they have too much work and not enough staff! I don't know the publishing industry and went to AM because they promised they would look after me and my work. I feel really let down.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 6/17,

AM has been expanding; it now has US operations and is threatening to open in Australia. I wonder if perhaps it's suffering growing pains and is short-staffed, resulting in production delays. Certainly the excuses they're giving you would fit with that.

What you may (or may not) be able to do depends on the wording of your contract. Please contact me via email (beware [at] sfwa.org) and I'll try to help.

Unknown said...

Sadly I fell for the charm of this vanity publishers and felt like I was being offered a chance to publish a book. I specifically stated I couldn't do any contributions, they kept me waiting the full six weeks before sending a contract asking me to pay £2500 towards the costs. Thank goodness I found this thread before I signed and sent it back. They make you feel valued and interested in you, when in fact they are stringing you along and reeling you in. Very sad. Thank you for your advice.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness I found this site! Today we (author and illustrator) received a contract from Austin Macauley... remarkably the wording was similar to that stated in previous blogs.. It's a shame that predators like these exist in both publishing and art galleries... giving these industries an appalling reputation. I have not signed the contract and have no intention of doing so. thank you for taking the effort to share your experiences so that novices like us do not fall into the same trap!

Anonymous said...

I received a contract for my novel, requesting $2500 to be published.
I probably won't do it, but I don't necessarily distrust AM. It seems it could
be a step above just plain self publishing. Some of the comments in the letter
seemed personalized. Anyway, if I had the money around I'd throw it at them,
but as is I'll probably just sit on the book.

salieri said...

Who could deny the gratification of opening the post and finding a folder marked "Austin Macauley Publishing Contract"? Admittedly the thrill did wear off somewhat when I read a covering letter addressed to someone else, followed by a paragraph which is evidently standard drivel - "The Board commented on your compelling characters, who each drive the plot forward and increase dramatic tension, which finally culminates to [sic] a moving finish" - and made me wonder whether anyone had actually read it at all. Likewise the recommendation that "any real names used be change [sic]" because the novel "is based on very real and personal events" (it isn't).

And then finally you get to the "contribution" of £2,300 which you are expected to make to them because you are a relatively new author (wrong again: I am a completely new author) which, absurdly, appears under a clause called '"Advances".


And then you read the rest of the contract. The striking thing about the favourable reviews on this page - and there are many - is that they don't say they have sold a single copy. What Austin Macauley actually do to promote book, I am not in a position to say; what I can say is that while they agree contractually to do so they have "full discretion as to the nature and extent of any promotion and distribution", that the means of promoting and marketing "may include" making the Work available to the trade and the media but obviously may not, and that distribution (save for review copies) is not even mentioned.

Other areas where they retain absolute discretion are: making alterations to your manuscript, choice of format and style, the size of the print-run, and discontinuing and remaindering your work at any time they wish. Finally there is a gagging clause which prohibits any adverse comment about the Publisher: why, you wonder, would they feel the need to insert a clause like that?


I wrote to Austin Macauley to say that I had no objection in principle to vanity publishing, but was concerned that the contract provided for no minimum print-run and no enforceable commitment to marketing and/or promotion of any specific kind - above all guaranteed distribution to a single bookshop. This meant that in theory the fee could lawfully be used to cover the author's complimentary copies and nothing more, at which stage the work could even be discontinued at their discretion. There has been no reply: why am I not surprised?

I would respect this organisation more if it said upfront, simply and candidly: we will charge you a fee for printing a few copies of your book to give to your family and friends, but don't expect any further commitment on our part.

Vanity takes many forms, but happily it doesn't always include stupidity.

salieri said...

I need to add: lengthy and courteous reply just received - but still no contractual commitments...

Victoria Strauss said...

salieri,

Publishers don't typically provide the kinds of guarantees you're looking for in their contracts. They prefer flexibility to make such determinations as part of the publishing process, based on various factors including profit and loss projections.

Reputable publishers invest their own resources (rather than yours) in the publishing process, and therefore need to sell books in order to recoup that investment and make a profit. Publishing models vary--small presses, for instance, save money by relying on print-on-demand technology to produce books only when ordered, rather than doing print runs--but in general, authors can reasonably expect a reputable publisher to do as much as it can to support the books it publishes, even without specific guarantees in the contract.

That open-endedness, unfortunately, benefits unscrupulous and vanity publishers, which like reputable publishers don't include guarantees in their contracts, but also don't do most of what reputable publishers do. Vanity publishers aren't likely to do print runs or invest in quality editing, distribution, or marketing, because their primary profit is made up-front, from authors' fees, and they don't want to cut into that too much. As for book sales, those are gravy.

The "you have to pay because you're a new author" thing is bunk. Reputable publishers don't charge fees to new authors any more than they do to established authors. After all, every established author was once a newbie.

salieri said...

Victoria,

Thanks for these interesting comments.

I suppose it comes down to this, doesn't it: a conventional publisher (who takes the risk if your work is worth publishing in the first place) may not guarantee a minimum print run but has an obvious interest in making sales in order to recoup his advance at the very least. A publisher who demands a contribution and makes no commitments - at least legally enforceable ones - may, conceivably, have no interest in producing any more than the complimentary copies you've already paid for upfront.

AM say this is not so because the author's contribution of £2,300 is only about a third of their production costs, so that they too are making an investment which it would make no sense not to recoup (and let's leave aside their taking 75% of the putative royalties). That, surely, depends at least partially on the number of copies they actually do decide to produce and the distribution costs they choose to incur, if any, so the argument seems to me to be entirely circular.

Putting it neutrally, there is a gulf between their expressions of intent - "we will look to distribute on a national level and then internationally should the projected sales be met or exceeded" - and their contractual obligations, which are almost non-existent. And I speak as a contract lawyer.

Victoria Strauss said...

salieri,

You're exactly right. Also, you have no way to know for sure whether your "contribution" is a third of the cost, or three-quarters of the cost, or 100% of the cost plus overhead and profit. An audit could tell you, if your contract included an audit clause--but only well after the fact.

There's a detailed discussion of vanity publishers, and the various ploys they use to disguise themselves, at the Writer Beware website, if you're interested. Also feel free to email me: beware [at] sfwa.org

Anonymous said...

I have ZERO reason to post a comment here other than to warn others. If authors spent 30 minutes online searching experiences from authors who worked with these Publishers before them- they could save themselves agony and money. I add my name to the hundreds of others who received the exact same responses word-for-word from this Publishing house. I was nothing more than a mark they were trying to extort money from. This is their business- they feed off of authors who don't have the confidence and patience to wait for a valid offer. They are quick to harass you, defend themselves against being called Vanity houses and have no problem degrading you in an attempt to get money. Authors- you are better than this. They are not worth your time. There are other Publishers who actually spend their time fostering your growth and writing... instead of writing hate mail (attempting to defend themselves) from new authors. Seek out Publishers who will build you up, instead of break you down. Seek out a home for your book with hands who will nurture it, instead of those that will rip it apart trying to get to your wallet.

Anonymous said...

I just sent them a PDF with part of my book. Now they are requesting the whole book. After reading this blog,... Vanity is the favorite sin of evil.
I feel like a stupid.

Eileen Maksym said...

I tweeted the call for AM to answer Harry's questions recently. They responded with some BS, and I called them on it. https://twitter.com/AustinMacauley/status/889419113243791363 It will be interesting to see how they respond...

Victoria Strauss said...

Adding linkage to Eileen Maksym's tweet. It's worth checking out for a look at AM's, um, extremely mature and professional responses. With GIFs. Sad!

Eileen Maksym said...

They deleted all their tweets and blocked me. Which is sort of satisfying, really. I just wish I had screencaps.

Eileen Maksym said...

Oh wait! Nope, tweets are still there. Enjoy them while they last!

Victoria Strauss said...

They've now blocked me too. The shame!

E.D. Erasmus said...

Thank you, Writers Beware, for your post.
related to this, however, I have a few questions and concerns.
Firstly, there are legitimate self publishing establishments available, which deliver a professional and dedicated service, which further acts in the author's best interest. But, of course, there are also scammers out there.
as such, based on information gathered from commenters on the net, AM offers a mid way plan.half traditional, half self published. As such, I would assume a contract of this nature to outweigh one which is purely of a self publishing nature?
Further, when considering a contract with AM, is there room for negotiation? This is not stipulated on this post, and if someone could offer expert assistance in an area which the publishing house insists requires contribution, marketing or distribution, for instance. Would the contribution ammount be up for negotiation? I see this as a positive possibility, since I can understand the need for contrabutions. A traditional publisher takes a risk on an author, financially, and in the entirety of the publication process, which is why they are so selective in accepting works, right? When self publishing can meet traditional publishing to eliminate some of the risks, it takes away some of that selectiveness and more authors can get published. This, to me, seems like a positive avenue. This would also explain the traditional to hybrid publications ratio as explained in your post above?
They do say on their site that they offer hybrid contracts, and they do say they look at each submission with the possibility to extend a traditional publishing contract. This is backed up by having published works traditionally, regardless of the number of authors who have been fortunate enough to have such contracts offered to them. In addition, with regards to their hybrid contracts, they offer monthly plans. This further helps the author.
Further more, in asking for a contribution from the author, AB invites the author to act as a partner throughout the process of getting the work published and marketed well. With that said, any concerns related to editorial quality can be monitored.
Thank you for the post. The information here is helpful, but not entirely informative and, I think, somewhat biased.
(This is just my opinion, and I in no way wish to offend anyone)

Anonymous said...

I was super tempted to start a deal with them after reading their website, but I'm relieved I went ahead with some better judgement and did my research beforehand. That said, can anyone list some reputable companies to talk to, traditional and self-publishers? If we pool our resources, we can help hundreds of newbies from getting sucked into the machine... Thanks!!!

Victoria Strauss said...

E.D. Erasmus,

One of the important differences between using a self-publishing platform and using a vanity publisher or hybrid publisher (not the same thing, by the way, though many vanity publishers would like you to think so) is that with a self-pub platform, you grant only limited publishing rights, grant them non-exclusively, and can terminate the agreement at any time for any reason. With a vanity or hybrid publisher, you typically grant not just publishing rights but a range of subsidiary rights, on an exclusive basis, for a period of years or for the life of copyright, without the option to terminate. If you decide that self-publishing isn't working for you, you can quit at any time. With vanity publishers, when things go wrong, you are stuck.

In recent years, self-publishing has become a viable alternative career path for authors, many of whom are realizing substantial success. The stigma that used to attach to it is pretty much gone. That's not true for vanity publishing. It's as poorly regarded as it ever was.

As for authors' contributions encouraging partnership...keep in mind that a publisher that takes on the whole cost of publication has a strong incentive to get your book into the hands of readers, since selling books is the only way it can recoup its investment. With a publisher that makes money from you up front, that incentive is substantially diminished. This is the fallacy of the rationale vanity publishers often use to justify their fees, that new writers are a bigger risk: if they are so risky that the publisher requires them to pay for publication, why would the publisher compound the risk by investing any of its own resources? The only reason to claim that fees represent part of the cost--as opposed to the whole cost plus overhead and profit--is to make you feel better about handing over large sums of cash. If you believe you're a partner who has been chosen for a privilege rather than a customer buying a service, you'll be more likely to say "yes" to big fees, even if you didn't expect them when you submitted. Vanity publishers play a blatant psychological game.

Self-publishing costs money to do right, but in terms of control, flexibility, and reputability, it offers a much better return on your investment.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 8/04,

For reputable traditional publishers, the latest edition of a good market guide (such as Writer's Digest's Writers Market in the USA, or Writers' and Artists' Yearbook in the UK) is a good place to look, as is your local bookstore (one of the things that distinguishes reputable publishers is their ability to get books into physical stores). Also see Writer Beware's Small Presses page for information and resources.

For self-publishing, I usually suggest that authors start by investigating the free or low-cost services with good reputations in the self-pub community: Createspace, IngramSpark, and Lulu if they want to do print as well as ebooks, and Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and the direct-to-ereading-device services (Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble's Nook Press, and Kobo's Kobo Writing Life) if they want to do an ebook only.

I generally advise authors to avoid the Author Solutions self-publishing services (iUnverse, Xlibris, Trafford, AuthorHouse, BookTango, and the self-pub services Author Solutions runs for major publishers, including Thomas Nelson's WestBow Press and Hay House's Balboa Press), since I've received many complaints about quality, price, and high-pressure sales tactics.

Some self-publishing services claim to specialize in particular genres (such as self-help) or markets (such as the Christian market). This really isn't meaningful. Self-pub services do no targeted marketing (unless you buy it a la carte), and they all use the same distribution channels.

For information to help you comparison shop, a rundown on the benefits and challenges of self-publishing, and links to helpful resources, see Writer Beware's Self-Publishing page.

Eileen Maksym said...

Victoria, have you ever known of anyone being turned down by AM? Or am I correct in assuming they pretty much take everyone?

Sara said...

Eileen Maksym 8/5/2017 12.20 AM - Ref: Your question Whether AM has turned anyone down. Although Victoria Strauss will be able to give you a better answer than me, however, in my estimation the only time AM has turned anyone down is if their workload is too much, or more than likely is a writer had written something like a 500+ page manuscript, or someone has a heavily illustrated children's book, which will no doubt eat into their profit margins, where they may have to spend some of their own money to get the book printed and published, instead of relying solely on the writers money, which is not how it should be in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I recently had a contract from them, where they called my manuscript "a delightful story for children" that they want to "illustrate with charming stylised graphics" - which makes me wonder if it's copy/paste from another letter, considering my book is strongly centred around sex... So unless it's meant to be an inappropriate how-to illustration book for minors, I'm not completely sure how they can categorise it as that. lol.

Victoria Strauss said...

Eileen Maksym,

I have personally never heard from anyone who has been rejected by AM--which probably just reflects the emails I get, rather than anything about AM's rejection policy. AM doesn't provide any verifiable statistics about submissions, so it's really impossible to know what their rejection rate is.

However, speaking generally, a publisher that relies on author fees for income can't afford to be too picky. Even if they do reject some manuscripts (for instance, for the reasons that Sara suggests in her comment), it's probable that their rejection rate is fairly small, and their acceptance rate is much larger and much less rigorous than that of a non-vanity publisher.

Anonymous 8/07,

You are not the first author who's gotten an acceptance letter or submission invitation for the wrong book. That also should speak to Eileen's question.

BrandNewAuthor said...

I apologize for muddying the waters on Austin Macauley, but have you ever reviewed Indigo River Publishing? They are in Pensacola, Florida and pretty much do the same....will publish if you pay 40% (about $6500) before even seeing a copy of the book. Have you reviewed them before and I missed it?

Victoria Strauss said...

BrandNewAuthor,

I've gotten several questions about Indigo River, but no complaints to date (which just means that if there are problems, no one has contacted me). Indigo River claims to offer both fee-free and paid contracts, but I strongly suspect that pay-to-play is their primary--if not their only--business. If they're like most pay-to-play publishers, the author fee isn't part of the cost; it's carefully calculated to cover not only the entire expense of publishing, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well.

Indigo River was formerly called Zander House (or Zanderhouse) Publishing. Various complaints about it and its owner, Dan Vega, can be found online.

For questions like this, you can contact me directly: beware [at] sfwa.org.

Hennessy said...

Yep - I've also just received a juicy letter from AM and the offer of a contributory contract for an equivalent amount of $4,000. Reason - unpublished author. So what I'm hearing is that the squeaky wheels of the publishing world, with their glossy sites , etc. etc. are catching many of us who just want to make our voices heard. So, my question - who are the legit publishers that we can turn to? Can anyone offer up a list so I can keep writing for a genuine publisher without having to keep watching my back? This said, it occurs to me that there is definitely a rollicking good tale of adventure and intrigue about all this somewhere out there.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Hennessy! I got offered a deal for $6,000. Wow, what a deal.

Can you give us a list of authentic publishing houses that will NOT expect us to foot a large portion of the publishing cost? I've been told you need to get a literary agent, but so often there are posts that list new agents at different companies, but they are sometimes with these "fake" publishers.

It costs money to hire a literary agent, right? Can you help us out?

Your response would be great! Thank you!

Victoria Strauss said...

Hennessy and Anonymous 9/08,

I'm often asked for a list of "best" publishers. That's impossible to provide--not only because there are so many good publishers, but because publishers often specialize in particular markets or genres, and the best publisher for one author might be totally inappropriate for another.

It does not cost any money to hire a reputable literary agent (disreputable agents are a different story, but you don't want one of those). Like real estate agents, literary agents earn commissions on sales. Because they only earn when you do, they are highly motivated not just to sell your book, but to get the best possible deal.

One good way to find reputable publishers is to go to the bookstore or library. Getting print books into physical locations is one marker (though by no means the only one) of a professional publisher. Another way is to invest in the latest version of a good market guide, such as Writer's Market from Writer's Digest Books (in the USA) or Writers and Artists' Yearbook (in the UK). Another way: read the reviews in industry publications like Publishers Weekly or The Bookseller to see who is publishing what.

If you want to submit to an imprint of the Big 5 or to one of the larger independents, you do need a literary agent. Few large publishers' imprints are open to unagented authors, and even those that do read unagented manuscripts give them very, very low priority, and can take forever to respond--plus, the person who reads your submission probably won't be an editor with the power to make an offer to buy your book, but an assistant or an intern. It can take a long time to find an agent, but once you do s/he can significantly cut down the response time--and get your manuscript onto the desk of an editor who will pay attention to it.

If you want to look for an agent, there's an article on my personal website you may find helpful--it offers some tips about researching and querying agents, plus a technique that's designed to help exclude the questionable ones from your query list. Also see the Literary Agents page of Writer Beware, which includes general information as well as a list of cautions and warnings.

There are also plenty of reputable small presses, which don't have the promotion and distribution clout of the large houses but nevertheless can do an excellent job of publishing and selling your book. If you want to try with these, you don't need an agent--most smaller publishers are used to dealing directly with authors (though if you get a contract offer, you should certainly get qualified advice before you sign). Some advice on researching small presses, as well as links to reasonably reliable online resources to help you locate them, can be found on Writer Beware's Small Presses page.

Just a caution about small presses: you do need to be careful. Many small presses have been set up by people who know little or nothing either about publishing or running a business, and may have author-unfriendly contracts or hidden fees or a whole host of other problems, including abrupt closure without notifying authors. When Writer Beware started, most of the complaints we got were about literary agents; now they're about small presses. It is by no means impossible to find a great small press to work with. Just, again...be careful. Don't submit to a small press without thoroughly researching it.

Hope this helps. Let me know if you have other questions.

 
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