FORCED MARRIAGE: When POD Publishers Take Your Money AND Your Rights By Angela Hoy, Publisher, BookLocker.com and WritersWeekly.com

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A year ago, I published POD SECRETS REVEALED: You Pay…But THEY Own the Rights, an article exposing how many POD publishers charge authors for services, but then claim the rights to the materials the author paid them to create. Let’s face it. If an author pays hundreds to thousands to a company, and then can’t get copies of their production files to use elsewhere, how in the world can that author afford to move their book to another publisher if they’re unhappy? In my opinion, this is simply a tactic used to force authors to remain in the POD publisher’s fold (we call it a “forced marriage”), meaning the POD publisher gets to keep making money from the author if that author is unhappy with their services, or even their product quality. In our opinion, this is one of the most detestable and predatory practices of our industry. We were hoping my article would convince some of those companies to change their agreements. Obviously, it did not.

I’ve recently had ongoing correspondence with one author who has really been put through the ringer by one of the big POD publishers. She wants to move her books to Booklocker.com but she has spent so much money and so much time on edits that she feels like she’s stuck (married), even though the process has taken months, and even though the POD publisher still hasn’t provided her with a quality product to sell. From what I understand from the numerous emails the author sent in, this is apparently how it works. The author requests changes/edits to the manuscript. The POD publisher makes some of the changes, but also makes other changes that create additional errors. In this case in particular, an entire paragraph was deleted from the book by the POD publisher. If the author hadn’t noticed the error, it would have gone into production with that glaring omission. Since the publisher is the only one with the current file, the author couldn’t reference a file to find that original paragraph, and she had to rewrite it. During this process, some errors were not corrected and the POD publisher wanted her to pay for the changes all over again (they failed to make changes she paid for, and then wanted her to re-pay for changes that were never made). She refused, demanding they fix their own errors.

Are you confused yet? Yeah, so am I! Maybe they purposely make the process confusing so the author feels even more strongly “married” to the publisher. After numerous back and forth emails, it’s obvious the manuscript has gone through a huge transformation as far as editing and formatting goes. (To add insult to injury, proof copies sent to the author by the publisher from another one of her books has peeling laminate and black lines on the interior.) NOTE: These books were NOT printed by the large POD printer most POD publishers use.

The author checked her agreement and, guess what? The final manuscript, which contains the author’s editing changes, belongs to the POD publisher. That’s right. Her edited manuscript containing HER edits and HER formatting requests does not belong to her. She can’t use it elsewhere because she’ll be violating her contract if she does.

I thought I’d check our major competitors’ contracts to see who’s still taking rights to what these days. What does this mean for you? If you hire certain POD publishers to publish your book, and pay hundreds to thousands, their contract may prevent you from taking your book files elsewhere, even if the POD publisher screws up so badly that you must terminate your contract (like having peeling laminate and blank lines), and even if your POD publisher raises their list prices beyond what the market will bear (we’ve heard rumblings about that in the past month or so regarding two POD publishers and we’re investigating those complaints now).

Here’s what we found:

XLIBRIS – “Xlibris retains all digital property and ownership related to all completed production data and files.”

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AUTHORHOUSE

Publishing package (PDF) – “AuthorHouse will have no obligation to provide to Author any submitted materials or production files at anytime or for any reason.”

Exclusive Cover Design (PDF) – “AuthorHouse retains full rights to the Artwork produced as a part of this Agreement…”

Custom Cover Illustration (PDF) – “We retain full rights to the Illustration produced as a part of this Agreement…”

Advanced Cover Design Program (PDF) – “AuthorHouse retains full rights to the Artwork produced as a part of this Agreement…”

Custom Illustrations Program (PDF) – “AuthorHouse retains full rights to Illustration(s) produced as a part of this Agreement…”
(Heck, you’d be better off hiring your own artist/designer. At least then you could negotiate ownership of all rights to the work!)

Website Marketing Services Agreement (PDF) – “AuthorHouse will assign Author a domain name (URL) selected by AuthorHouse. AuthorHouse will register the domain name and retain all ownership rights in such domain name.”

and

“Author will select which design he or she would like for his or her web site, with AuthorHouse retaining ownership of, and all rights to, any such designs, as well as all rights to the web site.”

The two above are particularly disturbing. Why would you buy a website and then give someone else ALL rights to YOUR website?! Wow. What better way to force an author to be married to your company forever?

AuthorHouse seems to have an “agreement” for everything. This is just a sampling taken from their website today. Are you curious to know how much money authors pay AuthorHouse for the items they then claim rights to? So were we, so we checked their list HERE:

Publishing package – $1467 (Fee includes setup, original cover design, print proof, ebook creation, up to 25 interior photos/graphics, an ISBN, barcode, a listing on the publisher’s website and distribution by Ingram, all within 6 weeks.)

Exclusive Cover Design – $1199

Custom Cover Illustration – $499

Advanced Cover Design Program – $499 for 6 hours; $75/hour beyond that

Custom Illustrations Program – Difficult to find a flat fee but the website states $79/hour

Website Marketing Services Agreement – $499 setup; $300 per year for updates/maintenance (one website update per month allowed)

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IUNIVERSE (PDF, owned by the same company as AuthorHouse) – “AUTHOR shall have the right to purchase the text and cover digital production files of the WORK in PDF format upon the effective date of termination of this Agreement.”

Cover and interior files will cost you $300-$1500 depending on the time period your book was listed with them.

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BOOKSURGE – “Subject to your underlying rights in the Content, as between the parties, we will own all right, title and interest in and to the materials created, provided or used by us in the fulfillment of obligations in this Agreement (including Source Files), including all Intellectual Property Rights therein.”

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So, if you’re planning to sign with a POD publisher, the legal blatherings above will give you an idea of what to watch out for. Don’t let yourself get sucked into a forced marriage!

By the way, BookLocker.com (which we own) doesn’t take rights from authors. Never have…never will. Authors are provided with copies of their production files on request. If you pay somebody to create something just for you, you should own it – free and clear.

Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com and BookLocker. WritersWeekly.com provides paying markets, job listings, and more for free every Wednesday. BookLocker provides affordable one-on-one Print on Demand (POD) publishing services. (All new authors work one-on-one with Angela.) Setup for full-color cover / black and white interior books is $492 (deduct $175 if submitting your own cover). Fee includes setup, original cover design, print proof, ebook creation, no limit on interior photos/graphics, an ISBN, barcode, a listing on the publisher’s website and distribution by Ingram, all within 6 weeks. Color-interior program also available for more. See http://www.booklocker.com or contact Angela directly at: angela -at- booklocker.com.