Thursday, 16 October 2008

YouWriteOn's "Free Publishing Offer": Who Will Pay?

Clause 8 of the contract for YouWriteOn’s latest publishing scheme states,

“The Author shall receive a 60% net royalty on all sales of printed copies of the Work that the Publisher receives. The net royalty for each book sold is after printing costs. YouWriteOn will set the retail price. Author royalties are not paid on copies of the book bought by the Authors themselves.”
So, the authors won’t earn any royalties on copies they buy for themselves. That wouldn’t be too bad if they got a nice big discount on those copies: but the contract makes no provision for any author discounts at all, despite such discounts being a standard requirement in most publishing contracts.

This probably won’t concern the writers who only want to sell the odd copy to friends and family members: they can just direct everyone to YouWriteOn’s website, where they can order the books for themselves.

The people who should be most worried are the writers who want to sell more than just a handful of their books, and especially those who want to sell them through bookshops—which is where the majority of all books sold are sold.

When those writers make their sales visits to bookshops, they’ll need to have copies of their books on hand to show to the buyers. If the buyers want to buy copies there and then, the writer will have to supply them with those full-price, undiscounted, royalty-free books—but the bookshops will demand a discount, which means that the writers will lose money on every single copy that they sell.

They could ask the buyers to order the books direct from the wholesalers (Waterstones will only order self-published titles from Gardners, others may vary): but there’s a problem there, too. While it’s sometimes possible to get smaller bookshops to accept smaller discounts they’re rarely able to take anything below 40% off the retail price, while Waterstones usually requires a minimum discount of 57.5%. And there just isn’t that much money left in the pot after those nebulous “printing costs”, and the writers’ 60% royalties, have been paid.

Which leaves online sales. But again, online booksellers demand discounts, and where is that going to come from? Once you take away those “printing costs”, the writers’ 60%, and YouWriteOn’s 40%, there’s not enough left to cover the book sellers’ discounts. Not even if YouWriteOn gives up all of its 40% share.

Which means that these books are only really going to sell through YouWriteOn’s own website. And the last time I heard, that wasn’t very high up on the list of places that most readers go to when they’re looking for a good read.


Sally Zigmond said...

Thank you for that, Jane. It certainly confirms the advice that one should always read the small print. But then again, when the full facts aren't there (such as those nebulous 'printing costs') how is the writer to begin to make an informed choice?

Governance Geek said...

Despite my best efforts, there remain at least two members of my writing group who plan to take up this 'free publishing offer', which in my opinion is a far inferior route to self-publishing than, say, Their reason is the suggestion that their work will be reviewed by leading agents and publishing houses. I guess it's their choice, but I agree with Sally - how can anyone make a reasoned decision without the full facts (e.g. printing costs, retail price)?

Unknown said...

more words to the wise....thanks!

Jane Smith said...

Paul wrote, "Their reason is the suggestion that their work will be reviewed by leading agents and publishing houses."

Paul, what ever makes them think that publishing with YWO is going to make this happen?

I'd be grateful if you would direct them here: tell them that I've asked that question, and ask them to explain it to me. Because for the life of me, I don't understand that particular one.

As for Lulu or Lightning Source offering a better alternative, I think you're right. I'll be putting up a post tomorrow which analyses the possible returns from sales between these two options--although there's far more to it than potential income, as I hope I've made clear in my posts here.

By the way, if anyone would like to know what some of the bigger publishers think of this, just have a look at Sally Zigmond's blog. Scott Pack, who used to run Waterstones and now is publisher at The Friday Project (which is an imprint of HarperCollins, I think), has commented there about YouWritOn's publishing scheme. He makes it quite clear that he has a pretty low opinion of the whole affair.

Sally Zigmond said...

I think the dream that leading agents and publishing houses will read these books is wishful thinking based on nothing more than the fact that the 10 'best' opening chapters posted on the YouWriteOn website (judged best, by the way, by other YouWriteOn writers) might (and I repeat, might) be read by a small handful of 'experts.' And reading and liking is a very long way from acceptance. I believe, a couple have already been bought by traditional publishers but I suspect these might well have been picked up anyway had they been found in a publisher's slush-pile.

There is no evidence whatsoever that books published by this scheme will be read by anyone, let alone agents and publishers. Besides, as far as I am aware, no editor or agent will look at a book published in this way unless, that book becomes a huge popular success.

Jane Smith said...

Sally, you're right on all counts: subscribing to this scheme has nothing to do with appearing in YWO's top ten, so it's not going to get the writers any closer to that particular holy grail; and I've been told by a few people now that the two successes that YWO has claimed for its writers happened independently of YWO, and not because of it.

And Lynn Price, over at Behler Publishing, has blogged about how unlikely it is for a self-published book to convert to mainstream publishing: there's a link to it here, somewhere. If anyone's interested you should be able to find it if you click on my "self-publishing" label.

Anonymous said...

Well done for spotting the lack of author discount. I published YWO's response to my own questions here
but even less reason to get involved now!

Coirí Filíochta said... Publishing Contract

1. Parties

This is a Publishing Agreement between Ltd (“Publisher”) and the author (“Author”) whose details are signified at the end of this Agreement. This agreement relates to the print version only of the book listed at the end of this Agreement, herein referred to as "Work."

2. License to Publish

The Author grants to the Publisher the non-exclusive, worldwide license to publish the Work in print. The Author retains sole and exclusive worldwide copyright and all rights including moral rights to the Work in all formats and editions.

3. Publication
The Author grants to the Publisher the right to store, transmit, use and distribute copies of the Work to facilitate the publication, printing and sales process.

4. Author Rights of Cancellation

This Author may terminate this agreement at any time and for any reason as long as a 30-day e-mail notice is given to the Publisher. Email notification of termination of agreement by the Author should be sent to and add ‘Terminate my Agreement’ in your email header. If you have achieved publishing success elsewhere through YouWriteOn free publishing, please let us know in your email as we will do our best to help promote your book further.

5. Author Warranties

The Author represents and warrants the following to the Publishers:

(a) that the Author is the exclusive owner of the Work, and has the legal authority to enter into this agreement and grant publishing rights regarding the Work

(b) this Agreement does not conflict with any other agreement, arrangement or understanding between the Author and any other persons, business or entity

(c) the Author states that the Work as submitted by the Author, and its publication by the Publisher, does not or will not violate or infringe upon any personal or proprietary rights, including copyrights, contract rights, trademark or trade secret rights, publicity rights, or privacy rights of any other persons or entities

(d) that the Work is free of any claims of libel, copyright or trademark infringement, plagiarism, misrepresentation of facts, or breach of privacy

(e) the Author warrants not to enter any agreement with any person, firm or other entity that would conflict with the rights granted to Publishing without first terminating this contract

(f) the Author warrants that the work is not defamatory or obscene, or illegal in nature, and warrants and represents that the Work and material contained within it will not be injurious to any user, reader or other person. The Publisher reserves the right not to publish books submitted to us through free publishing, and to cancel publication if we believe that any of the above terms have been infringed.

6. Publicity

The Author agrees that the Publisher has the full right to use book excerpts, quotes, reviews, cover images, and other book related material for promotional purposes. There is no agreement on the part of the Publisher however to engage in or fund promotion or marketing expressed or implied by this contract for free publishing.

7. Timelines to Publish Book

The Publisher will endeavor to have all books prepared for publication by Christmas 2008 if the Author is one of the accepted 5,000 authors who email us by 31st October 2008. The Author accepts that this is an aim and not a guarantee as unpredictable events may affect the timeline.

8. Author Royalties

The Author shall receive a 60% net royalty on all sales of printed copies of the Work that the Publisher receives. The net royalty for each book sold is after printing costs. YouWriteOn will set the retail price. Author royalties are not paid on copies of the book bought by the Authors themselves.

9. Royalty Payment Periods

The Publisher will provide royalty statements and pay royalties to Authors on 1st April and 1st October annually. If the royalty payment due for a six-monthly payment is less than £25 then the money will be carried forward to subsequent six-monthly payment periods until the balance exceeds £25, at which time the publisher will make the appropriate royalty payment to the Author. YouWriteOn Publishing will send the Author a link to an online statement of accounts for sales of the Author's book(s) on a six-monthly basis or email the Author the statement of account on a six-monthly basis. Royalties will be made by bank transfer, cheque payments, Google Payments or Paypal (UK) and by cheque or Google Payments or Paypal payments only (US and other). Some payment providers, for example, Paypal, charge a small processing fee which is deducted by the payment provider from the payment sent to the recipient. Royalty payments may sometimes take place a few days after the payment dates specified above depending on the volume of payments to be made to Authors.

10. Book Availability

The Author’s book will be available to order for anyone who wishes to buy it through a page set up on the Internet by

11. Submission of Manuscripts for Free Publishing The Author accepts that Publisher reserves the right not to publish books that do not meet the book submission guidelines we have sent the Author, or which we consider are not appropriate for publishing, for example because we believe they may infringe others copyright. The author is responsible for all facets of their layout in the text they submit to the publisher, including grammar, text layout, spelling, and all word processing layout that the Author has included in their submitted text. The Author accepts that for Work submitted to different computers that text may not appear as it does on their computer and this may be reflected in the published book. For example, a chapter may end on a different page than the author intends. This is because of how word processing systems work and we cannot be held responsible. The Publisher agrees to publish the text of the Work that we receive in its entirety. The Author agrees that the Publisher is not responsible for any errors the Author may have made upon submission in their Work.

12. Correspondence The Publisher has set an obligation of publishing 5,000 writers for free so that they can be ordered as paperbacks by Christmas. In order to achieve this, we have kept this very simple for writers in our instructions and guidelines which we have sent to participating Authors about sending us your manuscript. The Author accepts that we can only publish authors that follow these instructions correctly, and to ensure that we publish all 5,000 Authors that we cannot enter into correspondence whatsoever beyond these instructions. This is a proviso that all participating Authors must adhere to so that we can publish everyone.

13. Publisher Transferal or Bankruptcy

The Author understands that the Publisher may at any time sell its business and that all current contracts and licenses would be transferred to the new owner. If the Publisher liquidates its business or is legally judged bankrupt, this Agreement shall be terminated immediately. The Publisher will only be responsible for any unpaid royalties due to the Author.

14. Termination by Publisher

The Publisher may terminate publication of the work and its display on the site immediately without giving notice upon receiving information of an actual or potential breach of copyright or information of any other liability claim relating to the Work.

15. Publishing Submissions

Publishing submissions of Work must be submitted electronically to the web site by email to

16. Submission Acceptance

The Publisher reserves the right not to accept a publishing submission upon receipt, for example, if we believe the Work infringes others copyright in any way. We will email writers whose Work we have accepted. Once a submission of Work has been emailed to us, the Author accepts that we will begin production of their Work for setup as a Paperback. There are no costs to the Author involved in us setting up their Work to be ordered as a paperback through YouWriteOn.

17. Agreement Acceptance

The Publisher agrees to the terms in this agreement. By adding your name and address to this agreement below you state that you have read and agree to all its terms and conditions in this publishing agreement in the same manner as if you had manually signed the agreement. We may ask for, and you consent to provide, a signed, printed copy of the agreement if required.

Your Name:

Your Address:

Your Book Title:

Sally Zigmond said...

Thank you, Debut Novelist for your link. It was fascinating and revealing. I read with open-jawed incredulity, not so much the YWO man's obfuscation (which I would expect) but David Milnes' subsequent self-justification. He is the author of a 'The Ghost of Neil Diamond' published through YWO and he sings its praises. Well, he would, wouldn't he? No. What shocked me is that he paid £400. I repeat, paid £400. And seems to be happy with that.

I have no doubt he has talent and the book is worth reading but his post shows just how little he understands about Amazon figures, publicity and book-selling. I found one section particularly telling. Two agents asked him to make changes in his manuscript. He didn't and they 'dropped' him (as any sensible agent would, incidentally and I would say it was more a case of him 'dropping' them. If I'd have been him I would have done what they asked.) He admits, in hindsight, that they were right. Had he not refused, he might have got a good deal with a traditional publisher (advance and royalties) who would have done a far far better job at getting his book into bookshops and generated more sales so he would have got both an advance and decent royalties. As Jane has explained, they would have sent review copies to dozens of magazines, newspapers, and many book blogs, not just one. He would probably have got good foreign rights, too. Do YWO go to Frankfurt or the London Book Fair, for example?

He is right when he says that outfits like YWO are not the nasty Vanity publishers of yore but they are, contrary to what he says, the softer re-incarnation for the digital age. They still use weasel words to attract would-be authors, they still perpetuate the myth that everyone 'deserves' to be published regardless of talent. He could have self-published through Lulu and others like it without shelling out £400. And, if he'd been patient and more willing to work alongside an agent, he could have got a good traditional deal.


Submitting to agents and publishers isn't easy but it isn't a mug's game, as he claims. Publishing with the likes of YWO probably is.

Sometimes I feel we here are banging our heads against a brick wall.

The truth is writers with talent and the right manuscript will be published. Maybe not immediately and not with their current manuscript. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. If it's easy, it smells of rat.

Anonymous said...

That 57.5% figure for Waterstone's almost certainly includes the Gardners cut. Gardners probably give Waterstone's about 48% discount or something like that.

Jane Smith said...

Thanks for that, Scott. I did wonder.

I've got a rather interesting string of blog posts coming up next week which will discuss what it's like working for Waterstones. I'd love your comments on them if you find your way back here.

Annie Wicking said...

I'm a fan of

Why? because I found like minded people who were writers like me. We read each others work and gave feedback. I've made some very good writing friends through the website. I also have an interesting folder of feedback which has helped my writing to improve when I didn't have anyone outside of my family and friends who was willing to read my work and give me feedback.

Two months ago, email me saying they would publish my novel... Now as much as I would like to see my work in print I didn't take up their kind offer... And why not you might ask if I think so highly of this wonderful site.

My answer is it is a writing tool. I use the site as somewhere I can post the first 10k words of a new book idea and see what sort of feedback I get. It's not a dream maker if you want an agent or publishers to say YES to your dreams of getting your life's work in print then go to a mainstream publishers or agent.

But if you just want someone to read your work and tell you what they think go on Youwriteon and read someone else work, leave a fair and honest comment and wait until someone reads yours in return.

But remember to wear a thick skin because some people's comments can be mean and nasty, but so can out and out rejection it's all part and parcel of learning to become a writer.
Oh and bye the way, two of my writing friends have taken up the offer because (in their words) they see it as the only way of getting their work in print for their family and friends to be able to buy it. When I ask why didn't their hang on and try a few more agents and publishers. They didn't see why they should wait when they could have their work in print by Christmas.

Some people are just happy, while others want to be real writer.

Best wishes,


Jane Smith said...

"Oh and bye the way, two of my writing friends have taken up the offer because (in their words) they see it as the only way of getting their work in print for their family and friends to be able to buy it. When I ask why didn't their hang on and try a few more agents and publishers. They didn't see why they should wait when they could have their work in print by Christmas."

But why didn't they go direct to Lightning Source, or Lulu? Then they could have had books in their hand within a week or two, and not spent as much money in the process.

Send them over here, Annie, and tell them to email me if they don't understand anything.