Authors’ unions launch investigation into contribution publishers

The Society of Authors (SoA) and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), backed by ALCS, have partnered to launch a survey on the financial and contractual impact on authors of publishers which charge for publication.

The UK writers’ unions the SoA and WGGB, backed by ALCS, have joined forces to research the allegedly exploitative practices of publishers which charge authors to publish their work. This follows a sharp rise in complaints from authors about such companies received by both unions.

These publishers may describe themselves as ‘hybrid’, ‘contributory’ or ‘subsidy’ publishers, but they have much in common with what used to be called ‘vanity’ publishers.

Issues reported by authors range from aggressive marketing tactics and emotionally manipulative sales approaches, to opaque contracts and processes, and services that fall short of expectations. The fees charged are typically four or five figures, often with authors surrendering a wide range of rights and control over their work.

The joint survey is designed to form a picture of the experiences – both positive and negative – of authors who have been approached by or worked with these publishers.

Next steps

The survey will run until 25 April, after which the information gathered will be analysed to develop a true sense of how writers are being affected by these companies. The aim is that this will form the basis of a report and further resources for writers on how to spot and avoid falling foul of predatory practices, and continued campaigning to ensure greater transparency and fairness in every type of publishing approach, with funding provided by ALCS.

In the meantime, the unions are asking authors to do three things:

  • Complete the survey and help the SoA and WGGB gather as much evidence as possible of writers’ experiences – whether positive or negative – with publishers that charge. You can find out more about the survey and how we will use the results at
  • Do your research: if you plan to pay for any service that will help you publish or promote your book, check the Services & Ratings section at run by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) to see if the companies you are talking to have been rated there.
  • Get every contract vetted before you sign: if you are a member of the SoA or WGGB, contract vetting is a core part of your membership. Having a contract reviewed by experts can be the best way to avoid future issues before you agree or part with your cash.

Commenting on the survey, Nicola Solomon, SoA Chief Executive said: “We have been concerned about the practices of certain publishers for a long time. But in recent years, with huge marketing budgets and opportunities for targeted online advertising, they have become ubiquitous. Today, they are often the publishing opportunities that authors see first when they look for a home for their work. They call themselves publishers, but in truth they are service providers – and what we are hearing is that the services they provide do not live up to the four figure fees they charge. Given their prominence, we need to get an accurate picture of this growing area of book production, so we can better protect the authors who use it. We are very pleased to be working alongside the WGGB on this essential project.”

John Doppler, Services Watchdog for ALLi said: “Vanity presses are adept at manipulating authors. Pervasive ads, high-pressure sales, false promises, a sly contempt for traditional and self-publishing options, and a relentless narrative of impending failure combine to lure authors into exploitative contracts. When those authors discover that they’ve been misled, it’s often too late. They are left with crippling fees, boxes of unsaleable books, a contract that offers no legal recourse. It is a predatory business model built on deceit, and it is so ubiquitous that aspiring authors may never learn of other publishing options.”

Barbara Hayes, Deputy Chief Executive of ALCS said: “ALCS is delighted to support this vital research into what is really happening to authors whose publishers charge for the publishing of their books. Our authors’ earnings surveys show that it is tough enough to make a living as an author without potential misconceptions about what your publisher might do for you. We urge all writers to complete the survey and share their experiences so that the extent of this issue can be better understood and hopefully addressed.”

Nick Yapp, WGGB Books Committee Co-Chair said: “At the WGGB we have become increasingly alarmed by the number of authors who have contacted us after agreeing to ‘contributory’, ‘hybrid’ or ‘subsidised’ publishing deals, with many of them finding themselves thousands of pounds out of pocket with little chance of ever recouping that money. That is why we’re delighted to be working with the Society of Authors to find out more from authors who have either been offered or agreed to one of these deals. We hope that the results will allow us to better understand the extent of these issues and, most importantly, how to address them. It’s never been so important for authors to be protecting their interests in these challenging times.”

About the Society of Authors (SoA)
The Society of Authors is the UK’s largest trade union for all types of writers, illustrators and literary translators. With a membership of over 11,500 and rising, they have been supporting and speaking out for authors at every career stage since 1884.

About the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB)
The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is a trade union representing writers for TV, film, theatre, radio, books, comedy, poetry, animation and videogames. It negotiates national agreements on pay and conditions with key industry bodies, including BBC, ITV and Pact; the Royal Court, National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. It campaigns and lobbies on behalf of writers and offers a wide range of benefits to its members.