Long-term readers of this blog may remember several posts about the activities of Aultbea Publishing Ltd, a company owned by Charles Faulkner and based in Inverness, Scotland. Those who are new to the subject, or who wish to refresh their memories, are invited to look at my post of 30 June 2005.
Essentially, what emerged from these previous discussions was that Aultbea was (and is) a small publisher of scientific journals related to the food and pharmaceutical industries. About two years ago, Charles Faulkner took it into his head to launch an entirely different publishing venture. He published a fantasy novel called Dragon Tamers, by Emma Maree Urquhart, who was then aged 13. This appeared in December 2004.
Charles Faulkner then proceeded to bang the publicity drum, using the author's age as the selling point. He made various claims about the book and the number of copies sold which were, to any experienced observer of the publishing scene, wildly exaggerated -- but then he is not, of course, the first publisher to have done that. Most newspapers took him at his word and hailed Emma Maree Urquhart, for a day or two, as the next J.K. Rowling.
Personally I was not impressed by the fact that reputable broadsheet newspapers, which really ought to have known better, reprinted Mr Faukner's press releases more or less verbatim, without questioning any of his assertions about the numbers of books sold, Hollywood film deals, and the like.
If you visit the Aultbea web site today you will find that, in the last eighteen months or so, Aultbea has published about a dozen other books. These are either written by young authors, or are aimed at young readers, or both.
Last week I had an email from an author who recently offered a book to Aultbea. 'The owner replied,' says my correspondent, 'with promises of fame and movie deals. Then, two weeks later (after even more promises of fame etc), he contacted me saying that he was going to publish my work. What I didn't know at the time, and didn't find out until the contract negotiations began, was that he wanted £10,000 for which I would receive 50% royalties. He quoted figures such as 10,000 books at £6.99 would give me £34,950 profit, despite the fact that he was only going to publish 1,000 copies.'
My correspondent declined the offer.
Paying for publication is not a new idea, of course. In the nineteenth century, Swinburne's first book of poems was paid for by his father. It sold seven copies.
Should you be anxious to get a book into print, your first step should be to approach agents and/or every mainstream and well established firm that deals with the kind of book that you have written. And, if you meet with rejection, then there are still, I would suggest, ways in which you can proceed.
The existence of firms such as iUniverse and Lulu.com is well documented, and the cost of self-publication through these firms is minimal. They do not, however, offer any serious chance of selling books through the orthodox book trade.
In the UK, if you want a package which provides a fully professional service, and which does work through the normal book-trade channels, then you should take a look at the Book Guild. Their web site makes it absolutely clear that, in addition to some conventional publishing, they also undertake what they call Joint Ventures, where the author contributes to costs.
It seems clear the Book Guild is selective in its choice of projects: in other words, even if you offer them money, they will not necessarily publish your book unless it meets certain standards. Given that sort of approach, it is not altogether surprising that they are able to get reviews in major newspapers and magazines, as the examples quoted on the web site demonstrate. At least once within the last couple of years, they succeeded getting extracts from a book printed in the Times.
How much will such a deal cost you? Well, I haven't done business with the Book Guild, but I have negotiated contracts for authors with two other mainstream firms. One author had written a set of memoirs, and the other a company history. Neither of these books was considered sufficiently commercial for conventional publication by the top companies, but in both cases I was able to find a smaller firm which would gladly publish the book if the figures were made to work via a subsidy from the author.
Both authors were willing to proceed on this basis. The average cost contribution was in the region of £10,000; both books were illustrated, which increases the costs. (I got no commission on these deals, by the way: I was acting for friends.) Both books were a success, in that they reached their (small and specialised) target audience. They were each well reviewed and sold several hundred copies.
Neither author got rich as a result, but then they didn't expect to. No one had mentioned movie deals or a profit of £34,950.