Austin Macauley is a UK-based publisher founded in 2007 and it offers both traditional and contributory fee contracts to authors. Company House UK records list Mohammed Bu-Malik as director. The company makes repeated references on its website to a London address in Citigroup Centre 2, Canary Warf — which is a large office tower used to lease virtual and physical office space. Records show the company actually trades out of an industrial business area in Cambridge.
Based in London, Austin Macauley Publishers has established itself as an energetic and imaginative independent trade publisher. Our publications range from historical romances to showbiz memoirs; from illustrated children’s tales to in-depth technical manuals; from hard-hitting thrillers to meditative poetry. Our team at Austin Macauley are optimistic and forward-thinking; we pride ourselves on being able to offer authors both new and previously published the opportunity to become established in the ever-expanding world of books.
Unfortunately Austin Macauley was not always entirely transparent about the fact that its publishing model included contributory fees. Even to this day, it is unclear to many authors. For a long time Austin Macauley persisted with a policy of not initially disclosing the reality that many contracts were contribution-based until after an author had submitted a manuscript for appraisal. The company’s efforts to disclosure the existence of contributory-fee contracts remains entirely unsatisfactory and information is contradictory and misleading, particularly for new and aspiring authors.
From the Austin Macauley About Us webpage:
We are keen to open up the world of publishing at a time when many publishers are turning their backs on untried authors, and when the lure of self-publishing seems to provide writers with control, but at an exorbitant cost and with every chance of being lost in the crowd.
The intimation here suggests to authors that Austin Macauley is a traditional publisher and has nothing to do with self-publishing. We will come back to ‘exorbitant cost’ later in this review. Again, from the About Us webpage under Submitting your work:
Initially, our editors look at every new manuscript with a view to offering a traditional mainstream publishing deal. It is only when our editors have reviewed the work thoroughly that will we be able to decide which avenue would be most suitable for each individual book.
And a little more …
A traditional partnership agreement entails the same benefits as a mainstream agreement. However, as the writer you may be asked to cover part of the cost of publishing the book.
This is the primary place where the cost of publishing for the author is mentioned. The Submissions webpage detailing how and where authors should send their manuscripts makes no mention of costs or contributory fees. In other words, if an author does not read the Austin Macauley About Us webpage, he/she will be oblivious to this important detail. The comments section under this review and the correspondence TIPM has received over several years reflects exactly this experience.
More of a concern to me is this protection notice buried deep in the Austin Macauley Terms & Conditions:
It is possible that, should an author submit work that he or she has written and that the Company (Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.) wishes to publish but does not have at that time the immediate facility to offer a non-contributory publishing contract, an alternative opportunity to publish the manuscript in question is then considered. As a consequence, information and details concering [sic] this alternative form of contract which may involve a contribution from the author is subsequently sent for consideration to the author.
To be fair to AM (Austin Macauley), there is no doubt it offers its share of non-contributory, traditional contracts, but from the correspondence TIPM has received over several years; contributory contracts appear to greatly outnumber traditional contracts offered.
While I like the ease of navigation on the AM website, it’s pretty functional and I would expect a great deal more from a traditional publisher. Yes, it is focussed on books and authors, the way any publisher’s website should be, but it would leave most readers underwhelmed in an era of Amazon, Goodreads and small UK publishers like Salt and Bloodaxe. AM redesigned the website over the summer of 2014 and launched a blog which contains various short pieces on author events and books. Upcoming author appearances are showcased at the bottom of the main webpage and books are actively promoted on the publisher’s social media pages. Over seven years AM has published over 1000 titles (paper, e-book and audiobooks). In November alone, the publisher released 30+ titles in print and e-book formats!
AM books are sold from the publisher’s online bookshop, with distribution through the Ingram network.
I have to say I was somewhat disappointed with the quality of AM’s book cover design. At best, cover design is a pretty mixed bag here, and frankly, some of the book covers look amateurish and nothing like the quality required for the trade market. Prices, though, are competitive, ranging £7.99 to £13.99 for paperbacks, and £3.00 to £4.00 for Kindle editions. Reviews are plentiful on the top 10% of AM titles but pretty dramatically trail off to one or two reviews for the bulk of the catalogue.
Our innovative and enthusiastic marketing team continues to employ the tried and tested routes of AIs, print adverts, reviews and interviews, supplementing these with a full range of modern sales techniques, including social media, blogging, reading groups and book trailers. We regularly and rigorously investigate cutting-edge marketing strategies to make sure our authors’ work receives the attention it deserves.
If I had a penny for every time a publisher or paid-publishing company makes these claims, I’d be doing pretty well. Every publisher likes to think it is operating on the cutting edge, but the reality is most publishers that offer contributory fee contracts are not cutting edge, but rather carry out the minimum that needs to be done to produce, promote and sell books in a highly competitive marketplace. For a publisher that claims to ‘rigorously investigate cutting-edge marketing strategies’ for its authors, I’d expect to see the Look Inside feature available on AM’s print books listed on Amazon. Currently AM books only feature this option on e-book editions, and the quality of formatting on the books I’ve sampled are less than satisfactory. Indeed, of the half-dozen or more books I looked at, all of them suffered from inconsistent indentation and every one used the same font and layout — not exactly cutting-edge at all!
AM don’t list editors or staff on the website, and while this is not something all publishers and publishing services do, it does helps to build confidence and trust with authors when examining prospective publishing options. TIPM is aware of staffs who worked for the company since 2008, and right up to 2014. TIPM is also aware of a management change in 2010, and yet over the years — even considering that writers’ forums are filled with the names of AM staff dealing with author submissions (ref1, ref2, ref3, ref4, ref5, ref6, ref7) — TIPM has found it next to impossible to substantiate the records of those names in trade directories and on LinkedIn. Indeed, even AM’s blog piece for the London Book Fair’s website this year was a curious and anonymous exchange.
The company did have a stand at this year’s London Book Fair. You can see its i503 stand in the accompanying photograph (above), which was posted to the AM facebook page. You will also notice the stand is empty with not a single AM employee to be seen, and it’s a theme which runs through all of AM’s web presence, whether you look at the company’s website or its social media pages. Not a single face or footprint. AM staff must be a very shy bunch! I’d have thought any traditional publisher would be clamouring to put a personal face to all its professional endeavours. I have talked to several authors who interacted with AM staff at the London Book Fair, and one other international event, and they all report that at no stage did AM staff members ever mention the possibility of contributory publishing fees during their exchanges.
Based on contract terms offered to authors by AM, including both traditional and contributory contracts; take note of the following points.
This is not self-publishing (not that AM claim it is):
- All books are issued with registered ISBNs listing AM as publisher of origin
- The publisher owns the completed production files
- AM has the right to end the contract anytime
- AM take exclusive rights not non-exclusive rights
This is not traditional publishing:
- The publisher does not have widespread trade distribution (there is a difference between wholesale supply, availability and distribution with sales representatives)
- Books will be published within 190 days once the author supplies a completed manuscript, any other required materials, and payment based on agreed terms for contributory contracts
- Authors are entitled to 5-10 complimentary copies of their book on publication
- The publisher asserts no guarantee of a specific number of sales
- The publisher may pay an advance on non-contributory contracts (see below)
- The publisher states all books will be edited, designed and produced for distribution and sale
While AM says it announces publication of books with promotional sales sheets (to the trade) and press releases (to the media), this does not replace the absence of dedicated sales representatives at a distributor to negotiate with book buyers on shelf space in shops. Consider any major publisher in the UK. Let’s take the largest independent publisher, Faber & Faber. Faber published 35+ titles in November, 2014. AM published an equivalent amount — 30 titles. This is AM’s accounts record filed with Company House UK in August 2013. Compare this to figures released by Faber in The Bookseller. As an author submitting a manuscript to AM, whether you are ultimately offered a contributory or non-contributory contract, ask yourself if AM can afford the same amount of marketing budget behind each of those 30 titles every month like Faber. I think the answer is obvious. The author is going to have to take on a considerable amount of the marketing effort to promote his/her book even with the best intentions and claims from AM. My point here is not to unfairly compare AM to a trade publisher like Faber, but that’s exactly what AM try to convey to authors on its website — that it is a traditional publisher delivering all that any other publisher delivers.
Advances, Royalties, Discounts & Contributory fees
Contracts offered by AM vary widely, from contributory to non-contributory. This information is based on contracts I have seen and from author feedback directly and from the comment section below this review.
Contributory fees vary between £1150 and £3500. The average contribution fee tends to be between £2000 and £2500 depending on the length and type of book. I have seen one contract which specifically outlined fees of £1150 for an e-book, £2300 for a paperback and e-book, and £3300 for paperback, hardback and e-book.
AM says it evaluates all submissions based on the quality of the manuscript and marketability of the potential book. On that basis, the decision is made to take an author on under a traditional, non-contributory contract or a contributory contract (suggesting a fee as outlined above). The third option is that AM reject the manuscript. I have not heard from any author who was rejected by AM, but that does not mean it does not happen. As part of the process, AM (sometimes) include an editorial assessment (no charge) to back up its offer. I have seen several editorial assessments carried out by AM, and for the most part, while running to a single page or two, I found them fair, professional, thorough, and generally helpful to the author.
I am aware of about six verified non-contributory contracts offered by AM. I don’t offer this information as some kind of 100% report on all of the contracts offered by the publisher, but rather a snapshot of the contracts offered by AM that I am aware of. This is simply to confirm that the publisher does offer some authors non-contributory contracts. Some of these contracts have come with a small advance on royalties. The advances reported to me vary between £50 and £150.
Contributory contracts come with what I would consider very low royalties, regardless of what path of publishing you want to compare them with. Typically authors who pay a contributory fee of £2000 to £2500 are offered print royalties of 20-25% on net income to the publisher (after wholesale/retail discounts) and 40% on e-books. Authors can purchase stocks of books, but this really varies widely, anything between 25-60% off the retail price.
Books published by AM are offered to the trade at 40% discount.
AM clearly do some work to promote its authors’ books, but I think it is limited and far from the ‘cutting-edge’ marketing claim it makes.
I don’t consider Austin Macauley a traditional publisher, self-publishing service provider, or even an assisted publishing service. Frankly, Austin Macauley is bits of all of those identifications without really being any of them. Some might even describe it as a vanity press, and nothing more. What I do know is that Austin Macauley is certainly not an option for an author looking for a self-publishing service, and it isn’t an option if an author is looking to be traditionally published. I base that on all I have said above and some disturbing red flags. Perhaps the most alarming detail I stumbled across were buried away on the company’s website Terms & Conditions.
By entering this site you agree that you waive all claims against the Company, its officers, its employees, or its suppliers of information.
Together with the earlier citation on costs from the company’s Terms & Conditions, I can’t conclude there is any effort to be transparent on exactly what kind of publishing business Austin Macauley offers its authors. Whether the company physically occupy offices in London’s Canary Warf or it is just a virtual address, with an operational base in Cambridge, really makes little difference now. What you say you do as a publisher is one thing, but what is actually the experience of authors is another. TIPM’s overriding experience of authors submitting to Austin Macauley (and the comments below this review solidify this) is that they honestly believed they were dealing with a traditional publisher until the moment they received a contributory contract. Mentioning this in a single line on a publisher’s About Us page and throwing in a legal clause buried in the Terms & Conditions page is not an excuse for transparency.
What I would say to any author receiving a contribution-based proposal from Austin Macauley is that you must carefully consider the fee you are going to pay the publisher, especially if you had not expected such a request—regardless of encouragement or praise from the publisher’s editorial department. You must consider this fee in light of the royalties offered (20-25% on net) and work out just how many books you would need to sell to break even. Here is one example, and I’m giving AM the benefit of the doubt here that this is based on NET income to the publisher, not NET Profit (less print costs):
Based on a book retailing at £8.00 –
£8.00 less the retail/wholesale discount of 40% = £3.20 –
And at 25% author royalty, that is £1.20 –
Based on £1.20, an author would have to sell 2083 books just to recoup a £2500 contributory fee!
Okay, let’s call this:
I can’t see what Austin Macauley offer on their contributory contracts that any author couldn’t get for a lot less than £2500 from a reputable self-publishing service provider or dealing directly with freelance service agents. For what Austin Macauley actually does, the costs are exorbitant, with editorial mistakes on book descriptions and some of the books I’ve looked at.
I actually found it hard to come up with pros because most of them are actually what a claimed traditional publisher should be doing anyway, and this is after all of what AM describes itself as.
If there is one single thing Austin Macauley could take on board; it is you cannot ride on two coattails. Most publishers that adopt any type of contributory or partnership publishing model — and actually make them work without confusing authors — do so by defining a distinct identity between its trade imprint and its contributory contracted books.
Something makes me think Austin Macauley set out to muddy that line of distinction as much as possible.
- Publisher offers non-contributory contracts
- Small advances paid
- Functional website
- Books and author events prominent on website and social media
- Competitive retail pricing on books
- Lack of transparency on contracts which leads most authors to believe they are submitting to a traditional publisher with no costs to them
- Poor royalties
- Limited distribution
- Lack of traceability and identify of staff
- Poor cover design on many covers
- Author has no claim on production files
- Poor e-book formatting quality
- Publisher releases titles beyond its capacity to promote
RATING: 4.9/10 (PROVISIONAL)