Read this before signing with a publisher

23 May 2022

So-called ‘hybrid,’ ‘contributory,’ ‘subsidy’ or ‘partnership’ publishers have a lot in common with what used to be called ‘vanity’ publishers. With support from ALCS, UK writers’ unions SoA and WGGB have come up with some easy ways to help you distinguish between a publisher and the ‘hybrid’ model.

Last year members of the Society of Authors (SoA) and Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) raised concerns about the nature, management, and outcomes of publishing deals that they had been asked to pay for. With the support of ALCS, the SoA and WGGB decided to investigate so-called ‘hybrid’ publishers that charge writers for publication, while taking rights in their work.

Publishing is about much more than just book production. A genuine publisher makes its money primarily from book sales. Publishers that make most of their money from payments from writers, yet they describe themselves as a publisher, mislead and exploit writers keen on signing a publishing deal.

As part of their mission to improve the publishing landscape, the SoA and WGGB have come up with key publishing principles for the professionals to adhere to. We’ve picked out our top 10, which we think can really help writers choose the right publisher.

10 things to look out for before signing a contract:

  1. ‘Hybrid’ or ‘partnership’ business models
    Look out for vague references to ‘hybrid’ or ‘partnership’ models. Ascertain what proportion of revenue is derived from book sales and exploitation of rights, and what proportion is from writers’ payments.
  2. Consumer rights
    Ask to be notified of your rights and ask for Consumer Rights Act notices.
  3. Transparent costing and predicted return on investment
    Make sure you know if you’re expected to pay for any services, and get cost and sales figures before you sign. This should be itemised, and include listings of optional extras and the predicted result or return to enable you to make informed decisions on value for money and likely return on investment. Ask for a breakdown in detailed, plain English of what the publisher will provide in return for their payment.
  4. Production
    Ensure the publisher has substantial editing, design, production, sales, and distribution expertise and capacity, and ask them how they will meet the needs of your book.
  5. Marketing
    Ask for a clear marketing plan and budget, including how the publisher will work with third parties including printers, distributers or sub-agents for example.
  6. Physical copies
    Make sure it is clear exactly how many books will be produced initially in each format. Will books will be produced as print-on-demand (POD)? Of the copies manufactured, who owns them – you or the publisher?
  7. Contracts
    Take the time to look closely at your contract and discuss any concerns you might have with the SoA or WGGB teams of specialist advisors. The contract should include a plain English overview of the terms and implications of the contract. All contract terms should be reasonable and time limited. They should include regular reviews to consider new forms of exploitation.
  8. Financial clarity
    Make sure you understand how the royalty is calculated across all formats and platforms. Contracts should include rising royalty scales or ‘bestseller clauses’ so that if a work does far better than expected, the creator shares in its success.
  9. Responsible sales tactics
    Be wary of a company trying to upsell unnecessary services to increase payment required by you.
  10. Credit
    Moral rights must not be waived.

Read Is it a steal?, the investigation into ‘hybrid’/paid-for publishing services.