Elm Publishing (UK Unpublished) – Reviewed

This publishing service was a separate imprint of UK Unpublished, but has since been subsumed back into the main publishing wing as of summer 2011. Please check UK Unpublished site.  

Elm Publishing is a UK self-publishing service based in Hockley, Essex, and is owned and run by David Buttle.

“Elm Publishing is the brand new option in the UK Self Publishing world, launched in January 2011, for all those Authors who are fed up with ‘self publishing’ companies who charge high fees, but you don’t get a full service without searching though a multitude of options, adding cost to the project.
What if you could get a comprehensive service, that really gave your book a good chance in the world!
I started another publishing company in 2008, and have enjoyed working with Authors immensely.
Their enthusiasm for their books is regularly infectious, and I want to help more Authors achieve their dream. 
That company will continue, and I hope thrive, as it is one which caters to those who are on a modest budget, but want to give their book worldwide reach. To date, over 70 books have been published, in a variety of genre, and both fiction and non-fiction.”

First of all – who is ‘I’ in the above description from the company website? We are not told (see opening paragraph). More to the point, I am concerned already about the ethos that says you set up one author solutions service for authors (70 in number) who are working on a ‘modest budget’, and then set up a second for authors who want ‘slightly’ more expensive services. In 2008, Buttle set up UK Unpublished, and to be fair, he has had some success with that author solutions service.

“Elm Publishing now looks to give those with a slightly larger budget, the possibility to get their book out there, and give it the best possible chance of success.
I would emphasise however, that we provide the best service we possibly can, no matter what the budget may be. So a modest budget does not mean poor, or sub-standard service.
Elm Publishing represents good value, and includes many features that aren’t standard with so many Self Publishers.”

I am an author who, according to my editors, tends to overuse commas, but even I noticed the use of needless commas in the two website quotes cited above. The homepage of Elm Publishing is also poor and the whole philosophy of setting up two companies to do the same thing baffles me. I also think it might help – if the first company can boast 70 happy authors – why the other company is not linked or even named by Elm Publishing? Very curious…

“So, what can Elm Publishing do that is different.
We can publish in Paperback and Hardback, in either Black and White or Colour.
Go to the Services page to find out more about what we can do for your book.
Self Publishing is a controversial subject, but there seems to be one way to make it truly ‘Self Publishing’, and you can do this with Elm Publishing – click here to find out more.”

Well, the first thing Elm Publishing could do is put a ‘?’ at the end of the sentence in the above quote. Secondly, publishing in paperback and hardback does not make you ‘different’ than other self-publishing services, and allowing self-publishers to use their own purchased ISBN doesn’t make you different either. There are many author solution services providing such options.

Here is the positive on Elm Publishing. While pretty sparse on design, the website is informative, provides lots of links to their services, and in reality, ticks many boxes in regard to self-publishing standards (openness, though not always clarity, ISBN’s and charges). My concern at this point is presentation, editing of books published (contracted editing by authors) and a firm belief that this is a tiny operation possibly by just one person. I am just not convinced the below packages and whole strategy of Elm Publishing was well thought out.
Let’s dig in to the services offered.
– Paperback (£1995)
– Hardback (£2195)
– Hardback and Paperback (£2995)
– Colour (£ to quote)
eBooks only (£425)
– Private Publishing (£495)
This includes full professional interior and cover design
Ebook edition
Publisher ISBN or author’s ISBN
Nielsen bookdata listing
Online bookstore and database availability
5 author copies
Press release and media contact list
Advert in The Bookseller
Review copy and letter sent to Waterstones Product Buyers
Listing in Elm Bookstore
Legal Deposit
Planned Release Date
Royalties
No Annual File Maintenance Fees
The ‘No Annual’ file fee, while usually only about £15 per title, is something many authors are not aware of until their service provider or printer alerts them to it after the first twelve months of a book’s set-up. So this waiver is very welcome. The hardback package offers the same services as the Paperback package, and as I said earlier, Elm Publishing works on the strategy that it is offering something different to authors. So far, I see one glaring difference – you can get all of the above listed services far cheaper from other author solutions services. I would be interested to know how much of a percentage the Bookseller advertisement makes up the overall cost to the author at £1995-£2195. This is a theme in a lot of the packages and is also offered to its sister imprint authors at UK Unpublished. [Elm have subsequently confirmed that the Bookseller advert makes up 50% of the overall cost]

“- Planned Release – You can choose to plan the release, instead of doing Self Publishing in the usual way – Publishing, and making it available for sale as soon as humanly possible. Click here to find out more – Planning the release of your book could prove beneficial.”

I take Elm Publishing’s point here – in a simplistic way – that self-publishing a book should not be rushed, and a release date allowing the publisher/author to plan a proper marketing strategy is vital. In reality, one of the reasons authors opt to self-publish is because they are not prepared to wait a year to eighteen months to see their books in print. However, I don’t agree that the ‘usual way’ to self-publish a book is ‘making it available for sale as soon as humanly possible.’ Some of the biggest complaints I receive from authors about author solutions services is that the preparation and production of their book file takes far longer than stated in the terms and conditions of their contract. I’m just not sure Elm Publishing’s Planned Release is really a strong and valid selling point – all published books should have a specified and agreed release date.
The next package is the Paperback & Hardback package at £2995. The increase of almost £1000 is simply outrageous for an additional hardback edition, when outside of a revised dusk jacket cover; the set-up file and additional ISBN is essentially the same.
The Colour Package is not so much a package, but instead refers to books with any internal colour inserts and those books are subject to specific cost quotes depending on what the author requires.
The ebook only package, like the other packages, is overpriced at £495. Elm also declares with this service, ‘- NO ANNUAL FEE EVER!’ This is a case of the author really getting nothing for nothing. It is an ebook – an annual fee doesn’t apply anyway. Annual fees accrue from printers who charge for set-up of physical books and maintaining the print files on their databases.
The last package is Private Publishing, which comes without the distribution service, and is aimed at authors who want to publish a book for family and friends. Elm Publishing also suggest other suitable purposes for this package:

“Do you just want a copy of your book for yourself, friends and family (or to use for submitting to Traditional Publishers and Agents)?”

I see this suggestion more and more from author solutions services. It is completely misplaced and misleading. Publishers and agents are not looking for submissions and queries in the form of a self-published physical book. If the book happened to have sold 10,000 copies, you might get lucky, but the chances are that you will be simply wasting your time. Unless you are a literary agent, you don’t use a printed edition of a book to sell publication rights to a publisher.
Elm Publishing provides additional services:
“The benefit of having your own ISBN prefix is that you get to name your own publishing company.
We do not seek to profit out of providing you with the ISBN prefix, but only seek to cover our costs.”
And for covering their costs on getting an author a block of 10 ISBN’s, Elm charge £169 for a block, £51 more than it will cost to get the block directly from Nielsen UK (£118).
Elm Publishing also offers editing services, though the website does not list any details on this. I make stupid errors even as the editor of this site, but the Elm Publishing website needs a serious going over with the red pen before they decide to sell editing services or editing referrals to authors.
Elm Publishing presents a somewhat general piece on royalties on the website and concludes:

“We will discuss with you the best combination, compared with the amount you would like to earn, and the Retail Price resulting from that.
This could take into consideration a percentage of the RRP, or could just be calculated as the amount of money you would like to earn.
Most Authors prefer to know how much money they are going to receive, instead of what percentage to take, and indeed, this would be our preference, but will work with you.”

I have to say, this would not be my experience of what authors expect of royalties from a publisher or publishing service. It would perhaps be more accurate if Elm simply referred to profit rather than royalties. What I don’t like is that there is no example of prints cost, no examples or breakdown of discounts given to external retailers or from their own online bookshop. My experience is that an author is more likely to walk back out the online front door if details like this are not clearly disclosed.

Returns

Elm provides the author with the option of making books returnable or non-returnable when they are stocked by retailers. Clearly Elm has a preference for authors making their books returnable, and that generally in the book trade is the preferred option.  

“This method has excellent benefits, because it may encourage retailers to stock and sell your book, because the risk is transferred back to you.
The disadvantage then is that you bear the risk, however we do not seek to profiteer from this, and so the charge is based on the loss incurred by us.
You will pay the Author Rate, less 10%.
You will also have your Royalty deducted, because Royalties are based on Net Sales (i.e. after Returns).
You do not have to pay this immediately, but if your royalties have not covered the returns charges within 3 months, you will have to make the outstanding payment.
Those books returned can not be delivered, because they are destroyed in the wholesale network to keep the costs low.”

The ‘charge is based on the loss incurred by us.’ This claim is absolutely baffling. What loss?? The author pays Elm Publishing to publish their book, then charges them for returned books it claims ‘can not (sic) be delivered, because they are destroyed in the wholesale network to keep the costs low.” To keep whose costs low? – It certainly is not the authors. They are paying for books pulped at the distributors! 

Author Copies

“We prefer not to provide a table based on the word count, because this is likely to mean that many books are overpriced.
In most cases, the Author Rate is based on the RRP, whereby you receive a discount of approximately 55%. This will vary in each individual case, but is a very good guide.
For example, if you have a particularly high royalty, the discount, relative to the RRP will be larger, and conversley (sic), if you opt for a particularly low royalty, the discount, relative to the RRP will be smaller.
This is due to the different costs involved with Author Rate books, and the fact that you do not receive a Royalty on Author Rate copies.”

This reads like it has come straight out of a Taiwanese manual for an electric toaster or a politician’s manifesto.
Discounts

“Due to discounts that we are able to obtain, we like to pass these on to you.
If you order 25 copies or more (of the same title), you will receive 5% off the total for that book.
If you order 100 copies or more (of the same title), you will receive 10% off the total for that book.
If you order 250 copies or more (of the same title), you will receive 15% off the total for that book.
For large orders, for example, of 1,000 harback (sic) copies, or 2,000 paperback copies (of the same title, and is not applicable to books with a Colour interior), the Print on Demand method is not likely to be the most cost efficient, and we are therefore able to quote for printing the books using the Litho printing method.”

I can only take it the ‘discounts’ referred to above are additional bulk discounts on orders above 25 copies. I do hope the example figures above are not a guide to where the cost tipping point is between digital POD and lithographic print runs. If they are – they are way off the mark.
Elm Publishing refers several times to a bookshop. That bookshop is here, UK Bookland, part of UK Unpublished, but it is not linked or available for visitors to the site. Nowhere on the website is there a single book.
In conclusion, Elm Publishing is a new venture, and I feel there is a lot to be ironed out after the wash. Truthfully, Elm spawned from David Buttle’s UK Unpublished company, and I’m not convinced the strategy of creating an entirely new publishing imprint for self-published authors with a higher budget was a wise strategy at all. For me, Buttle had a winning formula that worked. This is a case of ‘if it’s not broken – don’t fix it’. What UK Unpublished needed was further expansion to broaden what it offered, not a complete sidestep away with a completely new venture.
I’m not going to rate this review. I don’t think that would be fair on David Buttle or Elm Publishing. Perhaps the best thing you could do is see how inexpensive self-publishing for the common man or woman can be done at sister imprint, UK Unpublished.
In the next week or two, we will take a look at UK Unpublished.

RATING: Deferred

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