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An idle soul shall suffer hunger

It’s been said that volume, volume, volume is the key to success in publishing – both number of books and numbers of a book. The latter has been the publishing industry’s touchstone. If you’re a darling they put a lot copies on a lot retail shelves (a bit of bribery and arm-twisting goes on – on both sides, and this has little or nothing to do with readers liking or disliking the genre/book/author). However Traditional Publishing as often been actively restrictive in contracts to prevent authors selling to anyone else, or in the volume that they could produce – I am quite slow, but Sarah is very fast for example, and has I believe had restrictive contracts offered to her. It’s a sort of control freak thing, I can only think because as this author proves there really is no gain in it.

That seems a goal I could never reach, but I can see that that level of saturation can lead to success. So what is your take?

On another tack I was hearing several authors saying (very privately) ‘I love my publisher to bits but their boilerplate contract really is exploitative.’ And yes, almost universally (in fact I have yet to come across one that wasn’t. I’d be delighted to be wrong, so do point out if you think one exists. That’ll be the Publishing House that has a chance of surviving the 21st century)they are. Their reaction to the ability of authors to go Indy seems to have been a completely illogical and non-competitive one of ‘Oh, they’re leaving us because we’re not competitive… so let’s pay less and add a bunch of stupid rights grabs we have no intention of actively trying to sell, but can make a fast buck on if by pure hard work on their part or luck, we can snatch a profit on.’ It makes perfect sense, only eclipsed by the author who still loves them to bits. The logic employed by said authors is if you’re a name or have a powerful agent this won’t happen to you… yes, a real forward looking policy, on the same level of genius as not actually bothering to find out what people want to read.

So your turn -what would you like to see in a contract? What would make you choose a traditional publisher instead of Indy? And what is a reasonable volume to you, as a reader, and as a writer?

  1. Well, since so much of this business is conducted remotely, they can’t f- them on the casting couch with promises to make them famous that will never come true….

    The whole operating principle seems to be to screw over as many likely prospects (for stringent definitions of likely) as possible, in the vain hopes that one of them will hit it big enough for the ultimate parasitic payoff.

    January 13, 2014
    • A great business model, with a profound history of success in every field. ;-/

      January 13, 2014
  2. TXRed #

    Foreign-language distribution is probably the only thing that might make me consider working with a trad publisher. Foreign sales regulations are so arcane, and finding a good translator can be so challenging, that I’d be tempted to work with a major house for that, assuming I got at least 50% royalties and the publisher assumed legal liability. (I have some stories where the bad guys are motivated by a certain religion, and saying negative things about said religion could get me sued in the UK and EU, and Saudi, and Malaysia, and Indonesia, and . . .)

    As a reader, it really depends on the book and the author. I would buy four or five short-to medium (50k – 75k words) books of light sci-fi or fantasy per year from some authors, but only one long book by other writers, because I’m rarely in the mood for heavy, dark hard sci-fi or fantasy.

    The writer in my can do four novels or one non-fiction work (85k) per year. The research for non-fiction takes most of the time, assuming I’m starting from scratch. Writing non-fic seems to take about 1.5 times the hours for an equal-length fiction work (footnotes and bibliography).

    January 13, 2014
    • There are still things which trad publishers could do to provide value – including foreign rights and just making things faster simpler and easier (which is not always true)… but there is a value relationship here – it’s worth something, but what they think that’s worth and what I think it is worth differ greatly. 🙂

      January 14, 2014
  3. J.P. #

    Last question first on “reasonable volume” of stories:

    If my most favorite authors (say those in my person top ten) published a novel a week, I buy them all. For others that I merely like (as opposed to fanatically adore) or for those writers where I like some of their stuff when I’m in the right mood, I’d probably buy a book a quarter. The “probably” would depend on how large a pile of unread books I had. Eventually I would run out of book money and it would be hard to justifying buying another $23.99 new release in hard cover if I hadn’t actually read the two books that came before it in the series yet.

    What would I like to see in a contract: A clause reverting rights to the author if the publisher does not meet the other terms outlined in the contract within the timeline outlined in the contract.

    This is probably a pipedream. But a quite wonderful publisher with excellent editors and staff is still a vulnerable business. If a house goes bankrupt, I’d like to see copyright become a hard to retain license. If the new rights holder/owner had to exactly meet the previously agreed terms or lose the copyright, writers might be treated a bit better in times of traditional publishing industry instability.

    On choosing a traditional publisher or indy: Pass. I don’t have enough information yet.

    January 13, 2014
    • Surely price (as well as reading-speed) would have an impact?
      And yes, probably a pipe-dream – at this stage. Sooner or later contracts will HAVE to re-align to the new reality.

      January 14, 2014
      • J.P. #

        For me I would pay much more than the current list prices for work I know I will love. I am fortunate that the rest of the market applies significant pressure so that I don’t have to spend the amounts I’d be willing to spend. A very nice dinner costs about $60 and afterwards I’ve eaten an uncomfortable amount. I have to work out more to make up for it. A very nice book costs $3.95 to maybe $25 and afterwards I’ve got the fine story to replay through my mind. If starvation were an issue, of course priorities would change dramatically, but like most people with enough wealth to be on the internet excess weight is much more likely in my future than hunger.

        January 14, 2014
  4. In a contract to a publisher . . . Start date and end date of licensing, with the clause written so that the contract itself acts as proof of rights reversions to the author, no further action needed on the part of the author. Clear list of the rights being contracted, and a statement that anything not explicitly licensed is retained by the author. Clear list of what the publisher will do in terms of editing, proofing, cover art and design, size of print run, and advertising. A maximum amount that can be claimed as “expenses” by the publisher. A clear statement that royalties will be based on actual sales, not Bookscan estimates. Much higher royalties on ebooks.

    I think I’ll stop there, I’m depressing myself . . .

    January 14, 2014
    • What Pam said and a couple of more things, A release by or contact ends date and a clause outlining expected promotions and how author singing trips are going to be handled.

      January 15, 2014
  5. Here’s some excellent contract-ending proposals (no surprise, by Passive Guy)

    January 16, 2014

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