Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On The Writing Road: Publishers and Contracts

A writer’s dream is to finally get a contract offer from a publisher. The validation that comes with someone else saying, “Your writing is good,” just can’t be expressed in words. And, hey…I’m a writer.

But as with anything else, you have to be careful and protect yourself from companies that are out to deceive you. Below, I’ve listed a few heartaches I hope you will be able to avoid.

Vanity publishers. They publish books but at the author's expense. This can be anything from financing the whole cost yourself to a printing fee. Some publishers will tell you they don’t consider themselves a vanity publisher if they only charge an nominal fee, but they still are, and some professional organizations like Romance Writers of America will not recognize them.

Self-publishers. If they say they will help you get published and promise the moon, be leery. You can publish on your own with minimal expenses through Kindle Direct Publishing (ebook) and Createspace (print). Your greatest expense would be the ISBN number for the print book (provided through Smashwords for free for ebooks) and if you need to pay an artist or for photos for your cover.

Contract negotiations. Yeah, not gonna happen. Publishers offer a standard contract and rarely make changes. Does that mean you should just sign it? No. Writers are so tucked away in their writing caves and usually have received rejection after rejection that they are ready to jump at that first offer. Consider talking with a contract attorney.

Ebook/print contract. I was offered a contract written with ebook publishing in mind. At the end of the contract you could choose whether you wanted the book to go to print. My assumption was that I would be paid the 30%-40% royalty for the print coy the same as for the ebook. Instead, they were only offering the ebook royalty on the print version. When you realize an ebook sells for $3.99 and the print copy for $12.99, you are losing a great deal of money. The old rule applies—never ass∙u∙me.

Royalty rights. Make sure you understand what media rights (like print, electronic, audio, etc.) the publisher will hold and whether they will have foreign rights as well.

Contract length. When a publisher says they will retain the rights for X number of years, make sure you understand what they will do after that period of time. One publisher continued to sell their author’s books and not pay them anything after the contract period ended.
Gaining rights. Understand the contract so that if you have conflict with the publisher, you won’t have to pay them to get your rights back. Most publishers have a clause that your rights revert back to you after the contract date ends and is renewable on a monthly basis thereafter.

Promotion rights. Publishers want to know your marketing plan, but you should find out what they are willing to do for you. One editor I met at a conference stated that they were unable to offer any form of promotion to an author unless the author asked for it first. Don’t be afraid to ask what your publisher is willing to do for you.

Editing rights. Talk to other authors who have signed with the publisher. It’s easy to look up the publisher’s authors, and then Google and email them from their website contact page. Ask them how the editing process has gone for them. Find out if they are happy with their decision. It should state in the contract how much time you will be given to do edits. I know publishers that wait until the last minute before the release date, send you the edits, and even if you get them back on time, say they don’t have time to make the changes. You look bad and so do they. Don’t let this happen to your hard work.

Editing practices. During the editing process, understand that editors can make suggestions but should never change your work without your approval. On one of my books, an editor changed “hells” and “damns” to other hardcore language. Fight for your rights.

Questioning rights. If you have questions about your contract, royalties, or how the publisher conducts business—ask. Don’t wait until you’ve signed the contract to interact with them. If they don’t respond in a professional manner, attack you openly for asking, or try to soft-soap you, be wary. This is not the publisher for you. You have a right to know exactly what you are making in sales and from which book. If the authors you talk to or the publisher can’t give you a direct answer, think about going with another publisher.
Also consider researching publishers on Preditors and Editors, an on-line guide to publishers and publishing services for serious writers, and also check with the Better Business Bureau.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. If you’ve experienced a nightmare publisher or contract difficulties, please feel free to add your knowledge in the comments section for others to learn from. Remember, we are all in this together.

Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Humor, Suspense…and Dogs!
Fly into a good book at:

Preditors and Editors:
Better Business Bureau:

Image credit: damedeeso / 123RF Stock Photo


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