Last week a publishing contract landed on my doormat and it took me maybe minutes after reading it to know it wasn’t for me. I’m not going to mention who the contract was with, the money involved, the clauses, etc. I’m just going to say it was a London publisher and they made me an offer after my agent approached them.
If you’ve been self-publishing as long as I have, almost three years now, you might have watched other self-published authors (some of whom are friends) land deals. I’ve watched loads of other Indie authors land deals with all sorts of publishers and some find themselves no better off; alternatively I’ve watched some find themselves worse off, and there are also the few, rare cases of the authors for whom it has really worked out because they have gained a massive, loyal readership from signing with a publisher. After all, gaining a readership is what we all care about most.
In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve been warned about a few things:
- Some publishers will offer you a deal without setting out the parameters of their own efforts.
- Some publishers are not interested in collaboration.
- Some publishers fail to pay royalties.
- Some will give you a worse book cover than what you started out with.
- Some will edit the life and soul from your book.
- Some publishers offer a marketing package but often, authors have found it is up to them to do most of the marketing, if not all.
- Some publishers will take most of your royalties.
- Some don’t even offer an advance but expect a lot of commitment from the author.
- Good publishers are hard to find.
I am sure there are lots of authors who see that contract land on their doormat and go gaga, immediately sign it and send it back. I can entirely understand why a lot of authors would be so excited at this prospect, so excited in fact, that they don’t think about not signing because signing seems the answer. It’s every writer’s dream to see themselves on a bookshelf; for most it symbolises respect and official authorship (I don’t believe this at all – we’re authors as soon as we have readers).
Landing a deal with a publisher does not guarantee your book will end up on a bookshelf anywhere. The biggest high-street stores are picky as to what they put on their shelves and unless you’re EL James, Dan Brown or Sylvia Day, your book may appear in Asda for a week before it is replaced by the next bestsellers.
So, what does that mean? With all these uncertainties, I mean. So many words in exchange for such small fortune. It means, those of us who are already self-published, have a choice. TRY TO SEE PAST THE SHINY CONTRACT. We always have a choice, no matter what deal comes through the door. Those words are ours and we can decide what to do with them. You have a choice to give your words away and risk losing them altogether, perhaps with only a small chance of getting the rewards you deserve, or you can seek that right publisher for you. The right publisher might not offer you a load of royalties either, but they might offer a package that will nurture you. Some publishers are not interested in this. I don’t know why, but they’re not.
When I started out in self-publishing, I was honest with myself. I am also honest with most people I meet and sometimes, people bristle at this quality but if you walked in my shoes a minute, you’d see why I hate dishonesty, time wasting and hollow promises. So I saw self-publishing as a chance to grow my writing ability, to develop my social networks, to learn the ropes of publishing in general. I was surprised when some people who read my first book (written while I was breastfeeding!) wrote to me to say they had been kept up reading all night, so eager to reach the end! I genuinely love what I do, and anyone else who does, is a bonus. I never will take myself seriously. I know I am a talented writer but I don’t take myself seriously. What I do take seriously is freedom. Don’t get me wrong, it is all a terrific juggling act as I also squeeze in the editing projects that land in my inbox in between my own projects. When a job comes in, I have to down my writing tools and neglect my true love while I provide for other people. This is a fact of life I accept but another string to my bow i.e. editing has definitely broadened my skills. When I finish an editing project, I go back to my writing – and this for me, is freedom. To have that choice, is everything.
This is what I am getting at: if you sign that contract, some choices are taken away. That is what a contract is. In exchange for signing away your words, you might not even see any rewards for losing your right to choose. Self-publishing allows me a freedom of expression that few publishers will because they have to peel a book through all sorts of official processes.
The lesson I take away from getting that contract through the door is that the words in black and white always have more of an impact than words spoken aloud or read on a screen. The words offered to me didn’t match the words I’ve written. I believe so much in my words (Unbind, if anyone is wondering) that I won’t take any deal I am not happy with because Unbind is too important to me. Unfortunately my agent underestimated how much.
One day, some black and white words are going to change my life – and I will be ready for it. I will know when it is right to share myself. Until then, I’m not giving my words away – I’m sharing them and sharing the journey. Anything to hinder the sharing thereof, and I’m not onboard.
I was taught to never take your first offer, just wait for something better. My mum says I seem to have dropped lucky a lot in life because of my propensity to be uncompromising. Well, someone has to be. I’ll let you know if it pays off. Maybe one day soon, eh…
p.s. There is no such thing as vanity publishing anymore, it’s now just about doing it for yourself, and many are thriving without a “publisher”.
In conclusion, here are two articles I found very interesting: