Written by A Guest Author March 19th, 2021

A Warning Against Contributory Contracts

By Rumbidzai Whena

The publisher listed here is renamed, but it is one of the many publishers on Writer Beware Thumbs Down list.

Contributory. An adjective, stemming from the word contribute, meaning to give something which will become part of a greater whole. Morally, contributions show a unity of purpose, a togetherness of sorts. It isn’t a desirable word, though, when it is being used in your book publishing contract, which is what I (and countless hopefuls more) experienced.

If you are like me, and you grew up with your face pressed against the pages of a book, then you will know the feeling of joy upon discovering that you have the ability to write. And if you are old-school like me, then you will know the obsession with traditional publishing and the bragging rights that come with having big names like Bantam Books represent your work. Don’t get me wrong, I love the age of social media; life has never been easier, especially for authors who fail to make the cut and opt to self-publish their work, but I’ve never really felt that connection with self-publishing. Sure, if I do everything right and market my book I might even make more money than I would through a publishing house, but it takes out the magic I have always associated with being an author. The dream has always been to get a publishing contract and to be part of a publishing house family.

So when I wrote my debut book and was wondering what to do with the manuscript, all 100 000 words of it, I went online and ‘bumped’ into AM Publishers who were conveniently open to all submissions, I felt the stars had aligned. I submitted my manuscript and fast forward five months, I got a reply via email. They had loved my book and wanted to publish it. In my head I was already planning on how to break the news to my family. In their attached letter they gave my book a glowing review that had me feeling like I had written the next bestseller. A couple of lines down they mentioned that they were sorry but had to offer me a contributory contract. Mystified, I checked online what that meant and stopped cold. A contributory contract was exactly what it implied. To have my book published by them, I first had to pay a fee of £2,700. They even said I could pay it in installments.

To cut the story short, I declined their offer and did further research on the publisher. I hadn’t known that there were such publishing houses called ‘vanity publishers’, whose specialty is to offer contributory contracts to desperate authors with the promise of selling their books to venues like bookshops when in actual fact, they only advertise them online (no difference from someone who self-published on Amazon Kindle). If the bookshops don’t place an order for your book, then you have wasted a whole lotta tree lives. There were many testimonials of the horrors that contributory contracts brought fellow authors who had opted for them. After my experience, I discovered that whatever seems too good to be true, most probably is, and that I really should do in-depth research on where I decide to send my manuscripts. 

I now understand the appeal of self-publishing. I mean the cost of making a great eBook and marketing it is unlikely to reach £2,700. However, I am still hopelessly in love with traditional publishing and a subscriber to Authors Publish, which informs you of legitimate publishing houses that accept manuscripts from new authors whether you have an agent or not (score!). Sure, contributory contracts might be someone else’s cup of tea but I’ve always believed that when you go all in, you will get better results. And you deserve better than contributory contracts.

Bio: Rumbidzai Whena is a Zimbabwean introvert who holds a Bachelor’s in Geography and Environmental Studies and whose love for the environment is on a par with that of writing. She enjoys all forms of writing, creative writing most of all and aims to be an established (and rich!) author one day.  FacebookLinkedInUpwork


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