Once again, Publishers Weekly’s annual overview of fast-growing independent publishers features not only innovative indies, but publishers whose business model is largely built on author fees: Morgan James Publishing and Austin Macauley. Seriously, PW? Why do you keep doing this?
Billing itself as “The Entrepreneurial Publisher”, Morgan James Publishing requires its authors “to commit to purchasing, during the life of the agreement, up to 2,500 copies [of their book] at print cost plus $2.” (Reports Writer Beware has received indicate that writers are asked for a “deposit” of up to $5,000 on contract signing; we’ve also had reports that additional fees may be due for editing and PR.)
To make this sizeable outlay of cash seem more palatable, MJP falsely claims on its “compare” page that “Many major houses require authors to purchase 5,000 copies, or more, of the book upon its release”, and that even with self-publishing, “[the a]uthor is expected to purchase however many copies required to sell to the general public.” (It also–again falsely–suggests that “old school traditional publishers” take possession of authors’ copyrights.)
Despite all of the above, MJP declares that “No Publishing Fee [is] charged, hidden or otherwise.”
MJP has made PW’s fast-growing indie publisher list several times in addition to this year, including 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2008 (when another pay-to-play publisher, Greenleaf Book Group, was also featured). Of all those articles, only the 2016 one mentions MJP’s book huge purchase requirement.
I’ve written before about Austin Macauley–and I’m not the only one: others have called AM out on its business model as well.
AM bills itself as a “hybrid” publisher*, and does reveal on its website that it offers “contributory” contracts. However, it presents itself as an “innovative independent trade publisher” and states that “we look at every new manuscript with a view to offering a traditional mainstream publishing deal.” This certainly encourages authors to believe that they have a good chance of a traditional offer. But Writer Beware has heard from just four authors who were offered contracts they didn’t have to pay for, while we’ve gotten 60+ reports from authors who received fee-based offers. Obviously this represents just a fraction of those who’ve submitted to AM; still, the proportion of non-fee to fee-based offers certainly suggests that the bulk of AM’s business is fee-based.
Fees in AM contracts Writer Beware has seen range from £1,275 to £7,700 (the heading of fee disclosure section is “Advances,” except that this is an “advance” the author has to pay the publisher). In my (non-legal; I’m not a lawyer) opinion, the AM contracts I’ve reviewed are substandard; there’s no stated term for the grant of rights, and discontinuance of publication is “entirely at the discretion of the publisher.” In effect, this is a life-of-copyright grant, with completely inadequate provisions for rights reversion. (I’ve written before about the vital importance of having a good rights reversion clause in a life-of-copyright contract.)
I’ve also viewed a number of AM’s acceptance letters. There are differences, depending on the rationale for offering “contributory” contracts (new author, can’t take the risk; previously published author, not successful enough) but other than that it’s clearly cut-and-paste, with whole passages used verbatim in multiple letters.
You can see many, many, many, many many, many, author reports of Austin Macauley’s fees online. AM is on Writer Beware’s Thumbs Down Publishers List, and the Alliance of Independent Authors gives AM a red-flag advisory. Glassdoor.com features multiple one-star reviews from current and former AM staff with headlines like “Exploitative and Irrational” and “Not a Real Publisher.” Also check out AM’s extremely professional response (snark) to my blog post about it, in which it claims that I should be disbelieved because I’m a liar and a bully, and also because “Writer Beware are [sic] part of an organisation littered with racism, sexism and child molestation.”
Recognition by PW will give AM a serious PR boost, doubtless drawing in many more unsuspecting authors. Predictably, AM is already making hay with it. But given the very large amount of online information to counter Austin Macauley’s sunny claims about itself, PW clearly didn’t do its due diligence in including AM on its annual list.
* In part to counter the wide abuse of the term “hybrid publisher” (which is extensively employed by vanity publishers in an attempt to sanitize their business practices), The Independent Book Publishers Association recently issued a set of professional standards for hybrid publishers. While these standards are urgently needed in the Wild West world of independent presses, they also illustrate how easily a dishonest vanity publisher can present itself as a legitimate hybrid just by making public claims about its business model.
As far as I know, Austin Macauley has always charged fees. According to Companies House, they incorporated in May 2007 (as Austin & Macauley), and I started getting reports of their fees that same year. You can find similar reports online, for instance here or here.
AM used the exact same marketing pitch in 2007 as they do now: claiming that they only ask for fees sometimes, and first consider submissions for a traditional contract. As I mention in my post, however, judging by the volume of fee reports I've received, as well as the many reports online, fee-based publishing is most–if not quite all–of what they do. AM is not a hybrid publisher: it's a vanity publisher, just as Morgan James is.
I've never seen a fee offer from AM that was less than four figures, and the highest fee I've seen was over £4,000. I wouldn't call that "very low cost."
I would like to share my experience with Austin Macauley and the bad rap I believe they are getting.
Austin Macauley were a traditional publisher initially and then they transitioned into the hybrid publishing model to support indie publishers and I truly believe their intentions are good.
We were offered an opportunity to publish with them, but unfortunately we accepted an offer from Morgan James Publishing (what a bad experience) before receiving the offer from Austin Macauley.
The reason I believe they are genuine is because their model for the indie publisher is very low cost and they genuinely want you to succeed, unlike Morgan James Publishing who want you to pay for everything at your cost and profit it from it in the process.
Whilst I appreciate we all have opinions, I truly believe that Austin Macauley are genuine and simply getting a bad wrap.
And no I am not associated with the company, nor do I get any benefit from posting this comment.
But I am tired of seeing good genuine companies get a bad wrap when their only goal is to support others, like yourselves, to achieve their goals.
I am also happy for the forum administrator to confirm that the IP address that posted this response does not come from the UK.
Should the responses to this post be positive that supports all of us to achieve our goals, I will share the publisher in the US that will not only change your opinion about hybrid publishing but genuinely deliver on what they say.
And once again I am not associated with the publisher, I am author whose book is being published by a genuine hybrid publisher that I would like to share.
I wish you all the best with your publishing endeavours.
We had an experience with MJP that I would never want anyone to ever experience again. We have previously published with a traditional publisher and after discussions with MJP, we were convinced they were the same as a traditional publisher. While the contract read as if it was the same, after we signed… what a wake up call.
Email after email required more and more and more money ( I am sure if you have dealt with them, you get the picture).
Whilst I am sure they think they have a great business model, they lack integrity on a grand scale and do not deserve the right to publish anyones' book as they are self serving and very arrogant.
All I can recommend is stay clear, there are plenty of ethical hybrid publishers that will support you to achieve your goals.
All the best.
I had a client use MJP when they hired me to do the book cover design. The client later called and complained about the quality of the hardcover book, saying the paperback looked wonderful. I never created a hardcover for this client. Upon further investigation, it appears as if MJP took the smaller paperback file and simply cut and past it and enlarged the whole thing (lowering the resolution).
What was more interesting was that MJP spoke with me and could only work with Photoshop files. While Photoshop is the industry standard for dealing with images, those images should then be imported into InDesign for layout of the spine and back cover. It might be fine for DIYers to use Photoshop, but the text handling and file bloat are significant, and not opitmal. No professional designer would do the wrap in Photoshop. For what MJP charges, you would think they could afford a professional.
From a quick check, Austin Macauley didn't have a book in the top 1,000,000 on Amazon just now. How low were sales in 2015 exactly?
As for the IBPA, that whole exercise was a sham, one heavily trumpeted by Publishers Weekly, of course.
"… since they apparently do have access to actual distribution channels and have their people pitch to distributors to carry the books…."
Smashwords does that for writers for free, though they get a tiny percentage of sales.
Victoria, I didn't find the printing and warehousing fees too out of line at Brown Books, or even the promotion fees, since they apparently do have access to actual distribution channels and have their people pitch to distributors to carry the books. But their "creative services" fees were hugely inflated and, in my case, mostly unnecessary. Some other fees were also clearly inflated. I'll keep looking for a viable avenue to give my YA books wider print distribution.
I'm aware that Brown Books charges fees. I didn't highlight it in my post because I've never gotten any complaints about it (unlike Morgan James and Austin Macauley).
"… Brown Books Press…."
Ignorance is the default, so one cannot fault people for being scammed (based only on that article, I use the word "scam" with no qualifiers). However, the abusers know damn well they will never see any time in jail, let alone prison, for defrauding their victims: their terms of service are so wildly broad and open to vastly different interpretations that writers end up agreeing to utterly insane contracts that fall just short of telling writers that signing up means they will be robbed.
When I was a wee tot of about 11 years old I wanted to be a professional writer and earn my living writing. I read a fun book by Robert Fontaine titled THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION. In this book he emphasized the fact that writers are paid to write: they do not pay to write.
It utterly baffles me when I see writers being defrauded and/or otherwise taken advantage of because of their ignorance. Being ignorant is one thing, and not something to be ashamed of; yet there comes a point when ignorance does not explain the odd behavior of some writers when they assume forking over many tens of thousands of dollars to buy their own books is somehow how the business works.
Average fiction manuscripts are worth about $6,300 these days (i.e., advance has been earned at around US$6,300). Yet some fiction writers pay many tens of thousands of dollars for useless "services" and some never see even one copy of their manuscript turned into a book.
A friend of mine paid $3,000 for professional editing of his latest non-fiction book. His "big five" publisher's advance was likely in the US$100,000 range, and his book stayed on the New York _Times_ best-selling list for a few weeks, and also on the Wall Street Journal's best-selling list. That's the only reason I can think of for a writer to send a few thousand dollars on her or his manuscript: after a publishing deal has been agreed to, worked out by an agent. My friend knew it was a fantastic manuscript, so he paid the $3,000 editing fee and had the manuscript professionally edited before his agent sent it to the publisher. He has had more than a dozen NYT best-sellers.
If you are paying someone else for your own work, you're doing it wrong. I have no idea why this is not obvious to everyone.
I contacted Brown Books Press based on this article and contacted them via their website. Last night I received their "proposal" for the first book in my YA series (which has done nicely in ebook, but I'd like to get more print distribution) and it reads like a typical vanity press "deal." Very disappointed that PW didn't do more due diligence…or was seduced by dollar signs from doing so.
"I am sure that I have lost initial payment but it could have been worse if I had not found you when I did."
You can help out other writers by sharing your experience. If you can find forums where reviews of businesses are welcome, perhaps you can write a review for "Book Arts Press."
You aren't alone. I've written a post about Book-Art Press and its identical twin, Window Press Club, and their unscrupulous business practices: https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2018/01/solicitation-alert-book-art-press.html.
My advice, if you paid by credit card or PayPal, would be to dispute the charges. These companies take disputes seriously, and will investigate.
I am sorry to say that I found your website a little too late.I only put down a portion of the amount requested by Book Arts Press and was promise a refund if dissatisfied.
I called the office one day and was told by the person that answered the phone th account person handling my book was no longer with the company.
Five minutes later the new person handling my account called and she told me that the previous person had been transferred.I asked that since she had been transferred please have her call me. That was a month ago and I have asked many times.Someone is not telling the truth and do not why they would lie about a firing.If they cannot tell the truth about such a simple matter what else is not true.
Also requested they have an author who was satisfied with their service call me at the same time and never heard from anyone.
I am sure that I have lost initial payment but it could have been worse if I had not found you when I did.
"One result is that the weakest and most vulnerable are also the most likely to be exploited and then left burned out and angry."
One of the major problems I have seen at writer's meetings is that writers are likely to be impatient with the publishing process. A fine manuscript still takes more than one year to be published, and that is after a year or more of finding a literary agent, and after the time span of the agent finding a publisher. A good manuscript can take years to become a book, and writers want to skip those necessary steps— so they fall prey to vanity presses and scams. Even excellent manuscripts may never find a publisher, and writers need to understand that fact and accept it.
If writers' expectations were reasonable, and matched the real world, they would be far less likely to fall victim to scams and vanity (I call them "ego stroking") services.
Quote from Vyrodolak: "But a much more salient question for me is, why are vanity press outfits like this among the fastest growing "publishers"?"
I suspect it is for much the same reason that sleazy, for-profit "college" are able to attract students who then discover, after going deeply into debt, that their degrees are almost worthless at getting a job. Like for-profit colleges, these vanity publishers aggressively seek out authors. That makes them those approached feel "wanted," when they are simply wanted for exploitation. Also, many of those students or authors come from backgrounds where there's no one knowledgable to tell them, "Stay away. It's a scam."
One result is that the weakest and most vulnerable are also the most likely to be exploited and then left burned out and angry.
I've posted my comments to the PW webpage. You might want to do the same.
–Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books
I'm probably really old fashioned and greedy, but when I sell my writing, I think I should be getting paid, not paying out.
I keep getting review requests from Austin Macauley. I may have said no the first time, then I just started to delete them. The web site was unclear to me, but I have made it clear on my guidelines that I don’t review books published by vanity presses and I’m not interested in hearing from marketing companies. Now I know for sure!
I think it's more a matter of sloppy research than a grand conspiracy.
I'd be really curious to see what kind of documentation Austin Macauley provided to support its claim of 330% sales growth. My hunch is that it has a lot more to do with author recruitment than with per-book sales.
The answer to why they keep doing it is in their name: 'Publishers' Weekly
What better way to show their hatred of indie/self publishing than trying to trick as many of them as possible into paying for vanity press?
I feel like too many willies want to see work out without any awareness of quality of research. And, I feel the terrible habit of the meat on the grill without knowing what it is like I am 6 has me grizzled.
We can't pretend where influence and charisma has gone hand in hand like we delinneated actual crisis management and problem solving, but, surely it is a terrible habit we can't seem to shake and we have so many self publishers who don't know the difference between 6 Time Customers and throwing copies in the machine.
"… included a prominent ad for L. Ron Hubbard's 'Writers of the Future' contest."
The $cientology crime syndicate's "contest" was created by the mob's Sea Org, under the Guardian's Office (now called "The Office of Special Affairs") to "safe point" the mob with unwary writers. "Author Services Inc." and "Bridge Publications" are the crime syndicate's in-house vanity presses with which Hubbard printed and bought his own books by the tens of thousands. Hubbard fled the USA before the FBI raided his offices, and Hubbard let his prostitute wife Mary Sue (whom he met during a Thelemite ritual with rocket scientist Jack Parsons) and his staff go to prison for him.
The most recent "winners" of the "contest" include Sea Org members who work for the mob all day every day for about $12 a week if they are "in good standing."
Lisa McPherson was one of the people who laundered funds via "Bridge Publications" up until the day she was locked in the basement and starved / thirst to death by her "friends."
I am saddened that Writers Digest promotes the crime syndicate and its "contest."
Publishers Weekly has been doing this for a while; Author Solutions advertises with them prominently, and a recent news email from them (PW Daily) included a prominent ad for L. Ron Hubbard's "Writers of the Future" contest. PW has been on this track ever since they jumped on the "author services" bandwagon and started up PW Select, the pay-to-play listing service for "indie" authors. It's all about the money.
But a much more salient question for me is, why are vanity press outfits like this among the fastest growing "publishers"? Who are all these writers being suckered in by them, and why, after so many years of warnings by you and many writers' groups and associations, are there so many writers dumb enough to pay thousands of dollars to scammers? It makes me feel like I'm in the wrong line of work. 🙁
Shame on Publishers Weekly.