This is a post I wrote a few months ago. I am re-posting it because, especially to a début author, contract terms are too relevant and too important to ignore.
If you are like me, you will have already written something you deem valuable enough to warrant its place on that dusty virtual bookshelf, within easy reach to everyone who has the slightest inclination to read.
If you are like me, you will have started to give some thought to how exactly your manuscript was going to reach said bookshelf just about at the point where you were pleased about how the opening scene was coming along.
But I bet that, just like me, you didn’t give a thought to the best way to sell your work. Not at that point. Because we’re writers, right? Not salesmen. Not cold callers. Our job is to write, someone else’s is to make sure our work reaches the people it was intended for. Right?
In the same way you wouldn’t be expecting a brain surgeon to sit on his sofa and wait for his friends and neighbours to spread the word about his abilities, or a chef to produce wonderful food which then goes cold as he waits for customers to discover his restaurant, you cannot expect to write a book and then do nothing about it. And if you do, you shouldn’t expect it to become a bestseller.
If you’re like me, before e-publishing, you will have tried to find an agent. If you’re like me, after the first dozen refusals, you will have researched the role of an agent on the internet, read all about it and then decided you could do their job just as well, if not better. You will have contacted one or two or more publishers directly and you may have got some contract offers. I know I did, with every submission.
I am lucky. I found a publisher who is attentive, generous with their time and advice and as thrilled to work with me as I am to work with them. There is just one catch: there is no help with marketing. Clear cut from the very beginning, it’s in the contract, so we both know where we stand.
‘Ah, but what good is a publisher if they won’t promote your book?’ I hear you ask. If you do the writing and the marketing yourself, why not self-publish in the first place?
I suppose it’s a matter of choice. Maybe you feel a little vulnerable, all alone in a big world, unsure of what you are doing. Maybe you are a little insecure and you could do it all, but you just need someone to hold your hand just this once. Maybe you are strong and sure of yourself, and perhaps your friends told you before that you should listen to someone else’s opinion beside your own, and so you decided to heed their advice.
Whichever way, do not assume one deal is better than another, simply because it appears so on the outside. A year ago, I would have signed a contract without turning the top page over – I thought I knew what I wanted so there was no need to read the small print. By sheer luck, however, there were other things that prevented me from signing.
And then I took a step back. I read and compared the clauses of three different contracts coming from three very different publishers. Let’s call them A, B and C.
As we decided to discuss marketing, I will look at this subject only, today.
Publisher A: “All matters relating to the publication of the Work […] shall be under the entire control of the Publisher.” This is then further clarified: “A summary of the services provided by the Publisher are summarised in Appendix A.” I skipped over the grammar issues to Appendix A, which starts: “Editorial, print, sales & marketing services which are part of contract, as requirement or available as options to purchase” and is swiftly followed by a table of tariffs and charges stretching over two pages.
By now I knew where this was going, but I soldiered on, to find that the ‘level’ of contract offered to me would have required me to pay fees in excess of £3000. And moreover, since all these services were under the entire control of the Publisher, would they include what I hoped they would, or was I fooling myself?
Unsure, I turned to the contract furnished by Publisher B, which arrived on my doorstep already signed by the Chief Executive. I can’t describe to you how hard it was to stop my pen from scribbling my name right underneath his. But I am a strong woman, so I read the small print. Under Promotion and Marketing, it said: “The Publisher shall alone have full discretion as to the nature and extent of any promotion and distribution of the Work,” followed on the same page by my need to contribute just under £3000 for said promotion.
‘So what’s wrong with that?’ – you ask. They are entitled to put in the contract whatever they want. True. But shouldn’t we know the full details of an agreement before we sign and accept it?
In this day and age, when the sound of belts tightening and stomachs gurgling is heard up and down the country, it would be ever so nice to dream of warm, comfortable television studios where you are being gently and thoughtfully questioned about the subject of your book, or cosy conference rooms full to bursting of top media professionals, microphones poised, cameras flashing, ready to drink in your every word.
Wake up! It’s just a dream. Read the small print again. The Publisher has not committed to any of the above. Yes, they have contacts, and it is likely that they might arrange a press release that will go to them all. There will probably be a few review copies that will do the rounds, too. But they will do this at the lowest possible cost to them – they would be fools to do otherwise!
In some cases they’ll ask you to fund all this yourself.
What reading the small prints in contracts A and B above has taught me is that, generally, about £3000 is an acceptable budget to spend on promoting a book. I don’t have that sum to spend and I can’t recommend that you should, either. But think about it for just one minute.
You may not have a list of contacts, like a Publisher, but you can make one. It will take you a couple of hours to find out the names and contacts for the literary sections of the main newspapers in your country. It will cost you very little to provide them with, say, half a dozen copies of your work for review. You are a writer, so write a nice query letter first, maybe even offer ‘infill’ articles and samples of other work to be printed free of charge by the paper.
Contact your local radio station, enter competitions, raise your profile locally, and then the bigger players may take notice. I bet you won’t spend more than £100 on a series of daily radio advertising. Think, think, think again and find what’s best for you, what works in your area. If you care that much about your work, won’t your heart break to let it fester in a drawer, unseen, untouched?
I chose Publisher C, by the way. They do not offer any help with marketing my book. I’ll be honest – it’s not the contract of my dreams, but I care enough about my work to want to make an effort to promote it.
Do you? If you don’t, maybe you should leave that book in the drawer and start writing the real masterpiece now.