I began writing when I was only eight years old. By the time I was thirteen, I had already written my first full length novel. Less than a year after its completion, after everyone and their brother at my middle school had read the book, I took their words of encouragement to heart and began researching on how to get my book into publication through traditional publishing houses. The next ten plus years saw three more novels written and several hundred query letters, novel summaries, chapter submissions, and more rejection letters than I can count at this point. I’ve been turned down by everyone from Random House to Aardvark Press. I never took it as a sign that I should stop writing, because, after all, there are some really, really crappy books in publication. I just took it that I was young and needed to keep writing. Practice makes perfect, or so the old saying goes.
I took a reprieve from trying to get published for a while, allowing ideas to begin to form inside of my head before I once again took up the call of the pen in 2002. I wrote for fun off and on for about a year, posting short stories to social media sites. I wrote under the Avatar name of “PoisonRunner” and soon had tens of thousands of readers crashing my Yahoo! 360 page on a daily basis. I was bombarded with messages and posts of encouragement, everyone wanting to know why I wasn’t trying to get published. I decided, “Why not?” After all, I had spent more than ten years learning the business inside and out. I was older, wiser, my writing style had greatly improved over the years, and despite all the rejection letters (some of them incredibly harsh, by the way) I had received over the years, my passion for cultivating a well-told story could not be dashed by mere words from some of the top publishers.
Soon I was scouring the internet trying to get the scoop on some of the well established but lesser known publishers. What I discovered was much more of the same that I had encountered all those years ago when I was just starting out. More rejection letters, but now the rules had changed a bit. Most publishers were no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts, forcing me to add yet another person to the mix in the form of a literary agent who would ultimately take a chunk out of the royalty pie.
The contracts that I got shown were atrocious to say the least. Most of them either had me signing away my copyrights altogether or had me giving the publisher an exclusive prints right to my work that never expired, meaning that if the book flopped with one publisher I could never take it to another publisher down the road in hopes of getting it spruced up and re-released with a new publisher. Most of them were doing little more than allowing me to use their name as the publishing house on the inside cover.
There were no advancements offered and none of them were going to put forth a single penny towards marketing and promoting the book, two things that determine if a book lives or dies in the literary market. The publishers kept 100% complete control over all aspects of the final product, including cover art and the final draft that went to print. For those who do not understand the full weight of this statement, it meant that the publisher withheld the right to rewrite the story and change it any way they saw fit, without my approval and oftentimes without my knowledge. Ultimately the publisher was turning me, the creator and writer of the work, into little more than a ghost writer, being just the person who came up with the initial idea, leaving the publisher to hammer out the details and rewrite it into whatever they thought they could make a quick buck off of.
I hoped that this was not the norm, so I continued to look into larger houses, smaller houses, indie houses, anyone and everyone that I could think of, find on the internet, and even some odd-ball houses that other authors suggested or that I found on blogs and other websites. The end product? The exact same thing: contracts that took away any future printing rights for anyone other than said house, no advancements, the publisher kept 100% control over final product, 0% upfront money being spent on marketing and promotion until I had cleared several hundred thousand copies or money earned off the book, whichever came first, and absolutely no marketing plan for me to follow in the meantime to help get the ball rolling. Ultimately, the publishers were telling me that they would lend me their house name for the inside cover, but all marketing and promoting would not only have to be handled by me, but the cost of those endeavors would have to come out of my own pocket.
Needless to say, my first reaction to all of this over the years has been, “If you are not going to help market and promote the book, then why would I bother signing a contract with you?” My next questions were subsequently, “If I have to do all the work that you should be doing, why am I having to share my royalties with you?” and finally “If you are not helping to get the word out on my book, then exactly what is in this deal for me?”
It is these questions that go unanswered that has driven so many authors to just self-publish their work. With traditional publishers, it is all about compromise. You write the initial draft and the editors and publishers turn it into whatever they think will make them money. It isn’t the author’s story, it is the publisher’s version of their story. You don’t have that in self-publication. It is the author’s story told how the author intended. About the only compromise you have is how much money and time you can invest to get the best cover art work and editors and which platform you want to publish to. You keep complete control, you keep your copyrights, you keep the print rights, and best of all, you keep all the royalties. Of course there is always the cost of editors, graphic artists, swag, etc. if you decide to purchase all that, but those costs are factored into royalties received from a traditional publisher, so you have to pay for all this regardless of whether you go traditional or self-published. The only difference is that if you are one of the lucky authors who is savvy enough to create your own cover art work and do all the PR work yourself, then you cut out a huge chunk of costs that you can’t cut out if you go the traditional route.
I know, this has little to do with the title of the article. But I’m getting there. As I have outlined above, I have more than 3 DECADES of experience with traditional publishers and nearly ten years experience as an independently published author who owns her own publishing house. I shouldn’t have to constantly repeat to everyone that I KNOW what I’m doing and I KNOW how the traditional publishing model works. Yet, I find myself constantly having to repeat this to fledgling authors on FB all the time. They keep asking for advice, and when I give them the straight-up dirty truth on how it all works, they immediately turn on me, screaming that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I didn’t give them the rose-colored happy ‘now-I’m-famous-and-rich’ ending that they keep dreaming about. Those authors who don’t know any better are bad enough, but when I’m also constantly being told that I am not a ‘true’ writer because I no longer seek out traditional publishers and also told that I would suddenly become a well known author if I would just try to get a mainstream publishing deal by authors who claim to actually BE in the mainstream publishing business, then that just pisses me off. I may not can account for what someone else knows, but when I have already been through the process more times than I can count and I know FIRST HAND how it all works and they still want to sit there and tell me I’m wrong, then sorry, no, I will no longer put up with your delusions of grandeur.
Which brings me back to the whole point behind this article. After all, I did say it was an open call to all publishers, and it is. I am sending out a major SOS call to ANY publisher, be it small, indie, large, whatever, who is willing to prove me wrong. You read that right. I want to sign a publishing deal with any house that is willing to put up with me. I want a publisher to prove to me that I’ve been wrong about them. I want a publisher to prove to me that everything I just posted above is wrong, that I am delusional, that what I wrote is not the way the publishing world works. I want a publisher who is not going to just take my work, slap it up on Amazon, and walk away with half my royalties. In other words, I want a publisher who is actually going to help me get my work out to the masses, support me, and not just have me do all the work.
So here is the deal. I’m willing to come off my most popular erotic romance, Vindictus, The Dark Lord to whichever publishing company can do the following:
1. Advancements are up for negotiation. Whether you offer them or not is up to the rest of the contract and are not a deal breaker.
2. Marketing and promotion plans are a must. Even if you do not plan to put any financial backings into the endeavor, you must at least provide a detailed marketing plan that you plan to use to market and promote the book. There also must be a separate or joint marketing plan that I can follow as well as I do not expect the publisher to do all the work. HOWEVER, if you are not putting up any financial backing into either the marketing of the work or advancements, I expect you to take on the majority of the marketing. This must be provided prior to any contracts are signed so I know how much work is expected from me and how much work the publisher is goingto put into the marketing. Again, if you are not actively marketing the product then what are you doing for me as a publisher?
3. Limited exclusive printing rights. Unless you are willing to offer me a half-million dollar advancement or are Random House, I will not sign any exclusive printing rights contracts. I know this is not the norm for most contracts, but if you are a small indie house then I am not about to sign away my printing rights in hopes the book doesn’t bomb and then never be able to take it to another publisher. I am, however, willing to sign a limited printing rights contract. Basically, depending on any advancements and your overall marketing plans, I will sign a limited time exclusive printing rights contract. I will give the publisher up to 3 years of exclusive print rights on the book dependent upon how well the book is doing. In other words, if the book is doing well then I am willing to extend the print rights to the publisher indefinitely, but if the book is not doing well we are both going to cut our losses and allow me the chance to take the book to another publisher if I so wish.
And that’s it. I don’t ask for much. Advancements are not needed and honestly not expected, but I expect a marketing plan to be in place prior to any contracts being signed, and if the book is not doing well I reserve my right to terminate the print rights agreement and take the book to another publisher.
So traditional publishers, prove to me that I have been wrong about you all this time. Prove to me that you are not out there just taking authors’ works, slapping it up on Amazon, taking royalties, and not providing any type of marketing and promotions. Prove to me that you are an actual asset to authors, that you are needed, and that you can do for authors what they can’t do for themselves self-publishing. Or have I been preaching the gospel this whole time?
I’m interested in finding out……