Essay–Profit and Pity
I already posted one rant from 2015’s Balticon. Guess it’s time to write another.
I mentioned in the first essay that there were two instances of snobbery and disinformation at the con. So let’s talk about the second one.
I was on a panel with two traditionally published writers discussing “writing after the workshop.” The 50 minute discussion mainly centered around three topics:
- What to do with the criticism you receive after a workshop.
- How to keep your ass in the chair to write
- What to expect when you get published.
The two folks I was on the panel with were awesome in nearly every way. Nearly. The other man on the panel has been a writer for a long, long time. He’s been a pro since I was in junior high. Despite the fact he kept dropping names of sci-fi luminaries that he had workshopped with in the past, and having a holier-than-thou attitude, he gave some great advice and was very frank about what to expect. I really appreciated that.
He told everyone in the room that if they thought they could get rich from writing, they needed to consider another career. They’d probably only ever make the “industry standard” advance of $5,000 and never receive a real royalty check because their books would never earn out the advance.
Hmm… Yeah, I lost my shit. My response to this? “That’s why big publishing sucks.”
The room went very, very still. The two panelists looked at me as though I’d said “Hey! I just buggered Jesus in the hallway!” The moderator tried to get a word out, cleared her throat, and said “What?”
“Big publishing sucks. They give you a token advance and lower your royalty percentages in order to make sure you never earn out.”
“And they also will demand you fork over the subsidiary rights like audio and possibly other multimedia rights. And they won’t pay you a dime over that 5k.”
“Go with a small press. Or do it yourself,” I said.
The moderator gulped and then said “Not all publishers are like that.”
“For a mid-lister?” I asked.
“Well, we’re out of time,” the moderator said.
We wrapped up the discussion by giving our names and websites and all that shit again and then I invited folks to come get bookmarks and business cards.
The panelists didn’t say a word to me, nor I them. Several people came up and grabbed my biz cards for The Black and Legends of Garaaga. One person asked how I juggled my writing with software development. I politely answered that both are just writing words differently and that if you didn’t make time in your day to be a writer, then you didn’t want to be a writer. He thanked me and I left for dinner with some friends.
Now let me dissect the argument. Mr. “I’ve been published by every sci-fi magazine known to man and books too” says you should never expect to earn more than 5k on a book. And that you’ll never see a royalty check. First off, this is absolutely ridiculous bullshit. Maybe that has been his experience, but it’s certainly not an absolute. Small presses are willing to make deals. Especially if they’re excited about the book and you’re not an asshole. You can get decent royalty percentages on ebooks (decent to me means 35% and higher gross royalty) from many publishing companies out there. They will probably give you an advance as well, but you’ll quickly earn back your money if it’s a good press. Those royalty checks will start rolling in on a schedule. And if they want the audio rights? Negotiate that separately.
Your mileage may vary, of course, but bottom line? You should be looking for the best possible deal you can get. Making sure you retain your rights or that someone ACTUALLY PAYS FOR THEM is the only way to protect yourself. Don’t get screwed.
I turned down two contracts because they were “nothing but net” and in addition wouldn’t allow me to retain rights to audio, video, etc. In other words, they were booby traps. And turning them down was difficult. Damned difficult. And yet those decisions were the best I’ve made in my career. Besides, of course, working with Severed Press.
While some of the older industry professionals out there insist their reality is the only reality, it doesn’t make it true. I pity those who have abandoned any hope of ever doing better and simply sit back and watch the world go on without them. Especially if they already have a track record of releasing quality fiction.
Should I ever get a deal with a major publisher, you can bet it’s going to cost them. Which means it’s much less likely to happen. For now, I’m happy with the way things are. Of course, change is the only constant in life. So, um, never say never.