If you follow certain bookish sites, you may have seen the ominous warning “authors beware” quite a lot in the last few days. Dymocks Books, Australia’s largest bookselling chain, last week launched its widely anticipated self-publishing arm, D Publishing. Described in the promotional material as “author driven”, the service allows authors to upload draft manuscripts online and publish their work in print, e-book (or both) and distribute through Dymocks’ networks.

In an article in September on the upcoming launch, Jason Steger reported: “Dymocks did not see itself as building an operation to compete with standard publishers, and he [chief executive Don Grover] said the systems and service it offered would separate it from other self-publishing companies.” And separate itself it certainly did. 

Though concerns were raised initially over the costs of D Publishing’s services — for e-book publishing at least it is reportedly far higher than comparable organisations — it was the release of their publishing agreement (mandatory for authors wanting to take advantage of any of Dymocks’ distribution networks) that caused the gravest concerns. Within days D Publishing had the dubious honour of being called possibly “Australia’s worst publishing contract”.

What is very clear from the commentary is that this is not a typical publishing agreement, and not in line with industry standards. Publishing contract expert Alex Adsett, who assessed the D Publishing agreement, told the Weekly Book Newsletter that the contract was “as terrible as some of the online commentary suggests”.

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An article in the Australian Literature Review by its editor Steve Rossiter — “D Publishing by Dymocks Books – AUTHORS BEWARE” — has become the “go to” piece on the issue because of its succinct summary of the major issues with the contract. Rossiter has been at the forefront of attempts to alert authors of the dangers of entering into this contract, and has been in talks with senior management at Dymocks Books in an attempt to change the contract to bring it into line with other self-publishing agreements.

Though Dymocks amended its initial publishing agreement in response to widespread criticism, the changes were negligible, and according to Rossiter in his article for ALR:

“The major change has been to bury key details in less direct language and disperse that key information piecemeal across more clauses. This may make key details less obvious to inexperienced authors until they have accepted the agreement but doesn’t address the problems.”

A third version of the agreement has been promised — but the contract has, at the time of writing, been taken down from the D Publishing site.

I interviewed Rossiter on the D Publishing saga, and what authors need to watch out for when signing self-publishing contracts …

You’ve been in talks with senior management at D Publishing. What were the key concerns you raised?

The most important concern I raised was the clause in the publishing agreement in which authors would grant a license for D Publishing for worldwide print and e-book rights plus “all other rights in the work” for the duration of the copyright. Essentially, the author would licence all commercial aspects of their copyright in the work, including foreign language translations, audiobook adaptations, film or TV adaptations, etc (clauses 3.1 and 3.3 in the agreement).

For what many would describe as a self-publishing or vanity press service, the extent of the rights to be licensed under the Publishing Agreement could be considered very excessive. I raised concerns about issues to do with granting such an extensive exclusive license to one publisher, distributor, agent and retailer all in one and a lack of safeguards for authors.