Advances and Me

A question from the gallery:

You seem to take a hard line about advances. Have you ever published with no advance?

Yup. But I’ve never published with a publisher whose default position is to offer no advance — or, for that matter, any publisher whose default advance is less than the SFWA minimum for a publisher to be a qualifying market. And it’s never happened where I have not been the one to suggest the “no advance” option.

I think it’s very important to note both that the publishers I work with offer acceptable advances as a matter of course and that I, as the author and provider of the work, asked instead for an alternative compensation model.

Why?

One: In the case of the publisher, it’s important for me as an author to know that the publisher is invested in my work — and has the resources to commit to getting my work into the marketplace in a more than trivial way. The best and most concrete way to do that is to have them give money to me up front. Or, in other words: You’re worth what you’re paid for.

Yes, I know. You know a publisher who doesn’t offer advances but they’ve very nice people and they work very hard for you. That’s great. But why are they not offering you that advance? If they’re not offering that advance because they have to make the choice between paying you up front and turning the publishing wheel in the back, then that tells you something very relevant about their ability to promote and market your work in an effective manner.

If they’re not offering it because it’s just not how they built their business plan, then why aren’t you questioning the business plan? Is your erstwhile publisher also paying every other vendor they work with on the backend with a percentage of the net? If they’re not, you should be asking why they’re not paying the author — i.e., the person who gives the publisher the commercial product it exists to distribute — first above all others, and, indeed why, in the grand scheme of things, they’re almost certainly paying the author last, or close enough to last as to make no difference.

If they’re not offering it because they are telling you “oh, publishing is changing,” or “we’re experimenting with new compensation models,” or “this is a partnership between publisher and author,” then what they’re really saying is “we’re checking to see how dumb you are.” And if you are dumb (or just ignorant, or excitable to the point that you’re willing to overlook that everyone else is being paid before you are), then they win.

Here’s a good general question to ask any publisher: Where is the author in the line of people who get paid? The further back the author is in the payment line, the more you should be suspicious of that publisher ever paying you. You should especially not trust the word of someone who is going to get paid no matter how your book does; say, as an example, someone who pulls a monthly salary whether or not you ever see a penny from the publisher.

This is why advances are a good thing: They put the author at the front of the line to get paid. Which, given that the publishing industry is all about selling what the author provides, is where the author should be. If a publisher doesn’t have paying the author first as its default, then it tells me something very significant about what they think about authors — and what priority authors are in their publishing scheme.

Two: In the case of me, if I make the determination that I want to try something different in terms of the way I’m compensated, it’s because I — not anyone else — have determined that the risk I have in not being paid at all is acceptable. How have I come to that determination? Typically through a combination of factors, including my own personal financial situation, my experience with the publisher in question based on previous business association, my knowledge of how I’m currently selling in the market at large, knowledge of the current state of publishing and book sales, and how much I potentially stand to gain by foregoing the front end advance for this differing compensation model, and (this is very important) how long it will take before I start to get paid out of the back end.

Which is to say, there’s a lot that goes into it.

And, very importantly, all of this determination goes on with something concrete to compare it to — namely, the advance that I’ve been offered as a customary part of the negotiation process. This is the difference between “Definitely something, versus possibly nothing but maybe more” and “nothing at all versus possibly nothing and possibly something.” When you start with an advance you’re thinking about the first scenario. When the publisher offers you nothing as an advance, you’re looking at the second. The first of these scenarios is almost always better than the second — and offers a much better chance to be paid.

So, yes, there have been times where I’ve chosen to get paid on the back end, rather than the front. Sometimes it’s done very well for me; other times less so. But every time, it was my choice, not a choice that was made for me and rationalized away by an appeal to a “changing publishing world” or an “exciting new compensation model” or even just the hope I don’t know better. I do know better. And I know that default is, and always should be, that when an author works with a publisher, the author gets paid an advance.

115 thoughts on “Advances and Me

  1. To me it boils down very simply. If the publisher is offering and advance, the publisher is saying this is something ‘WE’ want to publish. In most cases, when they are not offering an advance (as opposed to the author specifically declining one) , they are looking for people who have stuff that THEY want to publish and the publisher is happy to take their money to do so.

  2. Well stated, as always. I think it says a lot about the way the publisher feels about the ‘product’ as well- that they are willing to bet on it being successful by writing that check up front.

  3. What’s most concerning is the accounting and back end pay situation. All you have to do is look at Hollywood and how they handle these types of deals. There are many, many times out here were creative accounting is used to show that no money was made even though a film grossed millions more than the cost to make it, just so the studios don’t have to pay out royalties and back end compensation.

  4. An example or two of times you’ve foregone an advance and why might be helpful. I’ve done it myself, here and there, but I still find the abstract discussion a bit hard to follow without concrete examples.

  5. John,

    Could I have your permission to copy the entire post for a closed group on Facebook? We have some people who seem to think that being beaten and starved is the best way to sell books. To me they look and sound like domestic abuse sufferers.

    Wayne

  6. I didn’t take an advance on my book. In part that’s because it’s with a small press, and the advance wasn’t going to be very much. But I was offered an advance, and since I had planned to use any advance for marketing expenses (again, small press) I decided to take the alternative, which was a higher royalty rate.

    Shorter Scalzi – if they’re not at least offering advances, y’all need to take a hard look at whether or not they’re worth doing business with.

  7. I have a sliding scale when I work by the hour: Standard fee is $110.00/hour plus reasonable receipted expenses and travel, first $1,100.00 in advance. But I speak to educational or science fiction or science groups free (most of the time) and in fact usually eat the costs of travel, meals, and hotel.

    Likewise, I write a science column for a fanzine (free), and am not paid for my publications in academic journals and Proceedings of International Conferences of Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Cosmology, Economics, Mathematics, or Physics.

    But if I’m writing for a “Major Market” then I am taking time which I could be earning $110.00/hour, so they’d damned well better pay me an advance, and at least the SFWA-minimum word rate. And maybe I’ll get paid again from a reprint anthology.

    I am a professional. I can “give it away” free on blogs and my web domain and Facebook, but when I take off the amateur hat, and put on the Professional Hat, then pay me as a professional, or be deemed an amateur or a crook.

  8. While I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here, I just want to take issue with

    …what they’re really saying is “we’re checking to see how dumb you are.”

    There are publishers out there who really ARE trying to find alternative business models, and are not just using a shaking industry as an excuse to fleece authors. A smaller publisher may not have money to invest in a sizeable advance, but would trade a higher royalty rate in its place. It’s not necessarily a sign of malicious intent, just because the contract isn’t standard.

    Now, whether an author wants to throw their lot in with a publisher who can’t afford an advance, that’s a whole other issue. As an author, I’d be more hesitant about the amount of marketing the publisher expected of me, because in a lot of cases, that could eat up an advance really fast, and would never be recouped. As long as the publisher and author are both aware of the risks going in, and (this is key) the author is not taking any out-of-pocket risk, it should be up to each individual to gamble as they see fit.

    I realize this particular post is more about your personal take on it, but all the same, I think setting a standard of “don’t sign a deal without being offered an advance” is distracting from what I think was your main point, which is that authors should always understand the deals they’re signing. And if something’s not standard, make sure you understand WHY.

  9. MCM:

    “A smaller publisher may not have money to invest in a sizeable advance, but would trade a higher royalty rate in its place.”

    There is a difference, however, between “small advance” and “no advance.” I’m not talking about presses who offer small advances here. I’m talking about ones who offer no advance. If a publisher is offering no advance, I want a damn good reason why. Because in my opinion there is no good reason not to pay the writer first. A publisher whose business model doesn’t build in advances into their business model as a matter of course is not one that I would work with or would recommend that anyone work with, no matter how nice and friendly, etc, they are.

    It’s possible that a publisher who is not offering an advance is not checking to see if you’re dumb (although in the recent case of Hydra/Random House, they definitely are). But the alternative to them not checking to see if you’re dumb is them not being smart enough to have a business model that’s thought out well enough to have the resources to offer an advance. And I wouldn’t recommend anyone working with that sort of publisher either.

    This may not be nice to say, but when it comes to being paid, I’m not in the business of nice, I’m in the business of being paid. If a publisher isn’t going to pay me, we’re not doing business. I do business with people I know value my work. One very important way to gauge that value, as noted: Being paid. Up front.

    Christopher Turkel:

    Token advances are pretty much the same as no advance in my book.

  10. It’s usually bad for Poets, who had been brainwashed to think that getting a complementary copy of a little magazine or a small press poetry anthology is payment enough. But that’s for the Science Fiction Poetry Association (to whom I’ve made the first of three $150.00 payments towards Life membership) to deal with, not SFWA.

    http://www.sfpoetry.com/

  11. I work with digital-first publishers. While I don’t get an advance, or I get a token advance, my royalties are much, much better (in some cases I get 40% of the cover price, gross) and the publisher still takes on all the costs of publication. Digital-first is a lot faster turnaround, one of the reasons they work with this model.
    But that money has to flow to the author somehow. If you don’t get an advance, you need adequate compensation, and the “standard” royalty rate (which is only standard because people make it so) isn’t it. If you get a decent advance, then a lower royalty rate usually goes with it (typically 25% of net for digital publication). No advance, then the writer should expect a bigger slice of the pie.

  12. I remember I was looking at a vanity press a while back that was interested in a manuscript I’d written just after I’d graduated college. One of the first alarm bells that pulled me away from doing business with them was their business model. There was no advance offered. Instead, their offer was “If you pay us x-hundred or x-thousand dollars to cover the cost of publishing your book, you get to keep all the profits from your book sales!”

    Considering how obscure the vanity press was, I knew that it was slanted more in their favor and I’d be lucky if my book sold enough to cover my expenses. And to be honest, my manuscript wasn’t even worth publishing at the time.

    Glad to see someone standing up for author’s rights!

  13. Lynne Connolly:

    “I work with digital-first publishers. While I don’t get an advance”

    And here — with no disrespect meant to Ms. Connolly — is where I would stop and ask “why.” There is no reason why digital-first (or digital-only) publishers should not offer advances, other than that they’ve simply decided not to. Digital sales are not trivial (I sold more digital copies of Redshirts than hardcover copies, over the same period), so lack of income isn’t a good excuse for it.

    Again: As an author, if your publisher is not paying you first — or at the very least giving you the option to be paid first, with a more-than-token sum — then you should be asking why, and you should be questioning your publisher’s business model. Authors being paid first should always be the default.

  14. I have a question that is based wholly on my ignorance, so please forgive any conflation of topics that you see (and please cheerfully correct them!)

    A few months back I remember reading an article about one of the big six (five now, I guess) publishers who were suing a number of authors in order to get the advances back. One of the hue and cry from the self publishing sites that I go to (disclaimer: I self publish but I take every scrap of information I read on self publishing sites with so much salt it’s probably raised my cholesterol and blood pressure signficiantly, so stating this isn’t me saying “this is true,” it’s just me saying “this is what I read”) as proof that advances are considered “loans” and are meaningless if you aren’t actually able to generate any significant sales with your books.

    Your assertion that it’s publishers “skin on the table” seems more logical to me, so under what conditions would a publisher sue to get that advance back?

  15. Christopher Wright:

    In those cases, if I recall correctly, the authors didn’t actually write the books. If you don’t actually write the book, it’s not wholly unreasonable (in my personal opinion) for a publisher to ask for at least some of the advance money back.

    If you did write the book and it didn’t sell, then, oh well, too bad for the publisher.

  16. As a complete outsider in all of this – though an interested observer – I see it this way: paying the author is a cost of doing business for the publisher, just like printing, shipping, marketing, etc. If they can’t afford to pay the author, they don’t really have the financial resources to stay in business. There are very few industries where a producer/manufacturer of some sort can buy their raw materials with payment to their suppliers entirely contingent upon sale of the finished product. That’s exactly what those kinds of contracts do.

    The deals some people are talking about, where there’s no advance but a higher percentage of the back end, is still the same thing but at least in those cases the small publisher/e-publisher is still paying the other production costs. These insane RH Hydra/Alibi contracts are like a restaurant telling the supplier, “You give us the food, pay the cooks, waiters, hostesses, and busboys, and we’ll provide the building and cash register, then we split the proceeds 50/50.”

  17. Where is the author in the line of people who get paid?

    Is that a trick question? If the publisher is paying everyone else out of your share then I guess the line extends from your pockets.

    “nothing at all versus possibly nothing and possibly something if anything is left over after the costs are all paid out of your share.”

    Fixed that fer ya’.

    While I agree that an advance should always be on the table, I still think offloading the publishing costs onto the author is the bigger kick to the groin. It effectively recasts the “publisher” in the role of super-agent, taking half of any profits for coordinating the process while charging the author for the costs. Would you give an agent 50% of everything and not expect them to have any skin in the game? If not, why give a super-agent masquerading as a publisher that same deal?

    If not offering an advance shows what the “publisher” thinks of the author, not assuming any of the risk shows what they think of the e-book market.

    This is actually worse than a vanity publisher. At least with a vanity publisher you control how much of your money is spent on what…and you can take your product elsewhere if you don’t like the results. Random House is foisting onto their e-book authors all of the disadvantages of being a customer without any of the advantages of being a client. There’s a word for that: sucker.

  18. Honest answer? Because I couldn’t get one. It was a choice between letting manuscripts build up on my computer, or taking the chance. The difference is, my contracts give me a fair chance of making a good profit. Comparing my earnings to those of traditionally published colleagues, it works out about the same annually. It worked out well for me. If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have carried on.
    I find the royalty rates offered by the big 5 publishers shocking. That 25% of net is highway robbery, so that advance had better be good. When they set that royalty rate, and said, hey, it’s only for two years while we recoup costs, I campaigned with the Society of Authors for authors to receive a fair shake of digital sales. Oh, it doesn’t matter, the authors said, epublishing is only a tiny amount of what I earn, they said, my agent uses it for negotiation, that’s all. So now, it’s “standard.”
    And the advance isn’t paid upfront – it’s in three or more installments.

  19. Thank you John, and the entire SFWA, for you swift and clear response to this outrage. I recently sold a novel to a small publisher who offered a small advance for my work, which I am extremely grateful for regardless of its size. They put me first, and we have a successful and equitable relationship as a result.

    What Hydra is really trying to do is exploit the culture of self-published ebooks by adding the luster of the Random House name. They are willing to put their imprint on a work they would probably not publish otherwise – at little or no cost to themselves – on the off chance that they will get their hands on the next ’50 Shades of Gray’. With this exploitative business model, the publisher would then reap most of the rewards that the author would have gained if he/she had published the work themselves. If you can’t find a legitimate publisher for your novel, and you really honestly believe the world can’t go on spinning without it seeing the light of day, self-publishing is a much much much better option than Hydra. The stigma of labels like ‘vanity’ aside, at least it would be your reward for your investment.

  20. Lynneconnolly:

    “Honest answer? Because I couldn’t get one. It was a choice between letting manuscripts build up on my computer, or taking the chance.”

    This is where I personally would have released it myself (if I thought it had enough merit to be released) and had ALL THE MONIES. Which is, for me, another strike against publishers who offer no advance; I don’t see them offering something I couldn’t do myself, at least when it comes to digital releases.

    However, this still doesn’t answer the question of why digital publishers seem to default to offering no advances; it only answers why you chose to go with a publisher who didn’t offer one. It’s great that you’re making money, but the fact that you are does not suggest that they model typically works out beneficially for all no-advance authors. I suspect most people would still prefer to have a solid amount of cash they know they’re going to get.

    Gulliver:

    “If not offering an advance shows what the ‘publisher’ thinks of the author, not assuming any of the risk shows what they think of the e-book market.”

    Fair point, but not necessarily on target here; we’re focused on advances in this thread.

  21. Sure, I’d rather have gotten an advance. But if none of the print publishers wants your book, your choice is to go with an e-publisher or self-publish. I think a lot of us go with the e-publisher because we think it will get us a little better deal and a touch more respect than self-publishing.
    I must say it is especially discouraging to have people inside the business write as if we were just a bunch of fools who didn’t know how to stand up for ourselves.
    If you know a way for SFWA to make e-publishers switch from their standard model of not offering advances, I’d love to hear it. But saying that newbies ought to refuse the only offers we get isn’t really helpful.

  22. But saying that newbies ought to refuse the only offers we get isn’t really helpful.

    Why? Using Scalzi logic, he’s suggesting that the offer is telling you what the publisher thinks of you. You may not like what that’s telling you, but that seems pretty helpful to me (if, perhaps, a bit bruising to the ego).

  23. Are you going to try and change the SFWA stance regarding no advances to reflect the more nuanced thoughts in this post?

    Also, I respect the stand you and SFWA take on this, but why limit this criticism to only Hydra and the like? These imprints have been specifically linked to these practices, but Random House proper approves and is behind all of it. Why are they exempt from the ban if the Hydra/Alibi etc. are mostly separated by name only?

  24. Don — it isn’t a “ban,” per se. The “qualifying markets” thing says, “we have criteria for what kinds of sales count toward membership. Hydra ‘sales’? Don’t count, because they don’t fit the criteria.” RH’s normal imprints, like Del Rey and Spectra, are different, and should be treated as such; to do otherwise would be to penalize the writers who are following exactly the path SFWA wants to keep alive.

  25. I suggest that if any other publishing house is stupid enough to try to implement the Hydra/Alibi/etc. program, the SFWA is perfectly within their rights to call it out as detrimental to writers.
    “Any plan where you lose your hat, is a BAD PLAN.” ~~ Girl Genius. This plan actively steals your hat.

  26. Patricia S. Browne:

    “Sure, I’d rather have gotten an advance. But if none of the print publishers wants your book, your choice is to go with an e-publisher or self-publish.”

    And once again, the blanket assumption that e-publishers can’t pay advances. My question to you is why you aren’t questioning that assumption.

    Personally speaking, I don’t have a whole lot of respect for publishers who don’t offer advances. It says to me that they don’t respect authors very much. And why would I respect a publisher who disrespects authors?

  27. Bravo! Good post. I liken book publishers to film distributors. I’ve made 2 films and have never seen a dime of profit in 30 years.

    I posted a question on your blog – Are you related to Gale and John Scalzi from Covina? I lived next door to them growing up in the early 60’s. Gale was a year or two older than me, and John was about 4 years older. I remember clearly when John joined the service – the Navy I think. Their dad and mom were good friends with my dad and mom.

    I have not ready your work yet, but I will. I love science fiction, but for the past few years all of my reading is connected to my work.

    In any case, continued success to you.

    Pat Pat(Cardi) Cardamone (323) 271- 6088

    The Cardamone Company

    ________________________________

  28. Thanks Marie, I only mean to say that Hydra sales and advances are also RH sales and advances. I can see the practicality in ignoring the paymaster, but if this is the morally wrong thing for RH to be doing you’re ignoring the larger company out of convenience. Which perhaps is the right thing to do, but clouds the stand some people seem to be taking.

  29. ” But if none of the print publishers wants your book, your choice is to go with an e-publisher or self-publish.”

    Then why not self-publish? The math you need to do is to compare the sales you’re likely to get from an epublisher who can’t afford to pay you an advance versus the sales you can generate by self-publishing on Amazon/B&N/Smashwords/etc and doing your own promotion. In your shoes I’d look at the promotion of the other books from that epublisher – if they got great promotion and sales rank on Amazon that might indicate something. However if they didn’t seem to get much marketing then what does the epublisher bring to your book? No advance, minimal or no marketing… Editing and cover art? Great, but you can contract for that yourself and probably spend not too much. No, you won’t get top level talent like the folks Tor gets for Scalzi’s books, but I’d bet you can find competent people for a reasonable rate. And you get more of the money from each sale.

    Don’t let your eagerness to say “I’m published!!!” stop you from insisting on respect and a good deal.

  30. I don’t assume that e-publishers can’t pay advances. But I didn’t have the clout or experience to demand one on a first contract. You have the power to argue terms with your publishers, but I bet that even you would have accepted less on your first sale than you demand now.
    It’s great that you think e-publishers should respect their authors. In practice, though, the message that comes across is that unless we can get our books accepted by the print publishers, you and SFWA aren’t going to respect us either. Doesn’t that attitude just increase the print publishers’ stranglehold on the market, and make it more likely that they will act as Random House has — because they can?

  31. rickg17 — You make a good case! The self-publishing world wasn’t as well fleshed-out an option when I signed my contract. Even now, the part of it you sound least sure of is the most important part to me — the marketing. But I have said several times on my blog that if publishers continue to make authors do all the marketing, they will eventually force their authors to learn skills that make the publishers unnecessary, so basically I agree with you.
    Of course, self-published authors are just as ineligible for SFWA membership. I really think this is going to have to change. Otherwise, won’t SFWA end up more tied to the (shrinking, challenged) community of print publishers than to the (huge, enthusiastic) community of sff authors?

  32. Patricia S. Browne:

    “But I didn’t have the clout or experience to demand one on a first contract.”

    Why not? I got paid an advance with my first book and with my first novel. I had no more clout or experience than you did. But I did assume I should get paid, and wouldn’t have gone with a publisher who disagreed with that fundamental assumption.

    Re: Your SFWA complaint: You’re attempting to change the subject, not to any great effect. Whether or not SFWA were to accept your publisher as a qualified market, you should still question why it doesn’t pay advances. I guarantee you the reason isn’t “well, because SFWA wouldn’t accept us as a qualified market anyway.”

  33. Patricia — the problem is, the more SFWA bends to the pressures you’re talking about, the less force it has in stopping things like Hydra. Then it stops being “you don’t pay an advance, and also B, C, D” and starts being “well, we know lots of other people don’t pay advances and we’re okay with that when they do it, but we think you’re being excessively mean about how you go about the whole thing.”

    You’re also looking at SFWA’s requirements as being primarily about the writers, when there’s a strong argument to be made that it’s as much or more about the publishers

    What SFWA’s doing is saying, there is a minimum threshold for what they will (as an organization) recognize as a “professional contract” between author and publisher. This is not them restricting themselves to print publishers; SFWA’s terms include guidelines for digital publishers as well. The point is still that the company needs to act like a legitimate business on a certain scale, and treat its authors in a decent manner, in order to be considered professional. If setting minimum guidelines means that the community of writers who qualify shrinks out of existence, then that means SFWA no longer has a purpose, because nobody is treating writers professionally anymore.

  34. I just wish to quietly point out that the kind of cover that a poor author can possibly afford is usually not worth affording. The same is true of editing services. Some authors without money may have other means of acquiring art, editing and promotion, but stating that every author who goes with a no-advance publisher would have been better off paying for those elements and self-publishing is assuming everybody has a certain degree of financial luxury that may not be true.

  35. I disagree with John on some key points here.

    With the acknowledgement that there are already some situations under which self-publishing (and all of the additional effort and job roles that entails) would be necessary or optimal, I think that it’s reasonable and important to see what could be done – in a reasonable and equitable and open business relationship – for low-end publishers to offload self-publishing burdens.

    What the Hydra / Alias etc contracts do is unreasonable.

    But merely not offering an advance might not be.

    The assertion “that they do not respect authors” is not reasonable. If I’m a publisher, and I say to John “Hey, I want you to write X, but I won’t pay you an advance”, that’s not respecting him. If I’m a publisher, and Bill Nobody comes up to me with “I have written Y, which nobody else would buy but I think is pretty good”, and I could possibly make a risk/benefits tradeoff that if I invest my publisher time/effort in publishing it, and rolling it out and publicizing it, but the risk is too high if I pay an advance, then that’s different.

    It’s not unethical to say “No, I can’t pay an advance, that would be too much of a risk, sorry, but I can put it out for you.” John may not like that, but it’s not unethical. He’s right in one sense that it’s not valuing the book as much as an advance-paying traditionalish publisher does, but again, we’re talking about properties below which the tradisionalish publishers will play. “I value the book this much, but not that much,” is not disrespecting the author. It’s just reality and business.

    What would be disrespecting the author would then be, say, a Hydra/Alias like contract where it looks like a “net” contract but turns out to be a gross contract when you look closely.

    I don’t see anything unethical or unreasonable with a hypothetical lower-tier publisher who does not offer advances, does offer an honest percent of the net without any fees, and can offer a route to publication for a bunch of authors who are self-publishing now and absorbing all the additional roles and effort. It’s not a first-class solution, but these are books which have not sold to first-class publishers. Publishing there, honestly and with net royalties and what PR the market can support, is not unethical.

    The alternative seems to be for the author to self-publish and learn new roles, do a lot more work themselves, or find and hire freelancers to do things LIKELY AT NET INITIAL OUTLAY FROM THEIR OWN POCKET, which puts the author in the hole rather than a publisher.

  36. Patricia,

    To me, publishers are one of two things. They’re either resellers of creative works or they’re service providers to creatives.

    If they’re resellers of creative works then they’re in the business of acquiring works that they think will sell, paying the creator, polishing the work from being a manuscript to a book and then distributing and promoting it. This is all in their interest. They want to pay $X to the author, $Y to the cover artists, editors, printers, marketers and at the end of the day have the book make more than $Y + $X. The details vary, but that’s that resellers, in any market to. Buy product at one price, sell it at a higher price to make money. Now, all of the people I lumped under the $Y category get paid regardless of how the book sells. Why shouldn’t the person who created the product in the first place?

    The other option is that publishers become service providers. They agree to provide to the author the various services I noted above and either charge the author explicitly upfront or agree to take it out of the sales. HOWEVER, in this case what the author is doing is essentially self-publishing, they’re just outsourcing the non-writing work. It makes sense not to get an advance since the publisher is really a service provider BUT a) the royalty rate needs to be MUCH higher, comparable with what the author could get doing the self-publishing directly with Amazon, etc and b) everyone needs to recognize that a business like this is no longer a book publisher, but something else.

    I actually think there’s a legitimate service provider niche that could be filled that acts as an agency aggregating services for authors who want to self-publish, want pro editing and cover art, etc and are willing to front those costs. But that kind of a company is an agency that helps self-publishing authors, it’s not a book publisher.

  37. I partially supported my self by writing computer books when I was in college. This only worked because of the advance I was given. It wasn’t a great advance, but it was enough that it made the time spent writing pay more than any other part time job I could have gotten.

    I was living paycheck to paycheck. If the only renumeration came after publishing, over a year after I wrote them, I wouldn’t have been able to pay the rent.

    The Hydra / Alias contracts look like an attempt to make the publishing industry work like the music industry. That’s not good for writers.

  38. Marie Brennan — I see your point. I can’t help thinking of it in a union framework, perhaps because i have little understanding of SFWA from the inside. So it appears to me as a question: do you try to stop cheap labor from flooding the market, or do you try to unionize the cheap laborers? The idea of unionizing cheap laborers is not to affirm the conditions they’re currently working under. It is to empower them to demand better conditions in the future.

  39. @ Don

    I can see the practicality in ignoring the paymaster, but if this is the morally wrong thing for RH to be doing you’re ignoring the larger company out of convenience.

    Well, no. If Marie Brennan is correct, and I quite think she is, then writing off authors who are not getting screwed over by Random House is not merely inconvenient, it’s morally wrong to say you’re going to nuke Random House and sucks to be all those irradiated collateral bystanders. That you think a surgical strike clouds the stance some people most certainly are taking (not sure where you got the “seem” part from), suggests you regard any author doing business with RH to be complicit, as if those authors have any control over the relationship RH has with its other imprints and authors. Reminds me of all the comments during the Iraq War by people who condemned civilian casualties as responsible for Saddam Hussein’s Kurdish genocide. Which is to say, I’m unimpressed.

    @ Patricia S. Bowne

    I don’t assume that e-publishers can’t pay advances. But I didn’t have the clout or experience to demand one on a first contract.

    It’s great that you think e-publishers should respect their authors. In practice, though, the message that comes across is that unless we can get our books accepted by the print publishers, you and SFWA aren’t going to respect us either.

    Those two comments don’t jive. First you say that you don’t assume that e-publishers can’t pay advances, then you say that SFWA isn’t respecting authors selling to non-print publishers. The inescapable conclusion is that you don’t believe non-print publishers will respect authors. SFWA is taking a stand for all its current and prospective members who respect themselves enough not to allow themselves to be exploited.

    Why do you think it’s disrespectful of non-print publishing authors for authors, print-publishing or otherwise, who want to take a collective stand, to decline to throw themselves on their swords alongside you? If you think those authors and their advocates are being too high and mighty, you are free to start your own advocacy organization. SFWA and its authors are not rolling over just because you think this sort of contract should be good enough for them.

    @ Chrysoula Tzavelas

    Some authors without money may have other means of acquiring art, editing and promotion, but stating that every author who goes with a no-advance publisher would have been better off paying for those elements and self-publishing is assuming everybody has a certain degree of financial luxury that may not be true.

    I don’t know about you, but when I was living hand to mouth many moons ago, I didn’t consider getting paid for my work a luxury.

    @ georgewilliamherbert

    If I’m a publisher, and Bill Nobody comes up to me with “I have written Y, which nobody else would buy but I think is pretty good”, and I could possibly make a risk/benefits tradeoff that if I invest my publisher time/effort in publishing it, and rolling it out and publicizing it, but the risk is too high if I pay an advance, then that’s different.

    Would you really want to sell your creation to a publisher that didn’t even have enough confidence in it to pay for it? Why would you except them to bother putting the time and effort in to help it succeed?

    The problem with your argument is that the author still gives up the right to their work (and their next work) without any guarantee that they’ll get paid. Publishing isn’t a consignment service, and no consignment service is worth 50% of net on top of charges for indefinite costs. If I had run my business by providing services I really hoped I’d eventually get paid for, I’d be bankrupt. If I’d shown up for work in college hoping my employer would eventually pay me, I’d have starved. If I wanted to publish one of my symphonies or stories I write in my free time as a hobby, I’d sooner do it myself and retain control and copyright than hand it over to someone lock, stock and barrel hoping they’d do a good job and I’d see a return.

  40. Rickg17 said “But that kind of a company is an agency that helps self-publishing authors, it’s not a book publisher.”

    Exactly. And taking 70% of income (as Patricia’s company seems to do from their webpage) seems kind of exploitive to me for the services being offered, but maybe that’s just me. Ambulance chasing lawyers usually demand less of a percentage.

  41. Scalzi: You’re worth what you’re paid for.

    “It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him.”

  42. @MA – Indeed. A services agency makes its money by being paid by the author for services rendered. They’ve no legitimate interest in the success of the book – that’s between the author and whomever publishes the book.

    The catch is that authors need to think of themselves as a business in this case. They’re contracting for services rendered and will pay $X for those. It’s on them to determine whether that figure is a) reasonable market rate and b) is likely to return more than it costs. Authors don’t get to do the “but I’m creaaative…” if they go the self-publishing route and want to make money. At that point you’re a business. Act like it.

  43. @Gulliver, your reply to me is nonsensical and irrelevant to what I actually said, which was exclusively about the costs of self-publishing. So is your reply to several other people (such as georgewilliamherbert), who are no longer specifically discussing Hydra and its extremely onerous contract. You may not have noticed but the discussion has broadened to cover the general practice of not paying advances and when it may (or may not ever) be a reasonable decision.

    I also think it’s curious the number of comparisons I’ve seen both on Whatever comments and elsewhere to other kinds of business; publishing has a number of quirky practices that seem almost unique, ranging from the method of acquisition of ‘raw material’ to the distribution of the final product, which does indeed sell the product without first paying the producers up front. From what I understand, _most_ publishers’ contracts are predatory at first issuance; this is why agents and/or lawyers are practically required. Hydra etc. is sure, reprehensible, but the lines drawn at the moment seem very much in favor of protecting what is traditionally true whether or not it is actually a good thing, simply because it’s traditionally true.

    Anyhow, that’s not about advances either. Sorry. I think advances are a hypothetical good thing but that ‘no advance’ is not a cut and dried way of identifying evil/stupid publishers and/or stupid/ignorant/no-self-respect writers.

  44. There is a difference, however, between “small advance” and “no advance.”

    @John Scalzi. QFT, and there’s also the practical matter that a “small advance” can actually make a pretty big difference. Steven King tells the tale that the first thing he did when the $2,500 advance for Carrie arrived was go buy medicine for his bloody kid. Nobody accepts an IOU on a back end deal that might never pay off as legal tender. And all the writers I know who’ve received extremely modest advances have exactly gone on a hookers-and-blow run. They’ve used it to get ahead of the bills for a month or three and reduce the overdraft to (more or less) manageable proportions.

    And to come back to the ultimate occasion for this post, Random House is not some struggling indie being run out of someone’s spare bedroom on the smell of an oily shoestring. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of one of the largest media corporations on Earth, and the largest general-interest book publisher in the English-speaking world. If they really can’t afford not to be exploitative corporate douchebags, we’ve got bigger problems.

  45. @Chrysoula Tzavelas “… the lines drawn at the moment seem very much in favor of protecting what is traditionally true whether or not it is actually a good thing, simply because it’s traditionally true.”

    Not at all. The lines drawn are about calling out practices that pay the author last and possibly not at all depending on how sales go. Everyone else in the proces gets paid regardless of sales. The book can tank and the people who edited it, did the cover art etc all get paid. But the author, without an advance, does not. Yet it’s the author who provides the creative work on which everything else is based.

    I fail to see why a publisher should not pay an advance. That means the author knows they’ll get paid at least that much and puts them in the same bucket as everyone else involved in moving the book from manuscript to shelved product.

  46. @Chrysoula Unless I’m mistaken, the entire point of John’s original post here was that publishing *shouldn’t* be getting its “raw materials” (the author’s work) without first paying for it. Hence the analogy.

  47. Unless, of course, everybody involved is working on a percentage basis, just as the author is. :-)

    In any case, it doesn’t seem likely that anybody here arguing is likely to be convinced by the other side; I’ve expressed my opinion and I’m much more invested at the moment at the ongoing idea that self-publishing can be done well _and_ cheaply; it’s my devout hope that people don’t look at what Scalzi did with Agent to the Stars and assume everybody can achieve that kind of success with nothing more than a manuscript. So that’s my request: table the idea that self-publishing is absolutely always a better idea than no-advance publishing, especially when it’s brought forward based on anecdotal evidence.

  48. If Kurt Busiek is still hanging around, how does all this compare with comics publishers’ contracts, esp. the indies?

  49. @rickg17: Quite, and I don’t see anything in the OP that says back-end deals are always unspeakably evil in every circumstance. John’s last paragraph said exactly the reverse, as far as I can see.

    But let me draw an analogy from another field of creative endeavor — film making. It’s not unknown for actors and directors to defer their salaries for various reasons, or agree to works for less than usual in exchange for a bigger slice of the back end. (Sometimes it pays off spectacularly – just ask James Cameron – and other times it ends up in a hail of lawsuits, counter-suits and claims of studio Enron accounting to ensure a film never goes into paper-profit.) That’s a very different thing from a studio saying everyone should just STFU and accept they’re not going to see a penny upfront because of “a changing film industry”. For a start, none of the labour guilds would take it for a nano-second.

    But, once more, there seems to be some people who think a writer’s place in life is face down on the gound with a “Please Kick Me” sign permanently attached to their arse. Screw that.

  50. @ Chrysoula: “I’m much more invested at the moment at the ongoing idea that self-publishing can be done well _and_ cheaply”

    I agree. Except what Hydra and Alibi and others are offering isn’t self-publishing. It’s publishing where the publisher will maybe someday get around to paying the author once the costs of publishing have been deducted. And those costs are entirely in the hands of the publisher.

    Want to self-publish? Great! I buy most of my fiction from self-published authors these days. They work through Kobo or Smashwords or any of the other ebook distributors out there. They get paid a percentage every time their books sell, and they don’t get dinged for vague publisher-decided costs.

  51. @Patricia S. Bowne:

    So it appears to me as a question: do you try to stop cheap labor from flooding the market, or do you try to unionize the cheap laborers? The idea of unionizing cheap laborers is not to affirm the conditions they’re currently working under. It is to empower them to demand better conditions in the future.

    SFWA has taken various measures to try and better “working conditions” for all writers — of which this recent kerfuffle is a splendid example. They could have said, well, Hydra doesn’t pay advances, so they’re not our business, beyond not accepting them as a qualifying sale. Instead they said, this is exploitative of writers, and we are going to warn away non-members (your “cheap laborers”) so that exploitative practices like yours don’t become standard, creating worse conditions for all writers. Similiarly, they advocate for writers to get paid advances, to be paid from gross rather than net receipts, and so on. In other words, they’re extending some of the benefits of “unionization” to people who aren’t even members. (I put the word in quotes mostly because the nature of publishing, or indeed any other creative industry, doesn’t quite match the dynamics of the blue-collar jobs around which the union model is based, which means the analogy isn’t going to be precise.)

    They are not, at least in recent years, trying to “stop cheap labor from flooding the market.” There was a period where SFWA was indeed behaving like that — google “pixel-stained technopeasant wretch” if you missed it the first time around — but then the rest of the membership looked at its leadership, said “oh hell to the no,” and began reforming the organization. It’s still a work in progress, but at least they’re headed in the right direction.

  52. @ Chrysoula Tzavelas

    Gulliver, your reply to me is nonsensical and irrelevant to what I actually said, which was exclusively about the costs of self-publishing.

    I understood exactly what you said. My point is that if self-publishing is a financial luxury, so is being able to settle for a no-advance contract, most especially if you may never see any other revenue.

    So is your reply to several other people (such as georgewilliamherbert), who are no longer specifically discussing Hydra and its extremely onerous contract.

    I addressed both the general case of no advance (my first paragraph to georgewilliamherbert) and the specific case of these Random House contracts (my second paragraph to georgewilliamherbert).

    I agree there is a spectrum between no-advance contracts and Hydra/Alibi’s assume-the-position contract. I’ll also acknowledge that some authors may have good reason to forgo advances, even first-time authors, in favor of more resources of a small-press publisher going towards things such as marketing. However, it should be the author’s prerogative to turn it down, and if it isn’t then I personally can see no substantive advantage in going with a publisher that cannot scrape together a modest advance – the argument that it’s a way for authors to get their work out there without paying to self-publish seems false since they not only have to put in the work to create the content, but there is no reason to believe the publisher will be able to do any better than a vanity press.

    From what I understand, _most_ publishers’ contracts are predatory at first issuance; this is why agents and/or lawyers are practically required.

    That hasn’t been my experience, nor apparently the experience of many writers commenting here and elsewhere. Speaking only for myself, although I was approached first to write the two technical titles I authored, I did have a lawyer look over the contract. Not only would he, an experience IP attorney, not have let me sign a predatory contract, but there was a small but appreciable advance included in the original, and a slightly larger advance for the second. I also continue to see small royalties half a decade later, which is nice given the usual shelf-life of software engineering books, but I would have insisted on an advance in any event for the same reason. Ultimately neither were hugely lucrative, being an industry-specialized topic, relative to the effort put in, but I didn’t write them for free and I wouldn’t ever hand over the rights to my IP without some guaranteed compensation. No matter how idiosyncratic the industry, that’s just bad business.

    Hydra etc. is sure, reprehensible, but the lines drawn at the moment seem very much in favor of protecting what is traditionally true whether or not it is actually a good thing, simply because it’s traditionally true.

    I haven’t seen anyone in this particular kerfuffle defend tradition for tradition’s sake.

    Sorry. I think advances are a hypothetical good thing but that ‘no advance’ is not a cut and dried way of identifying evil/stupid publishers and/or stupid/ignorant/no-self-respect writers.

    Well, I think not even offering one is. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

  53. Whenever I’ve been offered an “exciting new change to my compensation and benefit package,” it’s never been exciting or beneficial.

  54. Gulliver, responding to Crysoulas:
    So is your reply to several other people (such as georgewilliamherbert), who are no longer specifically discussing Hydra and its extremely onerous contract.

    I addressed both the general case of no advance (my first paragraph to georgewilliamherbert) and the specific case of these Random House contracts (my second paragraph to georgewilliamherbert).
    I agree there is a spectrum between no-advance contracts and Hydra/Alibi’s assume-the-position contract. I’ll also acknowledge that some authors may have good reason to forgo advances, even first-time authors, in favor of more resources of a small-press publisher going towards things such as marketing. However, it should be the author’s prerogative to turn it down, and if it isn’t then I personally can see no substantive advantage in going with a publisher that cannot scrape together a modest advance – the argument that it’s a way for authors to get their work out there without paying to self-publish seems false since they not only have to put in the work to create the content, but there is no reason to believe the publisher will be able to do any better than a vanity press.

    First; I in no way want to defend the Hydra / Alibi contract. Unconscionable seems the most apt word. I’ve been scratching my head about this aspect of your reply for a while.

    Second; you and John are both making this fail regarding the first paragraph.

    Yes, a publisher who’s running on lower margins and profits, and not offering advances, is not as beneficial to an author as a big one which offers full advances, big PR departments, etc. Nobody’s arguing against that. But there’s a vast gulf between “self-published” and “big publisher”. You have a few small publishers of note along the bottom (volume) of the big publisher realm, with varying degrees of competence ranging from superlative to somewhat budget.

    The suggestion that there cannot be, is not, or should not be an intermediate case between self-published and big publisher model is not supported. It borders on elitist, immoral, and fattening.

    Again – we’ve already established PR, editing, cover art, (for physical books) production and distribution as specialist skills which either are in-house or outsourced in big publishers. Self-publishers either are doing it themselves, doing without, or hiring someone freelance for those roles. An organized publisher working at the low end, but offering all or most of those services, has value, in that the author gets to concentrate on writing and not on all the other stuff.

    If that publisher – with the authors they find, sales they can generate – works on a model that doesn’t support advances, that’s not as beneficial for authors as advances are, but is something.

    The idea that a publisher would publish something and abandon it without press or support is ludicrous. The publisher HAS invested in it, too. They gain nothing by locking up rights and walking away without support.

    Yes, some people are proposing writer-unfriendly business models and contracts in this space. Alias and Hydra seem such. But they are not the only ways to organize that business relationship. A straight, no deductions (other than presumably returns) percentage of the net, for example. People feel that e-self-publishing is not exploitive, with that model but without the additional services. Presumably what-percentage-of-net-versus-what-services-offered is a tradeoff that reasonable people can discuss and come to agreement on multiple options across the spectrum.

    Or maybe not. John and you are strenuously trying to exclude the middle, so far…

  55. “If that publisher – with the authors they find, sales they can generate – works on a model that doesn’t support advances, that’s not as beneficial for authors as advances are, but is something.”

    To re-re-reiterate this… why should the author be the only person in the production chain to not be paid when the book’s produced? Everyone else has gotten money for working on the book except the person who created it in the first place.

    I’m just dumbfounded that people keep defending this as a reasonable position. If the small publisher you’re using as a hypothetical example can’t afford to pay the author, where’s the promotion money coming from? You insist that they’ll promote the book… well if they do, guess what? Someone is getting paid to do that. But if they don’t have the capital to pay the author a reasonable advance do they have the capital to promote it? More to the point, why should the author assume that they do have that capital if they refuse to pay advances?

    Look, I get that smaller publishers run on tighter budgets. That’s not the issue. The issue is simple – the burden of that tight budget cannot fairly be imposed solely on the author, yet without an advance that’s precisely what’s being done. “Here everyone, here are your checks for working on the book. Oh, not YOU Author. You just wrote it.”

    A publisher’s lack of working capital is their problem, not that of the authors they sign.

  56. Again we go back to: so it’s equitable if nobody is getting paid except as a percentage? I mean, is that the way to start a small press with a lack of capital? Have the social capital instead to convince artists and editors and promotional people (as well as authors) to all work for a percentage of each book sale? I’m just curious.

  57. Something to be considering as a writer: when you’re shipping a manuscript out to publishers, you have already done the work. You deserve to be paid for your work and your product (this is the core of what capitalism is about). If you think a manuscript is publishable, you are stating very explictly you think you ought to be paid in exchange for the work you’ve put in.

    A publisher’s advance is paying you for work you have already done – it is saying, very clearly, that the publisher feels your work is worth paying for. If a publisher isn’t offering you an advance at all, they’re telling you flatly they DON’T think your work is worth paying for.

    If you aren’t concerned about being paid for the hours you’ve put in crafting your manuscript, then why, in the names of all the gods, are you sending it to publishers in the first place?

  58. “If Kurt Busiek is still hanging around, how does all this compare with comics publishers’ contracts, esp. the indies?”

    I’m not Kurt, but I am professional comic writer type. There are contracts this bad with indie stuff. But I can tell you that if you’re working on a creator owned comic, you probably aren’t getting an advance.

    I do my creator owned stuff through Image Comics, and their deal has some superficial similarities with the Hydra contract – there are no advances, and production costs come out of my back end. But the key word is superficial similarities – very crucial, Image doesn’t own any of the copyright in any sense,the production costs aside from printing are fixed, and we get all or the vast majority of the profits, depending on what format the book is sold.

    Which is a good deal. Because Image has a reputation and a reach that I didn’t have (and still don’t have) when I started publishing with them. If I had self published the book I would have been incredibly lucky to have sold a tenth of the copies that we have.

    So in comics, the no advance thing can work. The companies that do offer advances always want part of the rights for whatever interval the work remains in print or, in the case of the shadier deals, forever. Whether this is a good or bad deal depends on the project, the creator and the company.

  59. Again we go back to: so it’s equitable if nobody is getting paid except as a percentage?

    No. The point being made is that percentages are not reasonable pay for cover artists, marketers, etc. – so why should they be reasonable for authors, too? Why does the writer not deserve a guaranteed paycheck like all of those other people?

  60. “Again we go back to: so it’s equitable if nobody is getting paid except as a percentage?”

    If a publisher ran like that then yes that would work. At that point everyone is taking the same risk.

    However, back in the real world where that’s not the case I’d like one of you folks who think that a no advance deal is fine to actually explain why it’s OK instead of simply reasserting that it’s not a bad deal. All I see here is you and others asserting and reasserting the argument that no advance deals are not bad and ignoring the inequity in payment that John, I and others have noted. Simply repeating that something is OK does not in fact make it so. Show us some reasoning why the author should not get upfront payment when everyone else gets it.

  61. Rickg, responding to Crysoulas:
    “Again we go back to: so it’s equitable if nobody is getting paid except as a percentage?”

    If a publisher ran like that then yes that would work. At that point everyone is taking the same risk.

    However, back in the real world where that’s not the case I’d like one of you folks who think that a no advance deal is fine to actually explain why it’s OK instead of simply reasserting that it’s not a bad deal. All I see here is you and others asserting and reasserting the argument that no advance deals are not bad and ignoring the inequity in payment that John, I and others have noted. Simply repeating that something is OK does not in fact make it so. Show us some reasoning why the author should not get upfront payment when everyone else gets it.

    You all are asserting – again – a fixed current model where “everyone gets paid up front but the author”.

    Again – again again – again – that is an assumption, not a fixed truth.

    You’ve got the current business model stuck in your forebrain, kick it out of there and consider alternatives.

  62. @georgewilliamherbert: Show us a compelling argument that the alternatives are genuinely better, and we will consider them. But right now I don’t know of any successful attempt to run a publisher (digital or otherwise) on a completely profit-sharing model, where everybody — author, cover artist, editor, copy-editor, typesetter, owner of the company, etc — does their work purely for a cut of the profits and no up-front payment, sharing financial risk equal to their involvement. Is it possible that could work out really well for everybody involved? Sure, why not. Do I think it’s a better model than the advance-based one, in the sense that it is more likely to produce favorable results for all involved? Nope. You’ll have to present some better arguments than “it’s possible!” to get me on board with the idea.

    If you know of an example where someone is doing that successfully — and I mean more than a one-off attempt; I’m talking about an ongoing publishing model — then please do point it out. Otherwise it remains a unicorn. Yes, it might be fun to ride one, but it’s purely imaginary.

  63. Once again, the ebook fad has caused a lot of problems for professional writers and those who wist to BE professional writers. Some of my fellow authors brag about being under the banner of a certain ebook/POD “publisher”. Said company pays not one dime for advances. No offer at all. And yet, decent writers with plenty of talent seem eager to sign up there to not only be offered zero for an advance, but to leave all advertising and promotions up to the authors.

    I despair of the future of publishing and, ultimately, of literature.

  64. Marie Brennan writes:
    @georgewilliamherbert: Show us a compelling argument that the alternatives are genuinely better, and we will consider them. But right now I don’t know of any successful attempt to run a publisher (digital or otherwise) on a completely profit-sharing model, where everybody — author, cover artist, editor, copy-editor, typesetter, owner of the company, etc — does their work purely for a cut of the profits and no up-front payment, sharing financial risk equal to their involvement. Is it possible that could work out really well for everybody involved? Sure, why not. Do I think it’s a better model than the advance-based one, in the sense that it is more likely to produce favorable results for all involved? Nope. You’ll have to present some better arguments than “it’s possible!” to get me on board with the idea.

    If you know of an example where someone is doing that successfully — and I mean more than a one-off attempt; I’m talking about an ongoing publishing model — then please do point it out. Otherwise it remains a unicorn. Yes, it might be fun to ride one, but it’s purely imaginary.

    I know of no examples, or I’d have cited them. The knee-jerk overreaction here – Sure, Hydra / Alias crap is bad, but drawing a line in the sand where it’s been drawn with those implications – doesn’t just justify but in fact demands that the implications of that line be discussed, real and hypothetical.

    And let’s set forth a spectrum for discussion, ranging from “everyone’s in on share of the net proceeds” (an all-equal-risk share) to “publisher brings some cash with which to pay other persons, but not an author advance, and writer brings work of authorship, and between them agree to split (on some equitable division) the net.”

    If you object to the latter as an ongoing business, let me propose a hypothetical one-off – I in my personal perspective as a fan and sometime writer read a currently non or self-published work by a friend of mine, and say “Hey, that’s good, but no publisher?”, and then the two of us come to an equitable partnership agreement, to which I bring say $5,000 cash used to pay for a pro cover and a print run and marketer, and the author brings the work, and we 50:50 split the net proceeds. Not an ongoing business, but a one-off partnership.

    Was it wrong for me to propose this to my friend? For my friend to accept the deal? All cards on the table at all times, they know who was being paid what for what services, etc.

  65. John,

    I will include a link, but the people I’m trying to get through to aren’t likely to follow one. The think I’m too cynical.

    Wayne

  66. Short new perspective, slightly offensively as it may be taken:

    John and others are falling for the Sunk Costs Fallacy.

    If author X writes book A, that’s a sunk cost. A has some value, but it’s invested, not fungible. It is not “labor to be performed” but “an asset that is owned”.

    To take A to press requires additional new investment – editor, cover, print, business costs. Publisher will, unless they can find others to handle those services on a share of the net basis, have to ante up additional monies to make that happen.

    The financial relationship between author and publisher is different than the relationship between those who will have to spend additional effort to get the book out. The author deserves compensation for the asset, but it’s as an asset.

    This is entirely unlike the “pay me an advance (before writing, during writing, on delivery)” pre-arranged book contract, in which case payments for labor done during progress (as well as later royalty shares) are fair and reasonable.

    “Pay me now” for work I did – on spec – is different than “Pay me now” for work I will now have to do, on order.

    Again, I’m not posing this because I think that screwing authors out of money is fair or right or acceptable. My world will be poorer if John or Charlie Stross or others change professions due to lack of acceptable income stream. This is not hypothetical; Daniel Keys Moran, whose earlier books I was turned on to by Sean Eric Fagan in the 90s, dropped out of sci fi for a while to pursue a significantly better paying IT position (though he seems to have returned, finally). I do not want my personal friends who are authors to be poor or disrespected. They range from “doing it full time for a living” to “this is something I do when I have time between grading papers” and down from there. They’re all good people who I like, and want to see well paid for their creativity and work.

    I Also have seen exactly how screwed up the Internet has caused traditional models of every other business in view to become over the last 26 years, and have an appreciation for the travails of the authors who are somewhere between just below and significantly below the cutoff for professional sales. I do not see anything approaching an open mindedness among many above the pro cutoff (be they authors or publishers or what) for the trials that it currently takes good writers who aren’t catching on yet to get published. Alternate business models are a good and proper thing to explore to solve this problem. Amazon and other e-publishers giving you the “direct ebook only” venue is one new way, which people are coming to accept. I do not believe that the middle ground between is infertile. Absolutist positions that attempt to salt that ground are somewhere between absurd and offensive.

    If you trust me that I want authors to be successful, published, well paid, and happy, then trust me that exploring this middle ground matters. Maybe not for John, but for many others. Even if they’re not SFWA qualified yet, John and everyone else should care about their success. More opportunities for more success down there matters. Screwing authors is not success. But publishing with new ideas is.

  67. “But the pioneers must be prepared to labour without financial return, professional recognition, or the encouragement of a reading majority whose taste has been seriously warped by the rubbish it has devoured. Fortunately sincere artistic creation is its own incentive and reward, so that despite all obstacles we need not despair of the future of a fresh literary form whose present lack of development leaves all the more room for brilliant and fruitful experimentation.”

    H.P. Lovecraft 1935

  68. Lol, point taken.

    I simply wanted to make the point that people have been talking about the poor state of literature and concern for its future for, well, probably ever since there has been literature. I think the same can be said about any art form.

  69. @georgewilliamherbert, insisting over and over again that other people who don’t eagerly agree with you are simply unwilling to adopt New Ways isn’t really persuasive. It does make you sound like the tailors in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, however. Particularly with the rather rude suggestion that people who don’t see things your way simply don’t care about new authors (as if SFWA members sprang out of the womb with their Nebula nominations firmly in hand, and were never themselves new authors struggling to sell their work.)

    So no, rather than handwaving the problem by talking about a ‘spectrum’ – i.e., everything else – let’s stick to the subject. And to the question you’re trying very hard not to answer: Why should the author, alone of everyone in getting the book to market, get paid last?

    And no, the answer is not the Sunk Cost Fallacy. The publisher already has “business costs” (including editor salaries) that did not suddenly arise when she bought your book; her publishing house was not lying dormant and cost-free until she saw your manuscript. She did not hire an editor or a publicist just for you. Are some of those costs, like a book cover, going to be incurred just for your book? Possibly, but you cannot lump them in with “business costs” like keeping the lights on or the interns in coffee. So why isn’t the book-cover artist, like the author, being told “you’ll get a cut of however many books sell”; after all, isn’t the cover art a big part of getting readers to look at a book?

    Your hypothetical one-off also doesn’t make sense; for one thing, it’s a one-off, you’re not in the publishing business, and for another thing, you’re not actually splitting the proceeds 50/50; you are, in your words, splitting the net proceeds. In other words, you loaned your friend five thousand bucks to self-publish, with the agreement that you would get your money paid back and after that the two of you would share and share alike.

    I’m noticing that the arguments for these kind of bizarro contracts come down to one or both of “you groupthinkers just don’t GET the new way of doing business” and “but what about us struggling authors, Mister Big Shot Author Guy?” These are not sensible and well-thought-out arguments. The first one is pointless internet bravado, but the other is panic: fear that these marginal, exploitive publishers might suck, sure, but they still might take my stuff and if you make them go away maybe I won’t get published so shut up shut up SHUT UP.

    Which is, of course, exactly what douchebucket companies like Alibi are banking on.

  70. I have to say it seems to me the arguments for these kind of ‘bizarro contracts’ comes mostly from the repeated statement that writers who agree to them are stupid, ignorant or duped.

    You know what seems weird to me? Life of copyright contracts. How does _that_ make sense? Wouldn’t sensible publishing contracts have a built in expiration, like, say, five years after which the contract can be cancelled at any time? Like an apartment lease? And whether or not the book is ‘in print’ is irrelevant (as it should be in modern ebook times)?

  71. @chrysoula, it is unfair to suggest that a new writer who doesn’t have an agent and doesn’t have a publisher may actually have no idea what a standard publishing contract is or what certain contract terms means? Is pointing out that certain contracts are unfair and predatory really the same as calling writers “stupid” for being tempted by them?

    I don’t think people who are finding a thousand ways to make excuses for predatory contracts are stupid, or even necessarily ignorant or duped. I do think that many of them are terrified that they won’t otherwise get published, and I think that because several people have said that, and lambasted critics for being mean to new authors or not understanding or remembering what it was like to try to make that very first sale.

    And I do think that when people claim that criticism of these new models stems from thinking too far inside the box, or groupthink, or a disdain for new writers, well, those are not reasons carefully rooted in logic. It’s like when your friend takes up with Superjerk and gets angry at you for saying “hey, Superjerk is kind of not nice to you”, because you don’t know what it’s like trying to find a good partner at Friend’s age and you’re probably jealous anyway and why do you have to find fault in anything. The problem is not really that you’re unfairly judging Superjerk. The problem is that your friend is scared of being alone and would rather be with Superjerk than alone, and lashing out at you is way, way better than dumping Superjerk.

  72. Chrysoula: yeah, that’s another of the things which makes the Alibi/Hydra contracts so objectionable to the various professional writers groups. John did raise it as a point in his post dissecting the Alibi contract. But it pales before the lack of any advance, because the lack of an advance and the “percentage of the net” terms basically leave a writer who has signed one of these contracts in a position where it is VERY easy for them to never receive compensation for work they’ve performed from one of the largest companies in the business.

    As someone who really doesn’t have a dog in this fight (I don’t have a finished manuscript to shop around publishers, and I don’t have money to spend on buying books any more – ah the joys of the dole…) I’d still argue the bigger issue is the lack of an advance. The lack of an advance (particularly from an imprint of one of the biggest publishers in the business) is basically an attempt by Random House to get something (the creative work of the authors they’re offering these contracts to) for nothing. It is exploitation.

    Let me try an analogy: consider a cabinet maker who makes stand-alone cupboards and cabinets under contract to a kitchen renovation firm. He buys the materials, he puts in the hard work creating the cabinets, and he sells them to the kitchen renovation firm in a rough, but functional, format – they need a bit of sanding, painting, door furniture and benchtops added in to be part of a full kitchen.

    Is it fair for the cabinet maker to be making those cupboards, paying for the lumber, the nails and glue and so on, putting in the physical work required to create them, only to be told by the kitchen renovation firm when they’re complete: “we’ll take these, and we’ll pay you $110 each if we use them in a kitchen design”? I’d argue it isn’t fair.

    An author who is selling a manuscript to a publisher is offering something of equivalent worth to those unfinished cabinets – a manuscript is a functional work; it might need a bit of editing (sanding) and typesetting (door furniture) and cover art and marketing (benchtops), but it’s the same kind of component of a book. As such, if the publisher thinks they could refine it and sell it on, then they are obliged to pay you for it. That’s what the advance is: money up front, paying for the work which has already been done.

    If, for example, the cabinet maker is offered a flat fee of $1000 for 10 unfinished cabinets by the kitchen design firm, and then a subsequent $10 bonus for each one which gets used in a kitchen design, that’s something which is more akin to the traditional publishing deal – and it’s fairer to the cabinet maker as well, because they’re getting compensation up front for work they’ve already performed. If their cabinet designs prove successful, they may be able to negotiate a bigger bonus, or a higher payment up front.

  73. Not to pick on Patricia specifically, but rather to comment on the trend of thought her post exemplifies:

    Patricia S. Bowne says:

    Sure, I’d rather have gotten an advance. But if none of the print publishers wants your book, your choice is to go with an e-publisher or self-publish.

    That’s not actually the full range of choices available to the aspiring author. In addition to self-publishing or accepting an offer from a non-advance-paying publisher (I don’t want to conflate advance/no-advance with print/ebook, as those are two different axes entirely), there’s also revising the book and/or writing a better one. Which is the option I’d take, quite frankly. I mean, yes, it sucks to go through all that work and still end up with a book that’s not (yet) publishable, but I accept that as the price of getting better at this book-writing thing.

  74. 2mythago: Your metaphor is very interesting! Do your friends get angry at you in that situation? Mine didn’t! Possibly that was because I made sure they knew I was there for them even if I was concerned about their partner?

    But moving on: I think that of course it’s true that desperate or frightened or overeager people do take bad contracts. Part of the disconnect here is a disagreement on what constitutes a ‘bad contract’ and if it’s possible for sensible people to make a measured decision to place a specific book with a publisher who does not offer an advance but does offer other things of value (like promotion and a short-term contract). Many, many people in this thread don’t believe that’s the case. A few people, generally those with actual experience placing books with royalty-only presses, obviously think otherwise.

    @megpie71: That’s another one of those ‘other business’ analogies that I don’t think is quite accurate, because first of all, in your analogy there’s far more cabinetmakers than kitchen renovation firms with kitchens to renovate, and additionally, selling things on consignment does happen even in the physical world. Also, I’ll again point out that /publishers/ provide books to bookstores that they are only paid for if the bookstore sells them. That is only relevant here, of course, to point out that the publishing industry isn’t quite like others. We are still talking about advances and how authors should ideally be offered them, don’t worry!

    Although, @megpie71, John Scalzi not only mentioned the life of copyright element of the Alibi contract, he also mentioned that it was pretty standard boilerplate in _many_ contracts usually offset by an out of print clause that was inadequate in the Alibi contract. It seems repellent to me, but apparently people just accept it?

    Nicole: Do you see some _harm_ caused by placing a book that you would otherwise abandon with a no-advance publisher that otherwise offers a decent contract?

  75. It sounds like what these folks are trying to do is open up the possibility of bringing in Hollywood Accounting into the book publishing industry.

    Let’s “split” the costs and then we’ll “split” the profits, and you’ll just have to trust me that I”m spending what I tell you I’m spending.

    From the link: “Winston Groom’s price for the screenplay rights to his novel Forrest Gump included a share of the profits; however, due to Hollywood accounting, the film’s commercial success was converted into a net loss, and Groom received nothing”

    georgewilliamherbert: John and others are falling for the Sunk Costs Fallacy.

    From wikipedia: “This is sometimes referred to as the sunk cost fallacy. Economists would label this behavior “irrational”: it is inefficient because it misallocates resources by depending on information that is irrelevant to the decision being made. Colloquially, this is known as “throwing good money after bad”.”

    Hm, yeah, no. you keep using that phrase, but I do not think it means what you think it means. Authors who want an advance are not being “irrational” nor are they “throwing good money after bad”.

    In fact, you are so entirely wrong about this, that I’m going to put a chair on top of the soapbox I’m about to get up on.

    For an author to sign with a publisher, they’re surrendering significant rights to their book. This can be irrevocable. When the author signs with the publisher, they have no idea how well the book will sell. The publisher doesn’t know either. But that’s the publisher’s job, to find the market. The author already did his job, he wrote the book.

    An advance on royalties is a way for the publisher to “pony up” to the committment that the author is making. The author has done a LOT of work writing the novel. at the time of signing, the publisher has done, more or less, squat. They’ve read it, passed it around, but they haven’t invested any of their time or energy or money into making the cover art or printing 10,000 copies of the book.

    The author has to take on faith that the publisher will actually follow through and make that effort to publish the book.

    The advance on royalty is a kind of committment from the publisher that they will in fact follow through. And if they don’t, they’re guaranteeing the author at least the advance as payment.

    Book publishing at the time the contract between author and publisher is signed, can be thought of in terms of a wager. The author and publisher are betting on the book to win. The author has already ponied up his ante in the form of the labor it took to write the book. The publisher is ponying up an advance on royalties. This means the publisher is committing to the wager with the expectation that the book will “win” enough sales that the book will earn out that advance.

    By paying an advance, this also means that the publisher is FORCED to limit the number of new books they take on. THey have to consider their market and the book carefully, and they can only offer so many contracts with advances because they don’t have infinite money. With an advance, a publisher is forced to actually THINK about what book will sell in their market and what won’t. THerefore advances quickly weed out fly-by-night operations, flash-in-the-pan operations, luck, opportunistic bottom feeders, and so on.

    If a publisher pays ZERO ADVANCE, then the publisher has ZERO COMMITTMENT to the book winning. But more importantly, a publishing company that pays zero advance suddenly has infinite books they can make offers on. They don’t have to think, they don’t have to know the market. THey can simply offer a contract to the author requiring the author to sign over their rights, offer the author zero money up front, and then start selling the book in small quantities or low capital investment (ebooks?), and then when the market tells them which book they like, that’s the book the publisher puts all its money behind. And the publisher simply drops any interest in getting behind the other books.

    We saw this exact same model very recently with the “keep calm and rape a lot” tshirt nonsense on amazon. The T-Shirt was generated by a computer algorithm, not someone who knew art, or who knew t-shirts, or by someone who knew the market they were selling into.

    The company that designed the t-shirt could generate tens of thousands of random t-shirt designs and upload them to amazon for free. They didn’t have to print the t-shirts before posting them on amazon. They didn’t have to spend any manpower on any individual t-shirt. They spent all their resources trying to get as many POSSIBLE designs up on amazon for as little money as possible.

    And then they merely waited until the market told them which t-shirt design was the one that people wanted to buy.

    At which point, they start printing those t-shirts and selling them. If they get a lot of orders, they print a lot of t-shirts at once and get a bulk discount. If they only get a few orders, they print the shirts individually, on demand.

    But what is different between this randomly generated T-shirt operation and and an author getting zero advance from a book publisher is that in the t-shirt operation, the rights to the t-shirt belonged to the t-shirt company in teh first place, the energy needed to generate the t-shirt was minor when considered on a per-shirt basis. If a shirt doesn’t sell, the t-shirt company just drops it and looks for some other design that sells.

    With an author/book-publisher operation, the author spent a LONG time writing the book, and they just signed over the coprights to that book possibly permanently, and the publisher has zero incentive to actually sell the book. They have zero incentive to pick and choose books carefully based on their market knowledge and publishing savvy.

    With zero money up front, the publishing model completely changes to the randomly generated t-shirt model. The publisher doesn’t even have to know ANYTHING about the book to offer the author a contract, because their is no advance to pay. The publisher instead doesn’t have to understand the market at all, and instead simply gets as many authors as possible to sign the rights to their books over, offer all those books in the form of ebooks and print on demand channels. And let the market tell them which books are good. Once the market tells them which books are good, the publisher takes those books and prints up a few thousand copies and starts selling them at a good profit.

    But for the books that don’t sell, the author has signed away all rights ot the publisher, and the publisher has zero incentive to do anything to sell the book or fix it to make it sellable. The t-shirt company doesn’t care about the non-selling tshirt designs and will simply abandon them and replace them with newer randomly generated t-shirt designs. Likewise, a zero-advance publishing company has zero incentive to do anything about any of the non-selling books. They are better off signing up a whole new batch of zero-advance authors, and finding the book that hits a home run and becomes a best seller.

    This is the math that you’re not acknowledging. This is the math that creates a game theory outcome that is extremely bad for the authors. A zero-advance publishing company has to spend money and time and energy to fix a non-selling book. But a zero-advance publishing company doesn’t have to spend any money, time, or energy signing up a whole new batch of new authors. A zero-advance publishing company doesn’t have to spend any money, time, or energy to upload the books from these authors to some print-on-demand company, and then just wait until the market tells them which books are good and which are bad.

    Alternate business models are a good and proper thing to explore to solve this problem.

    Except that game theory can tell you that some of these “alternate” business models create scenarios with extremely bad outcomes without ever having to experience them. The zero-advance publishing company put in terms of game theory turns the publishing company into little more than a randomly generated t-shirt making algorithm, putting the design up for sale on the internet, and then letting the market tell them which t-shirt they want. The zero-advance publisher has no money invested in making an offer to authors, and doesn’t care if the book fails to sell specifcially because they have nothing invested in it. And the game theory also says that it costs money to fix a broken book, but it would be free to get a whole bunch of brand new authors to sign up, so in the end, the publisher doesn’t care about the non-selling books, invests nothing in them, and insteads offers a bunch more zero-royalty advance contracts to authors, and hopes that one of them is a home run.

    The authors in this scenario have permanently signed away the rights to their book. And teh publisher is committing absolutely nothing to the success of that book. By making the cost zero, the publisher stops having to understand books and the market for books, and can merely focus on a numbers game of getting as many authors as possible to sign up and hope they get a home run once in a while and let the non-selling books wallow.

    Scalzi isn’t committing a “sunk cost fallacy” here. If anything, you seem to be committing an argumentum ad novitatem, the idea that something new is inherently better. Alternate business models are a good and proper thing to explore to solve this problem. No. Not always. We don’t have to blindly accept all new alternative business models as inherently better. And you’ve blindly assumed that the outcome of any “alternate business model” will never be worse than the old model.

    In the case of zero-advance publishing companies, the game theory points to a stable outcome that is far, far worse than the “old” business model of paying authors an advance on royalties.

  76. So, Greg, how does your game theory explain the existence of no-advance publishers who acquire, in exchange for royalties, limited rights to publish a book, for a limited duration for 5 years or less, at the rate of 4-12 a year? I am not talking about unicorns here, by the way. These do exist.

  77. @Chrysoula: You seem really determined to make the discussion some kind of judgment directed at you, as a person and a writer (you’re all calling me stupid!) and you’re reacting as if you were personally insulted (I don’t know what you mean because I am better than you at friends!). I’m not sure why. The point of trying to warn people away from such publishers is that authors and their writing deserves better, not that we grade writers’ intelligence on how fat their advances are.

    Of course the no-royalty publishers offer ‘things of value’. The question is why those ‘things of value’ are supposedly better than an advance. Publicity is something you should expect from any publisher. A short-term contract doesn’t encourage a publisher to see you as a long-term investment. And again, we’re back to the issue that the author is not first in line to get paid; why? Because, presumably, the author is willing to sacrifice being first in line, as he thinks his work will not get published by anyone on better terms. Which is another way of saying he doesn’t think his book is that good.

  78. Oh no, I don’t feel particularly insulted or judged myself. I mean, no more than is probably right for the discussion. I’m in a pretty unique situation, publishing-wise. I also think it’s pretty clear to everybody still reading that I’m not stupid, so no worries there! I did find your comparison of a friend in an abusive relationship a bit unpleasant and inappropriate, though. :-)

    I also don’t think anybody here has claimed that the ‘things of value’ are ‘better than an advance’. Everybody seems agreed that advances are great! Yay advances! Every publisher should offer them! No, I think we disagree about whether ‘no advances’ should be highest on the list of publisher no-nos. But that’s a personal decision, ultimately.

    I do think you should consider carefully the statement that an author believing nobody will publish the book on better terms = the author doesn’t think the book is that good. That may be true! Possibly the author is just trying to make their high school AU fanfic earn a few bucks! But there are other reasons, too, and I assume you’re aware of those as well. Profit-focused publishing isn’t in the business of selling *good* books, it’s in the business of selling *lots* of books.

    In any case, I have to sign off for the evening and I may not be at a computer much for the weekend. If anybody wants to continue this discussion, I can be found on twitter and I have a blog, which seem to be linked to the various accounts I’ve been posting under. (How did I manage that? Why couldn’t I be consistent on different machines?)

  79. If you do not demand the appropriate compensation for your work, you are explicitly saying that your work doesn’t deserve to be compensated, and that is exactly what will happen. This isn’t any different from writing than it is for other professions, because it is people doing the invoicing and writing the checks.

    I am not a writer, but I do work for the world’s largest oilfield services company. Self-protection is paramount, because in the oilfield, there are an infinite number of ways for people to screw you out of money you’ve earned. Here are some examples. The uniting principle is this – if I do the work, I get paid, not screwed.

    By company policy, we get paid extra for work outside normal business hours under various conditions (if the bed you sleep in is not your own, assuming there is a bed anywhere near wellsite; rush or real time data processing; 12-hour shifts; etc). My boss has been made aware that if I do the work, I will claim the bonus policy says I am entitled to, regardless of how much money the company gets for the project from the client.

    When a job is sold, I make the salesperson give me a copy of the bid. This is to protect against clients expecting or demanding things for free, and to protect against salespeople throwing me under the bus by promising things not bid or things impossible to do with current technology and data. Any stance even slightly more conciliatory opens the door to being steamrollered by clients looking to get things for free or salespeople promising things we might not even be able to do (these are both infamously common occurrences in the oil industry).

    All big corporations train their financial people to invoice as quickly as possible (counts as an asset in the accounting), to drag out payments as long as possible (optimize cash flow), and to refuse reimbursement to employees of as many things as possible (minimize costs). In the words of Damon Wayans, “Homie don’t play that.”

  80. @ georgewilliamherbert

    First; I in no way want to defend the Hydra / Alibi contract. Unconscionable seems the most apt word. I’ve been scratching my head about this aspect of your reply for a while.

    Eh, apologies, I misunderstood your position. I’m glad you recognize the predatory nature of the Hydra/Alibi contract. I do still disagree with your defense of no-advance-to-even-turn-down contracts.

    The suggestion that there cannot be, is not, or should not be an intermediate case between self-published and big publisher model is not supported. It borders on elitist, immoral, and fattening.

    Neither of us are making that argument. We’re making the argument that a publisher, regardless of their size, who doesn’t at least offer an advance – to pay the author first, in John’s apt phrasing – should be viewed with extreme suspicion. No matter how small the press, asking the author to potentially work for free is unconscionable. At best it shows a lack of confidence in the author’s work and at worst it shows a contempt for the author. There is nothing elitist or fattening about demanding to get paid for your work.

    The idea that a publisher would publish something and abandon it without press or support is ludicrous.

    So is the idea that the author should work for free.

    People feel that e-self-publishing is not exploitive, with that model but without the additional services.

    Self-publishers retain their copyright, AFAIK.

    Presumably what-percentage-of-net-versus-what-services-offered is a tradeoff that reasonable people can discuss and come to agreement on multiple options across the spectrum.

    Yes, provided there is at least a small but substantial advance on the table as one of the possible options for remuneration. If the author isn’t going to get paid up front and possibly never, it better really be their choice. In no other industry would an ambit offer of uncertain future profits while everyone else gets paid on delivery be acceptable, and that’s because giving any worker the choice between potentially working for free or not working at all is not actually offering a choice at all.

    @ rickg17

    Look, I get that smaller publishers run on tighter budgets. That’s not the issue. The issue is simple – the burden of that tight budget cannot fairly be imposed solely on the author, yet without an advance that’s precisely what’s being done.

    Thank you!

    @ Chrysoula Tzavelas

    Again we go back to: so it’s equitable if nobody is getting paid except as a percentage? I mean, is that the way to start a small press with a lack of capital? Have the social capital instead to convince artists and editors and promotional people (as well as authors) to all work for a percentage of each book sale?

    Are the publishing executive(s) working without a net too? Show me a publishing exec willing to work without a salary and offering authors a stake in the company, then we’ll talk. Maybe there are small zines and other Indie presses that operate as publishing collectives, but John and I and other are talking about publishing companies

    I’ll catch up with the rest of the thread after breakfast.

  81. Let me first say I agree with your take on the Hydra/Alibi/etc. contracts … they are worse than RubbishAmerica. I got stung by them once, cost me money to get shut of them, never again. But as for the case of no advances, I disagree. If I were a big-name author and had an agent and stood a good chance of selling to the big 5, holding out for an advance would make sense. But I’m not. There are a lot of little e-book-only or e-book-mostly publishers out there, and just about none of them offer advances. By going with a couple of these I have a dozen titles on Amazon and B&N, I am getting a small number of sales, and I am building up my readership. If I had held out for the far smaller number of markets offering advances, I might still be trying to sell my first book. When you are trying to get started, it makes sense to take a less lucrative deal … at least, it isn’t costing me any money up front. And if/when I do hit it big, it would take at most three years to get those books back to switch them to a bigger publisher (if that never happens, well, them’s the breaks …).

  82. Chrysoula: So, Greg, how does your game theory explain the existence of no-advance publishers who acquire, in exchange for royalties, limited rights to publish a book, for a limited duration for 5 years or less, at the rate of 4-12 a year? I am not talking about unicorns here, by the way. These do exist

    Either you didn’t read my post, or you don’t understand game theory.

    The game theory analysis would say that any zero-advance-publishing-company is a great way to publish…. FOR THE PUBLISHER. So of course people are going to want to create publishing companies that use the zero-advance contract approach.

    They don’t have to know squat about publishing. They just play a numbers game. Sign up as many authors as they can for zero money, and then let the market decide which book sells.

    For the author, if the book doesn’t sell, the publisher has zero incentive to invest anything in the book. That would cost money. Rather, the publisher would prefer to go find MORE authors who will sign no-royalty contracts, hoping they get lucky in the author lottery. Because that doesn’t cost the publisher one thin dime.

    Whether the contract is for a lifetime or whether it is for 5 years changes almost nothing for the publisher. Either way, they have absolutely no incentive to spend any time or energy understanding the book or its market ro whether its sellable or whether it can be fixed. All of those things cost money. It costs them NO MONEY to find another slew of auhtors willing to sign over their books, and then they just keep doing that until they get lucky and find a publishable book.

    Game theory doesn’t say these approaches would be rare unicorns. Game theory says there is HUGE incentive for publishers to take this route. Sucks for the authors though.

  83. As a professional author, who shares a CPA with a more famous SFWA member, I am forced by tax law to treat my writing, editing, con-going, advances, royalties and all that as a business, not a hobby, so that my business expenses per Schedule C are deductable, reducing my taxable income.

    As a professional author,my company Emerald City Publishing has two main assets: intellectual property, and myself and my wife, who only have so many hours in a day to generate, submit, and promote new inventory of intellectual property.

    We choose what to write, and for how many hours per day. The editors and publishers (via literary agents when you have them) determine how many dollars per hour (or per word, or per page).

    Most starting authors make less than minimum wages, (in advances + royalties – expenses)/hours. A goal is to increase dollars per hour. Ripo-offs such as Hydra slow down that evolution of the individual writer’s profitability and are this the enemy of the community of writers.

  84. No, I think we disagree about whether ‘no advances’ should be highest on the list of publisher no-nos.

    Probably because we disagree about what an advance is. I agree with the folks who see an advance as paying the author, as an indication by the publisher that they actually have enough confidence in the writer and/or their business model to treat the author like everybody else involved in the process – as someone who has done something of value, and therefore deserves to get paid just like the editor and the cover artist and the printer.

    (And, from a lawyerly sort of perspective, money up front is much, much better than money eventually paid for pennies on the dollar after a publisher’s bankruptcy is processed.)

    So yes, “pay everybody up front except the author” and “pay everyone, except the author, unless the book sells well” should be right at the top of publisher no-nos.

    I certainly didn’t meant to offend with the Superjerk analogy (Superjerks need not be abusive, and sadly it seems that “well at least he doesn’t beat/insult/hate on me” is a justification by the partners of many Superjerks); substitute a friend who’s newly discovered a multi-level marketing company, or door-to-door sales or a bad job if you like.

  85. Thanks Justin Jordan for your answer. I know that Image takes no rights, and just wonder how other indie publishers work this I know some pay outright as work for hire, for many of their books. In comics Creator Owned is definitely the way to go.
    PS Loving Luther Strode, man.

  86. I’m providing a link below to an excellent piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates about the
    costs/benefits of writing-for-free (aka writing for exposure) in the blogosphere. This
    piece does not address the publisher/advance issue under discussion here, but it
    does speak to the broader question of what constitutes fair compensation for a writer’s
    work, so I thought I’d share it with the Whatever community.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/13/03/lucrative-workforfree-oppurtunity/273846/

  87. @james hartley

    If I were a big-name author and had an agent and stood a good chance of selling to the big 5, holding out for an advance would make sense. But I’m not. There are a lot of little e-book-only or e-book-mostly publishers out there, and just about none of them offer advances. By going with a couple of these I have a dozen titles on Amazon and B&N, I am getting a small number of sales, and I am building up my readership.

    I’m starting to think there are authors out there who LIKE to be abused. Let’s pick this statement apart a bit…

    1) “If I were a big-name author…” Why do you have to be a name author? Sure, you’re not going to get the advance Scalzi would, but if the publisher believes there’s a market for your book why wouldn’t they pay you? It’s a minor risk to them spread over a stable of authors presuming they know what they’re doing – some will earn out their advance, some will earn more, some will miss. Overall, they’re not losing by giving you an advance on what they think your royalties will be.

    2) “There are a lot of little e-book-only or e-book-mostly publishers out there, and just about none of them offer advances…” Sure. And they love suckers like you. If they don’t have the capital to do advances how are they going to ante up the money for the rest of the process from editing to marketing? IF they do have the capital, see point #1.

    3) “By going with a couple of these I have a dozen titles on Amazon and B&N, I am getting a small number of sales, and I am building up my readership….” /headdesk. Good God, man, you do realize you can publish directly with Amazon and B&N electronically, yes? If that’s all you want to do, you can go direct and reap higher royalties because you’ve cut out the middleman.

  88. To amplify what Christopher Wright said about publishers clawing back advances: as I remember reading it, the books were written, but the publishers kept demanding more changes, more changes, and the authors in question finally decided they were being jerked around and refused to go along. That’s when the publishers demanded the advances to be returned. The question I have is: if the books were so bad that they had to be completely redone several times over, why did the publisher(s) in question take them on?

    Patricia S. Bowne also makes an interesting point: why shun those who have had at least modest success self-publishing? I can understand the reluctance to take just anyone who throws some word salad online, but metrics could be defined (and, naturally, criticized and fought over thereafter ad nauseum). On the other hand, would I join a club that wants me as a member?

  89. Larry — Ah, but SFWA is not a club. (Though they’ve been known to behave like one, in their worse periods.) Nor are they “shunning” people who don’t meet the qualifications. I refer you to my comment above, where I explained how the SFWA qualifications are at least as much about imposing standards on publishers as they are about the writers.

  90. @Bill:

    I’m providing a link below to an excellent piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates about the
    costs/benefits of writing-for-free (aka writing for exposure) in the blogosphere.

    It is an interesting and (usefully) provocative piece, but I do feel obliged to point out the example Coates used was being asked to be part of a roster of guest-bloggers for a holiday weekend. A specific proposition worked for Ta-Nehisi in those specific circumstances. (And FYI, I don’t need to be told that making anything close to a living freelancing is akin to riding fifty miles of bad road on a unicycle. I just have to look at six years of bank statements and tax returns.) But frankly, if The Atlantic is depending on folks “writing for exposure” My alarm bells would be ringing — and I’d certain be asking around if there was any chatter about paid freelancers having… um… delays in getting paid.

  91. (Possibly OT)

    to treat the author like everybody else involved in the process – as someone who has done something of value, and therefore deserves to get paid just like the editor and the cover artist and the printer.

    This made me laugh in a gallows-humory sort of way, as someone who was recently laid off at a (very large and recently reporting record profits) publishing company because I had maxed out my allowable time on contract and they weren’t authorized to offer me employee status, and who has been looking for publishing jobs, and finding…internships and temp positions. The publishing industry is relying very, very heavily on unpaid and temporary labor. So it’s actually quite possible that there are a number of people working on your book who are not being paid, or who can be let go with less than a week’s notice if the workload drops off at all.

    Honestly, I won’t be surprised if one of these companies decides to try and tempt/exploit first-time authors with an Authoring Internship! You write a book for them and they publish it and sell it, and they “pay” you in Networking and Learning About How Getting Published Works and Looking Good On Your Resume and Building A Portfolio and, y’know, Experience.

  92. @cranapia: and of course the people in the movie biz like Cameron, Spielberg, Clooney et al. make their money because they get a percentage of the GROSS profit. Not the NET, like Hydra/Alibi is offering. If “Titanic II: Go Iceberg!” costs the studio eleventy-one million dollars to make, but only grosses eleventy million dollars, Cameron’s still good, because he gets 10% of eleventy million dollars. His contract, being for GROSS points, means he gets 10% of every ticket sold from day one, and if the studio comes up short, well… they don’t get to charge him for that, and they can’t charge the expenses for the studio’s hookers-and-blow budget against him.

    There was a well-known and profitable property which had a great deal of interest about moving from TV to film once upon a time. Nobody could figure out why it hadn’t. The cast and writer were all enthusiastic. But nada. One day I found out why: the actor/ess who played the title role was being offered net points, not gross points. Said actor/ess, not having fallen off the turnip truck upon arriving in Hollywood, declined this “opportunity”. We never got it in a theater near us, but said actor/ess is still working regularly, on projects s/he has clout over. And gross points in.

  93. “Thanks Justin Jordan for your answer. I know that Image takes no rights, and just wonder how other indie publishers work this I know some pay outright as work for hire, for many of their books. In comics Creator Owned is definitely the way to go.
    PS Loving Luther Strode, man.”

    Thanks dude!

    It depends. I know of two places that, when I last saw their contract, were damn close to as bad as the Hydra contract. I’m sure there are others. For the more reputable places, like Oni and Dark Horse and what not, it tends to vary, but for the most part, as long as you go in with eyes open, they aren’t bad deals.

    Depending on what you want. Alan Moore is famously pissed at DC for keeping ahold of Watchmen, for instance. But DC didn’t do anything that wasn’t in the contract* it’s just that what the contract said and what Moore expected weren’t the same thing. But they have made him a lot of money with their stewardship of the book, and could have made him a lot more if he would accept it.

    So, eyes open. Expect only what is in the contract and nothing else. The company might do better (Image has) but you shouldn’t expect that.

    On the direct topic – I would, absolutely, take a no advance deal on a prose work (I’ve already done so in comics) IF I believed there were some value that I couldn’t get otherwise. WHich, to be fair, I have seen in any non comics non advance offer, but I think it’s possible. In the comics world Image has significant marketing muscle and reputation, and we (the creative team as a whole) gambled that getting a book out through them would be worth it in terms of getting paid work from the other companies.

    As it happens, we actually do decently on Luther, which is amazing to me, considering how rough it is to turn a profit in comics. But the book has gotten me and Tradd a lot of paying work elsewhere, work that I, for sure, would not have had without Luther Strode.

    I haven’t seen an equivalent prose situation, but if I did I’d certainly consider. But if I were going to publish a novel, there’s literally nothing that Hydra/Alibi/Mephistopheles could offer me that I couldn’t get on my own without giving up my rights. The no advance people would have to offer me something I couldn’t get, and I’m not sure what that would be. The Hydra people would have to offer me a very, very large advance to take those terms.

    *For the most part, and to the best of my knowledge.

  94. @thecynicalromantic: I wouldn’t be in the least surprised, either. Though I don’t think they’ve quite sunk to “We’ll pay you, definitely, as long as this book you’re copyediting sells well and then you’ll get a cut of the net. What? No, everybody else is getting paid up front.”

    @Larry Kollar: What metrics are you proposing? It seems a little unfair to suggest there’s a better alternative without actually suggesting the details of that alternative.

  95. It seems to me, from my simplistic point of view, that publishers are in the business of selling books and authors are in the business of selling the rights to their intellectual property. I’d think it would just make sense that a seller is paid at the point of sell, not when the buyer sells copies of it to someone else.

    I wonder if publishers that don’t/can’t pay authors until after some books are sold would be willing to accept me only paying for the book if I like it? After all, both conditions for getting paid are completely out of the control of the seller and depend completely on the good will of the buyer.

  96. @mythago: I just threw out an idea—as a non-member, I don’t get to define what the SFWA does or how they do it, after all. But, I was thinking that a certain level of author earnings should be sufficient. Maybe for short stories or novellas (i.e. works under, say, 50,000 words), the minimum could be what a pro-paying magazine would have paid for it, while a novel’s total earnings would have to match the average new-writer advance paid by qualifying imprints.

    Some might argue the numbers—the self-published folks, after all, keep the rights to their work—but “rights” is a fairly intangible asset that doesn’t always translate into cash. Saying “your self-published work has to earn you the minimum of what a traditional market would have paid” seems fair to all concerned.

  97. @Larry Kollar: I’m not a member either, but the problem with ‘metrics’ is that they can be gamed, and that they are missing the point slightly. SFWA doesn’t just let members in if they have $X earnings from sales or Y publications; the sales must be to markets that SFWA has certified as actual markets, sales to which indicate that one is a professional writer. Self-published writings may be excellent and perhaps even successful, but there is no real fair way to evaluate the quality for SFWA purposes.

    I mean, take earnings. Right now a qualifying short story sale is five cents a word, $50 minimum a piece for a total of at least $250. Great! My writing buddy and I each write three 2000-word stories and put them on Amazon for $100 a pop. I buy his three, he buys my three, we each “earn” $300 for three short fiction sales that meet SFWA criteria, and now we can join as professional voting members. (Raise the amounts, you say? Well, that isn’t going to be a problem for me and my buddy, since it zeroes out, but it may be a problem for people who sell their work to actual publishers, and are thus stuck with what the publishers want to pay.)

    The metric SFWA uses is, has your work been published by someone who is in the business of buying from writers in order to sell that work to readers? That someone has a very direct financial incentive to vet the quality of the work.

  98. If you are self publishing why do you even need SFWA? Is it just a badge of honor? From what I’ve seen as an outsider (who has a goal of SFWA membership) their main purpose is advocating for authors with the publishers. Having the standards for membership they do is one of the ways they do that.

    Perhaps it would make sense to have a self-publishing guild. That way it is focused on situations that are important to self publishers. I know plenty of people who are making it in self publishing and I’m not ruling it out for myself. They could get together for workshops and have their own awards. (Which would probably be named after one of the founders.)

    As to the real topic, no one has yet answered the question satisfactorily to me as to why the author shouldn’t be paid first. Sure, there is room for experimentation in business, but why is the most important part of the business i.e. the product provider the one in the test tube? Yes, I’m saying the writer is the most important part of the business. If you don’t believe me then print up 1000 pages of lorum ipsum and tell me how that does. Artists who get paid to make art are able to make more art. Artists who can afford to make art as their job have time to create great art.

  99. :: I won’t be surprised if one of these companies decides to try and tempt/exploit first-time authors with an Authoring Internship! ::

    thecynicalromantic – ah, the Roger Corman Model! B-Movie director/producer Corman (Concorde/New Horizons these days) is famous/notorious for hiring promising film students once they graduate from USC or UCLA to work as sort of a combination company gofer/personal assistant/goon squad on his companies’ movies. After he was comfortable that they knew enough about making a movie the way he wanted them to make it (fast and cheap), he’d have them start directing for him – or slot them into other positions in his company if he felt they’d be better there.

    The differences are, of course, that they worked as apprentices to learn all aspects of the movie business (editing, lighting, shooting, audio, acting, special effects, promotion) with an eye towards ultimately being giving the money and resources to make their own movie; Corman paid them while they worked for him. Not very much (Corman’s cheapness is legendary, and often-mocked by his proteges!), but it was something; and he didn’t take their self-produced movies and distribute them for no money but a vague “piece of the action” after he’d paid all his expenses, either!

  100. >> If Kurt Busiek is still hanging around, how does all this compare with comics publishers’ contracts, esp. the indies? >>

    What Justin Jordan said, basically.

    There have been times I’ve taken no upfront payment in comics — ASTRO CITY #1-6 being the prime example. But in that case, the deal was less a traditional publishing deal and more a publishing-services deal — I paid for almost everything, got almost all the profits and gave up no rights at all. Image didn’t control my work as long as they could keep it in print, for instance — I could go someplace else any time i wanted (and did, with no hard feelings on either side).

    There are other comics publishing deals where the talent gets no money up front, the publisher splits the profit 50/50 after expenses are deducted, and controls the work for X period of time. I’ve never taken one of those deals — I can see reasons why some people would, particularly if “expenses” are rigorously defined — but I’d rather the publisher had more skin in the game than that, for that kind of share.

    In the final analysis, in the comics field, the books I’ve done best with, financially and reputation-wise, have either been the books where I was paid fairly up front and the publisher was motivated to do a good job, or the books where I kept all the rights, made the lion’s share of the money and was thus motivated to kick promo ass on my own behalf.

    kdb

  101. I surely agree that ebook (and by extension POD) publishers can and should pay advances. I do know of some that don’t, and which are still useful for authors though. I’m thinking specifically of some “bizarro” publishers. As most of their sales are online or direct (tables at conventions and bookfairs, etc.) the issue if returns are a minor one. This, and the fact that amazon et al pay the publisher monthly allows these publishers to pay royalties monthly. These non-commercial titles will not command large advances, but getting a check 90 days after publication and each month thereafter is handy. One friend of mine who republished his backlist this way after Dorchester went bankrupt gets a check for a couple grand a month, each month this way, and in some cases that can be as important as getting a large advance and then a small royalty six-eighteen months later.

    (Why not just self-pub? Production, cover art, close ties to the core audience and curatorial reputation,direct booth sales, some small amount of bookstore penetration, etc)

    If ebook publishers are paying no advance and aren’t issuing monthly royalty checks, I would avoid at all costs.

  102. We did a book through Lulu, and we had no illusions that this was the same thing as “being published” in a traditional sense. It’s worked out okay (a lot of books pay a smaller advance than the sum of the checks we’ve gotten over the years), but we did that because of a large pool of specific people who wanted a physical copy of the book. I wouldn’t consider taking a “no advance” publishing deal unless I wanted the book in print more than I wanted to get paid.

  103. First of all, I’m sure it’s been mentioned, but I will reiterate: The financial impact on a writer who is successful is zero. They will receive the same amount of royalties with an advance or without an advance. In fact, there is a significant financial incentive for writers to trade an advance for a higher royalty payment–the more successful you are the more money you will make.

    Secondly there is a lot of noise in this discussion that is not entirely relevant to the key issue, which is how publishers handle a lower risk environment. There is this odd assumption that an advance means that the publisher will commit to you when otherwise they wouldn’t. Well, it is true that their up-front investment in you is lower, so it is easier for them to cut bait, but that is pretty much how it is now anyway in practical terms. And, even now, most early career advances are similar to each other, so it’s not like one author’s $10k advance for his or her first novel is going to guarantee him or her more attention than some other author’s $10k advance. Really, it’s most likely other things than the advance which will generate additional focus and attention. The advance is basically table stakes, not a big bet.

    Additionally, I’m fairly certain that the general investment in cover art, design, editing, and production will be on par with the advance anyway (please correct me if I’m wrong, John). So it’s not like they publisher is basically going to not commit anything (and if that is the plan, I fear for the future of publishing). In the end, every publisher wants every writer they sign to be big. That’s why they sign them.

    There are exceptions to the above, of course, and those are legitimately large advances. These are big bets by a publisher, and they force the publisher to marshal significant resources behind this investment to justify it. To use poker terms, they are pot committed.

    In the end publishers know that for every 10 books they put out 8 or more will lose money, 1 will do okay, and 1 will make their year. So the real game they are playing is identifying losing writers early so they can cut their losses and identifying winning authors early so they can maximize their return. Of course there are a large number of middle ground writers in there, and they either fit in the “we’ve lost faith in them so goodbye,” “let’s give them more time,” or “we’re not making a ton on them, but we’re not losing money either” (and combinations of those attitudes).

    In pure business terms eliminating advances saves the publisher money in “research and development.” They can cut non-performing writers without the pain of having paid out money they’ll never get back.

    I think the real interesting conversation here is not advances but how publishers would handle this newfound efficiency in R&D. Do they sign more writers because they now have less risk in doing so? If they do, do they have the infrastructure to handle the higher volume? How do they assess whether a writer is on a successful trajectory, regardless? Do they become too short-sighted due to the ease of cutting no-advance writers?

    The answer to the above certainly can lead to one which you outline, John, but it is not related to the blanket evil of no advances per se so much as the environment that such a thing creates. A truly great publisher could turn the increased efficiency into a stronger operation that provides MORE money to writers by giving them higher royalties in return for living in a no advance environment. That’s a good thing–the publisher makes more money and shares it with their successful authors. Who loses? The authors who would have been dropped anyway, but only after paying them for books that didn’t sell.

    The erotic romance genre, which really had no hope at traditional media when it started to grow, is a great example where ebook distribution and no advance contracts are the norm. It’s also a good example of where writers are making a lot of money off of the bigger royalty percentages they receive. Ellora’s Cave is a particularly good example.

    It should be clear that my concern here is probably similar to yours, John, but it isn’t the assumption that you need an advance for a commitment that is the concern so much as the assumption that lower advances mean more writers signed, and more writers signed mean resources are spread too thin, and resources spread too thin means a lower commitment. But that is publisher specific, not a general “no advances” are bad thing.

    In conclusion, I will note that it makes sense for a publisher to make sure that they are providing enough resources to give all their writers a shot, but no one said that publisher’s decisions always make sense. Even authors with $10K advances fall through the cracks. That said, if the publishers really see this as a way to throw books against the wall with no rhyme or reason then it’s another example of a good strategic idea doomed by poor execution.

  104. RH has certainly sparked an interesting discussion, and this post of John’s is the first argument I’ve seen in favor of why advances are important that actually made me stop and think. I’m not altogether sure I’m convinced, but it is a good point.

    Still — one has, I’ve observed, a different take on these contracts if one is coming from them as a self-publisher than if one is doing so from a trade-published background. (In either case they suck bilgewater, but for different reasons.)

    As a self-published writer, when I consider whether to seek a contract with a publishing company (and I would never finally and absolutely close that door), I ask myself, not “How does this compare to what I could get from another publishing company, or to the publishing standard?” but rather, “Does this give me a reason to go with this publisher rather than self-publishing?” And of course, the way to do that is to ask, “What would I get by going with RH (in this case) that I wouldn’t get if I self-publish?”

    The RH imprint? Big deal.

    They handle the editing, cover design, and formatting for me? A wash. It saves me work and a little up-front money, but I lose creative control, and the improvement in quality (if any) is not worth the loss of half my revenue, even if, as appears to be the case with the latest update, they’re NOT expecting me to pay for it all anyway.

    An advance? I don’t get an advance self-publishing, so if they offer one that may be a small plus, but the lack of one isn’t a minus. As for how big a plus it is, it’s not more money, it’s just money a little sooner, to be taken out on the back end. The real reason why an advance became customary in print publishing is, I think, nothing to do with respecting an author’s hard work or any such idealistic claptrap (come on, these are corporations), but a recognition of the long lead time to come out with a big print run. Providing an advance meant an author didn’t have to wait literally years to get paid. That consideration doesn’t apply to e-only, or if it does, screw that publisher anyway.

    Marketing support? Here, for me, is the big question mark. What kind of marketing support? Traditional publishing sees “marketing” in terms of getting books into bookstores. Unless you’re a really big name with several best-sellers under your belt, little to nothing is offered in the way of direct marketing TO READERS. Well, that e-book ain’t goin’ in no bookstores, sorry. And getting it up on all the major distribution channels is easy and free, so the publisher provides no service there. What kind of direct-to-reader marketing will RH do for me? What kind CAN they do? Do they have the expertise? Where did they acquire it?

    That last for me is really the deal-killer. They want half my revenue and aren’t offering me anything of value that I can see in return. I understand why someone coming from traditional publishing would see the no-advance part as such a big deal, but for me it’s pretty much “meh.”

  105. I have a question: I have been offered a publishing contract with no advance. It is a small press that is just starting out. Their answer to my question, “Why no advance offered?” was simply that the market right now is very difficult to predict. “If we gave out advances for each book we publish, we would not be in business very long.” What do you think of that response? I have been working on my book for three years and trying to pitch it to agents and publishers for the past six months. I believe highly in my book and my talent. Should I pass on this chance and keep putting it out there or should I take the opportunity to have my book publsihed and receive royalties based on the sales? Please let me know!

  106. I know this is an old thread…

    I am in the midst of contract negotiations with one of the Big-10 publishers in the U.S. So, not a small publisher. They reached out to me to publish, so I am without an agent, but have one advising me.

    They accepted the book proposal (non-fiction business) and am now working on terms. The editor says it is the policy of this publisher not to provide advances. The agent who is advising me (no contract since I’m still in negotiations) said this is well outside the norm.

    The rest of the contract looks normal except for the no advance part…and, I’ll be doing the vast majority of marketing. I may be new to the publishing world, but it something doesn’t seem right. I just need the advance to cover writing costs, nothing more since writing is not my core business.

    Your thoughts, John?

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