Question: What Do Academic And Romance Authors Have In Common?
Answers: Ivory Towers? Luck at cards? Captive audiences or audiences to captives?
Perhaps all of the above, but I was thinking about contract terms. I don't want to paint all academic or romance publishers with a broad brush, I'm sure that some act with chivalry and have dark, handsome editors who are rightful heirs to thrones somewhere. However, what some academic and romance publishers share is authors over a barrel.
There's a segment of the writing population who have always wanted to write romance novels, in the modern sense, and I've heard some horror stories about the contract terms. Not just low royalties, and I seem to remember seeing as low as 3% on the cover (I hope it wasn't 3% on publisher net), but loss of self. In other words, romance authors may be forced to write under a nom de plume that belongs to the publisher. If the author doesn't want to write more books on the publisher's schedule and terms, the publisher can jack up the mirrors and slide another author into place. If you're reading this as a romance writer, you may want to look to into joining the Romance Writers of America for support.
There's a segment of the academic population who are desperate for a publishing contract on any terms. This segment, otherwise known as untenured professors, face the publish or perish review board after four to six years of service. While hard working lecturers at teaching schools might get by with an article and public service, the better colleges and universities want to see at least one book on the resume, even if it's a rehashed dissertation - as most first books probably are. These untenured professors aren't worried about royalties, rights or romance, they just need a book, or at least a contract for the tenure file.
The subject of publishing contracts came up at lunch today, and I challenged my lunch companion, betting he'd never read the fine print of his several book contracts with academic presses. I was right, he couldn't even remember the top-line royalty percentage or whether it was on the cover or the net. So we went back to his office and I read a couple of the contracts in his files. By the way, if you're reading this as a new academic author, academic and textbook authors do have an association that I believe offers support.
A good academic press associated with a broader movement that has the ability to sell, and dare I say, even market books, paid pretty well. Better than any trade contract I've signed at 10% of the cover. However, that royalty is cut in half on books sold for more than 50% off the cover, which would include a major portion of most trade titles. Academic presses do sell a lot of short discount books so he might come out OK, not that he cares about the money.
On the other hand, a world famous academic press started at a mid-single digit percentage of the publisher net, and stayed in the single digits unless the title should become a bona-fide academic bestseller. They did give the author the majority share of any film deals to make up for it. But what really surprised me was seeing a fairly broadly worded non-compete in an academic contract. They didn't call it a non-compete, but they stipulated the author couldn't write any works that might in part or in full compete with and interfere with the sales of the work being contracted for. My friend is confident they would never enforce it, and he may be right since many academic authors suffer from a trait often attributed to lesser romance writers and self-publishing bloggers -- repetition.