The Sudden Demise of BookTrope has Left Authors to Clean Up the Mess
When Booktrope launched its publishing service five years ago, this hybrid publisher offered authors the best of both worlds: a five-year contract with no costs for the author, and pro quality work on the book.
But when the publisher suddenly shut down at the end of April, authors were abruptly saddled with all of Book trope’s obligations to the pros who had worked on a book.
You see, BookTrope was based on a revenue-sharing model where everyone who worked on a book would get a cut of the net revenue (less 30% to Booktrope). The authors had even signed a contract (PDF) with the rest of the team, so even after the author got their rights back and Booktrope shut down, the authors were still required to pay the rest of the team.
And that’s causing a lot of stress for the several hundred authors who had published nearly 1,000 books with Booktrope. Elizabeth Barone detailed her experiences on KBoards:
On April 29th, my small press publisher announced they were closing on May 31st and authors' rights would revert June 1st. The catch: because their model was team publishing with royalty split, the contracts we’d signed mandated that authors need to continue sharing royalties for the duration of the term. Each book’s agreement was for five years.
Cue the panic attack. I’m broke. Being with small press publisher actually resulted in a hit to my income. (They didn’t distribute to Kobo, and previously, Kobo was paying my bills because of their majestic indie promo list.) Re-publishing would cost me more (I had to update four books' ebook files (fees to Vellum), paperback files (free; DIY), and covers (fees to designers) to remove all instances of the publisher). I knew I couldn’t afford to LLC and hire an accountant. There was no way. (Side note: some authors' team members started demanding payouts rather than royalties, which they weren’t entitled to. This was another panic attack. Other authors' team members absolved authors from any further payment.)
Someone suggested I use Lulu to self-publish, because they distribute everywhere and also have a nifty feature that allows you to share royalties. But of course, there’s a catch.
I’d settled up with my team — who were all wonderful about the whole thing — and was ready to go at midnight. I’d gone direct with Kobo (to take advantage of those promos), and logged into my Lulu dashboard just to check everything over and uncheck Kobo from the distribution list. Unchecking Kobo resulted in Amazon automatically being unchecked, too.
What a mess.
A lot of these authors had signed with Booktrope because they didn’t want to be self-published authors, and now they’re finding themselves stuck with obligations to pay a whole team of people.
Fortunately for the authors, most of the contributors are apparently willing to release the authors from the contract and write the losses off as a learning experience., but the authors are still left with the headache of recording the quitclaims and republishing the book(s).
What’s even worse is that this is a problem some former Booktrope participants saw coming a mile away. Ally Bishop and Patricia Eddy published a post on Medium in late April where they explained how the shared royalty model was doomed.
What’s worse?—?it failed phenomenally. “Almost 1,000 books” published, yet they couldn’t make their go-for-the-bottom-of-the-pile book marketing plan work.
Why is that?
Because Booktrope never placed a priority on qualifications when hiring. The people at the top had little-to-no book publishing or editing experience, yet those same people were their acquisitions team.
“‘I really feel like literary snobbery is not what the public needs,’ Sears said…Booktrope’s approach is all about letting readers, rather than editors, provide that filter.” Somehow, expecting and producing a high quality, well-written, and polished book became defined as “snobbery,” and releasing books that often received substandard services was the grassroots approach.
Booktrope had no editing or graphic design test in place for bringing on new talent. They didn’t ask, didn’t check backgrounds, didn’t require their book marketing managers to have any previous marketing experience. When Ally was brought on, she received a cursory interview by a woman who was gone from Booktrope’s population the next week. As editors, our preference for proper grammar was called “archaic” and unnecessary, and our suggestions for authors’ stories were deemed optional. …
Booktrope was never going to pay off.
What they preached was a “five year plan” of making $20/month on a book and building a portfolio of work. As though one book will always make the same amount every month. As though authors who stop writing or books that aren’t marketed properly will continue to roll over low profits month after month.
What a mess.
image by Aussie~mobs
Samita Sarkar June 21, 2016 um 10:39 am
Sadly, one of the nicer experiences you can have with a vanity press.
Monica-Marie Vincent December 3, 2016 um 4:43 am
As one of the authors left "holding the bag", I’m left also wondering what happened to all the funds? Booktrope had gotten some very large influxes of cash from different investors but I didn’t see a dime in royalties. Now…I didn’t see a dime in royalties and I’m left to pay off my editor, cover designer, and proofer (Booktrope cleverly circulated a new contract that they didn’t completely explain…I THOUGHT I was signing a new contract for reasons I couldn’t fathom. Since this was my first time publishing experience, I thought they knew what they were doing. BOY was I WRONG!!!). It wasn’t that my editor, cover designer, and proofer weren’t "great" since I’m still having to pay on this contract, it’s that they too want to see a payday for all of the hard work that they put into my book. It’s frustrating because now I’m left trying to find a new home for my book (which had some favorable reviews, so I’m not thinking that my writing was THAT horrible) and that’s not very easy. Once a book has been through the process, trying to find a way to get it BACK out on the market with a new place isn’t all that easy. Many publishers aren’t willing to take a chance on a book that has already been out on the market and didn’t seem to perform well. (I’m still hazy on the actual amount of sales, their royalty statements weren’t all that clear)
BUT…all this being said, I have sincerely learned my lesson. If I have the urge to jump on a deal immediately, I need to stop and look that gift horse right in the mouth. Odds are the deal sounds so amazing because it’s not exactly on the up and up.
Has my dream of continuing on with my writing career shattered? Nope, not at all. This setback just made me want to work that much harder to "make it".
And thank you for this article. "Booktrope has left authors to clean up the mess" is the perfect way to describe what happened.