Dig Deeper


I’ve been thinking about this post for a little while, unsure whether or not to share it, but then decided I had to. The spirit of this blog is that it’s my journey to publication, lessons learned, paths taken, decisions made. And so here it is…

A little while ago I was offered a publishing contract for Oak and Mist.

Woo hoo, right? Champagne for everyone!

Well, not so much. I had seen this publisher mentioned on a few blogs and websites as one who took unsolicited submissions (and, more importantly, took fantasy submissions, for which there is a much smaller market in publishers and agents). So I sent my book to them and, about a month later, received a request for a full manuscript. So far, so good. About a month after that something, I don’t know what, spurred me to do a little more online research into the publisher. And what I found was a shock. They were a vanity publisher (you know I hate that term but for the purposes of this post it will have to do) who approached first time authors with what they called a ‘contribution scheme’ contract. So, they would publish my book, but I would have to contribute up front to the costs of doing so. Red flag number one. I was pretty gutted, but worked through it and in some ways they did me a favour, for it cemented my decision to self publish instead of waiting any longer.

About a week later a big fat envelope from the publisher plopped through onto my doormat. I picked it up, then went to the kitchen and made myself a big greasy sandwich and a cup of tea (comfort food), before taking the lot up to my office (spare room) and sitting down to read. Luckily I was prepared, for on the surface this was a very exciting envelope to receive. ‘Publishing Contract’ said the black letters on the glossy covers of two official looking documents. A nice cover letter cited their ‘excitement to be working with me’ and their ‘faith in my ability as an author.’ A second insert listed a whole bunch of different ways in which a book could be marketed, but then ended by stating this wasn’t necessarily what they were going to do with my book. Red flag number two.

So I took my glossy gleaming contract and flipped it open, taking a bite of my sandwich to fortify me as I read on. Interesting. According to the contract:

  • The Publisher could amend or edit my book whenever they wanted and how they saw fit
  • They had the final decision on the look of the book
  • Other than ten author copies for me and five sent to university libraries, there was no mention of how many other copies they planned to print in the first run
  • They could decide at any time that my book ‘no longer warranted publication’ and could then cease to print or market it (so after the first fifteen copies, if they wanted to)
  • They would market the book by any means at their disposal (very vague) but could not be held responsible if no bookstores wanted to order it
  • If they failed to pay me my royalties on time I ‘had the right’ to notify them of this in writing – no other penalty was mentioned
  • They wanted first refusal on my next two books

Ding ding ding! Red flags everywhere! It was like a Communist Party parade at this point, but the kicker, the real icing on the cake of this contract, was that I could receive all this jammy goodness for the princely sum of £2500, my so called ‘contribution’ to the scheme.

Um, no thanks.

If I’m going to spend £2500 to publish my book, then I’ll spend it myself, designing a cover I like, editing the book to my satisfaction and marketing it the way I want to, while retaining the rights and a much healthier slice of the royalties. And I’m sure I could do all that for a lot less than £2500, to be honest. But I can see how for some people this offer would be very enticing, the language of the contract and accompanying letter written in such a way that on first glance it hides the fact that the deal is so heavily weighted in favour of the publisher.

A few months ago I attended an agent workshop at Bloomsbury. It was a great day, I learnt a great deal and met some wonderful people. One thing I do remember is sitting next to a well known agent as she told the room that, often, publishers don’t make back their advances. They make their money on the bestsellers, the books that do well, then offset these other losses against that. But they do what they do because they believe in the book, they believe in the writer and they are willing to put their money where their mouth is in a speculative business. And that’s the sort of publisher I’d like to work with. One who’s willing to back me and my work all the way. And at the moment that’s me, though I live in hope.

So the lesson for me was to dig deeper, do more research. My problem is not with their offer, it is in the way it was presented, their website making no mention of the fact that this was how they operated, so I wasted time and energy submitting and waiting for a response. I’m not bitter about it, nor am I angry. It is what it is and the choice was with me as to whether I chose to sign with these people who, after all, are in the business of making money. I chose not to, because I want better for myself and better for my book. So I sent them an email, politely declining their offer and they sent me one back, very nice, wishing me every success with my publishing. So I will take their good wishes and move forward, a little bit wiser (I hope) about it all.


PS – Three days in to NaNowriMo and I’m over 7,000 words along! The novel is taking shape so I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

6 thoughts on “Dig Deeper

  1. Very smart move to do some digging on that publisher, I was reading through your post and couldn’t believe how well presented they came across. For me as someone completely new to the writing industry I probably would have signed with them and wasted a lot of money and time. So yeah, this post has defiantly opened my eyes and I will keep this in mind when I reach the stage of publication x

    • Thanks David. Yes, they really did come off well, their website is very professional and all about how they work with new writers, but no mention that you have to pay up front. All our correspondence was positive and professional, but on digging I found a lot of angry people in online forums who had signed with them and were in all sorts of legal quandaries trying to get rights back and out of pocket thousands of pounds with nothing to show for it. So while it was disappointing, I’m really glad I took the time to look into it before I heard back from them.

  2. I suppose it’s like most things in life: time spent doing due diligence is rarely wasted, even if the only outcome is that you sleep easier at night. Anyway, I think this is a really useful post. As David says, there are plenty of people who don’t realise that, if you think you’re going the mainstream publication route, you should never be charged for publication costs or, indeed, asked for a reading fee (by agents or publishers).

    • Thanks, Louise. Absolutely – when I mentioned the deal to a friend of mine she said ‘oh, that’s not bad’ and I had to explain to her that no, actually it was pretty bad. So I hope it does help anyone who thinks it’s ok to be charged a fee for publication when in fact, it should be the other way around 🙂

  3. Wise choice to decline, Helen. You pay all that money for them to take your book and do with it whatever they wish! Incredible, really. You’re right, although self-publishing will have its own problems, at least YOU have control of your book. Good luck! x

    • Thanks Louise 🙂 I’m actually feeling really good about self publishing and, as you say, I like the fact that I retain the rights. Yes, it was quite an amazing offer to read, I had to look through several times before I found the bit about how much I had to pay, even though I knew what I was looking for, so I could see how other people might get caught by that.

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