Friday, December 4, 2009

Advice to New Authors: Do Not Sell Yourself Short

So, you've finally finished your first novel.  You've sacrificed endless hours of personal time with family and friends, have revised and redrafted your manuscript ad nauseum, and have finally sent out the first batch of queries.  Now all you have to do is wait around for the first acceptance letter to come in, and then sign your "fame and fortune" contract. 

Not so fast, my friend.  

The publishing industry has undergone major changes in the past few years, and not necessarily for the better (I'll blog more on these topics in future postings).  An increasing number of books are published each year, and more people are trying their luck at being writers.  Inevitably, a cottage industry has infiltrated the publishing field designed specifically to take advantage of aspiring authors.  Let me site two examples. 

While checking out a friend's blog last week, I stumbled across this story.  Link  Harlequin Romance has teamed up with Author Solutions to form a new vanity press, DellArte Press (formerly Harlequin Horizons).  In essence, Harlequin is declining to publish some submitted manuscripts because they do not feel the work is worthy enough for publication; however, Harlequin will be more than happy to provide that same author with their full range of vanity press services so the author can publish the book themselves -- for a fee, of course.  Harlequin should be ashamed of itself.

This is a variation of an old scam.  Years ago some small, disreputable publishers would positively respond to an author's query letter, telling him/her how much they liked the work, but pointing out that there were editorial weaknesses in the manuscript. that needed to be ironed out first.  Of course, the publisher just happened to have the name of a manuscript editor who they could recommend.  A lot of money was spent by authors on these sham editorial services, and very few of these publishers ever put out a book.  (I received a brochure once from one of these sham editorial services and gave it to the rabbits to chew, so they are good for something.)

The other scam to be aware of comes from some small, unknown publishers who tell an author how much they liked his/her work, and that they're sending out a contract.  Read that contract very carefully.  Several months ago I received one of these offers from a "publisher" that shall remain nameless.  Naturally, I was excited at the prospects of finally seeing my name on a book cover.  Then the contract arrived.   This publisher wanted all the rights (print, electronics, audio book, movie/TV/radio, proprietary rights) to my first four novels for perpetuity, and would reimburse me 10% on all sales made.  My response was much more polite than the "publisher" deserved.

I know at least a few of you may be thinking, "That's not a bad deal.  I've got a career and a family that occupies a lot of my time.  It would be great for someone else to do all the marketing and sales for me, even if I only get 10%."  Which is a fair observation.  And for some people it may seem like a good idea.  But before you sign on the dotted line, consider the following.

The contract does not necessarily mean a publisher will actively try to place these rights, only that they will own the rights.  So it does not translate into the publisher doing all the work and you cashing your check. 

What it does mean is that if a director calls from Hollywood and says they loved your novel and want to turn it into a movie, and sends you a check for $100,000, 90% of that goes to the publisher.  If Oprah talks about your book on her talk show and your book rockets to the bestsellers list, 90% of those profits go to the publisher.  And if you happen that you are the next J. K. Rowlings....  Let's put it this way, Miss Rowlings sold the movie rights to the first four Harry Potter books for 2 million dollars (let alone the rights to games, toys, etc.).  Under your contract, 90% of that would go to the publisher for doing nothing.

What I'm trying to get across to all the authors just starting out is not to sell yourself short.  You put a lot of time and effort into writing that first book, and if it's worthy of being published it's worthy of being published by a reputable publisher.  The temptation is great to grab at that first opportunity, but don't unless it's a good offer.  Something worth while will soon come along.  (Note to the reader:  Three weeks after rejecting that other "publisher's" offer, Shadowfire Press offered me a contract for my first novel, The Vampire Hunters, which I accepted.)

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