Mandatory Marketing Contracts – Vanity by a Different Name

Recently, I’ve seen an increase in publishing contracts which look like “traditional deals” at first glance, but contain a decidedly non-traditional element: a mandatory marketing contract.

Under this sort of deal, the publisher offers a royalty-based publishing contract, usually with no advance, but requires the author to sign a marketing contract also. The mandatory marketing contract requires the author to pay for expensive marketing services at the time of signing. Sometimes, the marketing contract is with the publisher itself (or its marketing arm) – and sometimes it’s with an affiliated company. Either one is sketchy.

In some cases, these “mandatory marketing agreements” cost authors thousands of dollars up front – and they rarely offer anything quantifiable. The marketing contract usually contains only  general promises, and no agreement to purchase ads or spend money on the author’s behalf.  While marketers can’t ensure success, they should be able to provide concrete activities that actually benefit the author. These contracts don’t. Worse, these contracts require the author to pay money before the book is published – a major warning flag.

Whether the marketing contract is with the publisher or an affiliated entity, these linked contracts are a bad idea. Here’s why:

1. A publisher which makes thousands of dollars from your marketing contract has no incentive to sell books. Legitimate publishers make their money selling books, not marketing services. If the publisher has made thousands of dollars from you on a marketing contract, the incentive to sell books is reduced.

2. Publishers charging authors for marketing services have a potential conflict of interest. The publisher’s primary interest is marketing its titles, its imprints, and the books it publishes. The author’s primary interest is in marketing the author’s own books, series, and author “brand.” While similar, these interests are subtly different. 

3. Under the traditional publishing model, money flows only in one direction: FROM the publisher TO the author. Beware any deal that changes this model, and understand that it’s not a “traditional” deal.

A number of small publishers have started using this “tie-in marketing” method to get money from authors up front. While the existence of mandatory marketing doesn’t necessarily make the publisher a scam, it’s not a good business model for the author. If you want to publish traditionally, make sure you get a true traditional contract which costs you no money. If you want to self-publish, make sure you maintain control over all aspects of the publishing process.

Don’t let someone strip you of control, and your hard-earned money, by pretending to offer a deal that isn’t industry-standard for that publishing path. Take the time to educate yourself about industry standards (they exist for both traditional and self-publishing models).

Respect yourself, and your work, enough to insist on a fair, legitimate deal.

15C31 What Seahorse

Baby seahorse will be disappointed in you if you don’t.

Have questions about this or other publishing legal issues? Feel free to ask in the comments or tweet me, @SusanSpann.

And, to please the Bar, here’s a lovely disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only, and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and any person. If you have legal issues or claims, consult an attorney promptly.