Penguin and Authors Solutions are being sued for deceptive practices, including the withholding of royalties from writers, breaching contracts, establishing web brands that just lead back to Authors Solutions, among other deceptive practices that have brought about this lawsuit. Forbes wrote about it here.
This incident brings me to the topic of scams and how writers can best avoid them. I am with a partner publishing firm, wherein earnings are split among author and publisher. Your publisher isn’t some mysterious entity, but you actually work with your publisher to produce your book. Partnered firms are also the most flexible among publishing presses because you have control over your cover art (granted it is within reason, as in an accurate reflection of your book and as well as marketable) among other things involved in the process of creating a book. Heck, you can hire your own editor if you want to if you do not like the current press’s edits–within reason. It leverages existing self-publishing options, is much cheaper than self-publishing (you might not be spending anything at all if you choose not to), and you get marketing support to boot. There are no fees involved. I mention all this because someone was curious about partner publishing firms, and I want to talk about some important clauses in publishing contracts when you’re choosing presses that can help you avoid scams. These aren’t surefire ways, as publishers can still run off with your money, but when you sign the contract, and they sign it agreeing to what I’m about to list, you have every right to sue.
For one, when it comes to bigger houses, agents exist for the purpose of helping you negotiate contracts, such as making the copyright yours and being able to get out of a contract if you don’t like how things are going. But if you’re on your own, you’re going to want to know some major things to look out for in contracts that could raise red flags, especially with smaller presses or newer presses.
You deserve to know your amount of royalties, and especially with small presses, you should be receiving more. I would say 50% or more is fair, especially if you’re not getting an advance. Otherwise, take your stuff elsewhere.
You’ll want your copyright, especially if your book goes out of print or whatever that way you can self-publish it and still sell it. This is a big problem among larger publishing houses because oftentimes you give up your copyright, your book risks going out of print, and then once that happens, you can never do anything with that book ever again. Just because a book doesn’t sell now doesn’t mean it won’t sell later, so you deserve your copyright.
Look out for no competition clauses. Some publishers do not want you publishing with other houses because they consider it competing against your own book. Negotiate those or get out.
You should be able to opt out of your contract should you decide that you don’t like how things are going. If this isn’t an option, either negotiate or get out. It is your book, your sweat, blood, and tears, and so you shouldn’t immediately jump on the first house, agent, whatever, that decides to take you on. You need to read your contract carefully, ask questions, negotiate, and then decide from there.
It is my opinion that no one should use a vanity press. That can save you a lot of grief that people constantly experience going with a vanity press. If you’re going to self-publish, do it yourself. Plus, vanity presses often employ editors who work like they’re in a factory line, so it becomes about quantity instead of quality. And you end up spending more than anyone should have to.
It’s a shame that such a well-known publishing establishment bought out a vanity press that has always been known for scams, but this becomes one of those buyer beware situations. So the above points are just some things to look out for in your own contracts.