woensdag 1 oktober 2014

Sign here


I’m in one of those moods again, where I’m most likely to post something that will make a lot of people upset. So I’ll start by saying: “Sorry if I’ve upset you”. I never mean to upset anyone, but I have this nasty habit of speaking my mind.

Today I would like to dig my own grave by talking about contracts. *Puts the shovel in the dirt*.

You see, there is nothing we writers want more than a book deal… well except maybe millions of fans and that desired bestseller. Anyway, I’m starting to digress and daydream about the long lines of people who want my autograph…. So moving back to contracts.

When we first start out we will take any job we can get. Let’s be honest, most of us start out stupid and starry-eyed. It’s part of a writers process. The idea that your book or story will be out there is a fantastic thought, and if someone likes it enough to publish it, they are your personal heroes.

This is all fine, this is how we learn. And I learned a lot more about the business when my stories were out there, than I did before I was published. Like many people, I gave away my first stories for free. And I’ll be the first to admit, if I really like a publisher, I might still give away the occasional story. It’s not very business savvy of me, but who cares? It’s not all about the money.

However, signing a book away is different. And you should be really careful when you do. Even with reputable presses. It’s fine if you mess up, but you want to be careful anyway.

I have met a lot of writers that were fighting to get the rights of their books back from publishers that went bankrupt, or that just quit. I’ve seen them try to get their rights back from publishers that simply let their books rot. Some won, some are still at it… but the fight is never a good one. And it’s unnecessary.

There are certain rules to signing a contract: 1) READ THE CONTRACT!! All of it, even the fine print. Have someone else read it too, and talk about it together. 2) UNDERSTAND THE CONTRACT! If you don’t get something… ask. You can ask the person who sent you the contract to clarify, or ask someone who knows about these things… whatever… but make sure you understand what you sign. 3) DO THE RESEARCH. This one I will explain in a second.

First of all, there are a lot of publishers out there that are… how shall I put this… less than professional. Not all Indie presses are bad, in fact there are some AMAZING ones out there… but some are basically just self publishers who publish other people’s work. They often don’t pay writers, or offer them a percentage of a profit that just simply doesn’t exist. Some books only sell about a dozen a year, and if you have to split the profits of 12 books with at least 10 other writers… you can count how much you’re getting.

These presses rarely even pay for editors, or have really unprofessional editors. The cover art they use is often cheap plus not very attractive, and they wouldn’t know marketing if it bit them on the ass.

The bright side of the bad indie presses is that they usually give you a contract that’s easy to get out of, but this is not always the case. I’ve heard many writers complain about it. I’ve been fortunate so far not to have been in this situation myself, but I want to use these people as an example anyway. Don’t be one of them. But as I mentioned before… it’s not just the crappy presses that can give you contracts that aren’t good for you.

So, now you have read the contract (and the fine print) and discussed it with a second person who knows theirs stuff. Good for you. It’s time to make sure you understand the contract.

One of the things you need to look out for is whether this contract works in your favor as well as the publishers. Because often… it doesn’t. You can’t really blame the publisher for this, but you need to really stick up for yourself. A lot of contracts these days are for the extent of the copyright. Which means they own your work 70 years after you die. Your children will get NO rights.

This is fine if a book is going to take off and take the world by storm, so you don’t have to necessarily panic about this. BUT… and there is a big but (J-Lo would be jealous) that only works if
you have a publisher that is going to put a lot of effort in your work. Unless you are very lucky, already famous or have someone behind you that will make this happen… most publishers won’t.

I used to dream of big five deals (heck I still do), but I’ve heard and read the nasty reality of those as well. If you are not famous, there are precious few publishers that will go all out for you. Which means your book will have to sell with a limited budget on promotions (if you even get that). This is a very saturated market, so the chances are… your book won’t sell that well.

And here’s the catch… if your book doesn’t sell, there is a chance it will just bleed to death slowly, and the publisher will probably eventually give up on it all together and count their losses.

So there you are, with your literary masterpiece that isn’t selling. You can’t put it with another publisher who might be a better fit for your book, because your contract is iron clad, and unless someone is willing to buy your book (which isn’t selling) from the publisher… it will just stay there in oblivion.

This is why you always need a good reversal clause to a lifetime contract. Always! Make sure this reversal clause works in your favor as well as the publishers.

Now there is another thing: the advance. Let me be the first to tell you, emotionally… I don’t give a hoot about an advance. I don’t need them, BUT(t)…. (yes, it’s wiggling its cheeks again) an advance is a sign of faith from the publisher. They believe that your book will at least make the money they offer you. No advance means: Russian Roulette with your book for you. It means they only have to sell enough to cover their costs. Which depending on what sort of people they use, doesn’t have to be a great big sum of money. So think about that too when you sign a contract.

Also think about WHY you are signing a book contract. You want your books to reach the public and be sold. That’s why you are giving up a big chunk of your profits to a publisher. You want a good editor, formatter and cover. If the publisher doesn’t provide these things, you might as well just go out and publish yourself.

So do the research. Look at what the publisher has put out. If it’s a big time publisher, look at their unknown writers and look at their sales. Go check their rankings on Amazon. Check out the reviews on other sites. See what happens when you Google their books. Look at how long they have been on the  market. It it’s a newly published book and their rankings are low, there is a big chance this publisher does little about marketing.

Check out what the covers are like. Do they look professional? Or does it look like someone let little Timmy have fun with his crayons? Open the books (You can do this on Amazon too). How’s the editing? Does it look professional? Is the formatting okay?

These are all questions you want to ask yourself. Of course the latter will probably be okay with the bigger publishing houses… but check anyway. And don’t look at the famous writers either… trust me, they will get all the love and promotion they need. You need to know what this publisher is going to do for you. Having said that, the publisher won't do ALL your promotion, you'll still be expected to do a lot yourself.

Be alert to what you sign. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to say no. I know it will feel like no one else will ever sign you, and you may feel desperate at times. But if your writing is really good… someone will pick up on you. And they WILL be good to you. Keep looking for that good indie press. Because they are out there. And let’s be honest, though indie presses might not be able to get you in the bookstores… if they are going to fight for your book, they might even be better than a big company that won’t really do anything for you.
I’m not saying I won’t be tempted by a big five contract. Heck, I might even sign one someday that isn’t the most beneficial for me, simply because I’ll be star struck. Who knows how the world goes? But I wanted to write this blog anyway, for those of you who only just started and who need to get your critical mind going. *finishes digging her grave and lies inside*
Not everyone wants the best for you in this world. Not everyone cares. So here’s hoping that you find a publisher that does.

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