Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Aultbea Publishing -- an update

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.

19 comments:

Susan Hill said...

Aultbea has behaved quite disgracefully and shamelessly in exploiting young people and their families, generally people who know little about the book trade. They did this last year, picking up a young girl who had written about divorce from the child`s point of view - for other children - and doing a lot of trumpeting. I smelled a rat at once not because the book was taken up by a publisher but because of the trumpeting tone and obvious lies of the press release. I think that young author and her family may have been conned too. They need to be exposed in a major newspaper feature - only way people will find out the truth,. Apart from any moral issues, they give the rest of the small publishing community a bad name.

Clive Keeble said...

Aultbea depend upon the gullible (and some might say lazy) UK press taking their PR spin at face value without bothering to delve beneath the surface.

Perhaps Boyd Tonkin, as Literary Editor of The Independent - which has in the past given free publicity to the Aultbea dreamworld - will do an indepth insight article based upon GOB findings ??? Don't hold your breath in anticipation.

Michael, you deserve an award "gold star with merit" for today's jottings.

EJ said...

Great post. I checked Preditors and Editors as well as Writer Beware after reading your post and this Aultbea is not listed on either site. I'll try to pass the name on to them, along with a link back to your post, as soon as I can. And I'll put something up on my blog as well.

As clive keeble said, you get the gold star for this.

Iain said...

A nasty business altogether. As regards child literary prodigies, I am content (except for my misspelling of the name of Adora Svitak) to stand by this opinion, which I offered on the GOB some time ago.

It's amazing just how seriously Aultbea's claims have been taken by people who should know a great deal better. Some months ago, Emma Maree Urquhart's Dragon Tamers was very favourably reviewed on, if memory serves, Radio Four's Open Book. Well, I managed (with remarkable difficulty, considering that Aultbea would have us believe that it's absolutely everywhere) to acquire a copy, and I'm pretty confident that most people would find it unreadable.

But another issue altogether has now arisen. If Aultbea is metamorphosing into a vanity publisher, then people need to be warned.

Many of the readers of this blog will be streetwise enough never to be conned by the scam publishers and agents who are more common today than ever before. But many, I fear, won't.

I was daft enough to self-publish a novel, but at least I controlled the entire process myself, and wasn't left with the added humiliation of knowing that I'd been conned. Which happens all the time.

The publishing scams of today are not only far more numerous but also far more sophisticated than ever before. Without a pretty thorough knowledge of how trade (aka consumer) publishing now works, anyone might be taken in. It's an entirely safe bet that many of the victims of the con-artists are simply too embarrassed ever to admit to what has happened.

ej (previous comment) mentions Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors. Anyone so ill-advised as to consider writing for publication wihtout being very well connected would do well to follow those two links, and to spend some time on both sites.

Clive Keeble said...

Speaking as a bookdealer - one who trades books - I am absolutely dismayed at the manner in which so many modern journalists and allegedly responsible media channels give ad-lib exposure to poorly written badly researched books.

Of course it is not only the media, for some titles get funding from NGO's etc when the "resources" should have been better used.

Anonymous said...

My god - you really are a grumpy old bookman!
What exactly, I would like to know, is your problem with Charles Faulkner and his publishing company?
What proof have you that he has exploited the young authors he has published?
Surely he has just given them an oppertunity that they would not have been offered elsewhere?
Really, stop picking on the kids now.

Anonymous said...

My father, also a budding author, was offered fame and fortune by said "publisher", only to meet two weeks later with disappointment. To put it politely, they are a SHOWER OF COWBOYS! Having worked in publishing myself and having heard in details the discussions with this publisher, I feel that they prey on the vulnerable. These guys should be put out of business! The sooner the better please! If you are considering taking up their offer, please don't go there! They shall only lead you up the garden path.

Anonymous said...

The aforesaid publisher recently showed extreme interest in my book claiming in a meeting that it was "exactly what he was looking for”, and was eager to publish it and also show it to film companies. I travelled personally to Inverness to meet with said publisher as he wanted the full manuscript and sequel in hard copy and disk, and he was keen to have this title published quickly. He promised to send me a contract within two weeks and said that in six months I would have to be free to do lots of publicity and marketing. Naturally I was overwhelmed by the response. To reiterate his words he said "This book will change you life”. In a sense he is correct as I have never felt so foolish or so overwhelmingly disappointed in human nature! In addition, I must add that during our first meeting I was asked to contribute £15,000 towards marketing, something which seemed rather unusual and to which I said ‘no’. He apologised for the misunderstanding saying that he had intended to give me a 50/50 royalties deal with the possiblity of plenty of co-edition publishing deals. We finished the meeting with said publisher agreeing to draw up a contract that suited both of us. Two weeks later instead of receiving a contract as promised I received a letter stating that they had decided not to proceed with my book. I now feel incredibly stupid.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a pattern here. has Charles Faulkner ever clinched a film deal for a writer? NO
Are his best sellers available nationwide in bookstores? NO
It would be interesting to ask his child authors how much they have made in royalties and how many they have sold.
It seems Aultbea are a vanity publishing operation posing as a respectable publisher. Perhaps someone should run a financial check on the company to see just how profitable it is. I would strongly advise would be authors not to give him their manuscripts.
The sad thing is that everytime Aultbea get a mention in bona fide news publications and radio it is a free advertisement for him to attract his next victim. Someone should collate all the information and send it to the feature editors of all the leading newspapers and radio stations to prevent novice writers being exploited.

Anonymous said...

As an employee of another publishing house I must add there is something fishy here. Publishing houses do not request fee's from authors. It is quite
unethical to do so. Also giving people false hope is not correct.
My I would suggest that novice writers should take extreme caution before dealing with this company and if they do they should involve a specialised lawyer to control any dealings.

Anonymous said...

Is aultbeau a serious publisher. On their site they have editions 250 and 500 of each, it does not seem that the writers that he promises fame and fortune from sales like this their budding writers will not earn much.
500 Sold £6;99. Eight per cent royalties on this is around £279.60
hardly a kings ransom.

Gav said...

Aultbea do seem to be making a very bad name for themselves.

I can't see anything wrong with a company helping authors self-publish (I have to declare an interest as Leaf Books does offer a self-publishing service, which is soon to be expanded.)

But Aultbea does seem like a con. £10,000 is a lot for 1,000 copies of a book. You're effectively paying £10.00 a book. What sort of marking does that buy you?

A writers group publishing a collection of there work or a poet who has a pile of poems that they've had published in the small magazines or a short story writer or a someone with a novel that they just can't place should be able to make their work available to a wider audience without the label of vanity publishing.

There is a different between mainstream mass market publishing, small press (who unfortunately have to think in 1,000 plus sales)and writers who work has a smaller but still valuable audience.

In Aultbea's case I'd feel better about them if they actually did generate one or two best sellers but seemingly it's all smoke and mirrors and lots of broken promises.

Concerned said...

Emma Maree Urquhart's Dragon Tamers has cover art remarkably similar to Dragon Lance The Legend of Huma.

Emma Urquhart said...

A quick check on Wikipedia would inform you that Emmma Urquhart has terminated all contracts with Aultbea Publishing. Even checking the Aultbea site would show a completely lack of DT stock.

So please, say what you like about the company, but keep yours truly out if it.

Can you manage that, Mr.Bookman? ;]

Urq<3

Emma Urquhart said...

Oh hey, by the way, you might want to check out this update from my own blog:

http://www.used-goods.net/forbidden_knowledge/?p=57

Wordpress > Blogger, btw :P

Oh, and I'll admit to being pretty disapointed that you've never e-mailed me before going around using my name as another hook to reel in the search engines. It isn't exactly hard to come by.

Are adults alone worthy of your electronic contact, then?

Urq<3

Robert said...

well i can agree with some of all these things...
Didn't quite get the inside view of the company but I was the second young author published by Aultbea, and i quickly discovered disorganisation and a slight sense of disease accompanying the moves of the company, the exaggerated media etc.
Furthermore the company donated a couple of thousand copies of my book to Blythswood... all in good intent i'm sure (coughs) but could they have possibly asked me first if i wanted just another couple so i could give them to anyone who asked me for a copy. Oh yeah, and the books seem to be somewhere in teh back of a warehouse. And how much use could they be, exactly, to young romanian orphans who need toothpaste and clean clothes?

that's enough. i'm happy anyway, quite content to pursue music and acting and leave writing as a hobby for now...

Anonymous said...

I see aultbea has changed their name to script publishing ltd is this a new dodge I see also they have only a few books on sale and few authors they sem like a shower of bandits
lets hope that the public smarten up and stop sending them material
thank god for the grumpy old bookman

James said...

great post. Aultbea does depend upon the gullible, it's a fact of life.

Book Publisher said...

I can't see anything wrong with a company helping authors self-publish (I have to declare an interest as Leaf Books does offer a self-publishing service, which is soon to be expanded.)