The publishing industry–and certain commentary articles–have spent the last few years bashing the quality of self-published novels, taking out their ire on the authors themselves. But what is not so often exposed is the number of “publishers” who’ve sprung up almost overnight to utilize the same exact tools that are available to authors, but do so under the guise of being a publisher.
Home-based publishing businesses are on the rise, and unfortunately, many have created a niche for themselves that falls somewhere between legitimate publishing and vanity press. While still taking submissions of manuscripts–often unagented submissions, which has been attractive to authors who’ve been rejected by the first level of gatekeeper to the industry–the numbers of rejected manuscripts from these new publishers are surprisingly low.
Once a manuscript is accepted, publishers work in one of two ways: the traditional royalty model in which the author fronts none of the costs associated with editing, art design, layout, or publication, or the pay-upfront model in which the author pays for his services, and the completed product is his sole property.
The problem comes in due to these so-called publishers who are operating under both systems. Authors are charged for their necessary services upfront–sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars–and then are also charged a portion of their book sales in royalties. The publisher controls the sales of the book even though the rights to the book are still legally the author’s due to the arrangement. The author (and still rights holder) has no access to the sales data or royalty payments, and instead has to request that information from the publisher in terms of quarterly sales reports and quarterly royalty checks, which often include as much as 55% of net sales deducted for the publisher.
Sadly, only moments after digital publishing and print-on-demand allowed anyone to become a published author, the process allowed nefarious business operatives to dangle the dream of being published in front of desperate authors. Authors who are offered contracts by companies who do not have a well-known presence in the industry must still do the legwork of checking out the company, browsing through some of the publisher’s previously released titles, and reaching out to authors who’ve worked with the publisher in the past.
Small presses and independent publishers are very real, very vital parts of the publishing industry, but only if they’re legitimate. With the rise in popularity of the hybrid publisher and publishing consultants, however, the lines between legitimate and scam have become very blurry, and plenty of authors have felt the pinch of an unsatisfactory and expensive mistake. One of the most important contract negotiation steps is to demand that no royalties be withheld by the publisher if there are upfront costs to the author; of equal importance is the need to retain complete control over sales data and retailers’ accounts, ensuring that the rights holder (in this scenario, the author) still has that level of control over his own work.