Background for anyone new to me and my books:
My first novel was traditionally published.
I self-published my second novel one year later (June 2014). I self-published a short story three months after that. I’ll self-publish my third novel in about six months.
Do I see myself going back to traditional publishing? Not as things are now. No. Not a chance.
This is the kicker – what everybody wants to know – why do you choose to self-publish?
It’s easy to say (1) the royalties – about 10 per cent traditionally and about 70 per cent independently (although they’re not really “royalties”, but close enough). Or (2) the control – deciding when and what I’ll write and publish. Choosing my covers, selecting my design. Or (3) pricing – I’m guessing here, because I have no figures to back this up, but I think my first novel has sold in the neighbourhood of zero eBooks (list price is $12.99). My second novel sells eBooks every single day, in other countries and on other continents (list price is $2.99). Related to (3) is (4) – reporting. For my self-published works, I get hourly updates on which book has sold, in what market, in what format, vs. getting one sheet mailed to me once every six months with a total at the bottom.
There are more reasons, but there’s one easy way to sum all these up; because they’re all dealt with in – duh-duh-duh – THE CONTRACT!
The one thing everybody who is traditionally published has, is a contract with their publisher. To be fair, up front, I’m going to say I’ve heard rumours of some good contracts. I’ve heard of contracts that are of limited duration. I applaud any publisher offering these, and these aren’t what I’m talking about in this post.
I’ve also heard of some VERY bad contracts. Contracts that not only control the work in question for the rest of the writer’s life, and seventy years after they die, but that also control what they’re allowed to write in the future and whether they’re allowed to write and / or publish anything different, or anything the same, or – really – anything at all. Terrible.
Then there are the in-between contracts. Most contracts have similar royalty clauses. Most contracts have similar out-of-print clauses (most of these are bad for the author). There are industry standards and, in my opinion, most of these are skewed toward the benefit of the publisher.
I alluded to it above, but I’m going to say it clearly here – most contracts are designed to control the piece of work in question until past the author’s death.
In an industry that’s changing every year, month, week … well that’s crazy!
Is this the fault of publishers? Probably not. If you can get away with something, why wouldn’t you? That’s certainly one way of looking at things. All these years, and decades, these have been the industry standard terms of publishing contracts and there are always piles of authors tripping over themselves to sign them.
So, why have authors signed these contracts all these years? Well, in my opinion, there are a few reasons:
(1) There used to be little, to no, alternative. If you wanted your book published, without bankrupting yourself, or being ridiculed for “vanity publishing” you pretty much had to go through a third party. Since all contracts were very close to one another, there wasn’t much choice – you were going to sign one.
(2) “Everybody does it,” “They all say that,” “It doesn’t really mean anything,” “That would never really happen,” – aka denial. When we’re happy, and excited, and in the honeymoon phase of a relationship (personal, business, or that weird up-until-now-semi-hybrid “publishing”) we see only the good. No bad clauses will ever need to be invoked. We love each other! We want only the best for each other! I can safely sign away some rights because nobody will ever try to take them away from me anyway! Or something like that …
(3) My agent says it’s a good contract. Your agent is not a lawyer. Unless he, or she is, in which case I apologize. If you have an agent who’s a contract lawyer – good for you. If not, well, your agent is not a lawyer.
(4) I can’t afford a lawyer. You might be surprised. Get referrals for local lawyers specializing in entertainment / publishing. Ask about their rates. They know how much writers make. They’d rather get paid a little, than not at all. Believe me, in a few months you’ll forget that you gave a lawyer a few hundred dollars, but years down the road you may have reason to be glad you did. Or, if you didn’t, you may be facing thousands of dollars in legal fees, or the prospect of never having your rights back.
(5) They won’t publish my book if I push back. Maybe not. So be it. Is that truly a good business relationship? “You sign this contract, with no changes, or we won’t deal with you?” Think about it. If that’s the reaction you get, then you’ve learned something valuable right off the bat. Or, maybe the publisher is actually waiting for you to push back – waiting for your take on the contract. Maybe they won’t make all of your changes, but they will make some. You won’t know until you ask …
(5) Not knowing any better. I think this may once have been true. I think, as an excuse, this loses its validity a little bit more every day. Every single day, all over the internet, there are people talking about the problems with signing away your rights for the rest of your life, and then some. Talking about the problems they’ve had with cover art, or with non-compete clauses. Talking about not being paid their royalties on time, but still being bound to a contract.
Just like you shouldn’t sign an agreement of purchase and sale on a house “because they might not sell me the house” or “because I’m sure I’ll never have to test these clauses” or “because I don’t really understand it” – you shouldn’t sign a publishing contract until you understand what it means, and you’re good with it – even the worst-case-scenarios of it.
Take it from me. I know. I’m the Queen of pushing back on contracts. I’ve questioned every contract I’ve ever signed with an employer, and received concessions every time. But when it came time to sign my publishing contract I was so breathless, and desperate, I signed with almost no modifications. I thought I didn’t care about sales – I thought I just wanted to see my book in print. I was wrong, and now it’s too late, and it’s nobody’s fault but my own.
So learn from me!