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September 23, 2011

PUBSLUSH Press: Update

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
EDITED JULY 2013 TO ADD: Pubslush has changed its basic business concept. See the Addendum below.

On Tuesday I posted about PUBSLUSH Press, a new crowdfunding venture for books. I found it an interesting idea (rather than just donating cash to worthy projects, PUBSLUSH supporters actually pledge to buy books; if the number of supporters reaches 2,000, PUBSLUSH publishes), but had a number of concerns, especially regarding PUBSLUSH's publishing contract.

PUBSLUSH contacted me soon after I put the post online, and we had a cordial email exchange. As a result, they've made some positive changes--but unfortunately a number of important issues remain unaddressed.

The discrepancies in the number of supporters required for publication, as well as in the royalty rates, have been resolved. A new publication agreement has been posted, and the figures are now consistent with the information in PUBSLUSH's FAQ.

Authors' 120-day display commitment now extends from the date of submission (before, for authors who submitted while the site was still in beta, the clock didn't start ticking until the official launch).

The website's misleading characterization of the $5,000 publication bonus as an advance has been corrected.

I was also concerned by the fact that simply submitting to PUBSLUSH constitutes acceptance of the terms of its publishing agreement. That's not something PUBSLUSH seems to want to change, but they did tell me that they'll be re-desiging their submission page to make it clearer to authors that they're binding themselves to a legal agreement.

The publication agreement (though not the website) clarifies the circumstances under which PUBSLUSH will morph into writers' literary agent, and states a commission: 15%. This is good to know, but still a concern--there's an inherent conflict in a publisher also functioning as a writer's agent, possibly in what ought more properly to be a subrights licensing situation.

Unfortunately, also, PUBSLUSH doesn't seem to want to address the other contract issues I flagged. I'm particularly worried about the lack of an adequate rights reversion clause (not only is "out of print" not defined, books must be out of print for a full two years before authors can request return of rights; PUBSLUSH insists that "two years is standard in any publication agreement," but this is just not true); about the fact that royalty rates aren't fixed (they will be set only upon a work's selection for publication, which means that writers must bind themselves to a publication agreement with no idea of what they will actually be paid); and about the option clause's sweeping claim on sequels and related works.

Last but not least--and leaving aside all questions about the viability of the PUBSLUSH concept--I remain concerned about PUBSLUSH's staff's apparent lack of publishing industry experience.

PUBSLUSH's willingness to respond to criticism, and to put changes in place, is welcome and commendable. But there's still plenty here to suggest that writers should be cautious about its publishing venture.


ADDENDUM: As of sometime in 2013, Pubslush has changed its basic business concept. Its crowdfunding model now works more like Kickstarter, except that authors keep the money they raise whether their campaigns reach their goals or not (more at PW). There's no longer any publishing commitment or obligation for authors who use the crowdfunding platform.

Crowdfunding is now Pubslush's main focus. In accordance with this, it has de-emphasized the publishing side of its business. However, according to its website, it is still committed to "pioneering a new kind of flexible, highly mobile publisher," and Pubslush Press does still plan to acquire books that "trend highly on the site."

I haven't seen a current Pubslush publishing contract (I asked, and was refused), so I don't know whether the contractual problems I've identified above have been addressed, or whether they remain.

UPDATE 10/14: Here's an interesting assessment of Pubslush's crowdfunding platform, by an author who used it and identified both strengths and weaknesses.


Suzanne said...

Thanks for the heads up about this publisher. I'm adding it to my list of not allowed urls in my Google adsense list.

Hiroko said...

It seems rather humble of them to e-mail and implement the changes they saw in the blog post.
Not particularly safe, but humble.

Kelly Robinson said...

I don't understand why anyone interested in this wouldn't just use Kickstarter. Kickstarter's %age is one time only. All rights are yours, and you don't owe them anything, ever.

none said...

Signing up for an unspecified royalty rate is not good. At all.

Anonymous said...

I just gave you a versatile blogger award.

Louise Curtis

Unknown said...

FYI: Someone is apparently astroturfing Huffington Post re: Pubslush and Inkubate as well. I blogged about it today on mine:

Original HP article at:

Hey Ann and Victoria: It might be worth looking into Inkubate now as well. They are telling writer participants that they can get publishers and agents to actually pay to read samples posted there.

The hits just keep on coming.

Anonymous said...

Taken from their faq:

What are the formatting requirements?
Edited for grammary and spelling
.doc, .pdf, .rtf, or .txt format
10 pages, double spaced
1" margins
12 pt font
Times New Roman, Arial, or other standard font

How can I edit something for "grammary?"

Kelly said...

I would really appreciate it if you could take another look at their contract. I am a novice writer and this would be GREAT, but I am not familiar with the publishing industry. I think most, if not all your concerns, have been addressed; and these comments are several months old now. I would really appreciate the opinion of someone with some experience. Thank you!

Victoria Strauss said...

Unfortunately, as of a week ago, when I last checked PUBSLUSH and its contract, the problems I've highlighted in this post remain unaddressed.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused -- is Inkubate a worthwhile endeavour or not?

I read the Huffpost article, which doesn't even have an author byline. Oh, well, I guess back to the drawing board. :-(

By the way, what exactly is "astroturfing"? My guess is that football (American or otherwise) has nothing to do with this...?

Anonymous said...

I've seen a lot about Pubslush recently (an interview on HuffPo,among other publicity) and it seems they've changed their model, but I wonder.

I hope you do an update to this post at some point Ms. Strauss. You're the best.

Carla King said...

Hi Victoria,
After researching Pubslush for a PBS Mediashift article, I found there's been a change of management. They launched in 2011, Jesse Potash stepped down in 2012 and Hellen Barbara stayed on. In August (2012) there was a re-think and redesign to concentrate on crowdfunding. They've been finessing it and they no longer require contracts - authors who crowdfund book projects there retain all rights. They do have a publishing imprint which is kindof on hold for now and may relaunch in 2013, but future contracts between authors and the publishing co will be separate from the crowdfunding authors. I've decided I like the company, they've messed up a bit in the past but since relaunch in August are headed in a great direction.

Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks for your comment, Carla. I'm fully aware of the changes in Pubslush's business model, and of the elimination of the contract requirement for writers who use the crowdfunding platform. I've noted these things in the editorial comment I've appended to my post.

I'm also aware that Pubslush has de-emphasized its publishing imprint. However, the imprint, which has published one book to date, is still referenced in several areas of the Pubslush website, and is an important part of Pubslush's press kit. So it seems pretty clear that Pubslush isn't abandoning its plans to function as a publisher, even if they're on hold for now.

In light of that, and in light of the problems with the Pubslush publishing contract that I've outlined in my post, I remain concerned about the terms Pubslush intends to offer authors in the future, once its publishing program gets active again.

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