“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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