Saturday, 24 December 2011

Could your publisher give your book away free?

The answer sadly in many cases is yes they can. And the real kicker is that they can do it without even telling you.

And you thought your relationship with your publisher was a partnership. At least I did.
Here’s my tale of woe –
I found out through a message board I belong to that two self-help titles I wrote for Need2Know Books on bullying and caring for dogs were being given away free. This was news to me because I had a contract stating how much ebooks would cost and what my royalty percentage was.
Note it wasn’t at the price of zero, royalty zero. Hey, I worked hard on those books. It was my name next to the copyright symbol. It was my hard toil that crafted the words, did the research. And in the case of my bullying book: spilt my guts.

Hey, I even worked hard to get reviews and some press coverage. Worked hard, when I could have been doing something else – like doing paid work to pay my bills that land on my doormat like bricks.

I contacted the Society of Authors and got advice. I was hoping they’d tell me that the publisher had no right to 1, give away my book free and 2, not tell me.
The news wasn’t good. Apparently the clause in most publishing contracts that allows the publisher to set the price of the book also means they can give it away for hee-haw, nae money, feck all, free.
So, what have I learnt from this? Apart from the fact that this publisher showed a complete lack of common courtesy to their authors (I know of at least another dozen of their authors who were not made aware that their books were being given away free, including one who didn’t even agree to their book being turned into an ebook) I can’t stress this point enough -

Get it stipulated in your contract how many books can be given free and under what terms.

Footnote – when I contacted the publisher about what they were doing they claimed giving every one of their books away free was a ‘marketing tool.’ They had no idea how long they would give the books away gratis, but hoped it would boost sales of the traditional paper books.

I disagree with that. Why if people are getting books free will they pay for them? The answer is they won't. Not unless you're an author writing a free book as a taster (say it's a book in a series or a short story featuring series characters like Freaks by Tess Gerritsen, which features Rizzoli and Isles).

Me? I feel like my pocket had been picked and it’s pretty empty these days anyway.


  1. Good post, Jen. Very shabby treatment indeed. Hope the new year brings you some good luck to balance this out. Have a great Christmas!

  2. Thanks for sharing this information! I'll make sure to double check for this clause whenever the time comes for publishing deals. But first must finish dratted novel.

  3. Thanks Sandra. Sarah C, I wasn't aware that setting the price meant they could make it zero. Very disappointed with this publisher.


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