Thursday, 28 March 2013


I've had an email from Simon Mayott, co-founder and CEO of Autharium, letting me know about major changes made to the contracts offered to writers who publish with them - and this new contract will also apply to existing Autharium writers.

The main change is that the contract no longer lasts for the life of the copyright of the book (the author's lifetime plus seventy years) but for ten years:

"By submitting your Work to Autharium and accepting these Terms & Conditions, you grant to Autharium the exclusive right and licence to produce, publish, promote, market and sell your Work in any Digital Book Form (as defined in paragraph 1.4 below) in all languages throughout the world for ten (10) years. After ten years, this Agreement will continue to roll until you email to revert your rights and end this Agreement with 30 days notice."

The rights granted by the author include all digital forms, including those not yet invented, worldwide - but nothing else:

"For avoidance of doubt this does not include physical or audio book forms, videos, film, television, merchandise or game forms."

Provision is made for the site going bust or ceasing to function:

"This Agreement shall automatically terminate if and when:

(a)  a manager, receiver, or other encumbrancer takes possession of, or is appointed over the whole or any substantial part of, Autharium’s assets;

(b)  Autharium enters into any arrangement or composition with or for the benefit of its creditors (including any voluntary arrangement under the Insolvency Act 1986); or

(c)  a petition is presented or a meeting is convened for the purpose of considering a resolution for the making of an administrative order, the winding up or dissolution of Autharium (otherwise than by way of a voluntary liquidation for the purpose of reconstruction)."

This is much, much better than the original deal offered. Simon Mayott says "this is the first UK publisher contract to step outside of the standard terms". But since Autharium is a new type of publisher, digital only and not paying advances, I'm not sure the comparison is valid - nor for that matter would I sign a boilerplate publishing contract.

Also, ten years is quite a long time, and I wouldn't want to hand over my rights for that term without the certain knowledge that the publisher would do a better job than I on my own (or any other publisher I might hope to interest) could. That said, credit to them for responding to criticism in such a positive way. I'm no longer calling them a scam, and hope they sell many books for their authors.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


I've spent the past two and a half years trying to work out what makes one book sell and not another, and ...


... I can, with confidence, disclose the results of my research: it's fairy dust.

Of course, it helps for your book to be well-written and gripping, and preferably one of a series. An enticing cover and blurb won't hurt. Many writers are enjoying modest success, making money and pleasing readers; but what is that extra something that fires people to tell their friends, post on Facebook or start forum discussions on Amazon? What makes people so obsessed with your characters that they write fanfic about them? I don't know, and interestingly, neither do the authors it happens to. 

Take Hugh Howey, the latest indie phenomenon. He didn't promote Wool at all. It started life as a short story, published on KDP and left to twiddle its thumbs while Hugh concentrated on selling his full length novels. The short story sold surprisingly well, and eager readers asked for more. The rest is history. Hugh is a shrewd guy, able to work out what he wants and hold out for it; he also comes across as both nice and engaging, with a good relationship with his fans. But he admits he never expected Wool's success. I can remember him saying a year or so ago on Kboards that he was doing quite well, but wasn't in Amanda Hocking's league. He probably is now.

You can read Hugh's analysis here. This is how he begins:

I wonder if lottery winners get emails asking for advice on how to win the next one [...] Every week, I get a handful of emails from aspiring authors asking for advice. They want to know how I found success with my writing, and I find myself admitting that luck played the biggest part.

For more on this topic, read Hugh Howey and the Bestseller Myth.

Monday, 11 March 2013


NOTE: Since writing this post, Autharium has amended its terms. See my post here.
*  *  *  *  * 
Each day there seems to be a new shark circling eager newbie writers, hoping to make a killing. Autharium is the latest. Go to their site, and it all sounds most enticing - it's free, easy to join and load your work; publish with them and you will have 'global distribution' and keep 85% of your earnings!

Too good to be true? Yup.

Go to the Author Publishing Terms and Conditions and you will find:

By submitting your Work to Autharium and accepting these Terms & Conditions, you grant to Autharium the exclusive right and licence to produce, publish, promote, market and sell your Work in any Digital Form (as defined in paragraph 1.4 below) in all languages throughout the world for the entire legal term of copyright (and any and all extensions, renewals and revivals of the term of copyright).

What is the legal term of copyright? The author's lifetime, plus seventy years. So by publishing a novel on Autharium, you hand over the worldwide digital rights, including film, games, apps [see edit below], and means of transmission yet to be invented,  until seventy years after you die.

The site tries to fudge this by assuring you that The copyright in your work shall remain your property. Quite what good this will do you when you have ceded all rights to them they do not say. They do say:

Please note that your removal of your Work from sale in accordance with paragraph 13.1 above will not terminate this Agreement nor cause the exclusive digital publishing rights that you have granted to Autharium pursuant to paragraph 1 above to revert to you


If you wish to sell your Work in any Digital Form through any other publisher, distributor or means then you will need to contact Autharium at to agree transfer of the digital publishing rights to your Work.

So if you decide you will do better selling via Amazon's KDP, or are offered a six-figure deal from a publisher, or someone is interested in buying the film rights, you will have to persuade Autharium to release you from its contract. For a large sum of money, no doubt. Or you could decide the contract is so one-sided it may be unenforceable; in which case you face years of stressful and expensive litigation.

I think Autharium is playing a numbers game. Recruit enough writers to sign that contract, and the odds of one of them turning out to be the next E.L. James and making the site owners a fortune are really not bad at all.

Autharium? Avoid, and tell your friends.

N.B. For more information, see The Passive Voice, where I read this story.

EDIT: I've just had a long phone conversation with Simon Maylott, one of the founders of Autharium. He tells me that their contract does not cover film, games or app rights. He also defended the contract as being in line with traditional publishing contracts. The problem is, traditional publishing contracts are not generally fair to the author - read a lawyer's opinion here. I don't believe Autharium is consciously attempting to dupe the vulnerable, or that its owners are villains. But the legal term of copyright is a very long time, and who will be dealing with those contracts in thirty or forty years? Supposing Autharium is successful, and is bought out by someone less scrupulous? If the deal they offer is good, and their authors happy with it, their terms do not need to be so stringent. 

EDIT 2: Having now looked at some books epublished by Autharium, I can say their proofreading, formatting and cover design do not strike me as being of a professional standard.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Don't use Times New Roman on your book cover - ever

Covers are probably THE most important selling tool for your book, because we are all more influenced by presentation than we think. As a designer, I'm well aware of this, but I still remember when my daughter was four coming across a delightful photo in the Mothercare catalogue of a small girl on a beach wearing a banana-yellow tracksuit. I knew there was nothing exceptional about the garment, I knew I was being seduced by the image - but I ordered the tracksuit just the same.

A browsing reader will first be attracted by your cover; will then read the blurb, the reviews and the sample. If these all pass muster, you've got a sale.

I've always designed my own covers because it's fun, and boy, were the first ones bad. As I've got my eye in and developed my Photoshop skills they've improved (I was thrilled when Joel Friedlander approved Ice Diaries' cover). I'm not sure I've mastered making the genre clear - but then my novels are cross-genre which makes them trickier. My earliest efforts weren't for publication, but for the peer review sites, YouWriteOn and Authonomy, so perhaps their poor quality is forgiveable. I'd have posted an example, embarrassing though they are, but seem to have deleted the early ones. I reckon I've made every newbie mistake going; red on black lettering, saving in jpeg (why has it gone all fuzzy?) and using Times New Roman as my title font. TNR over a muddy photograph or a DIY drawing screams indie, and not in a good way.

I'm all for doing everything you can yourself when you self-publish. You will move into profit more quickly, learn a lot, and often do a better job than paid professionals simply because you care more. But if you have no design background and don't find it interesting, then you are ill-advised to design your own cover. A well-meaning friend may offer to have a go, but do not accept unless you feel a) you can ask him/her for alterations if it's not quite right, and b) you won't feel obliged to use it if it's dire.