UK Vanity Publishers Austin Macauley & Pegasus in Horrible Bait-And-Switch

austinmacauleyA number of UK-based vanity presses are engaging in unsavory tactics: passing themselves off as trade publishers and only hitting writers with the bill when it comes to contracts.

I moved back home recently and started being assailed by all sorts of seamy ads aimed at writers in the UK/Irish market. One of the most widely advertised is a vanity press called Austin Macauley (I’m not linking to them and boosting their SEO, here’s a link to a Google search instead).

The basic MO is to pass themselves off as a regular publisher – right down to having commissioning editors, submission guidelines, the works – when they are really what the industry refers to as a subsidy press.

A subsidy press is generally defined as a publisher which requires its authors to make a “contribution” towards the publishing costs of the book. In practice, subsidy presses are simply vanity presses who are not being upfront about the fact that authors must pay to publish – and that the author is usually covering all of the costs (and then some) rather than making a contribution of some sort.

They often don’t publicize the costs involved on their website, they generally operate completely in the dark without any transparency whatsoever, and they usually respond furiously when someone calls them on their underhanded behavior. And because they operate without any real oversight, they get far less attention than the likes of Author Solutions. But their business model hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Here is a 25-page thread on AbsoluteWrite warning about Austin Macauley. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has included them on its “Thumbs Down” list of publishers to avoid. Jane Smith at How Publishing Really Works warned about Austin Macauley back in 2008 (and was threatened with legal action). And Victoria Strauss (of the leading watchdog group Writer Beware) has repeatedly warned about the company’s practices.

Austin Macauley are far from the only ones. This bait-and-switch seems to be increasingly popular among vanity presses, especially in the UK right now, and it usually plays out the exact same way.

And I have the correspondence to prove it.

I was at a conference in York this month and met a writer who was considering self-publishing. She emailed me afterwards for advice, wanting to know if UK-based vanity/subsidy press called Pegasus (aka the UK-based Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie Ltd., not the various US-based companies called Pegasus – here’s a Google search with them up top) was legitimate and I was able to warn her away. She kindly passed on her correspondence with them, and her “publishing contract,” and allowed me to share the details with you to help prevent further victims.

Like Austin Macauley, Pegasus is not remotely upfront that it is a pay-to-play operation, and goes to great lengths to make inexperienced writers think that they are dealing with a regular trade publisher. And, just like Austin Macauley, the internet is filled with complaints from writers that were hoodwinked.

Pegasus and Austin Macauley seem to have very a very similar history. Pegasus also appears on the SFWA’s “Thumbs Down” list, also have a complaint-filled warning thread on Absolute Write, as well as writers who regularly cover vanity presses like Mick Rooney. They also have been doing this for several years now – and getting away with it.

But what really takes your breath away is seeing how disingenuous these guys are in practice. I’m going to print the whole email chain here (with the author’s name and any identifying information removed) so you can see for yourself. Click any of the images to make them bigger.

Email 1

email1

You will see this email is signed by someone claiming to be “Andrew Smith, Assistant Editor” (if he is a real person, has left a remarkably small footprint on the internet). “Mr. Smith” is responding to the author’s submission, and is now requesting the full manuscript.

You will see that no fees are mentioned at this point. And if you remember back to when you were a querying author, you will also know how excited you would have gotten here. The dream moves one step closer!

Email 2

email2

Once the author submitted her MS, she received an acknowledgement from “Suzanne Mulvey, Commissioning Editor” – even the supposed job titles are designed to give the impression of legitimacy, as is the cruel reference to a “publishing board” (when I strongly suspect these guys publish pretty much everything from anyone willing to pay).

The author will be on tenterhooks at this point – the dream is almost within their grasp. A real publisher might actually publish their book!

Email 3

email3Pop the champagne!

The “commissioning editor” presented her book to the “publishing board” and it was accepted. The author is probably dizzy with excitement at this point.

This is real. It’s actually happening. There’s even a contract attached. These guys don’t hang around…

But, wait. What’s this? “I would like to offer you one of our inclusive contracts.” Inclusive is good, right?

“This type of contract requires a share of the production costs to be provided by the author but is otherwise no different to our traditional contracts.”

Oh.

This is particularly slimy. They wait until the writer is completely on the hook, then they hit them – for the very first time in this whole 2-month process – with the information that the writer has to pay to publish. And we aren’t talking pennies either here. £2,500 (around $3,300) makes it one of the most expensive ways to get your book out there.

“Particular attention should be paid to clauses 14 – 16. These clauses cover marketing and promotion as well as the contribution figure. As you can see royalties and subsidiary rights have been enhanced to reflect your contribution towards production costs.”

I would hate to see the terms before they were “enhanced” because they are simply awful. Here is the clause on “Advances” which has the concept of an advance backwards and is asking the author to pay £2,500.

advances

It takes some serious stones to put in the following two clauses when the author is already paying thousands to publish.

royalties

 

Yeah, that’s just 50% on *net* (meaning you are getting only 35% of the sale price on Amazon as opposed to double that if you go to KDP yourself).

But they are also grabbing 50% of your foreign rights, your anthology rights, your reproduction rights, even your goddamn movie rights! This isn’t double-dipping in someone’s wallet, it’s driving them into the mountains and chaining them to the wall until their bank account is empty.

They aren’t done either. There’s an option clause demanding first refusal on the author’s next two books. Which is unreal. I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect that option clause wouldn’t stand up in court – but the likes of Pegasus and Austin Macauley are probably banking on people not taking it to court or even consulting a lawyer.

austinmacauleyAnd it all gets even more disturbing when you realize who these guys are targeting, and how. Vanity presses are famous for preying on the vulnerable and the inexperienced; the ad on the right was spotted by a friend on a mental health advice site. Nice touch, guys.

It would be great if we could get the industry to do something about this kind of thing. But I guess the main problem with that is that they have their snouts in the same trough.

Until next time and, please, spread the word.

UPDATE (Sept 20):

These comments didn’t come in by the time the above was posted but are worth highlighting now. I asked the author who provided the correspondence above whether she had any idea that Pegasus would demand payment to publish her book, and how she felt when they demanded all that money.

She said:

I was not aware that they would ask for any money. I submitted my work to what I thought was a traditional publisher looking for new writers. I was completely gutted when they asked me to pay. I had spent two weeks awaiting their response.

Once I carried out some research and realised they were a vanity publisher I felt so deflated and somewhat cheated. I do worry for people who do hand over money.

Indeed.

About David Gaughran

David Gaughran is Irish, living in Prague, and the author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible, and this here blog.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to UK Vanity Publishers Austin Macauley & Pegasus in Horrible Bait-And-Switch

  1. Peter Spenser says:

    This is sad. All of these stories are sad. I once met a young woman in the OfficeMax store who was getting a poster printed of the cover of her self-published book. She was taking the poster to a book signing. She let me look at a copy of the book that she had with her. The cover design was good. The inside layout was good. We talked a bit. Then I found out that it was vanity published (I don’t remember by whom) and she had borrowed $7,000 from her grandparents to pay for it!

    I didn’t say anything. The damage was already done and there was no need to make her feel like a fool, but… wow!

    Like

  2. philipparees says:

    As always David, valuable warning. The model is a little similar to John Hunt Publishing a highly respected ‘spiritual/alternative/new agey’ publisher. They have a graduated costs from author demand dependent on how commercial they feel a work to be. While it is not quite the rip off identified above it is subjectively judged. My book which went on to be nominated ‘Runner up Book of the Year( 2013) (when self published) had been designated Rung 4 which meant that all costs ( roughly £4500) had to be met by me. I might have swallowed that had Hunt not also demanded rights and royalties, including over the right to prevent me producing an ebook which they said they would NOT be producing! There was no ‘sliding scale’ over the rights!

    I think there is a good case to be made for author/publisher cost share over books that are clearly not commercially viable. But share means sharing risks, costs and marketing. At what pint is a work judged noncommercial if there s no intention or commitment to market?

    Like

  3. dernhelm6 says:

    Reblogged this on Indie Lifer and commented:
    More shady vanity publishers to avoid.

    Like

  4. Reblogged this on Writing and Musing and commented:
    More vanity publishers trying to prey on the inexperienced.

    If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Be careful. Be cautious. Always remember the publisher is supposed to give the author money.

    Like

  5. irshgannon says:

    What exactly is the consideration. You designed the book (story, plot, characters) , you developed the expertise, so you pay someone to produce it (that’s fine) and then THEY want royalties. When a perfectly good alternative exists in your paying for production and you own all the rights. Hire a publicist if you have 7k to burn.I just hope that a first time novelist isn’t so cynicized by that treatment that he or she turns away from the industry and writing. Absolutely despicable.

    Like

  6. Thank you for the warning.

    Like

  7. mjennings says:

    Scumsuckers the lot of them. Thank you for the heads-up here.

    Like

  8. Reblogged this on lucinda E Clarke and commented:
    interesting

    Like

  9. debjbennett says:

    They’ve been around for ages. I almost got suckered years back, pre- internet and ebooks, but fortunately saw the light in time!

    Like

  10. UPDATE (Sept 20):

    These comments didn’t come in by the time the above was posted but are worth highlighting now. I asked the author who provided the correspondence above whether she had any idea that Pegasus would demand payment to publish her book, and how she felt when they demanded all that money.

    She said:

    “I was not aware that they would ask for any money. I submitted my work to what I thought was a traditional publisher looking for new writers. I was completely gutted when they asked me to pay. I had spent two weeks awaiting their response.

    Once I carried out some research and realised they were a vanity publisher I felt so deflated and somewhat cheated. I do worry for people who do hand over money.”

    Indeed.

    Like

  11. Thanks for another great blog. Have linked it on my Facebook page.

    Like

  12. Thank you for the information. I’ve linked to the post from my own blog. Passing it on as requested.

    Like

  13. Mary Smith says:

    I remember, years ago, being so excited when, after the request for my full manuscript by Austin MacAuley, I was told the board including sales team was enthusiastic about my ms and wanted to publish it. Then came the bit about the author contributing to the cost and my heart sank. It more than sank – it was in little pieces. I sent of a letter saying if I had known they were vanity publishers I would never have sent the manuscript. I also demanded they return it! This was so long ago it was in the days of hard copy ms submissions. Horrifying to know that nothing has changed in all those years.

    Like

  14. A novice writer came to me for a second opinion when he got a contract from Austin MacAuley – thank goodness! I was able to produce his book for $950 instead of their figure of $8500 (in NZ $) and he retains full control of all his publishing accounts on Createspace, Smashwords etc. As a bonus I got a copy of their heinous contract to use at writer talks as a salutary warning to others. Result!

    Like

  15. Silent_Dan says:

    Editors and Predators is a listing of such publishers/editing services that anyone can access, I imagine that hasn’t gone anywhere in the two years since I last visited? (I imagine I’d hear about it if it ever did…) I always go there to find out what people say about a publisher I intend to submit to, though I haven’t done any submitting in ages.

    Like

  16. Pingback: Vanity Publisher warning (reblog) |

  17. franklparker says:

    Been there. That Pegasus correspondence – and the whole story – matches my own experience with Austin MacAuley. I blogged abut it here, without naming them. https://franklparker.com/2015/09/01/dilemma-resolved-self-publish-and-be-damned/

    Like

  18. Austin MacAuley are one of the most active vanity presses in the UK in terms of advertising. I see them constantly on top of Google search results for anything related to publishing.
    Worse, they had a booth at LBF last year right in front of the Author HQ (I know, why would the good folks at LBF turn down a vanity publisher’s money, eh?), with one “publisher”, and 3, well… we decided to call them “booth babes”, holding a bunch of flyers and handing them to every passer by. They basically combine all the cliches of a dodgy business — but the problem is that a lot of people will fall for these, and places like LBF keep putting them front and centre in their “self-publishing HQ”.

    Like

  19. Stephen King should write a short about a budding young writer who falls into this den of vipers and goes off the deep end, ideally ending in a bloodbath. Could work, no?

    Like

  20. ianmathie says:

    It is truly despicable when people do this and they deserve all the negative publicity they get. If you’re British and have ever had anything published and been paid for it, and this could include even a brief magazine or newspaper article, you should be entitled to join the Society f Authors who can help you avoid firms like this. Okay, it will cost you an annual membership fee, but their resources are fantastic, including contract review services, free legal advice and much, much more. My sub has more than paid for itself over the years.
    If you’re in the US, or anywhere else for that matter, go to Google and dial in Indies Unlimited. They are truly independent, run entirely by volunteers and the source of a great wealth of advice and knowledge which is absolutely essential to independent authors. Their correspondents regularly expose scams like this along wit advice on how to self-publish and so much more.
    In this day and age, when self publishing has been made so practical and virtually free by Amazon, through Create Space, Smashowrds, and other reputable e-boo publishers, nobody need fall foul of these vile vanity publishers.
    Well done for your expose, Lucinda. I’ll link this on Facebook.🙂

    Like

    • Ian,

      Can you tell me what the Society of Authors is doing on the scammer/vanity front? I’ve been working on this issue for five years and I don’t see them doing very much, aside from the odd article in their Author mag. Maybe they do lots of work only seen by members (that’s why I’m specifically asking you, and I know there is a Members-only section on the site), but I wish they were more visible in the public sphere on this issue. They certainly manage it when they want to talk about other issues – like Amazon. Surely this should be a priority for that kind of treatment too.

      Dave (not Lucinda, although I like the sound of that!)

      Like

  21. There’s a fine line between paying someone to edit/format, and paying someone to do th whole package. I am entirely self published..to the extent that we format, and upload oursleves. We get 70% of the royalties. I would NEVER pay anybody to publish my book, and that includes the ‘legit’ guys like Silverwood and Troubador. It’s a very dodgy marketplace ….writers earn so little it is scandalous to turn it over to someone else.

    Like

  22. This sort of thing is one of the reasons I created my selective author-funded publisher AIA Publishing. I wanted to offer a safe option for authors who might otherwise fall into the hands of one of these companies. I’m totally upfront about the fact that if I think your work is good enough to publish, you’re paying for me to do it – though only a simple hourly rate for services rendered. But you get 100% of the ebook sales (I give you the files to upload yourself) and 90% of the paperback sales (that just covers me sending the money to you).

    So I basically just save authors from having to learn the publishing ropes themselves. They end up with all the advantages of self-publishing plus the knowledge that their book has actually been selected by an editor as worthy of publication. Yes, they pay for the service, but that fact is clearly stated.

    There’s space for all kinds of different publishing models these days, but they need to be honest about what exactly they are and what they offer.

    Like

  23. Beth Caplin says:

    For my first two books, I was taken in my vanity publisher Halo. I didn’t spend nearly as much as what Pegasus proposed, but man…that was one expensive web to get myself out of. Luckily I was able to self publish the same books (the proper way!).

    For those concerned about the money…self-publishing done well will never not be expensive, but I didn’t spend nearly as much as what I’ve heard is the “average” cost (still a few thousand). Well before you finish your book, start networking with other indie writers. Ask who designed and edited their books. If you make friends, you may get lucky and be able to negotiate better than with an editor you contact out of the blue, with no prior relationship whatsoever. Thanks to networking via Facebook groups, I met a lovely woman who designed gorgeous covers at just $60 (her fees may have gone up since her work is now in higher demand). And two of her self-designed novels were Amazon bestsellers.

    Like

  24. Pingback: How The London Book Fair Helps Vanity Presses Exploit Newbie Authors | David Gaughran

  25. Arial Burnz says:

    Reblogged this on Arial Burnz and commented:
    You’re on the ball as usual, David! Reblogging to keep my followers informed.

    Like

  26. Vanity outfits are usually bad news. Same goes for vanity galleries and shows which snare many artists. Years ago, I was with an organization that was not art related, and they wanted to publish a book. They were ok with the self publishing plan but wanted to just get the book printed without hassle or rip off. After being pretty far into the process the company was bought out by a disreputable one, and everything went down the toilet. The org ended up complaining to the attorney general’s office in the publisher’s state, and got their money back. At this time I have not heard of a single vanity publisher that hasn’t gone this route so I dismiss them all out of hand. Not worth my time to even consider, even if all I wanted was a self published thing for personal use. I’d just go to a local printing store instead.

    Like

  27. gvkbj says:

    I wanted to comment on my previous comment but I can’t find it. It was about LinkedIn, the link not working and no way to post anything. I contacted LinkedIn and there is a problem for several users, for whatever new update. They are working on it. I had reposted on Twitter, FaceeBook, … without problems.

    Like

Release Your Word-Minions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s