Questions to Ask a Hybrid or Assisted Publisher before SIGNING a contract

Jan 13, 2019

 

AUTHOR & PUBLISHING PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENTS?

Many new publishing companies are offering “partnership” agreements or Hybrid Publishing contracts, where they ask for a financial contribution to publishing costs often in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, but what are you really getting for your money?

Traditional Publishing companies don’t ask for a contribution because they are compensated through royalties from the book. It’s not a crime for a publishing company to want to expand or make money by providing author services. This can be a good thing. In fact, I know of a couple very good assisted Author Services who offer quality services and care about you and your book.

What I’m opposed to is the lack of transparency from some of these companies about outsourcing their services to lesser quality providers, what they will actually do for the author (especially around marketing) and the predatory approach to securing payment.

Money seems to be well spent on fluffy copy and telemarketers enticing people to part with their well-earned cash but you must ask – WHAT AM I REALLY GETTING FOR THE PRICE I’M PAYING.

Your WHY, WALLET, and TIME will determine which publishing route is best for you but do your due diligence.

It’s important to research and understand what’s involved in publishing your book, no matter where you are at during the writing or publishing journey.

 

WHEN SHOULD I USE AN ASSISTED PUBLISHER?

If money is not an issue and you don’t have the time to educate yourself about self-publishing then using a HYBRID publisher or Assisted Publisher is a good idea. Also, if you only want to write one book and don’t want a career in writing then the time saved would be worth it. However, if you want to write a number of books it would be more cost-effective to learn the business of writing and publishing. Outsourcing is a good business decision as long as you do your homework and find the right people or organisations for you. Shop around and get recommendations from other people.

 

UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENT PUBLISHING MODELS AND WHAT’S RIGHT FOR YOUR BOOK.

There is a difference between traditional, hybrid, print-on-demand and self-publishing however most new or emerging authors don’t know what questions to ask themselves or the publishers when deciding which publishing option is right for them.

 

ASK YOURSELF…

  • Why am I writing this book? (Personal reasons, public recognition, profit, help people etc)
  • When do I want it published by?
  • Am I a control freak?
  • How much time do I have to write, publish, market and distribute my book?
  • Can I afford to use print-on-demand or self-publish the book taking into effect the cost of editing, proof-reading, formatting, cover design, etc?
  • What courses can I do to get the knowledge I need and do I want to?
  • Who can I go to for advice?
  • What recommendations can I get from other authors?
  • Am I prepared to wait for years to find a traditional publisher and follow that process?
  • Have I done everything in my power to get all the information I need to make an informed decision?

 

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

  • The big companies such as Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins select only a limited number of titles to publish yearly.
  • They can offer an advance against royalties (or not) depending on how commercially viable they think your book is.
  • They DO NOT charge upfront.
  • The publisher holds onto the copyright and exclusivity meaning you can’t publish the work anywhere else depending on what you both agree to.
  • It could take one or more years to get to the bookshelves.
  • The publisher has total control over every aspect of your book
  • They should offer mainstream media coverage and publicity but you are expected to market your book also
  • There are many positives to being Traditionally Published – you can check out the blog here on the Pro’s and Con’s of various publishing options.

 

HYBRID PUBLISHING, SUBSIDY PUBLISHING, ASSISTED PUBLISHING OR VANITY PUBLISHING

(THERE’S A FINE LINE BETWEEN ETHICAL AND UNETHICAL ONES!)

  • You contribute towards the cost of publishing your book.
  • Some companies take a royalty and others charge you higher prices to publish it by not taking a royalty.
  • While the publisher is supposed to have expertise with editing, cover design, and marketing, not all hybrid publishers do everything. Some may simply ask for a pdf of your work. So you still may need to have it properly edited or perhaps formatted and legally checked.
  • Hybrid Publishing companies all have different agreements and requirements but if they are taking royalties the contract is often geared more in their favour in terms of the life of copyright, timeframes, and other rights. You need to negotiate this as with traditional publishing.
  • For those who don’t take royalties – You pay a fixed price and they are supposed to do all the work for you. However, many outsource to less reputable companies and this is where problems can arise.
  • Your book will not necessarily be stocked on major bookstore shelves. In fact, it probably won’t.
  • Even through Hybrid publishers offer marketing services, these are often questionable or require more financial cost. Some will just send out a bulk email and call this marketing. All authors, even traditionally published authors are expected to market their books.
  • There are some companies run by former traditional publishing professionals who do offer very good quality services so it’s important to check thoroughly.
  • Contact people who’ve previously published through them.
  • There are many Vanity Publishers out there who entice people into paying tens of thousands of dollars for doing very little. Some authors can’t find their books anywhere and have lost their copyright. This is where you need to do your due diligence and ask questions.
  • A great website to check the legitimacy of a publishing company is Writer Beware (https://accrispin.blogspot.com/) They list many scams and latest news about unethical publishers.

 

SELF-PUBLISHING USING PRINT ON DEMAND SERVICES

  • Self-publishing is when you as the author are in charge of the production, distribution, and marketing of your book
  • You will most likely use other professionals to help you. For example, an editor, or proofreader, formatter, illustrator or graphic designer, or Print on Demand companies such as the ones listed below:
  • Amazon (Previously Createspace but now KDP and KDP Print or Ingram Sparks.
  • Others include Blurb, Kobo Writing Life, Nook Press which is now Barnes & Noble Press or ibooks Author by Apple.
  • You create an account and send your finished cover and file to be uploaded to their site.
  • You determine the price, and where you want to sell your book globally
  • When a person buys your book, they pay the company the full price, the company takes its costs and you get the remainder. This saves you buying thousands of books to store in boxes in your garage!
  • You can print publish your books very quickly and for no charge or a very minimal charge.

 

Note: You can self-publish your books by organising the printing yourself, but this is not really recommended if you want to reach a global audience. Even if you want to publish a few books for your family or personal reasons, sometimes the Print-on-Demand Services are more cost-effective than getting a small print run from a local printer. It’s a matter of doing your homework and relating it to your why.

 

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Years ago, I used an Assisted Publisher/Vanity Publisher and had a very bad experience. This company didn’t disclose to me that they outsourced their work, therefore the quality was poor and they took six months and not the six weeks they promised.

 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my book to sell at the back end after a workshop I conducted, which was very disappointing. I was so frustrated with the lack of communication, the lack of knowledge and care factor, and eventually removed my book from the company. I was surprised to hear from many people who had similar experiences with that company.

 

Last year when searching for a traditional publisher for my epic family story, I sent a query letter to an international publisher who traditionally and hybrid published. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw an email from them offering me a book contract. Unfortunately, it was an invitation for a “partnership” agreement. With an open mind, I read through the Agreement and came up with pages of questions about the contract.

 

HERE ARE SOME OF THE QUESTIONS I ASKED THIS “TRADITIONAL/HYBRID PUBLISHER” FROM MY EMAIL:

I want to know what I will get for my contribution to the publishing process and what you will contribute? I have self-published so have an understanding of what’s involved. I know that it takes less to get a cover design, edit, format, and proofreading done. So, if the bulk is to be used for marketing:

 

1) I would like to know how you intend to market my book prior to signing an agreement. I’m happy to sign any non-disclosure agreements. I would be taking a huge risk if I didn’t know how you were going to market my book.

 

2) Your contract states that I cannot submit anything potentially defamatory or libellous, however, at present my book is potentially defamatory as you must surely be aware. Would your editors take out anything potentially libellous and would your legal team review the book first or would I be expected to get legal advice at my own cost prior, rework the book and then resubmit it to you?

 

3) As a “partner” how much say do I have in the editorial process, with the book cover design and marketing?

 

4) When would the proposed publication date be set for my book? I note in your contract that it states you could have 290 days to hold the book and then it could take 3 months to get my copyright back?

 

6) What effort would you put into translation, and film/TV rights? What statistics do you have in relation to this?

 

7) What statistics do you have in relation to your sales and authors success?

 

8) Would I be allowed to talk to some of your other authors as part of my due diligence?

 

I have more specific questions related to the contract but I’d like to start with these first. I appreciate your time in answering my questions and providing any necessary information so I can make an informed decision.

***

 

Unfortunately, the company couldn’t give me the information I needed to make an informed decision. I don’t think it’s fair to ask people to part with large sums of money first without disclosing all the information. The information they did provide was too general. I felt as if they just cut and pasted a standard contract or information off their website instead of providing me with facts and figures. It didn’t feel like a “Partnership” at all. It felt like a traditional publishing deal where I had limited say or control but had to pay a lot of money for it.

 Get legal advice and a review of your contract before signing anything.

 

  
 

LEGAL RESOURCES

Writer’s Centres may offer advisory services and in Australia, the Australian Society of Authors or the Arts/Law Society have legal experts to assist with contracts.

Check out Helen Sedwick’s book,(The Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook)  and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s book, Closing the Deal…On Your Terms: Agents, Contracts and Other Considerations.

 

CASE STUDY OF AN ASSISTED/VANITY PUBLISHER

Below is a Case Study I did for a client who was considering paying for an Assisted or in this case a Vanity Publishing Deal from a well-known company. Their prices/packages started at US$1000 up to almost $10,000 depending on which package you chose.

I was surprised to see how this company tried to justify the price of their publishing packages because many of the services below are free or of a minimal cost if you know anything about self-publishing. When I calculated the actual costs or time involved, I believe that the charges were greatly inflated.

(In gold is what the company was offering as part of the package and underneath is my comment.)

 

1) SOFTCOVER BLACK & WHITE PUBLISHING

You can choose paper quality, colour/Black &White, and various sizes with all PRINT ON DEMAND publishers. This is nothing special.

 

2) ISBN

This is free if you use Amazon for ebook or KDP Print and they add it to your cover free of charge. Many people use the free version including high profile authors. However, if you’re using their ISBN they by law own that ISBN. So technically they do have the rights. The only way to have full rights is to own your own ISBN which you can buy separately or in bulk and get a formatter to insert in the cover design.

Ingram Sparks is another good PRINT ON DEMAND company who distributes print books to libraries, bookshops, and schools as part of their extended distribution. It costs $53 to publish your book and ebook with them.

You must buy your own ISBN if you print with them. In the US you can buy your ISBN through a company called Bowker www.isbn.org

In Australia, you buy ISBN from Bowker Thorpe for $44 or a batch of 10 for $88

https://www.myidentifiers.com.au/Get-your-isbn-now For every different version you need a different ISBN e.g. hardback, audio etc

Note: You can print using Amazon KDP Print and then use Ingram Spark for EXTENDED DISTRIBUTION.

 

3) LEGAL DEPOSIT

This is a way to protect the copyright of your work. Legal Deposit is where you can send a copy of your book to the National Library in your country to protect you in case of copyright infringements. Most people don’t worry about this because if you are the author you have copyright but for those who want added protection, there’s no harm in sending it in.

Wikipedia’s article on Legal Deposit lists each country’s library or organisation in which to send your published work.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_deposit

“In the United States, any copyrighted and published work must be submitted in two copies to the United States Copyright Office at the Library of Congress.[56] This mandatory deposit is not required to possess copyright of unpublished works, but a copyright registration can give an author enhanced remedies in case of a copyright violation.[57] The Library of Congress does not retain all works.”

In Australia, we send it to the National Library in Canberra https://www.nla.gov.au/legal-deposit

This is just the cost of sending your book in.

 

4) AUTHOR DISCOUNTS

These occur on all platforms, nothing special here. All Print On Demand companies offers discounts to the author to buy their books. You can compare these rates with Amazon KDP and Ingram Sparks or the Print-on-Demand Publisher company you are considering.

 

5) ONLINE WORLDWIDE DISTRIBUTION

This happens for free with other platforms.

 

6) FULL-COLOUR DESIGN

You don’t own the rights to this cover if an Assisted or Vanity Publisher designs it for you. This is something you should negotiate first. If you leave that company you may need to get another cover designed and all the artwork and thumbnails.

 

7) PERSONALIZED BACK COVER

I can’t believe the company offer this as it is done with the Front Cover. You don’t design a separate front and back cover, it comes as one.

 

8)AUTHOR BIO

You are also going to have to write the author bio to give it to the Assisted/Vanity Publisher anyway unless otherwise stated in your agreement.

 

9)MARKETING COPY

Find out the credentials of the person providing the marketing copy or ask to see some samples. Or research some of their titles yourself and see if the copy is compelling.

 

10 REVIEWS

You usually must find and submit the reviews of your books to the company anyway. Check to see if the agreement states that they will provide the reviews. Some companies may get reviews for you.

 

11) YOUR OWN PHOTO.

You will have to submit this anyway.

 

12) INTERIOR BOOK DESIGN

The cost of this depends on what sort of book you are writing and publishing. You need to clearly communicate with the Assisted Publisher whether your book is an illustrated book or how many images you use as they have a set amount you can use as part of the package. You pay more if you go over that.

Book formatters charge a few hundred dollars depending on the sort of book you are publishing.

 

13) E-BOOK PUBLISHING

There are free templates for standard textbooks but I would get a formatter to format for an ebook or print book if you have a number of images or tables to be included.

Check that you don’t have to set any margins yourself or do any formatting yourself.

I noted in this Agreement that the company advised the client to have edited and proofread their work prior to submitting, so clarify if this is included in the deal or not.

 

14) BARNES & NOBLE “READ INSTANTLY”

This is offered for free on Amazon anyway so don’t know why this company are offering this as something special.

 

15) AMAZON “LOOK INSIDE” AND GOOGLE PREVIEW

This happens automatically as above.

 

16) COMPLIMENTARY AUTHOR COPY

You can order a Proof of your book anyway. This would be worth the price you will charge for your book.

 

17) AUTHOR SUPPORT

I’d be asking about the experience of the person who will be your author support.

How long have they been working for the company?

What qualifications and experience do they have?

What is their timeframe to respond to emails especially if you live in a different time zone?

 

I would also get something in writing to clarify your timeframe or deadline. For example, three months’ maximum. It shouldn’t even take six weeks if they are organised and have everyone working on cover design and formatting at the same time.

 

18) NON-EXCLUSIVE CONTRACT

This is nothing special. Other platforms offer this too.

 

19) PERSONALISED BOOKSTORE PAGE

You get this on other platforms also. This is nothing special. No one will see it unless you direct people there. Most people buy from Amazon anyway.

 

20) FREE PAPERBACK COPIES

If the company offers a certain number of free copies, this is great but they may charge you for shipping, so clarify the number and what the shipping and handling would be.

 

21) MEDIA RELEASE

This looks good on paper but how effective is it in practice.  This company will send to “undisclosed” media outlets. Does this mean they don’t tell you who they send your media release to? This is not good. It’s like spam and media outlets receive these all the time and they never go anywhere. Is it just a standard list?

You need to be specific and target your outlets. You should have the person’s name right when contacting them and so you can follow up with them. How are you going to do this when you don’t know who they are?

It sounds like a mass spam list and I doubt the effectiveness of this.

 

22) PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS

Is this part of the package or do you have to pay extra for this? Check and research other printers such as Vistaprint to see if you can make it more cost-effective.

 

23) EDITORIAL ASSESSMENT

Check if an Editorial Assessment is part of the package or costs extra. This can often be misleading in advertising.

***

 

IN SUMMARY

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you. You may think that it’s worth the cost to go with a Hybrid or Assisted Publisher or you may decide that you can do most or part of the process yourself. It really all depends on your WHY, WALLET and TIME as I said before.

The intention for this blog is to get you to think about and question which publishing option is best for you and to be smart about your choices. Ask the right questions and feel comfortable knowing that you have researched and done everything to get the best results for your book.

I’D LOVE TO KNOW IF YOU’VE HAD POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES WITH PUBLISHERS AND SHARE THEM IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

RESOURCES

Below is a list of resources and articles which may also be useful:

 

 

 

https://www.asauthors.org/news/vanity-publishers-authors-beware

https://writersvictoria.org.au/what-vanity-publishing

https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/advice/255/self-publishing/considering-self-publishing/self-publishing-vs-vanity-publishing-confused

janefriedman.com/resources

theindependentpublishingmagazine.com

hotsheetpub.com

 

 

Cheers, Leeza

 

PS

Need some guidance for writing your book?

Download my free ebook, Guide to Write and Self Publish Your Memoir with a Printable Checklist: HERE

Book in a free 30 minute consultation with Leeza: HERE

 

DISCLAIMER

(Please note that I am not a lawyer and encourage you to seek legal advice before signing anything.) This blog is based on my personal experiences.)

(images by pixabay)

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