Tuesday, 15 September 2015

My Nightmare with John Hunt Publishing

You might as well burn your books than be in publisher hell.

I was advised by other writers not to write a blog about my experience with John Hunt Publishing.

"It could ruin your future writing career," a writer friend said.

"It might make you sound like you're a nightmare to deal with," said another. 

Of course I thought about it. These guys know what they're talking about. They were concerned about me. But, in the end I decided that I had to write this blog because other authors deserve to know what they might get into if they sign up with this publisher. And how can they know anything if authors don't share information? 

Besides, I know the points I make are valid. I didn’t just write the books and sit back and expect them to sell. I put my heart and soul into them and worked 100-hour weeks to promote them. I felt let down that I was the only one trying to sell my books. At times, I felt like John Hunt Publishing were sabotaging me.

When John Hunt Publishing offered me a contract, I looked around the web for information and found very little. I wish I'd known then what I know now because my relationship with them was a nightmare. 

It started off well enough. Their readers' reports were extremely positive. Comments like "what's not to love here" and "this could sell in the thousands." And, I had a right to have high hopes. I’m an award-winning writing and have been writing for 20-odd years.

Then the reality started to bite and what I found is the most disappointing experience I’ve ever had in 13 years of getting books published -

JHP make a big thing about their marketing and their author database, both of which sound impressive, but they didn't deliver.
- The database had important details missing like email addresses, phone numbers and contact details.

- You had to pay for any real marketing - You had to pay for any marketing that went beyond sending automated press releases that are cobbled together with the words authors put in their proposals. Yes, in my case and many other authors, the press release was generated word for word by the words I put in the proposal. The way the online system worked, you could see the proposals authors inputted and their press releases. There was no effort on the part of the staff. In my case, a basic spell check wasn't even done. This marketing cost 150 for 6 hours of work, which seemed to involve them doing pretty little.

Valuable marketing and promotional opportunities were wasted
For example, over a number of months I worked towards getting my book Hell To Pay featured in a top newspaper with a 250, 000 readership. I knew 2 weeks in advance that my book would be featured and told the marketing department. I stupidly thought because the book was set in Glasgow and the newspaper was based in Glasgow that the publisher would contact the big bookstores in the city, including Waterstone’s and say, "Hey, one of our books will be featured in the country's bestselling newspaper, would you like some on a sale or return basis?"

They did absolutely nothing and wasted the opportunity. Yes, free publicity that money can't buy, that they were notified about two weeks in advance and they did nothing. 

I felt demoralised. That my time had been completely wasted. That my publisher they didn't care about whether my book sold or not. 

I was contacted by several people who saw my book and told me they tried to buy my book in a store and it wasn't for sale.

John Hunt Publishing missed a golden opportunity to sell more books.

Note - I could have contacted bookshops myself, but my royalty on paperbacks was 10 percent and the publisher's was 90 percent. 

There was a catalogue of errors in the book listing.
They wrongly spelt my surname on all the book sites and I had to get it changed myself. That was made more difficult because it was the publisher who were meant to make changes, not the author.

They didn't even check sites had my books and others correctly categorised.
For instance, Throwaways, my novella about murdered Glasgow sex workers was listed as erotic fiction and also as true life, which was news to my family.

There was a pattern of disrespect, pithy and aggressive behaviour from staff.
They have a closed online forum for authors and after repeatedly being ignored about certain issues, I started to post on the Facebook page - a few posts, written in a friendly way - that's when without a word I was kicked off FB and the JHP forum with no explanation after one of the head honchos at the publisher accused me of "aggressive and bullying behaviour." I asked others on the page if they thought that had been the case and nobody did.

Seven authors sent me a message saying that their experience of JHP had been very poor and they wanted their rights back. Eventually, I was given ALL my rights back, but only because I suspect they wanted rid of me. 

When I politely asked why my books imprint didn't appear on their fiction blog alongside a few others, I was told my imprint was MBS even although over half the books were fiction and my books were CRIME FICTION.
When I asked why certain marketing tasks weren't done, I'd get answers that were more "go away" than "we want to sell books."

Contracts offered were often contributory. 
Before they signed me up, they made it sound like they only asked for contributions when the book in question was niche, but once I was allowed onto the forum I discovered there was a very high amount of authors who'd paid huge sums, despite what the publisher claimed. And those books were far from niche. One was even entered for a fiction award by the publisher. 

Many authors queried their contracts on the online forum and those contracts seemed to average 2-3 thousand pounds. Note - that was just for editing. They also paid for marketing. One author I know spent over £4, 000 in total.
To me, that's a publisher taking advantage of an author's dream at a time when very none of the big publishers accept contributions unless you have an agent.

They charged for your book to be converted into an eBook.
No, I'm not kidding. Both my novellas cost around £60. It was deducted from royalties.

Later on, they came up with the bright idea of charging £100 to put your book into print. Yeah, really. After complaints they decided not to go ahead.

In conclusion -
- I believe John Hunt Publishing take advantage of the lines being blurred between vanity presses and self publishing. They charge for many authors’ services like editing and marketing.

- They should tell you BEFORE you submit the initial query that they may charge you for services that every other traditional publisher does gratis. Things like editing, proof reading and marketing that goes beyond sending automated press releases that are cobbled together with the words authors put in their proposals. Yes, in my case and many other authors, the press release was generated word for word by the words I put in the proposal. The way the online system worked, you could see the proposals authors inputted and their press releases. There was no effort on the part of the staff. In my case, a basic spell check wasn't even done.

- Many awards are not open to people who paid towards the cost of being published, which many authors did. Because the lines between self-publishing and vanity publishing are so blurred, authors who paid towards the cost of their books being published often thought that they would still be considered to be traditionally published and could enter these awards. 

Truth was, they were ineligible.

What have I learned?
1. If a publisher has contracts where you contribute financially (on any level) avoid them like the plague. They're a vanity publisher.

2. If a publisher talks about their wonderful marketing, have a look at what they actually do. Do they have a strong social media presence? Do they have a list of blogs who review their books? Do they have readers groups - something JHP promised on their home page, but never produced?

3. If they charge fees for eBook conversion, they're a vanity publisher. 
I was charged for both my books. A genuine publisher shouldn't charge you a penny. A vanity publisher will.

4. If a publisher charges you a penny for marketing/promotion, avoid them - JHP did very basic marketing. So basic in fact, that press releases were simply lifted from authors and in my case, not even given a basic spell check. The very same publicists who did the promo for books wanted £150 each time to do 6 hours of publicity. That included things that most publishers did as a matter of course. A genuine publisher shouldn't charge you a penny. A vanity publisher will. Note - before I signed my contracts I didn't know they charged like this.

In conclusion, I would advise anyone to self-publish rather than sign up with John Hunt Publishing. Before you know it, like many of their authors, you could end up with a huge dent in your bank balance as you pay for editing and marketing and promotion. All things a traditional publisher should be providing for free.

Thankfully, although they published Hell to Pay and Throwaways, I didn't give this bunch a penny and when I self-published the books, I sold 6 times more books than they ever did.

Note - this is my experience with John Hunt Publishing. Other authors may have had a more positive experience.


  1. Very good article and a good warning to other authors.

  2. Thanks, Anna:) I felt that I had to share because if authors don't help each other, who will?

    1. Thanks for sharing Jenny. I've sadly had a similar experience and would not touch with a barge pole again. How did you go about getting back your rights. I would like to do that and republish either through another publisher or myself?

    2. Hi there, I'm sorry it happened to you too.
      Getting my rights back was a struggle and I had to constantly contact them. Back then they had a Facebook page and I also posted on that until they blocked me even although I'd always been polite.
      Good luck.

  3. I had the EXACT same experience with Tate Publishing, I almost feel like they are connected some how!!!

  4. Hmm, I am presently working on submitting to JH... I am a first time author so no previous experience of doing. I have NO money to contribute fees either. Do you recommend I self-publish? Angela

    1. Angela, thanks for your comment. Knowing what I know now, I would recommend self-publishing over John Hunt Publishing. I got my book covers done by using Fiverr and they were very professional.
      Good luck with your writing😀 Remember, there are other publishers out there.

  5. Sorry you had a such a bad experience. It does sound as though self publishing would be a better bet than using this company.

  6. Sorry to hear this Jenny, I've published 3 books with John Hunt and found them awesome to work with, after working with a small traditional London publisher that went out of business. My books sell and they were well edited and presented, and marketed. Glad it's going better for you now, sounds like there was a real mis-match there!

    1. I'm glad it worked out for you, Daniela😁 Thanks for stopping by.

  7. As someone published by John Hunt a few years ago I applaud your bravery in writing this. To the likes of Daniela (who work for John Hunt, but didn’t mention that) I would add that it is incredibly brave for an author to risk their writing career by lifting the lid on what JHP are doing. Put simply, John Hunt Publishing exploit authors. They know that authors dearly want to see their work in print so they argue that ‘they know best’, thereby guaranteeing they can do whatever they want to the author and their books. By limiting communication to themselves through a forum, where they frequently censor or ignore negative feedback, they believe they stay in control of the debate which means authors have no choice but to risk their career and blog about the truth to get it out there.

    As this blog says, John Hunt’s staff are derisory and dismissive about suggestions from their authors. Even though authors are frequently contributing costs they have no actual say in the process of publication and publicity. Both of which John Hunt are very weak at.

    As there is no ‘relationship’ between you and the publisher (because John Hunt think of themselves as pragmatic and more worldly than you, the author) you can assume there will be no good will. You will pay to have books delivered to your book launch. You will do all the publicity yourself as the social networking sites that John Hunt has are very insular. The network of contacts they use are ineffective, and John Hunt won’t reply on the website to any requests you make for them to send out advance copies (PDF’s of course: John Hunt argues that sending hard copies is a waste of time. Although lots of reviewers I know won’t consider PDF’s, because who wants to read them?)

    This lack of goodwill from John Hunt will affect the author in many ways. Traditional publishers will want to submit your books to awards, as it will benefit their reputation. We can see what is happening to John Hunt’s reputation. They want to save costs and so will try to make you pay for the honour of being considered for an award. When I requested my book was submitted for a highly appropriate award and that it was patently unfair that I pay for that there response was ‘would you share the money with us?’ This is what it comes down to with JHP.

  8. Further to my previous comment, I found publishing with John Hunt a bizarrely incompetent company. The staff responded with rudeness to every reasonable request on my behalf. Their forum is littered with frustrated authors asking for help promoting their work, as per their contract and these authors are either ignored or, if the author persists the publicist in question (Maria, in my case) argues that authors were somehow 'not understanding' the process. This is key to John Hunt's approach: the argument that 'they know best'. It all feeds into this idea that you should be so grateful to be published by them, hence why lots of authors on their forum are pathetically grateful for any help they get. I had a level four contract, so was not supposed to contribute any costs. But my book was not checked for spelling errors, I had to pay for books for my launch, and their posting, JHP did no publicity despite repeated promises to, would not submit me for awards, and they retain almost all royalties on hardback whilst charging from my royalty for conversion to e-book. They are also very opaque about how much you have sold as their online royalty statements are (you guessed it) faulty. So I suspect I have been cheated out of e-book sales and who knows if I have? You can't contact them directly, except publicly through the forum (which I'm sure they think is a clever way of slimming down correspondence). To top it all off they regularly send authors newsletters of 'how well the company is doing which) *drumroll please* you are not allowed to reply to.
    My guess is that it is not in JHPs interest to properly promote what they guess will be low selling books as they just want to recoup their minimal costs on these books without, in their cynical view, wasting manpower. Hence why so many authors aren't properly promoted by them. Short sightedness all round. Which is why more and more frustrated authors are venting about them. There was a high profile article criticising their contact in this months Writers Forum magazine.

    1. I know how you feel, Jessica D. Any attempts I made to get them to actually promote my books were ignored, met with rudeness or accusations of me being a bully. All they did was a computer generated press release which wasn't even spell checked and their contacts database was fragmented, often out of date and so many contacts were completely irrelevant to promoting or selling books. My promo person was also Maria and you had to pay for any book promo she did beyond the initial hour she spent on your book. There were authors on the forum openly asking for more paid promo and a some had spent hundreds on paying for promo already. You used to be able to see these fees on author pages until they locked them.

  9. Thanks for posting, Jessica and for your kind comments. I just wanted any author looking at getting involved with JHP to go in with their eyes open.
    Sounds like you had a similar experience to me. It's so sad how John Hunt Publishing treat authors. Its almost like they've given up on trying to sell books and I know of a few authors who've been so demoralized by how they were treated that they've stopped writing. I hope you've carried on writing. There are good publishers out there😊

  10. Oh, me too. They made me feel as if not selling my book was my fault when nobody outside my own social media ever knew about it. They sent the press release to a list of totally inappropriate contacts, didn't bother to send it to reviewers in the genre, didn't follow anything up and said they'd charge me for launch copies. Maria was about as useful as a chocolate teapot and made me feel like I was being a pest for asking about the promised promotion. To top it off they wanted to charge me to buy the rights to my own hard work back from them. Never ever again.

  11. Sorry to hear that, Clarky. I wish I'd never heard of them either. It was only through pester power and pointing out that the founder of the imprint who'd been a big fan of my books had left the company, that I got my rights back.
    Hope you're writing is going well and you haven't lost faith. There are good publishers out there, but John Hunt Publishing aren't one of them. Some of their conduct befits a vanity publisher.

  12. I published with John Hunt three years ago and had no problems although as a retired professor with 8 previous books I did not expect much from them. I did find the staff helpful and friendly and still maintain contact with my editor who left for a better job. I sold many books but did not use the data base and hired a publicist for 2 years and find this the norm as most publishers do not do a lot of marketing unless you are famous. It was easier publishing as a professor where the publisher had salesmen who took my book to Universities throughout the country but from one book published after retirement before the book with John Hunt I learned that the author does most of the marketing no matter who publishes it. At age 83 I still write and have my next book ready to publish in the next month but will probably self publish to make more money for my cancer foundation.

    1. I'm glad you had a better experience with John Hunt Publishing than I did. I hope your books do well ad you obviously work hard. Good luck:)

  13. As I was waiting to hear back from several people on if they would be willing to review a science fiction manuscript [with the caveat that it was been accepted not published yet,] I noticed I couldn't find the author forum [a notice indicated it was a closed group on facebook.] I get on Facebook put in John Hunt Publishing and scrolling down, find your blog. I see there have been a mixture of good and bad experiences which as almost left me at a crossroads; I have not hit the 'submit proposal' button yet and am questioning it. I would love to see something I spent 2 years working on published but am now wondering if publishing with them would be fruitful.

    1. Hi, Tracy. Thanks for stopping by. My advice would be if you want your book published to go with someone else as John Hunt Publishing are tainted as a subsidy/vanity publisher. Having a closed forum and Facebook page is never a good sign and I wish I'd known that when I signed up with them.
      Good luck with whatever you decide.

  14. I have never had a problem with JHP... Haven't had to pay anything towards costs. Get six monthly royalties and have six books published under several of their imprints. I am freelance and don't work for them, so am not boosting my ego or anyone elses. In the past I worked as an editor myself for a small publishing company and had several hundred stories published with IPC magazines.....

  15. Thanks for stopping by, Unknown. I'm glad your experience was better than mine. In my case, I'd have been better self-publishing as John Hunt Publishing were a nightmare. You say that you didn't have to "pay anything towards costs," so does that mean you didn't have any money deducted by them from your royalties to cover eBook conversion costs? Everybody I know did. The company also tried to introduce a fee for books coming out as paperbacks just after my two books came out.

  16. Thanks so much for this advice... I will avoid them.

  17. Hi Jenny,

    We have spoken before and I just want to add to this post to share my experience of publishing with John Hunt.

    Because if I could turn back the clock I would never have gone with them. Fortunately, I've never had to pay for anything, which is just as well since my "edited" book has a number of typo's in it.

    I went with them just when they started taking on fiction. I really liked the person in charge of my imprint and this is nothing against her, but as a company they had no clue as to how to manage or market fiction.

    I'm not going to go into all of the stuff, but yes, I found them unhelpful on the forums. If you dared to make a complaint, it was suggested it was 'your' stuff. I saw Jenny's comments on the FB page and you weren't aggressive. You just wanted honest answers. I was always impressed by your stance and wish I could have been as outspoken.

    The final straw for me was when I had seen they had sold the Romanian Rights. I was really pleased with this but time passed and the contract hadn't been signed. So I followed it up, and was told that they hadn't signed so that was that. Months later my friend spotted my book on a Romanian website (god knows how she found it!) which proved that the book had been published in Romanian. Concerned, I wrote to JH who said they would look into it.

    Have I heard anything back? No.

    To me, this just shows they simply do not have the time to support individual authors. They take on numbers, rather than selective quality. They don't even bother with Trade Fairs - even though practically every single other publisher goes there! They don't have the knowledge, in fiction anyway, to understand how to create a good book cover or a good blurb. (I supplied my own. The book cover they designed for me was frankly, just embarrassing.)

    I have never grown as an author with them and it pissed me off for such a long time that my lovely little book, which I had poured SO much into, was treated like this.

    Do yourself a favour and find another publisher - especially for fiction.

  18. Sorry to hear about your experience, Hannah. That's awful about the Romanian rights. I can't believe John Hunt Publishing don't seem to care. That's shocking. I was hoping things were getting better for your book with the passage of time.
    Being with John Hunt Publishing is a thoroughly depressing and demoralizing experience, as you know. I wish I'd never heard of them.
    I hope we'll all find publishers who want our books to be as successful as we do in the future. That certainly didn't apply to John Hunt Publishing.

  19. I should have known something was suspicious when they seemed interested, something a legitimate publisher would never do.

  20. There's a whole thread about John Hunt in the Absolute Write forum. I ALWAYS check with them before submitting to agents or publishers. Here's the link: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?114181-John-Hunt-Publishing-O-Books-Perfect-Edge

    1. Thanks, Jeff. Wish I'd known about them before I signed with them.

  21. I find it astonishing that people like John Hunt advertise in the Writers & Artists'Year Book and get away with exploitation like this. I have been warned off, thanks. I was nearly tempted! The bottom line seems to be AVOID subsidy publishers!

  22. Finding this blog post has helped me no end.
    I had my first book published by JHP in 2015 and have received about £4.00 in royalties in that time despite sales totalling around £1000 (not huge I know but look at that percentage wise!)

    Having very little experience of the word of publishing I just assumed, as I was receiving no payments, that my book was not selling at all and I focussed my energies on selling my signed author copies. Having logged into their dashboard today I sell that royalties have been 'paid' out to a Barclays account?? I don't bank with Barclays. Awaiting a response from them.

    Their contract was quite misleading I feel looking back, with sales percentages not being 100% crystal clear to a newbie writer. I now self publish.

  23. Hi, Unknown.
    I'm sorry that like me you had the misfortune to be published by John Hunt Publishing, but I'm glad you found my post helpful.

    I also found their contract and terms confusing and I was angry to discover that they deducted a fee against future royalties for converting my novella into an eBook. Before I got the rights to my books back they were going to start charging for bringing books out in paperback too. A fee of £100 was mentioned. I don't know if they went through with that or not.

    It doesn't seem right that with £1000 worth of sales you only received £4 in royalties. As for them paying your money into a bank you don't bank with, that surely must be a mistake.

    I hope you have better luck with your other books. You deserve to:)

  24. I'm recognizing all the above disappointments with JHP. I wonder if we have a case for a class action to get our rights back? In despair, I asked for the return of rights and was told that as it had sold over 500, it was too successful. This was after previously saying that the book was doing poorly (as if that was my fault).
    Right now, I'm creating an audiobook as thankfully that's not covered in the contract.
    I contributed for starters 800 BP towards çosts, believing there would be serious promotion and distribution. My second book is self published, and it cost me the same. But I have full control, have sold double in one year, and have all the royalties and rights.
    People so much love the JHP book, that they have translated it into Dutch. I would like to self-publish the Dutch version. But they are ignoring my request to get the Dutch foreign rights from them - even for payment. They seem to only want to deal with an official Dutch publisher. It's not that they ask how I would do it, or discuss the price. I am just ignored.
    Is there a lawyer among us that could look into if there is actual breakage of contract?

    1. Georgi, I'm sorry you had such a bad experience with John Hunt Publishing. I don't know anything about taking legal action except that it would be very expensive.
      Please keep contacting them to try and get your rights back. I did it across all platforms I could find and think I only got my rights back through pestering them which was stressful because they were extremely unhelpful and rude and I nearly gave up.
      Good luck, Georgi. I wish I could be more helpful

  25. Hi, is it necessary that an author pay costs to them for publishing their book or only if an author wants them to market their books is when the author pays them?

    1. Hi,
      Thanks for your comment. I haven't had any dealings with John Hunt in quite some time. Back when I had two books published by them there was a fee deducted from your royalties depending on the size of the book for the eBook version. This applied to everyone including authors like me who weren't on contracts that were supposed to be subsidised. John Hunt had various levels of contracts. Some involved an author subsidy in what I would call vanity publishing.
      They then started asking for a fee that would be deducted from your royalties for turning your book into a physical book, but after an outcry they stopped that.
      Hope this helps.
      They do very minimal marketing but if you want any real marketing i.e more than an hour spent on your book you need to pay for it.
      Even if you do all the marketing yourself which you have to do anyway unless you want to pay, to my knowledge you still have money deducted from your royalties to cover the cost of making your book an ebook.

  26. I too had a bad experience back in 2009 and have yet to get the rights back to two books. I have asked only to be told I would have to pay almost 10,000USD to buy my rights back for my work. My first book was not properly edited and I immediately started getting emails from fans about all of the errors. Contacted the publisher and they said that it would stand as is instead of them fixing anything. I offered to pay an editor and resubmit a new manuscript. They said fine. I did all of it only to have them tell me no. So here I am with a bloody mess. Second book I had edited professionally and submitted and whilst you are probably asking "Why would you do it again?" the answer is simple. I did not know the issues of the first book until I had already signed a contract with the second.

    I have given up. No marketing was done at all. I tried marketing it myself but holding down a full time job and having kids doesn't leave much time to do much else. Yes, that was my fault, but I learned a hard lesson and have moved on. I figure once the company finally dies out is about the time I get my rights back through a lawsuit.

  27. Hi, I am so sorry that happened to you. I've had more response to this post about John Hunt publishing than anything else on my blog - many of them ahave been from authors like us who have asked for me not to print them on my blog.
    The company seems to have shattered the dreams of many writers. I am amongst them so I understand your pain.
    Please keep on writing and don't give up up because of what was no doubt a horrendous, not to mention costly experience.
    I believe that I was only given the rights to my 2 books back because at the time John Hunt had a Facebook page that was public and I posted about what was happening on that. After what I'd consider to be bullying and aggressive behaviour from them, I was blocked from the page and their website as were other writers who wanted their work back.
    Without that Facebook page, I don't think I would ever have gotten the rights back to my two books.
    Please don't for a moment think that what happened to you was your fault. Certain companies prey on writers because they know what they can and cannot get away with. They make a fortune doing it and retire to the south of France.


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