Don’t take it personally…it’s just business

New Mindset For New Result“Don’t take it personally–it’s business.” If you’re an author or an aspiring one, you’ve heard that phrase a time or two. It is said to console an author whose work has received a rejection or criticism by a publisher or agent.

What the rejection boils down to is this: the publisher (or agent) does not think your manuscript is salable. Either it’s “not good enough” OR it is not right for that particular house’s market. Sometimes your manuscript is excellent, but it does not fit that publisher’s lineup, either because they don’t publish that kind of story or the market is saturated with those kinds of stories and now they want something different.

It’s a business decision. Not personal. Business. The publisher does not think they can make money off your book. Pure and simple.

Authors are urged to keep improving their craft and persevering. Maintain professionalism, and don’t take it personally.

If the publisher does accept your work, they’re not doing it to give you a chance because they’re nice, and you’re wonderful, and they want to give a poor struggling writer a chance  (Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya…). They are gambling that now or in the future you will make them money. Accepting your work for publication is a business decision, not a favor.

Accordingly, their contracts are skewed to benefit their business. Publishers offer the minimum that they think you will accept in order to get you to hand over your work so they can make money. Their contracts protect their interests not yours. (That’s why authors get agents—to have somebody to represent their interests).

But you know what? Writing is business for the author too. Yes, you love to write and you started because you had a story you couldn’t not tell. But now you’re published, and it is business. You have a right to protect your interests and seek the best possible deal for yourself.

When you review your book contract, read it not only with an eye as to how it affects you now, but also how it might affect you later. Take off the rose colored spectacles you donned when you got that acceptance letter and get out the magnifying glass. And the calculator.

Do the math. Figure out how much money you’ll make per book under the royalty rate. Guessimate various cover price scenarios and figure out how much money the publisher will make under the royalty rate. (I’m going to make 17 cents a book and the publisher will make $1.20, uh…. If I sell 1,000 books, I’ll make $170 and the publisher will make $1,200? Uh…)

Scrutinize the rights you’ll give away in exchange for having your book published. This may include digital, print, audio, movie, foreign, etc.

Consider how long the publisher will own those rights. It could be one year, three, seven or the length of the copyright—which is the life of the author plus 70 years. If you are foolish enough to sign a contract giving a publisher the right to your book for a 100+ years, kiss your work goodbye.

Determine what the publisher will get over the long haul. Just the current work? Other related works? The rights to your characters? All your works? If you only write single titles giving a publisher the rights to “other related works” is a non issue. But what if you start writing series? It matters then.

Consider the worst scenario.  You don’t like the publisher or the publisher goes belly up. What recourse do you have for getting your rights back under the contract? You need an “out” clause. Do the math. If there is such a clause, often you must “reimburse” the publisher for their “costs” even though they have made thousands of dollars off your book. If you only have one book with them, it may not be an issue. But if you have 20…

(There are many reasons to not like a publisher: you can get better royalty rates elsewhere, their covers suck, their editing sucks, they don’t pay royalties on time, the communication is poor, they price books too high, they price books too low, you don’t like being bundled in box set, your work is languishing because the publisher’s market is not a good fit, the editor you’ve been assigned is difficult to work with and they won’t assign you another.)

Remember, contract terms are negotiable. Your publisher may be unwilling to negotiate and may insist on their terms, but you don’t have to accept the contract. That’s when you need to decide whether the contract is in your best interests. What is the publisher bringing to table compared to what you’re bringing? Are you better or worse off for having that contract? Is the publisher offering you something you can’t get or do for yourself?

You might decide that having a publisher’s name on your work confers it with a legitimacy or prestige that is worth surrendering a large chunk of your future earnings or the rights to your work for a really long time. But know the deal you’re making. Giving away half your royalties when you’re making $500 or $1000 a book may seem like a fair trade. But if you suddenly start earning $20,000, $30,000 or $60,000 per book and you’re giving away half, will it cast a new light on things?

That much money might seem like an impossible dream to authors whose books are languishing. But it’s not. It is achievable. And when it happens, it happens fast.

Writers have never had as many options as they have today. Ebooks have revolutionized publishing and blown open what used to be a very tight market. NY is still tight.  But there are so many ebook publishers out there you have many options. In addition, self-publishing has never been easier or more profitable than it is today.

I believe in paying one’s dues. I also believe in evaluating the value of one’s membership in exchange for those dues.

It’s business. Not personal.

♥ ♥ ♥

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32 Responses to Don’t take it personally…it’s just business

  1. I can attest to this! I’m going through the same trying to get my rights back on past books. Not very successful with it so far I hate to report. Great post!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Good luck! When everything is going well, you don’t realize how binding a contract is. But when things aren’t going well–then you find out what contract means. And all the little things you didn’t think would matter, do.

  2. Qwillia Rain says:

    Thanks, Cara, for a great post.
    I think more people need to keep this in mind, even when they’re looking at getting a job…consider many employers are beginning to request full access to social media pages, and intellectual property rights (meaning anything you develop while working for them-specifically that connected to your job) belongs to them.
    I’m definitely passing this article on.
    Have a great day!

  3. Tara Finnegan says:

    I wish I had read this post when I was starting out. In the early days, you are so excited to get a contract of any sort that you are willing to sign your life away, if needs be. You feel lucky rather than marketable. It’s easy to forget it’s a business venture for the writer as well as the publisher. Back then, it never occurred to me that contracts weren’t set in stone. These days I am learning to negotiate, but that takes confidence that is hard found when you are a newbie and feel so vulnerable.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I know. You are so excited–especially if you’ve been rejected–and you just want to be published. But there’s a cost–and maybe that cost isn’t worth it. Maybe it is. But when it stops being worth it, that’s when you need to take a stand.

  4. When I was offered my first contract, it was for 4% royalties. Yes, I said 4%! In the beginning, you’re totally googly-eyed! All of your points up there are so SO important and I remember wanting to ‘be nice’ and ‘not make them wait too long’ even when my husband was telling me I was crazy to even think of signing for that. Anyhow, you definitely learn as you go.

    I have bought back one contract for Taming Naia (originally Naia and the Professor). It was placed with a publisher who did not publish spanking romance, who refused to budge on cover and who gave me crap for editing to the point I was having friends read the book to make sure it sounded right. After getting the rights back and placing it with my current (spanking fiction) publisher, I sold more books in one month than I had in half a year with the original publisher. The publisher you choose makes a huge difference.

    That all said, I love the point of ‘you don’t have to accept their contract’. That never occurred to me and it’s so obvious. You’re one clever lady, Cara Bristol 🙂 thanks for the article.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Four percent? Yikes!

      It’s so easy to miss the obvious! I hate to say it, but I think men approach business more aggressively than women, who undersell their worth.

      Having the right “fit” can make a huge difference. I found that out myself.

  5. Kayla Lords says:

    While there’s a part of me that dreams about signing my name on the dotted line one day, I’m also becoming more likely to stay indie. My sales are much smaller, as is my reach, but at least I have total control.

    That being said, if the day ever comes that I’m offered a contract by a publisher, I will definitely keep this in mind.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      When you’re indie, you don’t have to sell as many books as traditionally published author because you keep all your royalties. Unless you’re FSOG big, I think you have greater potential to earn more as an indie than a traditionally published author.

  6. Livia LB Grant says:

    As always, excellent post and advice. Thanks for sharing!
    ~Livia

  7. Awesome post!! I am booking marking this. As a newbie, it’s easy to forget all these things. Thank you for taking the time to put this together for all of us!

  8. Maren Smith says:

    Excellent post, Cara! When I was first starting out, I receive 7% royalties on the first story I sold. But that was before the internet and loooooong before self-publishing was what it is now. Now I do half in half, I always have an exit clause, and I never give up the rights to any of my books indefinitely or with an expectation that I should have to pay to get my rights back. I will give up 50% of my royalties to a publisher who spends their money to advertise me (i.e. buying wall wraps at the RT convention, among others) and because it does cost them money to run a website with tons of bandwidth and a Visa/Mastercard payment gateway, hire editors, hire accountants and other office minions, etc. etc. etc… When my books hit the 10k+ mark, by golly, my publisher has earned those funds.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      You sound very savvy, Maren. It sounds like you’ve paid your dues, but that you are smart in your negotiating. As long as the publisher is providing value beyond what you can do for yourself, it’s a win-win trade. Most publishers offer little in the way of advertising for most of their authors.

      One thing to point out for others: royalties on ebooks are much greater than royalties on print because the former is much cheaper to produce. 7% on a print book would not be atypical. 7% on an ebook would be abysmal. Royalties on ebooks range from 40% to 60% on ebooks, with a 50/50 split of net proceeds being common for third party payors, e.g Amazon. (For newbies–basically Amazon pays 70% of cover price minus certain taxes and costs, which the publisher and author then split 50/50. Some publishers pay a little more. But that basically means the author is getting 35% of the cover price).

  9. Rollin Hand says:

    What a great post. You’ve laid out, I think, most of the major issues that authors should consider when contemplating any relationship with a publisher. There is a huge incentive right now for authors to go indie, and that is Amazon’s 70% royalty. If you can get the editing and cover art done for modest $$ you can be way ahead. But many of the publishers in our genre aren’t bad either and your product will look more polished. The trade off, at least to me, is in content. If I decide a WIP will be a romance, I’m going to go with a publisher. I’ll write it the way they want, because they know that market better than I do, so I’m ok with all the suggestions they make. If it’s pure spanking erotica, I’ll go indie. And believe me, there is a huge difference between the two markets. (Someday I’ll do a blog post explaining what I think this is.)
    Finally, I’ll put in a tiny plug here. As an IP lawyer with 30+ years experience, I can help people with any copyright or publishing contract issues they might have.

  10. Melody Parks says:

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge Cara.
    You always give such detailed and informative insight that any new or seasoned writer can use.

  11. Being a professional writer is exactly the same as running a small business. You have to understand your market and charge accordingly for your product. Another thing to remember is that publishers need well-written books. If you’ve done a good job with your product (wrote to the market, edited well, brought some new ideas with you) a publisher will want you, because they need products to sell, too.

    As you point out brilliantly, Cara, it’s not wise to get so wrapped up in ego gratification that you forget your bottomline. Well done.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      That’s exactly what it is, Trish — a small business, whether you’re traditionally published or indie published.

  12. Sheri Savill says:

    “… publisher may be unwilling to negotiate and may insist on their terms, but you don’t have to accept the contract.”

    Which is part of why I’m indie and probably staying that way, unless one of them approaches me (.000000012% chance of that happening again, and yes, stop laughing, it’s happened over the years) and will negotiate (.0000001% chance) and I don’t scare them off when I ask questions about the contract (0.0% chance).

    Thanks for the article, Cara! 🙂

  13. Great post and many good points. It makes me sad when I see authors get all giddy over what their publisher is doing when the reality of their situation is that their publisher is providing them with editing and a cover that they could get on the open market for $200-400, or less.

    Maybe we ought to look at publishers like potential dates or spouses. The first time a member of the opposite sex makes you feel special, you think the world revolves around them. But, once you have some success and see your own value and maybe get burned a couple times, you wise up

    • Cara Bristol says:

      So true. After you date a few frogs, you wise up. Self-publishing used to be an expensive proposition with little chance of ROI. It’s not that way anymore. The ebook market has revolutionized self publishing.

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