This post has been updated
Started by hedge fund manager Jonathan de Montfort (I have some questions here; see the update below), DML promises to help writers kick-start their careers by paying them an annual salary of £24,000, plus royalties, to write novels that will be published under the DML brand. DML also promises to provide a pension and “all computer equipment and software necessary.” As with Inkitt, there’s an algorithm. It also looks like the company wants to create its own proprietary e-reader software (a risky move, unless you’re Amazon).
What must writers agree to in return? Not much. Just surrender copyright (per its FAQ, DML claims copyright not just to novels, but to ideas–despite the fact that copyright does not cover ideas)*, write only for DML, accept net profit royalties (always a huge red flag), and give up their day jobs (yes, you read that right). Early versions of the DML FAQ described a punitive non-compete provision barring authors from writing for other publishers for two years after leaving DML; that appears to have been re-thought, and is no longer mentioned on the website.
*(John Doppler has updated his post with new information provided by Mr. de Montfort, including the claim that “Technically, the author retains ownership of the copyright, but licenses the content and all rights, subrights, and options exclusively to DML…” However, as of this writing, DML’s FAQ clearly states that DML takes ownership of copyright.)
(Update: As of early November 2018, the FAQ has been revised to state that authors do retain their copyrights. See below for details.)
Any beginning writer (and even many established ones) can appreciate the appeal of a steady salary to practice their craft. But there are also obvious problems, as noted above–and even beyond those, as John Doppler points out, hedge fund experience does not equal publishing experience:
Jonathan De Montfort, the individual behind this venture, is a successful hedge fund manager who credits his firm’s success to “a mathematical system based partly on the Fibonacci sequence”. He claims this system has successfully predicted financial markets, the 2008 crash, and Brexit, and other events, and now believes it can be applied to literature. “I have taken what I know about hedge fund management and applied it to literature,” reads a quote on the company’s website.
However, De Montfort’s experience with publishing appears to be extremely limited; his first novel, Turner is scheduled to be published on August 31st of this year.
In a June 1 interview with The Guardian, De Montfort’s view of publishing becomes more apparent. He says, “The traditional publishing models for fiction writers are littered with obstacles. Securing a literary agent is a lottery, and self-publishing is costly and time-consuming.” DML’s website positions their approach as a “new, alternative route to the traditional agents and publishers” which will “make being a novelist a valid career choice…”
The thousands of career authors who are earning a living wage from their “invalid career choice” may take exception to those comments.
Lack of experience and untested concept aside, could De Montfort Literature succeed? Could it maintain good and ethical working relationships, establish excellent distribution and marketing networks, and parlay a stable of books and authors into a profitable business for all concerned? It’s certainly possible. But writers need to also consider less rosy scenarios, one of which Doppler lays out as follows:
1. The author passes DML’s screening and is accepted into the program.
2. The author quits their day job to pursue their passion, writing.
3. The author collects a steady paycheck.
4. DML’s algorithms decide that steamy vampire detective thrillers have high profit potential.
5. DML assigns the author a steamy vampire detective thriller project very loosely based on the author’s original historical romance idea.
6. DML requires six steamy vampire detective novels per year. Writer’s block is not allowed.
7. The author has an idea for a fascinating book on a topic that has captivated their interest. DML declines to pursue the project. The idea now belongs to DML, and the writer is prohibited from authoring similar works.
8. Although the author is entitled to 50% of the steamy vampire net profits, DML claims that marketing, production, and salaries have resulted in a net loss.
9. The author quits in disgust… or DML informs the author that they are no longer needed and dismisses them.
10. DML retains the rights to use the author’s name, branding, ideas, and books.
11. The author is prohibited from writing or publishing anything for two years.
12. Meanwhile, DML markets a series of horrendous steamy vampire detective thriller under the author’s name, ghostwritten by an overworked amateur.
13. When the author asks DML to stop, the company invites the author to buy back the rights to their intellectual property for $20,000.00.
Doppler notes that further information from Mr. de Montfort qualifies some of these projections: for instance, the algorithms will be used only for writer selection, not to choose book genres. Still, I can’t resist proposing my own alternate scenario: DML disappears without ever putting out a single book other than de Montfort’s own.
Turner is DML’s first (and so far only) publication. With a release date of August 31, it will provide an interesting test case for DML’s marketing, distribution, and sales strategies (that it is initially being released only in print, and currently appears to be available only on UK retailers’ websites, are not encouraging signs). If you’re thinking of applying to become a DML writer, I’d suggest you consider holding off until Turner has been out for a while, and you can assess its performance.
UPDATE 9/7/18: I’ve been doing a bit of research into Mr. de Montfort and his investment firm, De Montfort Capital (DMC). What I’m finding is…concerning.
The firm’s current website states that the company was founded in 2013. And indeed, DMC’s web domain was registered in that year. However, from 2013 through at least early 2018, DMC’s website was basically a placeholder, complete with non-working links and fake Latin text fillers (not to mention typos). Here it is in January 2018, courtesy of the Wayback Machine:
Three team members are listed: Jonathan de Montfort, James Turner, and Richard de Montfort. It’s worth noting that Jonathan de Montfort’s middle name is Richard.
DMC’s business address at that time–145-157 St John Street, London–was a virtual office address sold by Companies Made Simple. Companies Made Simple also sells company formation services.
DMC’s website was re-vamped sometime after March 2018 to provide a more stylish and fully functional (if curiously bare) web presence. Its business address also changed, to 20-22 Wenlock Road, London–really just a cosmetic shift, because that’s the new address of the very same Companies Made Simple, which moved to the new digs in early 2015.
Co-working space is available for rent at the Wenlock Street address, so DMC’s address may not be completely virtual. Even if it were, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s not what you’d expect of a successful hedge fund company–nor is the long period of time following the company’s founding date during which DMC’s web presence was a mere placeholder.
DMC’s filing history, available at Companies House, makes for interesting reading. It’s classed as a micro-company (as of 30 April 2017, its total net assets were under £10,000). Through 29 April 2018, its SIC code (Standard Industrial Classification, used in the UK for classifying industries) was 82990, or “other business support service activities n.e.c.“, which includes a range of activities, such as meter reading and repossession services, that aren’t typical of hedge funds.
Then, on 15 May 2018, just a few days after the launch of De Montfort Literature, DMC added three new SIC codes: 47610 (retail sale of books in specialised stores); 58110 (book publishing); and 64303 (activities of venture and development capital companies).
That an investment firm founded in 2013 should only classify itself as such in May 2018 seems (to put it mildly) rather peculiar. There’s also very little on DMC’s website, or findable online, to support its claim of success–no investment history, no fund descriptions, no staff names (at least on the website’s current version) or bios other than Mr. de Montfort’s own. The only investment that’s actually named (besides DML) is Minds.com, a cryptocurrency-focused social media network that describes itself as “an open-source and decentralized platform for internet freedom” and has attracted some buzz as a potential Facebook competitor.
Around the same time he incorporated De Montfort Literature, de Montfort established two additional companies: De Montfort Media and De Montfort Technology, neither of which currently has any web presence.
There may be important information that I’ve missed, or that isn’t publicly available, that casts a different light on all of the above. As of now, though, something about these De Montfort ventures isn’t adding up for me. If nothing else, it’s another reason to be cautious about De Montfort Literature.
UPDATE 10/4/18: On its Facebook page, DML has announced that it has inked distribution deals with Macmillan Distribution in the UK and Consortium in the USA. I was able to confirm that DML is listed on Macmillan’s website, but as of this writing there’s no mention of it at Consortium.
That would seem to be good news for a fledgling publisher. However, DML’s Facebook page is gathering numerous questions from authors who are wondering why their applications have received no response, and at least one author who was persistent in their questions has been blocked from the page. From August 30:
From October 2:
In another possible sign of trouble, the pub date for Turner has been pushed back to October 22.
UPDATE 11/8/18: DML’s FAQ has been revised to state that authors do retain their copyrights.
I’m guessing that by “own all of the derivative product and format rights”, DML means that authors will be exclusively granting those rights to DML for exploitation and licensing. At least I hope that’s what it means, because “own” means something different. I guess we’ll have to wait for an actual contract to know for sure.
I’ve also heard from a couple of authors who’ve finally received responses to their applications, so maybe the logjam there is shifting. And Turner has finally been released.
UPDATE 12/9/18: DML has updated its Copyright FAQ again:
I’m not sure how much this clarifies things, since DML still seems to be fuzzy on the difference between granting rights and owning them. The wording also implies that authors would be able to regain (for an unspecified price) rights only to contracted work that DML had not yet published, and only to the “storyline” for that work (the implication being that DML would retain publishing and other rights, which would pretty much make the work unpublishable anywhere else). But again, we’ll have to wait for a DML contract to know for sure.
In other news, it appears that over 300 authors have been selected for DML’s next round (the psychometric test), and writers, again, are growing anxious about updates.
UPDATE 2/13/19: Delays–and excuses for the delays–continue at De Montfort Literature. This was received by an applicant in mid-January:
UPDATE 6/26/19: Surprise! Delays continue. Here’s what one of the writers selected for the Stage 2 psychometric test received in early June:
One wonders how many writers are still waiting for their “due course.” Meanwhile, Jonathan de Montfort has announced another of his novels, titled Saves 9. To be pubbed in November 2019, it’s currently available for pre-order.
UPDATE 10/11/19: The writer who shared the email above with me in June reports that they have heard nothing further about the psychometric test.
In other news, I heard this week from a publishing services company (which asked not to be named). They say that DML has not paid the renewal invoice (due this summer) for the publishing management system it was using, and that attempts to reach the company haven’t been fruitful: “they didn’t respond to emails for a while, then responded with a claim of having been ill, still didn’t pay, stopped responding to emails again.” The company says it has canceled DML’s account.
Not a good sign–for a real publishing company, at least.
I’ve been skeptical of DML from the start, and to me, it’s looking more and more like an elaborate PR stunt to promote Mr. de Montfort’s own writings. (If so, DML would be right up there with Mitchell Gross and the non-existent Delmont-Ross literary contest.)
UPDATE 11/14/21: Well, it’s 2021, and guess what? De Montfort Literature has not published anything except Turner (the followup, Saves 9, is still “coming soon”). It also reported just £1 in capital and assets as of April 30, 2020, and zero employees in 2019 and 2020.
Even so, the De Montfort empire has expanded since last I looked. De Montfort Media now has a website, where it claims four divisions: on online bookstore called Literatory; the De Montfort Review, described as a meeting place for writers and readers; a “movie review magazine and podcast” called The Full Cheddar; and of course, De Montfort Literature itself. Of those four divisions, DML is the only one that actually seems to exist.
Moneywise, De Montfort Media is doing a little better than De Montfort Literature: as of May 31, 2020, it had a whole £100 in capital on hand. But again, zero employees. As for De Montfort Capital, Jonathan de Montfort’s investment firm, it reported capital and assets of negative £11,282 as of the end of April 2020. Number of employees: 1. De Montfort Capital has also registered a slew of domain names, most of which–you guessed it–have no web presence.
As noted above, I was ready to peg the whole thing as an elaborate PR stunt. But then why the addition of these other–if non-existent–companies? Elaborate role-playing, maybe? DML’s social media is still active, though the content, which is basically all memes, suggests a bot is doing it.
I really have no idea what’s going on here. But one thing’s for sure: DML is not a working publisher. At least, not at the moment.