John Hunt Publishing is a UK-based publisher founded in 2001 under the name of O Books. The publisher offers traditional publishing deals and what it describes as co-operative publishing for authors. Following a reorganisation in 2010, the company now publishes approximately 300 titles per year with global sales and a focus on physical stores. One in four books are published under co-operative terms. The publisher operates 28 autonomous imprints worldwide in multiple genres; including romance, fantasy, science-fiction, horror, children’s and young adult fiction, non-fiction (paranormal, spirituality, psychology, environment etc), as well as how-to and academic books. You can find a full list and links to submission guidelines here.
TIPM featured an address delivered by company founder and CEO, John Hunt, at the Geneva Writers Conference this year, where he spoke about self-publishing and alternative ways for authors to publish. Hunt established John Hunt Publishing following a career with a number of UK publishers after he gained his double degree in English at Oxford University during the 1970s. The company initially began as a book packager and publisher of illustrated books in 1989, and eventually became a full trade publisher in non-fiction. Since then, it has been reinventing itself as a trade and co-operative publisher across many genres, working with smaller publishers and directly with authors. Hunt has also written two books on how the modern author/publisher process works.
While John Hunt Publishing continues to publish books in the traditional way—adhering to trade standards—many of its recent imprints are largely run, day-to-day, by authors who have gravitated to being involved in publishing, whether coming up through editing, design or marketing, and they draw in turn on a pool of like-minded professional people. The company has a central office which looks after sales, accounts and royalties. Regardless of whether a book is submitted and accepted with an author subsidy or not, according to John Hunt Publishing, ‘every title gets treated the same. No bookshop or reviewer is going to know if one title or another has had a subsidy.’ Well, treated the same—to a point.
On all books – every time another 500 copies is sold, we send you a note, and put more work into promotion. If you would like to try and speed this up, we offer extra marketing and publicity services for purchase, check out the options in Where can I get more promotion? – USER MANUAL
True, you could argue all publishers only put additional support into marketing their authors’ books if sales meet expectation derived from the initial marketing budget. I see a carrot and a donkey here. While I accept it’s important to keep sales momentum going, marketing is about generating awareness in a product and subsequent sales from that awareness. You feed a lit fire with wood, not petrol. If I’ve sold 500 books, it says more about the results of the marketing I’ve already done than necessarily about the marketing I need to do for the next 500 books. A marketing strategy needs to be consistent and based on future sales, not a reaction to achieved sales. A marketing program is a creative and speculative exercise, not a process of phased replication and reward.
Okay, so we have a hybrid publisher with a combination of traditional publishing and assisted or cooperative publishing. But the real head-spin is that this publisher’s many imprints are run by authors. What-the-fuck! The inmates have taken over the asylum! It can’t work. It shouldn’t work. Yet, somehow, John Hunt Publishing is making it work.
We rely heavily on in-house online publishing systems, designed by authors, for authors, in order to be lean, quick, and hand back to the author as high a proportion of the sales income that we can achieve. For example, our ebooks royalties are 50% of receipts (averaging about one third of the sale price), which is the highest royalty rate we are aware of in commercial trade publishing. – USER MANUAL
The company does not employ full time staff in the business, instead, using a combination of fifty authors and book professionals ‘mostly scattered around the world, who variously work in reader reports, editing, design, marketing, and publicity.’ The company provides a listing of the staff most actively involved in the business here.
And how is this publisher different from other established publishing houses? Perhaps as far are staffing, not as much as you might think. Many mid to small-sized publishers outsource work to external publishing professionals now.
What also distinguishes us from other publishers is our attention to marketing. We provide every book with a basic promotional campaign (including but more than the usual press release you usually get with commercial publishers). And then, for every 500 copies sold, we dedicate another round of publicity. This way, the books that are succeeding in the marketplace get the attention they deserve. 90% of our sales come through the bricks-and-mortar and online retailers. – USER MANUAL
Hmmm … I’m not quite sure that’s how all other publishing houses work when it comes to marketing. If it was, then the death-bell would have tolled for many authors a lot sooner—successful and new authors alike! While I do agree commercial publishers have cut back on the money they invest on marketing their authors’ books, and also expect those same authors to do a great deal more on self-promotion, I think it is a bit disingenuous to suggest all publishers do is send out a press release and wait for something—anything—to happen. The only way a publisher makes money back on their financial investment is by selling books through trade channels and building awareness for books on its lists through established media outlets. Publishers are not in the business to produce books just for fun and piss money up against a wall. Like teachers, they have their favourites and well-performing students—maybe even shower greater attention and effort on them—but someone needs to pay the bills to keep a roof on the school and the lights on.
We will always have good and bad publishers (just like teachers). The good will take the time to nurture and support the under-performing and the bad will be happy to take the money and run. We will always have publishers who see themselves in the Citizen Kane mode and a dedicated few who want to be Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society. I see the emergence of self-publishing today a bit like privatisation in any business sector. It’s a wake-up call and part of modern democracy. The publishers who want to change will be better for it. Those who don’t will be happy to serve the select few, happy in the knowledge coffee will always come with a dollop of cream and a crumpet. If you can pay for it, and get it, why settle for anything less?
Here are the John Hunt Publishing imprints. The links are here.
ALL THINGS PARANORMAL
Axis Mundi Books
EXPLORING THE WORLD OF HIDDEN KNOWLEDGE
ALTERNATIVE HEALTH & HEALING
ROMANCE AND SEXY-TIME
FRESH THINKING FOR THE BUSINESS WORLD
THE NEW OPEN SPACES
PRACTICAL BOOKS FOR AUTHORS
Cosmic Egg Books
FANTASY, SCIENCE FICTION & HORROR
ASTROLOGY, NUMEROLOGY AND GENERAL DIVINATION
CARD AND BOARD GAMES
ACADEMIC AND SPECIALIST
LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION & STORYTELLING
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
EASTERN RELIGION & PHILOSOPHY
PAGANISM & SHAMANISM
Our Street Books
JUVENILE FICTION, NON-FICTION, PARENTING
Fiction for those who know fiction matters
BADASS BOOKS FOR GO-FOR-IT GIRLS
Top Hat Books
CULTURE, SOCIETY & POLITICS
That’s a shit-load of imprints, and it scares me that there are so many for an independent UK publisher, regardless of the model of business.
In the words of founder John Hunt and from an address he delivered at this year’s Geneva Writers’ Conference …
Traditional publishing is a one-size fits-all solution, dating back from the days when the only possible sales were obtained through sales teams visiting shops to grab shelf-space. But the value that a publisher can bring to a good author today varies hugely. Some manuscripts for instance need rewriting. Others need virtually nothing done to them. Some authors are more clued up on their own market and can reach it more effectively through the internet than any publisher could. Others are appalled by the idea. The traditional one-route-only option, “get published properly, or never see the light of day”, has disappeared, and good riddance to it. But the other available option, of self-publishing, I think is really tough. I don’t honestly know, I’ve never done it. But I suspect there will be relatively few who can do it successfully.~ John Hunt, Geneva Writers’ Convention
… and on the structure of cooperative publishing at John Hunt …
[…] we’ve tried to reverse-engineer the publishing process. Rather than authors existing to support a publishing house, we’ve tried to create a system where the publishing house exists to support authors. We encourage authors to get involved. No author has to do anything, but if they want to, even start earning money by working on other authors’ books, they can. […] We don’t have any full time staff. There are about four dozen people involved with the business, freelance, mostly living in France, Ireland, USA, north England, working from home. They’re mostly authors. We work through a common database, and a forum. Everyone has the same access to every bit of information. Which means that we don’t meet, because it’s impractical for us all to collect in one place, and we don’t use email, because then there are things being said and agreed that not everyone else can see.~ John Hunt, Geneva Writers’ Convention
Hunt believes his publishing company is offering something a little different to self-publishing and traditional publishing and that there are advantages to the model employed by them. There are four distinct levels of outcome when an author submits to John Hunt Publishing. (Detail taken from online website.)
CONTRACT LEVEL 1 (non-contributory)
Titles that look like they could sell in five figures. The author has a track record of that, in the last 3/5 years. Or, if a first time author, it’s an outstanding text, tailored to the right market. The name is recognizable to a bookshop buyer in that subject area, in both N America and the UK, and/or there are compelling endorsements from recognizable names. The buyer thinks “this is one we have to stock”.
Print: 25% on net receipts on all copies
E-books 50% (small conversion cost deducted)
CONTRACT LEVEL 2 (non-contributory)
Likely sales in the thousands. Great text, right presentation. Author is more likely to be known nationally than internationally. Has or will get good endorsements from key figures. Author has a good “platform” and is active. The main push on sales is either in N America or UK rather than both.
Print: 10% on net receipts on the first 5,000 copies, 25% thereafter
E-books 50% (small conversion cost deducted)
CONTRACT LEVEL 3 (author contribution)
Likely sales in the high hundreds/low thousands. Could be a great text, but the author isn’t particularly “known”. Could do a lot better on the sales if it spreads by word of mouth, if pushed through activities, networking – but a buyer is unlikely to stock many, or any, initially.
Print books: 10% on net receipts on the first 5,000 copies, 25% thereafter
E-books 50% (small conversion cost deducted)
Author contribution; £250/$400 + £12/$19 per 1,000 words
CONTRACT LEVEL 4 (author contribution)
Likely sales in the low hundreds or less. Good material, worthwhile publishing, could find its own niche, could do well, but it’s a long shot.
Print: 10% on net receipts on the first 5,000 copies, 25% thereafter.
E-books 50% (small conversion cost deducted)
Author contribution; £500/$795 + £22/$35 per 1,000 words
*On all books – every time another 500 copies is sold, we send you a note, and put more work into promotion. If you would like to try and speed this up, we offer extra marketing and publicity services for purchase, check out the options in Where can I get more promotion? – USER MANUAL
All accepted submissions to John Hunt Publishing are edited (you pay for the editing under Levels 3 and 4). However, authors can request mentoring, writing advice, heavy editing, structural editing, rewriting, or just an index. These are charged as additional editorial services. You can find details of contract terms here. While John Hunt evaluates the submitted manuscript on merit as it is presented, and decides on the potential and suitable contract level appropriate, it does beg the same question directed at all assisted and subsidy publishing services—do you accept everything simply to promote editorial and other services?
We do have quality controls. We have a strict filtering system, we decline anything we do not think is worth publishing, and every publishable manuscript gets a minimum of three readers reports, which the author can see, and is copy edited and proof read by us.~ John Hunt, Geneva Writers’ Convention
The obvious next question is does the author have to pay for any of these reader reports on the various levels of publishing contract? John Hunt Publishing uses its reader database to judge a manuscript submission and then decides on the finance and viability of a published book. The answer from John Hunt Publishing is a categorical no. The reader report and review is a part of the submission process and assessment, and not a paid service.
Where the consensus of the readers is that they like the book, but we’ll lose money on it, we’ll ask for a subsidy from the author. The average is around £1000. That happens currently on about one in four new titles. Across the list, it amounts to one in ten. It varies around the different imprints, and between fiction and non-fiction. But having any subsidized titles on the list at all gets us characterized as a vanity press on some author internet forums. Though every title gets treated the same. No bookshop or reviewer is going to know if one title or another has had a subsidy.~ John Hunt, Geneva Writers’ Convention
Maybe not, just so long as every John Hunt Publishing book reaches the trade market in the best form it can. Distributors and booksellers will quickly find you out if the quality of books are low and suspect, and won’t be too slow to brand all books from one publisher as sub-standard. It’s why many publishers offering self-publishing services and assisted-publishing services in the book industry find it so hard to negotiate and secure a trade distributor—not just a wholesaler who is happy to logistically shift (not sell or promote) product, whether its books or apples and oranges to online and physical retailers.
One thing to make clear, none of our sales in any country are discounted first. We are not “selling” books to the distributor, who in turn sells them to the shop. We own all the stock in those warehouses, and we sell through to shops and wholesalers in the same way as every local publisher does. So in all the markets your % of sales on receipts is the same as any other publisher in that territory would give you. – USER MANUAL
In my book, that means you don’t have an external, dedicated book trade distributor with a sales team directly selling to retailer book buyers like many other publishers—big and small. That’s fine so long as authors realise that and that the publisher is taking on the sole responsibility to promote and support the author on book sales. I’m cool with that, so long as prospective John Hunt authors also realise that. The book sales business is moving more online, and direct sales, but the majority of book sales in the UK are through physical retailers. It’s a case of horses for courses. Some publishers are great at online sales and promotion for their authors, and they depend on the majority of sales to come through online sources, but others will struggle with this approach, depending alone on wholesale physical channels combined with online sales. John Hunt Publishing lists its distribution network here, which includes Orca Books (UK & Europe), NBN (North America) and Hay House (South Africa).
Key Contract Offering on Every Level
Print & E-book publication
Royalties are 10% net on all levels for print and 25% after 5000 book sales (25% at initial sale for Level 1). 50% on e-book sales (with small admin deduction)
Subsidiary book rights given (translation and secondary publishing rights – does not include TV or Film) at 60/40% in favour of author.
Copy-editing on all titles (does not include substantial or content editing)
Distribute sales sheet and information to book databases worldwide
Presenting title to major trade accounts worldwide; offering title to trade marketing programs such as ABA Advance Access, Dial-a-book, Ingram catalogue, The Bookseller Buyers Guide, IndieBound UK [includes AI (advance information) and Press Release]
Tailoring an initial publicity program to build author and title profile in the media online, in print and on air, and to retailers online and on the high street
More publicity for every 500 copies of the print or e-book that are sold
Sending out review copies on request from reviewers (unsolicited copies are rarely reviewed). In addition to the 12 free author print copies in contract, there are up to 20 promotional print copies available to the publicity team. More print copies may be purchased at the author’s discount. Digital review copies are unlimited.
Newsletter to retailers and foreign publishers to encourage orders and rights deals.
Publication schedule; three full months between finished files and publication. We ignore the current month, so files finished in January will be scheduled for publication in May
John Hunt Publishing has developed its marketing strategy for published books. But marketing push is incrementally based on sales from the initial push by publisher and author.
Last year we allocated a publicist to every new title, every title gets some initial publicity, which the author can see, and every time it sells another 500 copies a trigger goes to that publicist to put in some more work. So the better a title does, the more promotion it gets, rather than being forgotten about. – USER MANUAL
John Hunt Publishing will only work with authors and publishers who can function happily with forums and databases, and don’t need to have conversations over the phone or by email, let alone the traditional publisher’s lunch. This is a self-determining kind of process. Some authors won’t be happy with this and I can understand why. The reality is that more and more publishers are trying to progress away from email and phone-driven correspondence and prefer their authors to link and sign into an author database. Don’t assume this is just for quirky assisted and self-publishing services. It isn’t. Agent or no agent, more and moretraditional publishers are also moving to a database model for communication on submission and book production.
The way we work doesn’t suit everybody. And it hasn’t been easy to set up. But we learn from the authors. It’s down to them to find the balance of what works best, and fix the identity crisis in publishing, because they, in this case, are running the business, and they have a foot in both camps. – USER MANUAL
Okay. It’s time to crunch some of the facts, figures and details delivered above.
Most publishers work on a retail royalty figure for authors. John Hunt Publishing, like many assisted and self-publishing services don’t. It’s net gain. That’s their take on profit after the retailer and wholesaler has had their bite of the apple. Unlike some self-publishing service companies, John Hunt Publishing, on all their level of contracts for contribution and trade contracts to authors, don’t strip out the print cost as well from the price they charge wholesalers and retailers. That said, 10% on your first 5000 books isn’t much and any author on a contributing contract needs to factor in their initial outlay. Let’s look at the levels we have on offer.
Gives 25% on net receipts on all copies (50% on e-books). This is above traditional royalties and you won’t get an equivalent of 15-16% retail on a paperback from a traditional publisher. Most pay 7-10% on retail price for paperback royalties, though you may also get an advance before royalties can be paid out (while an author keeps the advance, you don’t get royalties until the sum of your earned royalties on sales surpasses the amount of that advance.) With any publishing route, many authors will not achieve 5000 sales and earn any royalties because their advance never ‘earns out’. With the Level 1 non-contributory offer from John Hunt Publishing, an author will at least see a royalty from initial sales (paid twice yearly). This level is also targeted to authors with a recognised international sales track record.
While also a non-contributory offering from the publisher, print royalties are just 10% net on print (50% on e-books), and don’t rise to 25% on print until after 5000 copies are sold. A further restriction is that this offering is generally only made to authors with books targeted to a sales push in either USA or UK, not both territories.
One of two contributory levels of offering from John Hunt Publishing; usually suitable for less well know authors with predicted sales numbers in the low thousands or high hundreds, and tricky to gain physical shelf space. Like level 2, the author gets 10% net on print sales (25% after 5000 copies sold) and 50% on e-book edition. There is a required author contribution of £250/$400 + £12/$19 per 1,000 words for editing. Taking a standard 100k word novel, that’s £250+£1200 for a total contribution of £1450, excluding any later marketing or publicity services the author agrees to undertake. Not an unreasonable amount for a professionally edited, produced and published book, but my concern is that on 10% royalty on an average priced book of say £10.00 retail, that’s just £0.50 per book sale, and means the author needs to sell almost 3000 print books to break even. Of course, royalties would also be augmented by e-book sales at 50%, but I think it gives you an idea just how hard and long it could potentially be to see any financial return, if ever.
The second contributory level is aimed at authors with little or no profile and for books with niche sales likely to be in the low hundreds. The author gets 10% net on print sales (25% after 5000 copies sold) and 50% on e-book edition. The author contribution is of £500/$795 + £22/$35 per 1,000 words for editing. I’m not sure why the cost of editing is higher at this level than the other contributory level. There seems to be an unfounded assumption that books accepted for publication at this level will necessarily require more editing work. Again, an outlay of some £2700 would be required by the author of a 100k word book and I’d estimate sales of 5200 print copy sales before the author would break even. I think it’s fair to say, even taking into account e-book sales, there would be virtually zero chance of any author regaining their contribution.
Discounts & Author Copies
Authors are entitled to 12 copies of their book when published and subsequent copies can be purchased at 50% off the retail price. If an author buys 500 copies or above, the discount increases to 55%, 1,000 to 60%, 2,500 and upwards to 65%. However, purchased copies should be for personal use and only for resale directly to customers. Authors cannot resell copies to the book trade.
Contract Termination & Book Rights Reversion
Publishing with John Hunt means you are giving permission to the publisher to keep your book in print for the period of copyright. This is normal for many traditional publishers (though some will revert this right if a book is out of print for a lengthy period of time), but some authors may find the right to publish for the period of copyright troubling in a cooperative contract. I’m not convinced the publisher will retain this term indefinitely.
We don’t put books out of print. But if, after three years, your title sells fewer than 100 copies during a 12-month period, you can cancel the contract, if you want to. It is subject to your buying any remaining stock at 75% discount + freight, and paying for the production files for the print and ebook edition at $6/£4 per page, and the cover file at $400/£250. They are then your property. You can not reuse the ISBN (it is company-specific). – USER MANUAL
Again, purchasing the production files of a book is something we see more with assisted publishing services, and I’m also uncomfortable with the author being tied at the same time into buying the remaining book stocks, which could potentially run into hundreds, if not into the thousands (if there are any more than 300-400 units left).
This isn’t self-publishing, and for many of the John Hunt Publishing imprints, it’s not quite like structured traditional publishing either with author advances and an in-house publishing machine. Though it adopts many of the traditional processes of publishing, work is carried by a global community of other authors and book professionals through a database workflow. It’s kind of an old-style co-op, run by authors, and tailored to suit the changing face of modern publishing, and yet flexible enough to appeal to the needs of some writers. This could be a more attractive option to writers considering some form of assisted publishing but wanting some of the benefits of a traditional publisher with an established trade network.
The structure of John Hunt Publishing leaves me in no doubt, while successful with its blend of traditional and cooperative publishing offerings; it is certainly not profit-driven. Few companies offering assisted publishing services could work on some of the numbers above and budgeting has to be pretty tight. I just wonder if it might not be better actually increasing the contribution fees and trading this off with better royalty options. In the self-publishing arena, those royalties would be considered very low, and they wouldn’t work for many savvy authors when compared to vastly different publishing options like Amazon KDP, Smashwords or CreateSpace. But then I don’t think John Hunt Publishing is really about appealing to the DIY or entrepreneurial author.
I think John Hunt Publishing has hit on a more intriguing approach to modern publishing—one I haven’t really seen before (and it makes some comparisons difficult), but I do actually like it, and the company may have developed an approach to modern publishing which we may see adopted by other publishers in the future.
The publisher is highly transparent about its publishing system and presents it through the freely available User Manual (comprising 120,000 words of FAQs, help guides, explanations and a full copy of the author contract—whatever level of publishing is offered to submitting authors).
PROS—Strong quality submission controls, low contribution fees, transparent terms and workflow engine, traditional and subsidised levels of contract, author does not pay for print runs on subsidised levels, global distribution network, phased marketing with all published books, short submission query period, three month publication schedule, print and e-book published simultaneously.
CONS—Low print royalty (for contributory contract levels), ceded publishing rights cover period of copyright, author must use publishing forum and workflow database, author must pay for return of production files and book stocks on contract cancellation.
John Hunt has made the valid point that comparing the company to CreateSpace, Amazon KDP or Smashwords on royalties is misleading as these platforms are not focussed on trying to sell physical books into bookshops. The publisher is ultimately operating a traditional structure complimented with a contributory aspect for some authors.
On the point of production file return and purchasing existing print stock on contract termination, John Hunt comments:
“That was a mistake, that was introduced last year, we’ll take that out. In practice, I think it’s only happened two or three times, where the author wanted to cancel the contract and we tried asking them to buy remaining stock back, but it doesn’t actually work, because the excess stock is usually in N America if the author lives in the UK, or vice versa, or worse if the author is in NZ, Thailand…and the costs of trying to transfer stock across those distances isn’t worth the admin effort…”
On the point of marketing at John Hunt Publishing in ‘phased stages’:
“We do work harder at the initial marketing than we maybe get credit for here. The main intent here (and it’s something we just introduced last year) was to do more for the authors who we sell in 5, 6 figures, as a systematic way of not forgetting about the titles that were doing well, rather than all effort being focused on the new titles. So an author selling really well gets more PR work done every month or two.”
On dedicated sales distribution at John Hunt Publishing:
“We used to be with a separate sales team in the UK and the NBN sales team in N America, up till a few years ago. The sales teams did a good job of selling titles in, and got a commission on the sales, and then the returns were often way above 50%, and we had to pay again to get them pulped when they came back. We stopped, and took on the work of presenting new titles to the trade ourselves, because of the problem with returns. Nowadays, some main accounts we contact direct, a few hundred independents subscribe to get new title info from us, something we’re working on building. We have a bookshop signing session happening somewhere in the world every working day. And most of our sales are physical books to the bricks and mortar trade.”
John Hunt on who he believes the publisher appeals to and my point that it may not appeal to DIY and entrepreneurial authors:
“What we can offer the DIY or entrepreneurial author currently varies a lot around the imprints. It depends on the publishers concerned. Because its authors running imprints, there are different skill sets/inclinations/priorities. A couple still try and work the traditional route, using phone and email, offering individual support and arranging collective events. Others offer something different. If you happened to be into paganism, for instance, and were a Moon Books author, you would join a closed FB page of 60 or so authors who support each other in anything from reviews to sharing signing sessions and accommodation. And there are 22,000 readers/followers on FB, growing by another thousand every few weeks.I’d take the opposite point of view – the authors we work best with and can do most for are the entrepreneurial ones, they end up running the imprints, running the business.”
RATING: 7.5/10 (PROVISIONAL)
Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant
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