The Four Different John Hunt Publishing Contracts
If you are offered a contract with JHP, it will always be one of four types:
Level 1 and 2 are traditional publishing contracts where JHP shoulders the financial risk of producing the book. Around 85% of our books are published with these contracts.
Level 3 and Level 4 are co-publishing contracts. These are for when we strongly like a title but feel the market is limited or difficult, and/or the title is expensive on the design front. In those cases, we ask you for a small subsidy. About 15% of our titles use these contracts, mainly in the area of fiction.
No matter which contract you are offered, we do the following for every book we publish:
The JHP contracts broken down
How we offer a contract
The Managing Director offers a contract based on the Reader Reports.
When they decide to offer you a contract, you will receive an email notifying you. You can then log in to our database to view your offer, read the comments from the Publisher and Reader Reports, and accept or decline the contract.
We cannot change the generic contract wording. If there is a point that would make sense to change across all of them, please raise that on the Author Forum and we will give it due consideration.
For contracts with an author contribution, we send an invoice once you have accepted the contract – this should come through in a few days. Standard terms are 'Payment in 30 days from invoice'. If the final completed manuscript comes in at more than 20% above or below the original submission or estimated word count, we will send another invoice or supply a refund. There are no further costs.
Sometimes we offer a contract on the condition you take out an Extra Publicity Service
In the large majority of occasions, it is entirely your choice whether you use our Extra Publicity Services or not. But sometimes we love the manuscript, but see that you have very little "platform", and are a very new name. Then we might offer a Level 2 contract on the condition you buy an Extra Publicity Package.
A higher proportion of author contributions comes from fiction titles
Fiction is a particularly difficult market to crack. It's not as easy as with non-fiction to pin down the market of interested readers. For new fiction authors, word of mouth through the social networks is overwhelmingly the most effective way of getting sales. Without a prior record of success it is near-impossible to get placement in the stores, other than, perhaps, in stores local to you, the author.
We bring physical copies out, whatever the contract level, at the lowest retail price we offer. And as, increasingly, most fiction is also sold through ebooks, (particularly in genres like crime, horror, romance, and SF) we need to keep our ebook price low and competitive, too. We don't have much to cover the costs of bringing your book out (particularly after the discounts we still have to give the sellers, VAT in the UK etc.), until it's selling in the thousands.
So we are more likely to ask to share the cost on fiction than non-fiction, though that is not the same across all imprints.
Why we are co-publishers, not self-publishers/vanity publishers
A self-publisher will publish anyone, as long as they pay.
We are very selective as to which titles we take on. We decline the majority of inquiries. On the remainder, we ask for a more detailed proposal. Some will be declined at that stage. Others go out for reader reports. More are declined then. The rest are offered contracts.
Our business lives or dies by the quality we publish. We only publish titles that we believe are good, that are worth publishing, that could/should sell, and look at each one on its own merits. Our subsidies, when required, are the lowest we can make them. We enjoy publishing good books even when, on our reckoning, they may not cover our costs.
It does mean that the titles that do well for us are not subsidizing those that don't – they're on a higher royalty rate than they might get elsewhere.
Author subsidies amount to around 5% of our income, and there's another couple of percentage points from selling books to authors, as many of our authors actively sell books on tours, workshops, and through their websites. Around 93% is from selling books to retail (physical stores and online). Over 18% of our book revenues go back to authors in royalties (increasing each year as the proportion of ebooks grows).
Whatever level of contract we offer, we ultimately think of ourselves as a co-publisher with you. You see as much information on schedules, progress, sales, marketing, contacts, as the dozen or so people who will be working on your book, and can contribute to the marketing/PR if you wish.
Quality and sales are not synonymous. So the contract levels relate, primarily, to marketability, and to the cost of publishing. Much of that depends on whether you have published before and what kind of "platform" you have. It does not necessarily have anything to do with how good the book itself is.
It does not mean that low-level titles can never break out. Several titles that have done best for us, selling in tens of thousands and more, would have been categorized as Level 4, initially. But they are rare. If we were to promote each book with the optimism we feel for it, we would go broke in short order. Hence the four contract system.
I’ve been offered a contract with an author subsidy and I can’t afford it. What should I do?
If we offer you a contract with an author subsidy, and you cannot afford it, we're sorry about that; please don't take it and stretch yourself financially. If you object to it on principle, well, we just have to differ.
What about self-publishing?
Self-publishing, strictly speaking, is where you buy and own the ISBN, and do all the editorial/printing/marketing work yourself, or pay people separately to do it. It is not easy.
Most independent authors work through one of the major subsidy houses. There are three big ones, each bringing out thousands of titles every month, so they have the most competitive prices: Lulu, CreateSpace (owned by Amazon) and Author Solutions (including Author House, Libris, iUniverse, Trafford and others; owned by Random Penguin up till 2016).
As an author self-publishing, you will likely need to hire freelancers to support you. The most up to date ( 2019) information on the costs of editorial and design (editorial assessment, copyediting, proofreading, interior layout and cover) comes in at $4,000+. That is before print, and the costs of surplus printed copies for reviews, and take into account returns from the trade, distribution of information, sales, marketing, publicity etc.
We cannot compete on royalty terms with self-publishing, because most of our sales are through the trade. The trade takes 50–60% of the retail price. Many new books are returned and pulped. We have high proportions of unsold stock and give out many free review copies. In the first year, we usually have to print two to three times more than we sell.
Our costs are higher than yours, as an author, so purely on cost grounds you are better off self-publishing through Amazon (CreateSpace) or Smashwords – but it will still be a challenge for you to make back your costs.