Seller’s Regret and Buyer’s Remorse in the Publishing Business

I learned about seller’s regret and buyer’s remorse before I reached the age of ten. When I was a child of eight or nine, I was an avid reader of Hardy Boys books. In those days, they might have cost around $1.95 new or less on special, I don’t remember if they numbered them but there were a lot. There was a famous books and art supplies store in our town, Johnson’s Bookstore, and they had the largest used book store as well. I don’t remember where the bulk of my book collection came from, probably gifts from my grandmother and parents since my earning capacity was pretty low at that age. One day, in order to get new books, I took the bus downtown with my mother and brought the approximately 20 Hardy Boys titles I owned down to Johnson’s Used Bookstore to trade in on new books. These excellent condition, hardcover books were purchased by Johnson’s for seven cents each, and the replacements I bought cost 49 cents each. That’s how I remember it was around 20 books, I got just over a dollar for them and was able to purchase just two replacements. It seems to me I waited until we got home to start crying, got my mom to call Johnson’s (she might have put me on the line) and arranged to undo out business deal that very afternoon.

I learned about seller’s regret in the trade world in a similar fashion, and while I didn’t try to cry my way out of it, I certainly do enough whining to friends. I sold my first book to a trade publisher, McGraw-Hill, back in 1997, after a failed attempt at self publishing. The book did average, sold out the advance and earned me another $5K or so before going out of print, at which point I requested and regained the rights. My seller’s regret came with the second book, due to the contract conditions. Because that book was successful, currently in its 4th edition, I’ve been married for seven years to a partner I’ve outgrown. Alright, that doesn’t sound right and I don’t like hearing people talk that way about their spouses, but it’s true all the same. I’ve moved into self publishing direction and believe I can manage my writing better than any trade publisher, as long as the content works well with Internet or print on demand publishing.

Buyer’s remorse is something I feel every time I make a purchase. For example, I put down a $100 deposit on a tourist apartment for my father who’s visiting next week, and I regretted it before I even walked out the door. It’s too far from my place, it’s too small for both of us, and two day later, my cousin just called to say they’re going away for the week and we could have their whole house! When I talk about reasons I haven’t gone into the business of publishing other author’s books, I’ve always skipped over this one because it makes me sound neurotic, but it’s true. I know that within two minutes of signing a contract and mailing an advance check, I’d be beating myself up with, "What did I buy this dumb manuscript for!" It takes somebody with better nerves than me to make a good publisher.

In the publishing business, it’s not possible to get that childhood "do over," which just goes to prove that a childhood is bad training for life and should be avoided at all costs. In publishing, intellectual property rights are the whole ball of wax, and trade publishers are understandably attentive to contract language that protects their investment, and then some. It’s that extra mile they go if you aren’t paying attention that can make the difference between a happy publishing relationship and a buyer’s regret / seller’s remorse situation. Even when both parties are making money, nobody likes being in a contentious relationship. Trade publisher contracts will always require that some rights in the work be transferred to the publisher for a length of time, otherwise it would be suicidal for them to invest in editing and production, much less a print run. Even small trades using print-on-demand have a major investment in production, but subsidy presses have no business asking for any rights to a book.

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