Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue


Self-Published Authors To Traditional Publishers: “You had your chance.”

“You should have treated us better”

Today Traditional publishers (TPs) are actively seeking self-published authors who come with their own following and fan base — a complete 180 degree turnaround from just a few months ago (or is it a few years ago now?)

But, due to freedom-from-hassle and time-saving publishing platforms on scene today, many writers are actually turning down the TP publishers after they DO proffer a contract deal — Too much loss of newly acquired control I would say 🙂

Could it be the big publishing houses are now beginning to lose some of their established contract writers due to diminishing operating budgets? And, if these last vestiges of revenue-generating talent do leave — what the hell would the TPs do ? They better develop a constant stream of incoming new talent  — but, if the new talent is beginning to flip them the finger for past abusive policies (not to mention their new, tech-endowed power), the talent stream will dry up and the TPs will just fade away.

They had their chance.

, a contributor to the Good E-Reader blog, posted these insightful thoughts on this subject:

The Self vs Traditional Publishing Debate Continues 

While authors and industry experts on both sides of the table have almost come to a consensus that there are benefits to both self-publishing and traditional publishing, it almost feels as though some more hardcore fans of either side still won’t lay to rest their original sentiments about the other camp. Publisher’s Weekly took note of a recent promotion by Amazon of a traditional-turned-indie author, what some in the industry are now referring to as a hybrid author, and the tone of the original announcement by Amazon is almost inflammatory.

Amazon posted the publishing journey of author Vincent Zandri, who admittedly had a rocky start in what was almost an illustrious traditionally published career. After being promised a $250,000 advance, a number so high compared to some advances now that it’s almost laughable, his novel never went where he thought it would because of cost-cutting in the traditional publishing industry, especially within the major publishing houses. His book was published with little fanfare, and the sequel was never even released in hardcover.

Amazon’s post went on to explain how the Kindle Direct Publishing option became a lifesaver for Zandri, who met up with a smaller publisher who bought the rights to both of his books and republished them via Kindle. And while this story has a happy ending for Zandri and his writing career, it ultimately feels like more of the finger-pointing that once kept self-publishing and digital-only published authors away from the cool kids table in publishing.

Now that the traditional publishing industry is beginning to embrace self-published authors, seeing them as a talent pool of writers who come complete with their own firmly established followings and fan bases, it almost feels like the self-published authors want nothing to do with the industry they once couldn’t join. While acknowledging that a high number of hybrid authors are still hoping to be “discovered” and picked up by a traditional publisher a la Amanda Hocking or Tina Reber, it’s beginning to look as though the self-published authors are collectively telling the industry that once wouldn’t let them in: “You had your chance.”

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  1. Yup. In 2011, a lot of writers were indie publishing in hopes of acquiring attention and getting a “real publishing” deal. By 2012, the theme had changed, and scores of writers were *turning down* offers for representation by agents or publication by publshing companies large and small.

    The main reason writers were turning down publishers? Most often, money. Publishers often would not offer writers enough to match the income they were already making on their own. The second most quoted reason was bad contracts with ruinous clauses, especially from major presses.

    Comment by Kevin — 01/25/2013 @ 9:59 am | Reply

    • Kevin,

      True, true.

      “The second most quoted reason was bad contracts with ruinous clauses, especially from major presses.” – Kevin, if time allows, how about giving me and other readers an example of a couple of these ‘ruinous clauses’


      Comment by gator1965 — 01/25/2013 @ 7:48 pm | Reply

      • Really two big ones which I’ve heard writers complain about the most.

        The first is the non-compete clause which is now boilerplate at most major publishing houses. That means it’s standard in the contract – and publishers have been refusing to remove them, in many cases. The language used tends to be something like: “The author shall not publish or cause to be publish any other Work which could reasonably compete with the Work without written permission from the Publisher for the duration of this contract.”

        That’s bad, because as far as publishers are concerned, almost anything else you might publish can compete with the Work they are buying rights to. This shuts down indie publishing completely – so it prevents writers from working a hybrid approach, indie publishing some stuff and trade publishing other works. It also can stop writers from sending manuscripts to other publishers. So if you sign that contract, write another book, and the publisher you signed with doesn’t want it, technically they can still prevent you from sending it to any other publisher.

        Would they do that? I don’t know. If they don’t intend to use the clause, why do they insist on having it in the contract?

        The other major dealbreaker is duration. Note that the above clause said “for duration of this contract.” Duration of publishing contracts is generally something like “while the Work is available for sale through major retail venues.”

        That used to mean copies of the book were for sale in bookstores.

        Today, it means copies of the *ebook* are for sale at online retailers.

        You can probably see where this is going. 😉 Ebooks don’t have to come down. Ever. In fact, it would cost publishers more to take an ebook down that to leave it up for sale, since it costs employee time to remove ebooks. So once published, and ebook is always going to be for sale through major retailers. That turns the clause into something that says “duration of copyright” (or at least 35 years, here in the USA; US copyright law allows the copyright owner a “get out of my bad contract for free” card after 35 years).

        Put the two clauses together, and you have something that says:
        “You cannot publish or cause to be publishing any work without our permission for at least the next 35 years.”

        Thousands of writers are signing such contracts every month.

        Comment by Kevin — 01/25/2013 @ 8:12 pm

      • Kevin,

        Thanks for the input. I do know what the term ‘boilerplate’ means in contract speak. I used to write contracts for various agencies of the federal gov’t and have studied contract law among other contracting subjects.

        I am not an expert in publishing contracts, but, I feel almost certain that there exists work-arounds to the clauses you mention. Your interpretation, for instance, of ‘duration of publishing contract’ and other works that could ‘reasonably compete’ I feel is overly restrictive and might bear some more research on your part. With a little digging I suspect you’ll find that publishing contracts will, indeed, have a specified legal end much sooner than you suspect. AND, the word ‘reasonably’ is always, of course, open for interpretation and very weak to enforce.

        Here are two (among many) suggested readings (fast info) on publishing contracts:

        Before You Sign That Publishing Contract…By Diane Craver…/005665_10212009.html
        Oct 21, 2009 – Length of publishing contract. One of my traditional publishers takes full rights for digital and print for seven years. With another traditional …

        The Importance of Understanding Your Publishing Contract…/importance-of-un…Share
        Aug 19, 2011 – Duration of the Agreement- Publishing contracts last from 3-7 years. If at all possible, avoid … A good average royalty for e-books is about 35%.

        Comment by gator1965 — 01/25/2013 @ 11:17 pm

      • I do agree. There are multiple ways of interpreting things. And “reasonable” can have a lot of variance in meaning, which a court can decide. Some lawyers I’ve spoken with regarding such contracts have even said that courts tend to lean on the side of the individual vs the corporation, when clauses which are unreasonable in nature are involved (like perpetual non-competes, for instance!). So these might well be cases the writer would win.

        That doesn’t reduce the stress levels of someone who just got a letter from a publisher demanding they take down the book they just indie published or they’ll be in court though – just as an example. And there *have* been cases where a publisher has seen any indie published work as a “competing work” (one I am thinking of in particular is a case where a major publisher demanded return of the advance and cancelled the contract after a writer indie published a handful of short story reprints as a book, totally unrelated to the book they had acquired).

        Also, regarding the posts you linked: seven years is a GREAT number. It’s also not what is currently being put into most contracts from major publishers. Likewise, 35% is unheard of from major publishers, even for top name writers. They offer 25% of net, or about 17.5%. And they really, really don’t negotiate that. Various clauses in bestselling writers’ contracts would come into effect if they paid more, which would force them to raise the rates for those writers’ old books as well if they offered a higher rate. At this time, I believe Amazon’s imprints are the only major publishers (major in that they offer six and seven figure advances when they feel it is warranted, not in terms of numbers of titles – yet) offering 35% royalties. However, most small presses DO offer that rate.

        Comment by Kevin — 01/25/2013 @ 11:31 pm

      • Kevin,

        All this means is that the writer should use due diligence and review contracts with a fine tooth comb or have a pro do it for him/her 🙂

        Nice discussion…

        Comment by gator1965 — 01/25/2013 @ 11:39 pm

      • Agreed again. 🙂 These days, a good IP attorney is probably a more important partner for a writer than an agent is, when approaching a traditional publishing deal.

        Nice chatting with you!

        Comment by Kevin — 01/26/2013 @ 8:41 am

  2. Reblogged this on L.E.G.A.C.Y. and commented:
    There is so much hope and opportunity for the person who has always desired to write and have their work noticed by the world. Before, if you ever hoped to see your work in print, you were bound by the limits of traditional methods of getting published. Today, those limits are being broken and the doors of opportunity are wide. Here is just a bit more to demonstrate exactly what I’m referring to.

    Comment by apreachaskid — 01/27/2013 @ 8:14 am | Reply

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