Publishing Perils: What We Learned From Our Cancelled Book Contract
Experience is a great teacher and Dr. Carol Swain and I have had a most interesting class with this educator from the School of Hard Knocks. It is a dream for many to see their name on a published book and hope that a profitable literary career is in the future. Wisdom must be applied by both experienced and aspiring writers so that the dream does not become a nightmare.
Let’s look at the three roads one can travel to publication while giving attention to three important factors: state of entrance, front end risk and back end payoff.
Road One: Traditional Publishing
The entrance is difficult. It usually requires an agent who sells a manuscript to a traditional publisher who assumes all the upfront risk of the marketability of the book. The publisher bares the expense of marketing the book and distributing it. The author can even get a cash advance against future royalties. The royalties for the author can vary greatly and increase as the book generates high sales. They commonly can range from 10% to 25%. The publisher makes the most of the profits, but this is as it should be because they took the upfront risk. This publishing road works great for an author with celebrity status who comes with a ready-made market of adoring fans. If one has no notoriety, he or she will find this road hard to travel.
Road Two: Self-Publishing
This is the easiest entrance path to publishing. It only takes dollars. You pay for a vanity press to print your book and the price will depend on how many copies you order. You take all the upfront risk and assume all the responsibility and costs for marketing the book. This model works well for the public speaker who has a full schedule of events that provide lots of opportunities for book sales at the product table. The rookie writer can often be taken for a ride in this method by an unscrupulous book press.
Road Three: Hybrid Publisher
The hybrid publisher is a model that combines elements of traditional publishing and self-publishing. The author buys books upfront, which covers the risk cost, but then the publisher assumes the marketing and distribution responsibility and expense related to them. They can get the book in bookstores and online outlets, freeing the author of this hassle. Author entrance does have difficulty since the publisher has to believe in the book and its marketability. The publisher will spend time and funds in distributing the book so they will scrutinize the manuscript like a traditional publisher and reject some. The advantage to an author is that the hybrid publisher rewards him or her with a bigger back side payoff where royalties can reach as high as 60% or more for the upfront risk taken.
Let’s go back to the School of Hard Knocks: The Dirty Details of the Cancelled Contract.
Dr. Swain and I had a contract with a traditional publisher. We received word through a conference phone call on April 25 that our publisher was exercising the clause in our contract to decline publication of our book entitled, Who’s Stealing Our Kids? The facts and circumstance to this whole ordeal were quite puzzling. We had just been asked to approve cover images and text so printing deadlines could be met. We were given marketing materials that included large posters of the cover and a seven feet high vinyl banner and told to go forth and promote the sale of the book. We gave out the business-sized cards promoting the book to many friends. We alerted bookstores in our hometowns and discussed book signings. Now we were told there would be no book forth coming.
The release date was 45 days from when this destressing call came. In the call, we were told that we would be sent all the edited files of text, cover and those related to marketing so we could use them in any alternative publishing strategy we wish to pursue. We both sent emails on that very day accepting this kind offer.
The next day, we did not get said files, but instead a new offer from the publisher, which they wish to describe as an addendum to the existing contract. In reality, they had ended that contract when they decided not to publish. In the new offer, they asked us to buy books equal to an amount of $5000, which they claimed was the cost they had in the edited files that were totally complete and ready to go to print. They were asking us to cover their financial risk and then let the rest of the contract proceed, which would keep the royalty payments percentages the same to their advantage. We were the victims of a bait and switch scheme. The publisher was trying to restructure the deal from traditional to hybrid except they wanted to keep the large backside payoff and keep us at the traditional publishing model royalty levels.
There are lessons to be learned.
• If you have a contract with a traditional publisher, check and see if there is a “no publish” out clause. If there is, negotiate that this clause becomes unusable when marketing plans and materials are presented to the author.
• If a traditional publisher seeks to move the contract to a more hybrid model, demand that the back side royalties are changed to give the author a larger portion of the profits.
• If you choose to go with a hybrid publisher, do diligent research. Have they had past success? Do their current authors and past clients endorse them? Can you envision working well with the publisher? Will they give you input on cover design and final edit approval? If a traditional publisher likes your book and wants to take it on, will the hybrid publisher release you with full rights and at no departure payment penalty?
As you choose your publishing road, make sure wisdom is your traveling companion.