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Writers beware: read the small print

24 April 2008

There was an advert in Metro last week that read:
We are looking for brilliant new writers to submit entries for our first series of short novels and novellas. Deadline: June 1
Adverts seeking 'new writers' are not uncommon - they are typically placed by organisations that sell a publishing service and charge authors to put their books into print. There's not usually any marketing of the title because the company makes its money off printing books and selling them to authors in bulk, and not off selling them to the general public.

The website behind this ad is Roastbooks. From the limited details online, the company's model is to market books through unconventional outlets (eg cafes, airport lounges). White Ladder Press is among the companies pioneering this approach (see The White Ladder Diaries, an entertaining and informative book about setting up a self-publishing operation, which rather unfortunately stops before the operation generates any profit).

I know many people are desperate to get into print, but Roastbooks' terms and conditions are hopelessly optimistic. There's no mention of any advance or royalty rates, but by entering the competition, authors are expected to grant the publisher 'the sole, exclusive option, until two months after the publication of the results of this competition, to enter into a publishing agreement in respect of the submitted manuscript'. I'm not a lawyer, but the language appears to suggest the option belongs to Roastbooks and authors submitting work are basically stuck with the contract the publisher chooses to foist upon them. There's no clause for the rights to revert to the author if the competition results are never announced, or are announced late, either. Roastbooks makes no commitment to a print run, or to any other media, but does require all rights worldwide.

We've seen publishers engaging in rights grabs over the last ten years, but usually from a position of strength. For a new publisher to expect authors to hand over exclusive rights for no return (not even the promise to publish the novel) is highly irregular. The publisher is candid enough to admit that it won't be able to get books into high street book shops, and it's a lot easier for authors to self-publish than it used to be. It's not clear what Roastbooks is doing for the author that the author could not more profitably do for him- or herself.

Few good writers will want to work with an untested publisher that doesn't appear to respect their rights. For that reason, I can't see a future for the company. New publishers would do well to see authors as potential business partners rather than raw materials.

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I'm kind of with you on that one!
A competition with no prize?
I wouldn't like to say it's a rip off - it's probably not. There's worse! Those competitions asking a submission fee and promising nothing are perhaps worse.

If you just want the chance to be published, maybe it's worth a look.

For me? Nah, no money (or promise, or hope) = no respect.

I'd rather bin my work or make it downloadble for free.
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