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Why I Turned Down a Publishing Contract…and Why You Should Too

About a month ago, a publisher asked for a full.

I was very excited. I sent the novel to them, brimming with optimism.

I knew it might result in a rejection, or worse–a terrible contract.

But I hoped for the best.

Last Wednesday, I received a response.

To my great joy, they offered me a contract!

Sadly, my initial elation didn’t last long. Right after informing me that they wanted to publish my novel, the email devolved into a rant about how difficult and risky the publishing industry is.

Odd….

But they were happy to offer me a contribution-based contract. Say what?

Does that mean what I think it means?

Yep. This “publisher” wanted the princely sum of 2600 pounds for the honour of publishing my book. They wanted me to pay THEM.

They made it all sound very logical. You believe in your work, don’t you? Well, so do we. So, if you have the courage to invest in yourself, we will support you with marketing, editing, cover design….

Oh yeah–did we mention we can make any changes to your story that we want, without your approval? This includes removing anything we find remotely offensive. You’re cool with that, right?

Um, in a word–NO.

At first I was crushed. After all, I’d been duped–duped into believing a vanity publisher was the real thing. (Well, it’s actually worse than a vanity publisher, because vanities won’t mess with your work. They’ll print it as-is for a fee.)

But after allowing myself a day to wallow, I started to get angry.

Writers can be a desperate bunch. Most of us have been dreaming of seeing our name in print since we were toddlers.

Some of us want to be published more than anything else in the world, and that makes us a target for sleazy charlatans like this “publisher.” If I didn’t have to clean it up, I would spit on the floor every time I referred to them as such, even in quotes.

I think most of the writers who read this are an experienced bunch, but just in case:

MONEY FLOWS TO THE WRITER. PERIOD. NO EXCEPTIONS.

If a publisher or agent asks you for money, it’s a scam. Don’t be tempted, no matter how well they try to sell it to you. You do not have to pay to get published, and if you really want to invest in your own work, self-publish.

At least you’ll get to keep your royalties.

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58 Comments

  1. Stephanie Faris

    Yep. Happens, sadly. Someone was telling me about their friend who had a children’s book coming out soon, just like I did. When I asked about the publisher, it turned out it was one of those vanity presses. You can self-publish your novel for next-to-nothing, so why would anyone do that? I have learned that most average people don’t know the difference between various publishers, so for those just writing to impress others in their lives, small presses or self-publishing is fine, as long as the cover looks professional.

    Reply
    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Yes, but it’s best if the small press isn’t taking advantage of writers by charging ridiculous, unnecessary fees and taking huge liberties with their work. There’s no excuse for that. 2600 pounds is quite a bit of money!

      I got caught because there are three publishers with the exact same name, so I thought they were different branches of the same company. I sent my partial to the wrong one. But they do take a while to “read” it, just so everything seems legit.

      As more and more legitimate publishers acquire vanity presses, it’s going to get even tougher to tell them apart.

      Thanks for commenting, Stephanie!

      Reply
  2. Heather M. Gardner

    Ugh. I’m so sorry you had to go through that roller coaster of emotions. That SO sucks.
    But, don’t give up. One bad apple is all that was.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Keep moving forward!
    Heather

    Reply
    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Thanks, Heather. I really appreciate the kind words and support.

      It was really tough, but I only gave myself one day to feel sorry for myself. I’m not going to let creeps like this discourage me. They shouldn’t have even gotten a day.

      Reply
  3. Suzanne Sapsed

    Unfortunately there’s a lot of desperate people out there that want so much to be published they’ll go for it 🙁 But tbh, if you’re going to fork out nearly 3k one might as well completely self-publish, then at least no one can screw with your MS!
    Suzanne @ Suzannes-Tribe

    Reply
    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Exactly, Suzanne. I agree. I hope this post will educate some other writers not to fall for these scams.

      Reply
      • Alexis A Rizzo

        I’m in that same situation, I’m not sure how to go about self publishing, but I’m thinking That’s the best route

        Reply
        • JH

          Self-publishing is both an art form and a business. It can be done well, but I’d highly suggest educating yourself well before you start. There are tons of great resources. I highly recommend the Facebook group 20Booksto50K.

          Reply
  4. Steven

    Sorry I’ve been out of the loop for a little while — I took an impromptu trip to California and have been playing catch-up since. I have run into these types, or people who want to pay you basement rates for your work because “there isn’t much money in publishing.” My attitude is if they can’t design a decent business model and make their firm profitable, it isn’t my problem.

    Reply
    • J.H. Moncrieff

      No worries, Steven. Everyone deserves a holiday. I’ve been behind on my blog reading and commenting too. It’s summer! 🙂

      I completely agree. The fact that they started off their contract bemoaning the publishing industry was an immediate tip-off. Not to mention the fact that they spelled my name wrong. That’s an indicator that their attention to detail will be fabulous.

      I’ve heard horror stories of writers who signed with them, only to get horrible covers and a complete massacre of their content for all that money. Needless to say, that didn’t result in amazing sales.

      Reply
  5. Rhonda Parrish

    I’m sorry, that sucks 🙁

    Your blog post is timely though, I just had someone send me a message saying they’d found someone to publish their book… for $1900 plus the cost of an illustrator. I explained why that was not such a great idea and pointed them in the right direction for information and resources, but it struck me how easily it is for these people to rip newbies off because they just don’t know better. And of course, they get some who do as well, because they’re willing to believe, because it’s something they want *so* much. It’s horrible 🙁

    Reply
    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Yes, even my boyfriend–who is very intelligent and a great critical thinker–was swayed by some of the language in the contract. It seems so reasonable–share the risk and share the rewards, right? Ugh. I’m really lucky that I know all about scam offers like this, so I was able to recognize it for what it was.

      I hope the writer you spoke to took your advice. Maybe if enough writers like us speak out, fewer people will be taken in by these scams.

      Reply
    • Sheila

      Who is a ligitment publisher that doesn’t ask for money

      Reply
      • JH

        There are a lot of legitimate publishers, but which one is right for you depends on your book. I’d suggest getting a Publishers Marketplace membership, even temporarily, and searching for who is selling books in your genre. Then cross-reference the agent or publisher by looking them up on sites like Author Beware and Predators & Editors. If there’s any issues, you’ll discover them before you query or submit.

        Reply
  6. Crystal Collier

    How disappointing. I’m so sorry you went through that. The business is hard enough without scam artists weaseling their way in. Ug. Well, I’m sending virtual cheese your way. Take care!

    Reply
    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Welcome back, Crystal! I’ve missed you around here. Thanks for the kind words and the virtual cheese–you do know my weakness.

      Hope you’re doing well.

      Reply
  7. Lucy

    I just got offered a contribution based contract and because I’m a first time writer I was so ecstatic. But I was a bit wary when they said you had to pay 2300 pounds, I’m from Australia so had to look that up. But after reading your article I’m going to be more careful. Thank you

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s a scam, Lucy! Run away! You can do a lot better, I promise. You should never have to pay to get your book published.

      Reply
  8. Rosie Chapel

    Hi JH,
    Thank you, thank you for your post. I realise I am two years behind it, but I too have just been offered a ‘contribution based’ contract. I have already self-published two books, my third is about to go out and I’m finding the promotion of them very challenging & trying to get people to write reviews to push the books up Amazon’s ranking is truly like climbing Everest. The idea that a publisher likes my book enough to take away all that hard work is very seductive. However, they want 2700 pounds sterling for the privilege, to ‘reduce their risk’. I decided to take a long hard look at this type of contract and the consensus seems to be not to touch them with a barge pole. Your blog is the clearest article I’ve seen yet about the pitfalls. I’ll stick to Amazon self-publishing! Have a great day, Rosie 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m really glad it could help you, Rosie! I hate that so many people prey on writers. I wish you all the best with your books. Just be patient and persistent…it’ll happen for you.

      Reply
  9. Linette Reynolds

    The above information is not only most helpful but certainly appreciated. I recently completed my memoir, and sent the requisite three chapters to a publisher. Shortly after I received a letter advising they would like to read the entire manuscript. Excitedly I couldn’t wait to have it in their hands. Yesterday I received an email expressing their disappointment in only being able to offer me a contributory agreement. I’m going to explore the avenues of self-publishing. Thanks once again Linette

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Linette. It’s a shame there are so many scammers out there!

      Reply
  10. Andy Hitchmough

    Hi JH,
    I’m a novice writer and decided to submit to a publisher I knew was accepting unsolicited manuscripts – and had just published a book by a friend of a friend. I got a contract offer (today), but it was contribution-based.
    I’m waiting to talk to the lady who did get published to ask if her contract was also contribution-based. I know that she is publishing a second novel with the same publishers.
    I may come across as naive but it seems like a very short-term business model for such publishers if they really are just scammers.

    Reply
    • JH

      Unfortunately, there are a lot of writers who are willing to do anything to be published…even pay. They make a lot of money off the desperate.

      Honestly, Andy, you could do better self-publishing your book…and it would probably end up being a lot cheaper. Not to mention you wouldn’t have to share the profits!

      Reply
  11. David Smojver

    Hi,

    I received today the exact same offer. “Contribution Based Contract” for my first book in the planned trilogy.

    I was like everyone who is an aspiring writer, excited. But I also knew that when somebody is asking for money upfront, that one has to be careful.

    After I did my research, I decided not to accept the offer. If somebody wants to publish my work, they can do it the right way with faith in my writing. The book is line edited as we speak, I am making steps to get the word out.

    Therefore, I am happy to sign a contract that will be legit and above board. I worked way too hard and too long to get screwed over by a scaming company. I want to become a bestselling author, but I prefer to do it the hard way than the wrong and quick way.

    Man Behind The Pen,
    Dave

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh Dave, I’m so glad you didn’t fall for this! The thing is, these companies pretend to offer contracts based on “merit,” but they really want your money. They don’t even read the books. If you haven’t already, check out the movie “Authors Anonymous.” I think it will give you a much-needed laugh about this crazy industry.

      Good luck with your book! Keep the faith.

      Reply
  12. GRose

    Hi there, just wanted to share my experience of this situation , I’ve received three offers of contribution publishing deals and each one was frustrating. I’ve also received two straight no thankyou’s and I took them a whole lot easier. At least you know where you stand. Thanks, reading this really helped me not get too down about this!

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, I’m so glad this helped you and that you turned down the contracts. They’re all scams! Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your experience.

      Reply
  13. Abpatton

    So has any one here actually taken a contribution based contract? Seems like every here just thinks it’s a scam and turns away. Can anyone offer actual insight based on experience?

    I, too have been offfered the same type of contract but I understand why. This is no longer the time when it was niche to write a book. These days everyone writes a book. Publishing companies cannot lay out the red carpet for every writer. Especially not for new writers.

    I have attempted to self publish and the time AND money it takes to undertake that large task is way too much for a business owner with a husband and two kids. So if I weigh my options, I can either pay a company to publish and share royalties or allow my book to continue to sit on my desktop. Hmmmm. Decisions decisions.

    Reply
  14. Aunty Gabby

    I have received a contribution contract with Austin Macauley. I have written a children’s book. They gave me a letter stating they considered my work at a board meeting and then there was a further meeting stating there were reservations I am a first time author and there is a risk. They were able to offer a contributory based contract. The cost starts at 2,700 – 4,500 English Pounds. Royalties net amount 25%.
    What do you think?

    Reply
    • JH

      I think it’s a scam. They always sound so legit, with a rationale for why they need money from you. NEVER pay the publisher. Honestly, you’re better off self-publishing than going with these fools.

      Reply
      • Greene M Wills

        I had exactly the same offer from the same publishers, Austen Mcauley. They were gushing about my book but then offered me a contributory contract. I had self-published my story already. The only reason I am going through publishers is the fact that I really find it difficult to market my book. I have emailed a million of bloggers (and many of them ask for money too for reviewing my book), tried to create some traffic on social medias, with very little success so far… However, I agree: publishing houses shouldn’t ask for money if they really believe in your story!

        Reply
    • Jerome Ben

      Hi,
      Thanks for this piece. It’s really terrible to see these things in the industry.
      I have just completed my first book and it’s undergoing editing process. Although I have published a poem. But this a fantasy. It’s funny to see some publishing company asking to be published under them, yet they want to pay the first. Well, your message is an eye opener. Thanks a lot.

      Reply
      • JH

        You’re very welcome. You should always be paid for your work, not the other way around.

        Reply
  15. Shane

    I am a new writer and I am writing a short story collection. I cannot believe how shifty these publishers are that ask you for money. I think it insults your intelligence and your ability as a writer.i have copped it frequently and refuse to budge thanks to some great people around me to steer me. I feel sorry for the ones that don’t.

    Reply
  16. JJ

    I got almost the same reply from Austin M as AUNTY GABBY
    at first it was flattering to think a known publisher was optimistic
    about my novel.So far doing my research i have not heard one good word said about them. Fee now starts at £2300 and goes up to hard copy £4000 plus!I’m no longer flatterd

    Reply
    • JH

      Run away, JJ. Far, far away.

      Reply
  17. SS

    I have just recently received a contributory based contract from Austin Macauley. To be honest, everyone around me keeps discouraging me from accepting the contract, but I’m stuck in between making a decision. Should I let it go?

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, let it go. These contracts are SCAMS. If you want to pay to publish your book, at least do it yourself. That way, you have control and get to keep the royalties. Never, ever pay a publisher. They should be paying you.

      Everyone around you is giving you good advice.

      Reply
  18. Gerry

    I have just been offered a contract.
    Thank you all for sharing.

    Now its in the bin!

    Reply
    • JH

      Good for you, Gerry! Congrats.

      Reply
  19. JMH

    Me too, they are generic letters to pump you up. In the bin , as you say?

    Reply
    • JH

      Bravo!

      Reply
    • Patricia Ann McCamy

      Exactly that!

      Reply
  20. lolli

    Received contract from AM with exact same terminology as mentioned here. Wont be going for it. They even repeated a whole sentence in the ‘acceptance letter’, obviously copy and paste job!

    Reply
    • JH

      Good for you, Lolli. I’m glad you found this post.

      Reply
    • Patricia Ann McCamy

      Same here!!!!!

      Reply
  21. Gerald Nathanson

    I too have written four short stories, and am reluctant to hand them over to publishers who need to have money up front although they gave a complimentary response.
    Therefore how do I go about self publishing?

    Reply
  22. Patricia Ann McCamy

    Same thing happened to me yesterday!!!! Until I got to the amount that they wanted to publish MY book I was so excited! This stopped right then and there!!!! What a rip off and a scam!!!! Do not submit to Austin McCauley Publishers because it seems like everyone gets the same letter back from them!!!!!

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m glad you weren’t fooled by it, Patricia. You’ll find something better.

      Reply
    • John Collin

      I had one from Austin Macauley and one from Olympia. I have written a series of Children’s books with illustrations from someone who has been published lots in the past. No matter where I look as a new author, I cannot find any publishers who will accept unsolicited manuscripts and offer a traditional contract. The search continues! 😊

      Reply
      • JH

        Ugh, that’s a shame, John. I can only speak for my own genres, but there must be some. Have you tried Publisher’s Marketplace? It’s a wonderful resource.

        Reply
  23. Mattie

    Within days, I received a contributory contract offer from Austin Macauley for one book and an inclusive contract offer from Pegasus for another book. Both, of course, want some upfront cash. What I am wondering is if you have heard from anyone who went for it with these kind of contracts and still found success, that is, their book was published nicely, it was marketed properly and royalties were paid to them. In other words, has anyone been satisfied with the process after agreeing to these contracts?

    Additionally, the AM contract has a clause that says if it fails to publish the book, the contributory amount will be reimbursed completely. Is that true?

    Reply
    • JH

      Hello Mattie. These are scams, so no, I’ve never heard of anyone who was happy with their experience. You probably would get a published book, but it would be shoddily edited with a terrible cover and no marketing, for much more than you’d pay if you did it yourself.

      As for the AM contract, I’m not sure, but I’m positive they’d slap a book together for you in order to meet the deadline. Whether you’d be happy with it or not is another story. Please don’t go this route!

      Reply
  24. John Pavon

    I am a senior first time author, I was excited to received a reply from a well known publisher -and a contract, but the contributory part was a big blow to me I understand publishing is costly and have received a no letter from one other big publisher. Since I am a new author does not mean that people will not like my work, my reviews have come back positive even receiving a score-it-(4.5 stars rating) I really do not have a saving for this kind of publishing, and since I am asked to pay such a high costs $3700.00 I might as well publish it my self!

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi John,

      That is a scam. Authors should never have to pay a publisher. These publishers often prey on seniors. Don’t assume you can’t get your book published traditionally because of this, but I’d recommend getting an agent if you can. An agent will ensure you don’t get scammed. But, as a rule of thumb, money should flow TO the author, not the other way around.

      Reply
  25. Donovan Hastie

    A friend of mine showed me this blog post and none too soon! I submitted to a publisher and they praised my work and said they wanted to publish it, then they did exactly what happened to you, they told me because I am an untried author they wanted to do a contributory contract and offered me several different options, ALL of them requiring me to pay them. I have no money to fork over anyway but this blog helped me understand the proper order of the money flow.
    Thank you!!!

    Reply
  26. first timer

    Oh wow, I have the same thing with a contributory contract offer from Austin Macauley. As it is a children’s book without illustrations and the 2300 pounds they ask for I asummed would be for those… is that reasonable? If I wanted to self publish wouldn’t the cost of an illustrator be about the same? Let alone all the marketing and attempt to get the book into stores

    Reply

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