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April 13, 2018

Publishers Weekly Includes Two Vanity Publishers in its List of Fast-Growing Independent Presses

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Once again, Publishers Weekly's annual overview of fast-growing independent publishers features not only innovative indies, but publishers whose business model is largely built on author fees: Morgan James Publishing and Austin Macauley. Seriously, PW? Why do you  keep doing this?

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Billing itself as "The Entrepreneurial Publisher", Morgan James Publishing requires its authors "to commit to purchasing, during the life of the agreement, up to 2,500 copies [of their book] at print cost plus $2." (Reports Writer Beware has received indicate that writers are asked for a "deposit" of up to $5,000 on contract signing; we've also had reports that additional fees may be due for editing and PR.)

To make this sizeable outlay of cash seem more palatable, MJP falsely claims on its "compare" page that "Many major houses require authors to purchase 5,000 copies, or more, of the book upon its release", and that even with self-publishing, "[the a]uthor is expected to purchase however many copies required to sell to the general public." (It also--again falsely--suggests that "old school traditional publishers" take possession of authors' copyrights.)

Despite all of the above, MJP declares that "No Publishing Fee [is] charged, hidden or otherwise."

MJP has made PW's fast-growing indie publisher list several times in addition to this year, including 20162015, 20142013, and 2008 (when another pay-to-play publisher, Greenleaf Book Group, was also featured). Of all those articles, only the 2016 one mentions MJP's book huge purchase requirement.

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I've written before about Austin Macauley--and I'm not the only one: others have called AM out on its business model as well.

AM bills itself as a "hybrid" publisher*, and does reveal on its website that it offers "contributory" contracts. However, it 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 Writer Beware has heard from just four authors who were offered contracts they didn't have to pay for, while we've gotten 60+ reports from authors who received fee-based offers. Obviously this represents just a fraction of those who've submitted to AM; still, the proportion of non-fee to fee-based offers certainly suggests that the bulk of AM's business is fee-based.

Fees in AM 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). In my (non-legal; I'm not a lawyer) opinion, the AM contracts I've reviewed 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 viewed 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.

You can see manymanymanymany manymanyauthor reports of Austin Macauley's fees online. AM is on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Publishers List, and the Alliance of Independent Authors gives AM a red-flag advisory. Glassdoor.com features multiple one-star reviews from current and former AM staff with headlines like "Exploitative and Irrational" and "Not a Real Publisher." Also check out AM's extremely professional response (snark) to my blog post about it, in which it claims that I should be disbelieved because I'm a liar and a bully, and also because "Writer Beware are [sic] part of an organisation littered with racism, sexism and child molestation."

Recognition by PW will give AM a serious PR boost, doubtless drawing in many more unsuspecting authors. Predictably, AM is already making hay with it. But given the very large amount of online information to counter Austin Macauley's sunny claims about itself, PW clearly didn't do its due diligence in including AM on its annual list.

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* In part to counter the wide abuse of the term "hybrid publisher" (which is extensively employed by vanity publishers in an attempt to sanitize their business practices), The Independent Book Publishers Association recently issued a set of professional standards for hybrid publishers. While these standards are urgently needed in the Wild West world of independent presses, they also illustrate how easily a dishonest vanity publisher can present itself as a legitimate hybrid just by making public claims about its business model. 
 
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