Caveat Author

Photo credit: Brickset on

I had an email on Friday from the Secretary of the local writers group. He was forwarding an unsolicited email from a ‘publisher’ to writers groups, announcing the opening of a new short story, flash fiction and poetry magazine!

Yay! I thought, how bold and brave and exciting that there are people, in these times of financial restraint willing to make a stand for the arts and help people to share their writing.

Then I followed the link.

Here it is if you want a look.

My advice however is to think extremely carefully before doing anything other than look.

A quick look at the website of the magazine’s parent company, Taboo Books , might make us think twice about any relationship we, as authors, might have with it. Taboo claims to be:

“Not Like Other Publishers!”

Regrettably it seems all too reminiscent of many people claiming to be alternative or hybrid publishers today.

Taboo has several routes to publication. The first is:

‘Traditional Publishing Route’ – you send them your manuscript and if they like it they will publish it … but with a difference.

They show you how traditional publishers do it: agent, submission contract, and then things get odd – according to Taboo ‘traditional publishers make you pay for proof reading and copy editing, do ALL your own book promotion, and ask you to organise and pay for your book cover to be designed and produced. I’m beginning to think we aren’t talking about ‘traditional publishers’ at all, but old vanity publishing outfits.  Yes publishers are getting ****ing lazy about publicity in many cases, and expect you to social network and if you’re lucky, go on tour to signings and fairs and events, but they don’t normally let authors anywhere near the creative side of the look of the book. And yes they have cut back on editing but there is definitely something odd in the list of things required by ‘trad publishing’ according to Taboo. But…

“Taboo Books is Different!

If we offer you a contract, we’ll:*”

And then they list a whole lot of things you’d expect a publisher to do anyway – bog standard stuff like issue an ISBN, stuff which is either in the other list explicitly like the ISBN bit, or should be – print and hold copies of your book and place and fulfill wholesale distributor orders.

But note the asterisk, which leads us to…

“*Services are offered, depending on the Author membership level you are subscribed to.”

“Membership”? I thought this was a traditional publishing route? You send the manuscript, they publish if they like it?

What is this membership?

They don’t tell you on this page. But:

  1. You have to join the site (free) to submit a manuscript for starters.
  2. There are three levels of author membership:

New Author: £24.00 per month!

Promo Package: £39.99 per month!

Monthly Promo Package: £74.99 per month!

Remember the ‘traditional’ publishing route?

I was told something many years ago and it still holds true (annoying though it is if you aren’t getting published):  “If the money is flowing into your account you’ve got a proper publishing deal. The moment any cash flows the other way, there is something badly wrong, get out!”

Now I’ve no problem with self publishing, done it myself, but I laid out no cash and I made money on the deal thanks. If you want to self publish and pay for services, that’s fine too, but check how much and get the details up front. Companies that promise something with no details of costs or confusing cost packages that keep adding things as you go on, are to be avoided.

Taboo also offer an Assisted Publishing route – which they offer if they don’t offer you a ‘traditional’ contract. Goodness knows what that costs. [Having just followed a few links from that option, they take you back the “Author Packages” above with individual services available as for the “Traditional Route”.]

But that isn’t Taboo’s Short Fiction magazine imprint is it?

No. It isn’t, but the same marketing strategies appear.

You can send stories in to appear online for free (you have to join the site with your email details of course, “keeps the spammers out” and you’ll want to receive updates on prizes, deals and promos won’t you?) but while no overt mention is made of it, it is clear that to be eligible for the £1,000 prize there will be something else required. As I haven’t joined (and am not going to under any circumstances) I can’t be sure what those requirements are but I suspect cash. Similarly to be eligible for consideration for hard copy publication in the ‘anthologies’ you need to do more.

Now I’m sure Taboo and Short Fiction aren’t breaking any laws here, but they are getting free content to fill out their new website (good content costs), and they are advertising cash prizes without making it clear how access to that prize draw (voted for by the readers) is gained. A new prize of  £250 per week is being touted after the £1,000 prize is won.

I may be obtuse but how did ‘Sally from Romford’ get Zoom recorded when Short Fiction told her she’d won £1,000, when the competition still has 104 days to run and the site just opened on 9 September?

Now at least she’ll have some money to pay to “copyright protect” her work via the site’s “Copyright Service’, a bargain at only £30 (£29.99 actually let’s not overstate the cost). As they say in the blurb just above the form to get your cash “In the UK there is no legal requirement to register your written work for copyright” Indeed there is no facility to do so as it is not required to prove copyright. Your copyright vests in you the moment you write it. Yes, someone could copy it if it is online, but this “Copyright service” doesn’t look for breaches of IP, it simply claims you’ll have a date stamped record of your work. This may be evidential perhaps if Spielberg decides to film your work someone else has sent him under their name, but Taboo aren’t checking the web to see if it has happened. You’re paying £30 for them to keep a copy of your manuscript with a date stamp. But you have the drafts and the time and date marked original digital files saved already on your computer or USB or disc or whatever you saved it on don’t you?

But it’s another money making scheme from something that worries many first time writers.

I’m not suggesting there’s anything legally wrong with Taboo and Short Fiction magazine’s model of alternative publishing. But it is nice to know what you are getting for your money and what you aren’t. There are many more publishers out there who offer similar packages and some are no doubt more expensive and less transparent about cost creep than Taboo and Short Fiction.

Have a look at for one.

My advice would be to keep looking for an agent. If you want help then use a fraction of the thousands of pounds you might spend on vanity publishers pretending to be something else to get a genuine professional assessment service to read and comment on your work if you want help.

If you want to publish a book for family, friends or yourself, that won’t get a publishing deal because the interest group is too small, then there are genuine self help publishing services who will be open about costs and the likelihood of it going viral (< 0.1%) but will give you what they promise on time, on budget and no hard sell to spend more.

Happy writing!


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