How A Book Publishing Contract Changes Everything

For many self publishers, the ultimate goal is a publishing contract with a New York trade. What many self publishers don't realize is that signing a book contract changes everything for their business - their self publishing business. If a big trade deal meant instant riches, it would be an easy decision for most publishers to sign on. After all, the author in you wants to reach the widest audience possible, and if the dollars are going to skyrocket as well, how can you go wrong?

To answer a question with a question, why shouldn't you love the big trades? Let me count the ways. First and foremost, you will be giving up control. When you run a self publishing business, you run the show. If something goes wrong with a print run (which happens to big trades as well as little publishers), you get to decide whether or not to pull the plug. You decide when it's time for a new edition, a right you'll be signing away with a book publishing contract. You decide if and when to remainder books, to take an edition out of print, to sell foreign rights, electronic rights, translation rights. When you become a trade published author, you are giving up control, and you can forget about their promise to respect your input. You'll be lucky if they even pretend to consider your views before ignoring them.

Next, you'll be giving up marketing flexibility. If you're one of the fortunate few whose book is actually backed with a serious promotional budget, that's not such a big deal, but if you write nonfiction, it's highly unlikely. When you sign away those electronic rights, you sign away the ability to promote your own book through online activities involving excerpts to which you no longer own the rights. Yes, the publisher may give you permission in each instance if you formerly request it and fill out the paperwork, but be prepared to take them into your bed. You may be required to supply passwords to your personal sites and use excerpts in the format the publisher dictates without the right to optimize them for promotional purposes. Ironically, there's every chance that your ability to successfully promote your book will vanish after you sign a publishing contract. Sales will slip, and you'll experience years of frustration watching the competition eat your lunch while the publisher refuses to take the book out of print and return the rights to you.

Finally, if you signed a publishing contract without consulting a lawyer, you may be stuck with a non-compete and/or a clause giving the publisher first right of refusal to future works. In other words, you'll wake up and find that you've gone from being an independent business person to a royalty slave. Even if you're making more money with the trade publisher, this isn't a pleasant awakening, but imagine how it feels when you find out you're making less money, and in addition, lost the equity your were building in your business! The bottom line for most successful self publishers is they can probably earn more money through self publishing than through becoming trade authors, which is why there's such a big flow in the opposite direction.

Yes, I'm a recovering trade author myself. I signed a couple bad contracts back in the 90's that I'm still living with, and by modern standards they're considered good contracts! I earn more self publishing books now than I ever did with an industry bestseller, and I'm building equity in my publishing business as well. I've corresponded with hundreds of trade authors over the years, and there are times I've been tempted to form an Authors Anonymous organization, but I couldn't stand the whining about bad contracts

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find that distribution needs to be earned over time and the time spent earning distribution forces the author to be a true voice behind the work; tests the writer's passion.

On the other hand, when you get a huge contract and instantly scattered all over the globe, people may never take on. They may, but it's a gamble. And if you do take on, what about the next book?

IMO the industry seems to have gotten away from honest writing and have taken on more gimmicks and short cuts. And I believe that you've gotten, and will achieve, success because you are doing it the right way. You're paying your dues and you seem to be real, sort of like a pillar that many can lean on. I know I do.

I'm in no rush at all. Sometimes I feel like I'm standing still.

Best Regards