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The Subsidy Author's Bill of Rights

by | Jul 27, 2011

Okay, I’m going to come right out and say it:

We need subsidy publishers.

The problem is, we don’t need many of the big subsidy publishers we already have. And I include all those subsidy presses that have sprung up in the last year like the spawn in Alien taking root inside the body of a regular publishing company.

Why? I’m sick and tired of hearing stories about authors who got hosed, taken for a ride, abused, run over and left for dead, robbed and forced into $5,000 “marketing programs” and “author education seminars” and all the other tricks these predatory companies use to trap and fleece the uninformed author.

Given that, you might ask why I think we actually need subsidy publishers. And you would be right to ask.

The reason is reality. In reality, many people who want to publish, who could actually be helped by publishing, simply don’t want to do it themselves. They don’t want to take on all the work and cost of setting up a publishing company, hiring contractors, learning about distribution and fulfillment.

They don’t actually want to be publishers at all. They just want the book in print.

And so they go looking for someone who can help them. That’s when they find the ads, which are everywhere, for these subsidy publishers.

And the ads play on people’s deepest aspirations and the very human desire for expression.

Here’s a comment that was left on my blog today:

I made a critical mistake using [big arm of mega-subsidy publisher] to assist in my self-publishing. Although the internet is full of warnings, the sales representative assured me that all those complaints were a thing of the past. Wrong. Calls go unanswered, emails are not responded to and my book, which is already on various book selling websites as available, is being held hostage with no where to turn to. Despite assurances that I was to get dozens of copies of my book, I can’t get one unless I pay retail.

I’ve got a client right now that I’m trying to extricate from a contract with one of the “boutique” subsidy operations that’s inside a very spiritual independent publisher. Thousands of dollars for books that will never sell. In fact this author is being asked to pay the subsidy publisher over $700 just to receive the InDesign files of her book. Files that she already paid thousands of dollars to have made. What do you think the $700 is for, postage?

Look, I’m not going to go into every single abuse that can be perpetrated by these companies. But please, understand one thing if nothing else:

Subsidy publishers make money from authors, not from selling books.

So What Subsidy Do We Need?

There are probably lots of small companies out there who do all the things I think a subsidy publisher should do. And their clients are lucky to find them. But let’s face it, these small companies cannot compete with the giants of subsidy publishing.

I’m going to try to find and profile some of these companies for the benefit of readers. Education is your most powerful weapon in this case.

The things that I’ll be looking for are embodied in what I call:

The Subsidy Author’s Bill of Rights

“I chose to pay you to publish my book for me. That doesn’t give you the right to take advantage of my lack of experience in book publishing. Without authors, you wouldn’t exist. As an author, as your customer, and as a human being, I deserve, and will only do business with, companies that respect the following rights:

  1. The right to be treated with respect, honesty and transparency.
  2. The right to maintain control of my publication and decisions on formatting, design and editing.
  3. The right to know, and talk to, whoever is editing or designing my book.
  4. The right to know the retail price of my book before signing a contract.
  5. The right to a fair and true wholesale price on books I buy.
  6. The right to all the native application files and other elements (exclusive of copyright-protected fonts) created to produce the book, promptly and completely at my request.
  7. The right to cancel my contract without penalty if you fail to live up to deadlines or other contractual obligations.
  8. The right to receive an honest effort to market my book without inflated costs, if I choose one of your ‘marketing packages.’
  9. The right to a complete and open accounting of the expenses and income associated with my book, including any contribution by the publisher.
  10. The right to have the rights to my work returned to me without penalty at my request.”

We all have a stake in the effort to educate prospective authors. If I’ve missed something, please leave a note in the comments and I’ll add it to this post. And if you’re thinking of subsidy publishing, please read through some of these articles first:


Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America: Vanity and Subsidy Publishers
Preditors & Editors: A guide to publishers and publishing services
Writer Beware: Two-Thumbs Down List
Absolute Write: Bewares, Recommendations & Background Checks
Pete Masterson: How the scam works
Writing-World.com: Moira Allen: The Price of Vanity
Ivan Hoffman: Subsidy Publishing Agreement
Fern Reiss: 5 Things Your Subsidy Publisher Won’t Tell You

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

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