Business Musings: Myth Busting (Contracts/Dealbreakers)
For the past several months, I’ve focused on contracts, contract negotiations, rights, and dealbreakers.
I know I lost some of my indie (self-published) readers, who are waiting until I finish this series before they return to reading my blog. Those readers believe they will never sign the kind of contract I’m dealing with. They also believe that they’re protected because they’re in business for themselves.
In some respects, they are protected. They don’t have agents trying to scam them, along with publishers trying to grab their rights.
Or do they? You see, many terms of service have rights grabs buried inside the boilerplate—y’know, that stuff you just click through to use someone’s service.
Sometimes, other people will call the service on their bad TOS, and the service will change the TOS—for future agreements. But those changes aren’t always retroactive. If you signed on years ago, when the terms were at their worst, those old terms might still apply to you.
As with all contracts and agreements, it varies from person to person, item to item, contract to contract, and company to company.
Yes, you have to keep track of all of that. You. So start learning this stuff.
Thanks to another writer’s bad situation, last week I was able to link to an existing multimillion dollar book contract, which handily proved every point I was trying to make with this series. Publishers are grabbing rights; agents are worse.
And yet, if you scan through the comments throughout the series—even in the last month—you’ll see writers who still want that traditional publishing deal. Even though they now know (and admit) that they will get screwed.
I can’t help those people. You can’t help those people. Don’t even try.
However, I do know a lot of you have listened throughout this series, and have supported it with your dollars and your shares and your comments. Thank you.
To wrap up, I’m going to address the indie/hybrid writers among us.
I know many of you think you’ll never see these contracts.
I also know many of you still believe some outdated myths.
I’m going to address a few of those myths here.
Myth: You need an agent to sell your books overseas.
Here’s the thing, folks. Any agent you sign with to sell your foreign rights will have all of the bad contract practices I listed in this series. And that agent might (will) insert the same kind of rights-grab language that exists in the contract from last week. On top of all that, your agent in your home country will partner with an agent in the foreign country, so you’ll have two agents grabbing at your money (which is almost untraceable) and at your rights.
Run away. Run.
Besides, folks. Those of you who want an agent to sell your foreign rights have no idea how the agents actually sell those rights. If they sell the rights.
All the agent does is compile a new releases list (usually three times a year) and send it to all the foreign rights agents they partner with. Yes, if you’re one of the big bestsellers, the agent will hand-sell your book to the foreign rights agent, but usually foreign publishers will come calling anyway.
Some agents actually go to overseas book fairs, and talk to foreign rights publishers. The agent pitches their agency and then hands the publisher a list of available works.
The agent does no work. Either they farm out the work to another (foreign) agent. Or they answer the phone or an email. Nothing more.
Finally, agents embezzle from their clients a lot. And the area where the most embezzlement occurs is foreign rights. If your book earns royalties, how will you know? Most writers don’t track their foreign book’s royalty statements. (Heck, most writers don’t track their royalty statements, period.) And if you signed a contract as bad as the one from last week, your publisher(s) don’t have to give you an accurate royalty statement ever. Go back and read it if you doubt me.
The Solution: You can do handle your foreign rights yourself, faster, better, and without losing any copyright or having someone embezzle from you. This world is very small now. You can contact foreign publishers directly.
If those publishers publish English language books in translation, they have people on staff who can read English language emails. Learn how to submit stories and novels to them. A good first step to learning this is the area on award-winning writer Douglas Smith’s website that provides a tutorial in foreign short story markets. If you build a following in a foreign short story market, eventually book publishers in that market will take an interest in your work.
You will also learn the names of translators who might be willing to work with you to translate your work and allow you to indie publish it. But you know what you will need in that circumstance? You’ll need a contract between you and the translator. Heh. Wow. Guess you’ll need to learn more about rights and contracts then.
Even if you only make one traditional foreign sale per year, you will probably earn more than you would ever earn if you hired an agent, even if the agent sold a book for you overseas.
One other point: In 2016, your English-language book will have a worldwide release only if you publish it yourself. Get out of Kindle Select, people, and go wide. Use Kobo, which is growing dramatically. Realize that iBooks has fingers all over the world.
Sure, you might only sell one or two titles to a particular country, but you don’t know if one of those titles sold to an editor at a foreign publishing house who is checking out this English-language book a friend recommended. And if the editor likes your book, then guess what? She’ll contact you via email about how to acquire the translation rights for that book for her company.
Myth: You need an agent to sell your books to big traditional markets.
No, you don’t. You just have to learn how to do it, and as I have said over and over again, I am not going to teach you how to do it.
These contracts and rights deals through traditional publishers are awful, people. They will control your careers and your works. If you want writing to remain a hobby, get a traditional book deal.
If you want a career, stay away from traditional book publishers.
Besides, traditional book publishers are actively cutting their book lines right now. They’re drowning. The numbers I recently heard from Random Penguin/Randy Penguin/whatever they’re calling themselves just in the past month are this: They’re cutting their titles from 900 to 250.
Think there’s room for your book in those 250 slots? Um, no. Writers I know who have been cut this past year include a large number of New York Times bestsellers. Only those writers weren’t mega bestsellers.
That 250 is for Big Guns and people who “write” novelty books, like the Kardashians. Not for you.
But go ahead. Bang your head against that wall. Break through and have leaches and hangers-on destroy your career. If you don’t understand what’s so bad about last week’s contract, and you don’t want to learn, then you’ve figured out what kind of life you want to live—and it certainly ain’t the life of a professional writer.
Traditional Publishers Do It Better
Myth: Traditional publishers will get my book into bookstores.
Really? Where? What bookstores? Small independents? Barnes & Noble? Amazon?
Oh, wait. You mean paper books, right? Yeah. Okay. Still, I ask you. Where? What bookstores? What are you talking about? Do you think it’s still 1999?
Truth: Most books are sold online these days. That includes paper books. If you publish your own books, you can get them into Amazon easily, Barnes & Noble (not as easily), and independent bookstores (if you understand things like Indie-Bound).
Here’s the thing: Even if a traditional publisher publishes your book in paper, no bookstore is obligated to take that book or to put it on the shelf. What indie (self-published) writers learn when they take print-only deals is this: the traditional publisher is no more able to sell print books than the writer was.
And on top of it, the writer loses much of the copyright on their book. In fact, the writer often loses everything in that traditional deal, including and not limited to, money. The writer will also lose control of her next projects, usually due to noncompetes buried in the boilerplate.
If the writer went through an agent, the writer will lose even more. See the clause in the agent agreement from a few weeks ago, in which the agent demanded that the writer have every self-published book approved by the agent before the book goes live. Realize that the agency who has that clause in its contract is as famous as William Morris.
As many indies have learned in the last seven years, paper-only deals are terrible for the writer. Stay away from them. They’re as bad as a regular publishing deal because they are a regular publishing deal.
Myth: Traditional publishers can promote a work better than an indie writer can.
Truth: Take a look at last week’s contract. The only party in that contract who is obligated to promote a book is the writer. The publisher can opt out of promotion at any point.
And that’s if the publisher actually knew how to promote books. Sure, publishers have deep pockets, but they don’t know how to invest in effective advertising or how to sell books to readers. Not bookstores. Readers.
As this world has changed, publishers have changed their marketing strategies not one bit. If you don’t understand this, pick up my book Discoverability and/or look at the blogs for free on this site. (But realize those blogs were published out of order.)
Once again, for an empty promise not backed up in the contract, a writer will lose control of her intellectual property.
And she’ll lose the ability to participate in all of the various ways that books actually do sell to readers.
This month, for example, I’m going to have books in three different Storybundles. Those bundles sell thousands of copies. Most bundlers, like Storybundle, do not work with mainstream publishers—in part because of contractual issues. I’ve curated a few bundles with some traditionally published writers who farmed the work to their agents, and guess what? None of us (me or the bundlers who experienced this) will ever do that again.
Opportunities lost, folks.
No traditional publisher will let you put your book in a 99-cent ebook bundle with other writers on, say, Amazon, not even for a limited time. Because that means the traditional publisher would have to partner with its competitors. The traditional publisher won’t allow it for a $50 ebook bundle either. Not happening.
Nor will most traditional publishers bundle the books in your series together. The traditional publishers publish once and then move on to the next book. Any promotions, any rejiggering of the book itself, will not happen.
I know, I know. You will make your own decision regardless of what I say. And then you’ll write to me as two separate people did this week, saying that they had made a mistake, and could I help them learn how to indie publish after all.
If there’s anything left to indie publish. If you haven’t sold control to all of your books to a major corporation, maybe I’ll be able to help you.
I’m pretty much done with contracts and dealbreakers. Other indie bloggers are quitting because they don’t like the dirty tricks coming out of traditional publishing and they can’t seem to talk their readers out of making bad deals.
I don’t see it as my job to talk you out of anything. My job is to inform you.
I’ve done that with this contracts and dealbreakers series. I am going to list a few points that you should have gotten out of this series, and then, next week, we are moving on.
Point The First: Always hire a lawyer to advise you on legal matters concerning your writing business.
Point The Second: Make sure you have a contract that governs every relationship you have in your business, from the editors you hire to the co-writers you work with.
Point The Third: Learn how to negotiate. (Always do your negotiations via email.)
Point The Fourth: Learn copyright law.
Point The Fifth: Learn copyright law.
Point The Sixth: Hire a lawyer already!
Okay, I’m repeating myself. So I’m going to leave you with a movie recommendation. Watch Begin Again, with Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightly. Watch through the credits. (And yes, Ruffalo’s character is an utter asshole in the first half hour. Stick with it. You’ll understand.)
Realize that the music industry is way ahead of the publishing industry in rights and music publishing and everything else.
If you don’t want to watch the movie, then at least go watch this scene. It’s from the end of the film, so if you plan to watch the movie, don’t watch this clip:
There. I have done what I can.
You are now on your own.
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“Business Musings: Myth Busting,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by Canstock Photo/iqoncept.