End bad practice in ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing – sign the open letter

Illustration © Olga Kalinichenko (Okalinichenko) / Adobe Stock

Join 238 other signatories – read, sign and share our open letter calling ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing companies to commit to 15 key publishing principles, for transparency, fairness and professional conduct.

To the ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing sector…

An investigation by the Society of Authors (SoA) and Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) into ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing services has exposed widespread bad practice among companies that charge writers for publication.

Is it a steal? details aggressive marketing tactics, manipulative sales approaches, unclear contracts and publishing processes and services that fall far short of expectations and value. The report also includes the findings of a survey which found that 94% of writers who had paid to have their book published, lost money typically in the thousands, paying an average of £2,000 with median royalties coming in at a mere £68.

We, the undersigned, join the SoA and WGGB’s call for ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishers to commit to the 15 key publishing principles below, to ensure they work with writers in a way which is clear, fair and represents best practice in our industry. 

As writers, our work can entertain, teach and bring a sense of escapism to our readers. Our work is valuable, with the UK publishing industry turning over a reported £6 billion a year. Of course, there are many different routes to publishing a book, but whatever approach is used to take our work to readers it should be based on contractual clarity and fairness. If we are paying for publication, it should be based on value for money. Any legitimate publisher or service provider will be keen to commit to these principles and end bad practice.

Any legitimate publisher or service provider will be keen to commit to these principles and end bad practice.

If you represent an organisation that is ready to commit to or discuss the 15 key publishing principles below, please email [email protected].

1. Business model

Be clear about your business model from the outset. Provide detailed information on your website and other marketing materials about how you make your money. Vague references to ‘hybrid’ or ‘partnership’ models are not enough for writers to make an informed decision about whether to work with you. If you adopt a traditional approach when publishing some writers but charge others for publication, be up front about what proportion of the books you publish are paid for by writers. Declare what proportion of your revenue is derived from book sales and exploitation of rights, and what proportion is from writers’ payments.

2. Consumer rights

Notify writers of their rights and allow them to withdraw by sending Consumer Rights Act notices.

3. Transparent costing and predicted return on investment

If you charge authors for any services provide typical cost and sales figures to writers before they sign, setting out the itemised cost of every service, including itemised listings of optional extras and the predicted result or return to enable them to make informed decisions on value for money and likely return on investment. Any estimated costings you provide should be binding and should not change unless extra services are mutually agreed in writing. For each element of the service you provide, provide a detailed, plain English explanation in writing of what you will provide in return for their payment.

4. Production

Ensure you have substantial editing, design, production, sales, and distribution expertise and capacity, and explain how you will meet the needs of each book.

5. Marketing

Produce a clear marketing plan and budget for each book, including how you will work with third parties including printers, distributers or sub-agents for example. If you do not provide marketing for the book you publish, or if it is an optional extra, make this clear from the outset.

6. Physical copies

Be clear in your publishing commitments about how many books will be produced initially in each format. State whether books will be produced as print-on-demand (POD). It is not enough to state that you will print ‘up to’ a certain quantity of books. Of the copies that you manufacture, be clear who owns them – you or the writer.

7. Contracts

Ensure your publishing contracts are as clear as possible, setting out in writing the exact scope of the rights granted (see the C.R.E.A.T.O.R. campaign for fair contract terms, in which we ask for appropriate Clarity, Remuneration, Exploitation, Accounting, Terms, Ownership and Reasonableness of contract terms). This should include a plain English overview of the terms and implications of the contract. All contract terms should be reasonable and time limited. They should include regular reviews to consider new forms of exploitation. Include a clear reversion clause in every contract (see 15). Be clear that you are happy for writers to discuss your proposed contract and their concerns with the SoA’s or WGGB’s teams of specialist advisors. Allow time for this to happen.

8. Financial clarity

If royalties are offered, be clear on how the royalty is calculated across all formats and platforms and offer royalties that fairly reflect the level of writer investment. Contracts should include rising royalty scales or ‘bestseller clauses’ so that if a work does far better than expected, the creator shares in its success.

9. Publishing and production best practice

Publish books under their own ISBNs and publish to best practice standards, including editorial support, copy editing, attention to proofs, production and design. Get approval from the writer on all matters of production.

10. Exploitation of rights

Only take rights in a work that you need and have the skill and expertise to exploit yourself. Only acquire rights to sub-license any of the author’s rights where you can guarantee active, adequate and profitable exploitation of the writer’s rights by that third-party. Be active in selling and exploiting any rights you take.

11. Credit

Credit all creators involved, such as editors, illustrators and translators, for their contributions in the work, including in all metadata. Moral rights must not be waived.

12. Responsible sales tactics

Never target writers in emotionally manipulative ways or seek to upsell unnecessary services to increase payment required by the writer.

13. Clear communication

Maintain strong lines of communication with the writer. It is particularly important for a writer to have a named contact with whom they can communicate about editorial, publicity and accounting matters.

14. Accounting clarity

Account to writers no less than twice a year and abide by best practice accounting standards. Royalty statements should be easy to understand and detailed. They should cover royalty payments and other sources of remuneration. Be ready to provide information about how the book is selling on request, even if it is between statement dates. Share the good news of any significant sales deals with the writer whenever they occur. Always pay on time and without having to be prompted. Within limits, authors should have the right to examine the publisher’s books and distributor statements or request an audit if they feel there is an error in statements or payments.

15. Rights and reversion

Take rights for a limited term – typically two years – and revert rights on request. If it isn’t working, financially or professionally, then be honest and let the writer go with professionalism and fairness.

Sign the letter

To sign the open letter please enter your name and email address below. We will email you a link to click to confirm your signature and display your name on the list. If you don’t receive the link or if you have trouble adding your name, please email [email protected].

Your email address will not be displayed publicly, shared or used for any other purpose.

End bad practice in ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing - sign the open letter

238 signatures