Who’s really taking liberties in Ireland?

The news that an Irish publisher has begun to charge 100 Euro for any unagented submission of a manuscript for potential publication has been met with anger among some writers and writing groups.

Writer Susan Tomaselli, editor of Gorse Journal, suggested it was “taking the piss“. A Twitter exchange initiated by Author Oisin McGann revealed a number of deeply unimpressed writers – with one declaring it a “racket”. The Indie Authors’ Alliance called it a “seriously worrying departure from publishing norms”. This was the Irish Writers’ Union response:

This all happened in the summer – but the Irish Times has only just reported it, it seems, bringing it to wider attention, including my own.

There is an irony, for me, that it was the IT who have belatedly ‘broken’ this story, given that they have just run a travel writing competition demanding all rights in submitted entries – yes, even losing ones – something I drew attention to on Twitter a few weeks ago, which my colleague Simon Whaley blogged on, and which was picked up by the brilliant writers’ campaign group Artists Rights, who itemised each deeply unfair term on their website.

Although the Irish Writers’ Union also criticised the IT, I saw little further frustration from the writing community about this appalling lack of respect for creators’ rights – which is simply incomparable to what Liberties Press are doing, in my view.

At least LP are being transparent, and writers know what they’re getting – a one-page critique, according to LP’s submissions page, “providing a critical assessment of the MS, comments on commercial possibilities, and suggestions for next steps … Further comment from the author will also be responded to”.

Is this so bad? It sounds like a manuscript critique service, and an averagely priced one at that. The value of 100 Euro is known and understood – and the policy is explicit. You know what you are parting with, what you are getting, and there is no further price to pay. Choose to, or choose not to.

Meanwhile, the value of copyright in a piece of speculative work is not widely understood – and not actually knowable at the time of submission. Perhaps it’s worthless; perhaps it’s highly lucrative. The Irish Times have declared their rights-seizing demands in their T&Cs, but tucked away in a place many writers are too careless to check, and expressed in a manner many beginner writers are too green to understand.

While it’s not unreasonable to get occasionally upset at the various changes happening in the publishing industry, is this all so different to a standard writing competition? You pay an entry fee, you win or (statistically more likely) you lose, and you may or (statistically more likely) you may not get any feedback. Is it fair, for instance, for poetry competition organisers to take (admittedly small) entry fees from entrants who have zero clue what poetry is – and probably offer nothing in return? Writing competitions, I fear, often make their money from no-hope entrants, and there has been little scrutiny of them, to my mind.

Everyone wants to be a writer these days, and I can imagine how bombarded those in the publishing business (for it is a business, the romantics would do well to remember) are with aspiring writers’ precious works. As LP say, it will be “no bad thing” for them if they see fewer manuscripts, and while I tend to disagree with them that their policy will be routine in years to come, I feel the anger against them is not entirely justified, and wish far more were directed at those who show disrespect towards matters copyright, such as the Irish Times.

11th October. Edited to add: For further thoughts on this subject see Who’s really taking liberties in Ireland? Part II.

Comments 2

  • Hmmm. Interesting scenario. As you say, effectively they're charging for a critique – and it's not a publisher's responsibility to provide a critique / feedback on every submission. It's their job to take a financial risk in the material they think has commercial merit. And many publishers have shut the doors on unagented submission, so by doing this they've still left the door ajar … But only if you can afford it. I do agree – I'd much rather see something like this, where the company is up front, rather than the IT and their competition promotor helping themseles to every entrant's rights!

  • It may well fail – which may mean they'll revise their policy – but if it doesn't, I hope a writer blogs about their experience of paying for what is effectively a critique, and whether they considered it worthwhile … Will be interesting to see how it pans out.

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