The news that hybrid publisher Booktrope was closing its doors at the end of May came as a surprise for many authors who worked with the Seattle-based startup.
“As of last quarter they were doing fine,” said author Jordan Rosenfield, who published her novel Women in Red with Booktrope in summer 2015, and republished a small press book she co-authored called Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life with Booktrope the following December.
“They were doing good and then they weren't,” said Rosenfield. “It was that sudden.”
The book publishing platform, which gave authors access to teams of editors, designers, marketers, and other support staff and charged no up front fee, kept 30% of revenues generated from its titles, while 70% went to the creative teams that produced each book.
Monica-Marie Vincent was in the midst of building out a YA series with Booktrope when the news broke. Booktrope published the first book in her debut series, Roses Are Red…Violet Is Dead in 2015.
“I had three books sitting in the queue at Booktrope,” said Vincent. “I would have continued with them had they not shut down.”
Vincent, along with all other Booktrope authors, has had the rights to her work restored to her by Booktrope.
According to Booktrope, the company returned book rights to authors as of June 1, except for titles in the Amazon Encore program.
“Having all rights go back to the author is the best case scenario," said Jane Friedman, a publishing consultant. "The worst case is when the rights are in limbo until a court decides what to do, or the books become property that can be sold in order for the companies that are owed money to get their money back.”
Authors can republish their Booktrope works elsewhere, but they’re hardly free and clear. Writers that republish have to continue to compensate their Booktrope “team members.”
“For every [Booktrope] book there's a team and we all get a share of the book's royalties,” said Rosenfield. “I am contractually obligated to compensate my team members one way or another if I republish. I will individually be writing checks to the cover designer and the editor for [Write Free], and for my novel I am giving my designer [and editor] a flat fee.”
It may seem surprising that Rosenfield or any other author would have to continue to pay people they worked with while publishing with Booktrope if they later publish elsewhere or decide to self-publish entirely, but that’s how the business model worked.
“It’s screwy, but it’s in the contract,” said Rosenfield. “My contract [stated] that should Booktrope fail and I choose to republish, it is up to [me and my team at Booktrope] to negotiate a fair settlement or [for me] to continue paying out a percentage.”
Rosenfield said she felt fortunate she was able to negotiate a flat fee to settle up with her former team members, but she speculates that other authors may not be so lucky, and that “authors [in the Booktrope community] are losing their minds about this.”
Most hybrid publishers require an upfront fee of its authors, but Booktrope was unique in that it gave authors the option of paying for the expenses of their book through their royalties alone. While authors generally loved this option, it may have played a role in the publisher’s downfall.
Booktrope raised $720k in two rounds of funding, which by Silicon Valley standards is far from stellar. And that isn’t free money; investors want to see a profit turned, and ultimately Booktrope just couldn’t pull it off.
The silver lining for some is a continued creative relationship with their Booktrope team.
“Moving forward I’m still working with most of my team,” said Rebecca Clark, whose book Deceit, the first in a YA series, was published by Booktrope in October 2015. “Without Booktrope I would never have found [the] cover designer I use for everything, an editor that I’ll wait months to work with, or a book manager I can text in the wee hours of the morning with my questions/concerns.”
Booktrope representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment.