New Writers, eBook Publishers, and the Power to Negotiate

In writing the pieces about Random House and its egregious, non-advance paying eBook imprints and how no writer ever should submit to them, or indeed work with any publisher that does not offer an advance, there are some folks in the comments and elsewhere on the Internet who are saying things along the lines of the following (paraphrased to condense points into a single statement):

That’s easy for Scalzi to say because he has power now, but us newer authors have no power to negotiate. And the market is changing and there are lots of good eBook publishers who just happen not to pay an advance.

One word for all of the above: Bullshit.

First, for those you who think the “Hey, let’s not pay you an advance but instead you can share in the backend!” model of publishing was first thought up in relation to electronic publishing:



This shit’s been around, my friends. It’s been around for decades, and writers groups and others who make it their business to warn aspiring authors about scams and pitfalls have been raising flags about it all that time. The idea that that because it’s now attached to electronic publishing, that somehow makes it different (and, more to the point, better) is highly specious, to say the least.

Sprinkling the Internet on a bad business model does not magically make it a good business model. It merely means that the people who are pursuing a bad business model are hoping you are credulous enough to believe that being electronic is space-age zoomy and awesome and there is no possible way this brilliant business plan could ever fail. Or even worse, that they believe that being electronic means all these things, which means they are credulous. Which is not a very good thing to have as the basis of one’s business model.

So why are so many eBook-only publishers attempting to run with the “no advances” business model? If I had to guess, I would say because many of these then-erstwhile publishers assumed that publishing electronically had a low financial threshold of entry (not true, if you’re serious about it) and they fancied being publishers, so they started their businesses undercapitalized, and are now currently in the process of passing the consequences of that undercapitalization unto the authors they would like to work with. Alternately, as appears to be the case with Random House, they’re looking for a way to pass as much of the initial cost of publishing onto the author as possible, and one of the best ways to bring down those initial costs is to avoid paying the author anything up front. Both of these are bad business models, although one is more maliciously so, and both are to be avoided. Just because someone has stupidly or maliciously planned their business, doesn’t mean you’re obliged to sign a contract with them.

But, these publishers and their defenders may say (and have said), the publisher takes all the risk in producing a book! Yeah? Hey, to publishers and their defenders who say that: Fuck you. Fuck you for asserting that the author has shouldered no risk, when she’s invested the time, opportunity cost and material outlay required to create a manuscript. Fuck you for asserting the the author sees no risk to her own career from the choices that the publisher imposes on the publishing process that the author has no control of: everything from cover art (which, if horrible and/or out of step with the market, can sink a book) to the size and distribution of the initial print run, to the marketing plan the publisher has for retail.

Fuck you for lightly passing over the risk that the author has if the book fails — that any additional books in the contract might be cancelled or put out with the bare minimum of contractual obligation, that the author might not be able to sell another book to the publisher or other publishers because of a track record of poor sales — and for lightly passing over the fact the a publisher mitigates its own risk of the failure of a single book by having an entire portfolio of releases. If one single book fails but the publisher’s line holds up generally, then the risk the publisher encounters to its livelihood is minimal. The risk to the author, on the other hand, is substantially greater. Yes, to all of that, “fuck you,” is probably the politest thing to say in response.

Tell me again how all the risk lies with the publisher in producing a book. I want to hear it again. And I expect you can imagine what I would say to that assertion, again.

Any publisher who would assert that the risk of publishing is all on them is one who simply does not understand publishing. I sure as hell wouldn’t work with them. Especially one that has the gall to not pay advances and shift production costs to the author by arguing that doing so offers a more equitable apportionment of risk. It’s certainly an advantageous apportionment of risk — to the publisher. But “advantageous” in this case is almost certainly not the same as “equitable.”

On the subject of risk and investment — when a writer gets an advance from a publisher, it’s the publisher signaling two things: One, it acknowledges the risk and investment the writer and only the writer has made to that point in creating a manuscript that the publisher sees as having commercial potential. Two, it’s signalling how much risk and investment that the publisher is willing to make in the property.

Both of these are important. As regards the first, why work with people who don’t acknowledge that the work you’ve done has value, even as they are trying to license the product of that work? Two, why work with people who have signaled they have no intention of making a material investment in the work? And if they wish to suggest that they will make that material investment — by way of editing, marketing, production, etc — again we come to the question of why everyone else is getting paid ahead of the writer.

(And as for “but, but — profit sharing!” my answer is, groovy: The advance is advanced against the expected profits (as opposed to against royalties, which is a separate thing entirely). Rule of thumb: If anyone gets paid, the writer gets paid. First. Because, once again: What the writer provides is why everyone else gets paid — and the writer has already done the work.)

Now, let’s talk about me for a minute. Yes, I am in a position where I have some influence on how my contracts are negotiated, what’s in them and what’s not, up to and including how much of an advance I get. But here’s the thing: Back when I was selling my very first novel? I was also in a position to have influence on how my contracts were negotiated, what was in them, up and including the advance.

Why? Because I had something the publisher wanted. Namely, the novel in question.

People: Unless the publisher you’re talking to is a complete scam operation, devoted only to sucking money from you for “publishing services,” then the reason that they are interested in your novel is because someone at the publisher looked at it and said, hey, this is good. I can make money off of this. Which means — surprise! Your work has value to the publisher. Which means you have leverage with the publisher.

Publishers are not grand mystical portals into a realm of fantastic living and eternal happiness. They are companies looking to make a profit so they can continue existing, staffed by people who are looking for manuscripts that will make their companies a profit, so the companies can continue existing and they don’t have to work at Wal-Mart, stocking shelves. I’ve met my publisher and editor. They are lovely people and I like them a lot, and they’ve done pretty well for me. But then, I’ve done pretty well for them, too, and at the end of the day none of us is sporting the majestical look of destiny. We’re just people, doing our respective jobs.

So when a publisher comes to you and says “We like your book, can we buy it?” do not treat them like they are magnanimously offering you a lifetime boon, which if you refuse will never pass your way again. Treat them like what they are: A company who wants to do business with you regarding one specific project. Their job is to try to get that project on the best terms that they can. Your job is to sell it on terms that are most advantageous to you.

You can do that even when you’re starting out. I did. So have many other debut authors. Because they all had something the publisher wanted: The work.

But you will not be able to do that if you go into the negotiation assuming you have no leverage. Forget the publisher screwing you — you have screwed yourself. And if that’s the case you can’t blame the publisher for then taking you for every single thing they can. Because, remember, that’s their job. They don’t even need to be evil to do it; they just have to be willing to take every advantage you let them have. That’s business. This is a business negotiation. They’re going to assume you know what you’re getting into. That’s why they have contracts: So it’s all down in black and white and you can’t say you didn’t know.

So, yeah. Damn right I negotiated terms from contract number one. And the fact I did put me in much better stead for the next contract, and the next one and all the ones after that. I had that power then — the same as any new or first time author.

What have we learned today?

1. Not offering advances is not a great new business model, it’s a crappy old one;

2. Writers are not responsible for propping up crappy business models;

3. Don’t believe anyone who tells you publishers carry all the risk of publication;

4. Even new writers have leverage with publishers;

5. If you don’t respect yourself or your work, no one else will either.

Now go out there and sell to a publisher who deserves your work, and make them show just how much they deserve it.

127 Comments on “New Writers, eBook Publishers, and the Power to Negotiate”

  1. I’ve really enjoyed your posts on this issue. Reading this made me realize how much the approach also applies to interviewing for a 9-to-5 job too – too many people go through interviews desperately trying to impress the company as though a job offer is a favor. Recognize that they’re talking to you because they expect to make money after paying your salary, and interview them as much as vice versa. I know this is a little tangential, but it helped me apply these thoughts as a non-writer.

  2. This conversation dovetails nicely with the kerfluffle surrounding the Atlantic’s blog policy:

    And I think the temptation for a lot of the unpublished masses, myself included, surrounds exposure. Hey, I’m nobody right now, we think — but might I be somebody if only I could get my work out there?

    This is an especially poignant question for me because I’ve been working with an A-list agent for two years, and after four rejections from advance-paying publishers, HE started sending my stuff to no-advance-paying small presses. The view from his expensive desk was that today’s industry is so conservative that a writer like me had no hope of getting in any other way than free.

    So while I respect your take, John, I also know that you sat down with the intention of writing a salable book, while everyone I’ve talked to looks at my entertaining, well-written, but offbeat fiction and says, “Sure, kid, come on back when you’re somebody.”

    I’m currently courting no-advance small presses who bother to get reviews and put books in the hands of big-mouths because I see no other choice.

    But a part of me wonders whether these first novels of mine might suddenly be worth more once I manage to produce something salable in the mainstream — and since I’m trending in that direction anyway, your opinion gives me pause.

    I’ve been a pro DJ for ten years now, and I’d never advise a talented young DJ to take a weekly gig that doesn’t pay. I’d laugh at the notion.

    That gives me pause too.

  3. The whole thing moves ALL of the risk from the publisher to the author. This has the consequence of creating an incentive for the publisher to accept manuscripts without critical consideration, because their income is based almost entirely on how many authors they can keep on the hook, rather than how many copies they sell.

  4. Always remember, negotiations involve both parties. Ask the publisher what they are going to do for you. “We’re publishing your book!” is NOT an adequate answer. If the publisher cannot specify what their efforts in this are, they likely have nothing at risk.

  5. I think some new writers don’t really understand why this is so bad.

    It’s not that it’s a ‘no advance’ contract in and of itself; self-publishing on Amazon is also a no advance contract.

    It’s that it’s a full publishing contract including giving all rights to the publisher for the duration of your life and then some, with no advance.

    If you want to work on a ‘no advance’ basis, self-publish and get your own editing/etc. Signing a ‘no advance’ contract isn’t going to be substantially better – after all, if the publisher doesn’t care about you enough to give you an advance, are they really going to spend a lot of money on marketing?

  6. When I ran an electrical contracting business my contracts always called for an advance on signing of the contract. I am of the opinion that you are not a very good business person if you try to run it without commitments from the client. I never had a problem from any one I worked with over this expectation and as a writer I don’t think your ventures should be any different.

    May the FORCE be with you!
    (I know a different universe)

  7. Very well said!

    I would add one thing: this does not apply only to writers v. publishers, but to many other arts and professions.

    In my own field (translation) I see similar excuses from translators afraid to negotiate contract terms with translation agencies, and unwilling to stand firm for their own rates. And I see excuses about “new business models” and crap like that proffered by underfunded translation agencies that, in their turn, seem unable to fight for better conditions and higher rates from their customers.

  8. I would add to this that letting a novel you’ve written languish unpublished on your hard drive is not, in fact, the worst fate you could suffer. I have only recently passed the threshold where I have more published books than unpublished ones (for those not familiar with me, let me note that I have eight books out there), and you know what? One of those trunked books will never go out into the world under any circumstances, and two others will only go out if they get a rewrite from the ground up first. Yes, that’s a lot of hours down the hole; on the other hand, I learned something from writing them, and even from failing at them.

    Getting an offer from a non-advance-paying publisher — talking here about outfits that are not predatory scams like Hydra et alii — seems to be, for many people, as much about validation as anything else. Validation, and the fear of rejection. If I don’t take their offer, then I’m afraid nobody else will publish this book. Well, yes, that’s possible. And if all you want is to get that one book out there in the world, then by all means accept the offer. But if you want to make an ongoing career out of writing, then consider that you will be far better off trunking that book — the one nobody will offer you up-front money for — and writing a better one, than handing over a sizable chunk of your profits and creative control to a company who either don’t think you’re a good risk, or can’t run their own business well enough to pay you up front, in exchange for some marketing of uncertain effectiveness and the right to claim ebook sales on Amazon/B&N/Kobo/iTunes/etc. Those sales will only impress an advance-paying publisher if they’re high, and if they’re high, then somebody who pays advances would probably have paid you one for that book.

    But it’s hard to keep beating your head against the wall of submitting to such publishers, and hard to swallow the possibility that the solution to being offered a bad deal is not to take that deal, but to improve your book/write a new one.

    A good ebook publisher, one who’s running on a solid business model and isn’t teetering on the edge of going bankrupt and/or pocketing all the profits, can afford to invest in the writers who make their business go. And they should.

  9. I was trying to explain the Hydra contract to my dad the other day, and used the analogy of a bank. Essentially, they provide the upfront money to pay for services (editing, cover design, etc) but their price for doing so is a lifetime interest in the property. No one in their right mind would sign a mortgage like that — it’s sort of “sure, we’ll lend you the money, and you’ll pay us back, but then we’ll still own the property. We’ll let you live in it, though. Oh, and by the way, all the work that’s done on the property — the stuff that your money pays for? — will be done by our employees and the money for that will go to our bottom line. Oh, and we’ll take care of all the accounting, too. You’ll have to trust us that we’re making good choices for you.”

    As a former acquisitions editor, I’m … well, mildly impressed. In a “wow, that’s a great business model., except for the part about being completely evil” sort of way. I’m really glad that SFWA took the stand that it did, though. As a self-published author, one of the only reasons I can see to traditionally publish is the validation, including the ability to join organizations like SFWA. I’m glad that you’re rejecting the premise that publishing under terrible terms is still better than self-publishing.

  10. Nail, meet head. This is far from new and innovative, and people have been pulling this crap in just about every creative field for years. Clubs charging bands to play, websites scraping free content in exchange for “exposure,” scam contests charging money to allow screenplay pitches. There’s always someone willing to let you take the risk and do the heavy lifting while they reap the benefits. (Go figure.)

    I have no idea why someone would want to do business with these outfits, when the contract is so clear: they plan to make money off of you, not just your work.

  11. Two cents from someone who has made a fair bit of money on (nonfiction) ebooks:

    If your work is good, you can build an audience on the internet. If you can build an audience, you can make money by selling to that audience directly. If you can sell to your audience directly, you don’t need a publisher. If you don’t need a publisher, then you DO have power when a publisher notices your success and asks for a partnership.

    There’s some truth to the idea that there is, or can be, lower overhead in ebook publishing. You can crowdsource your copy editing (my beta readers were happy to submit errata in return for early access); you can get a cheap cover from 99Designs; etc.

    But the point is, if you’re going to embrace this worse-is-better low-overhead model, you don’t need the publisher at all.

    I’ve inked one redistribution deal with a publisher *after* the book was already written – and it’s just a deal that says they can *also* sell the book. I get a smaller cut than I do from direct sales, but I get to reach a bigger audience. Win/win.

    The only reason I can imagine going the traditional publishing route is if they were offering access to a substantial set of resources that I couldn’t easily put together otherwise. A professional editor to work with; perhaps an illustrator; marketing that reaches beyond my already large network.

    It makes me sad when I see people treating publishers (or record labels, for that matter) as the gatekeepers to success. That day is lone gone.

  12. You know, this is applicable to many many other aspects of freelance creative life apart from writing and publishing; last year, I successfully avoided a letter of agreement with a producer who wanted to represent my script. There was no cash up front and there was an in perpetuity clause. At some point in my young life I had been convinced that people were doing me a favor by working with me, and posts like these helped to move me from desperation to the ability to go “there’s something not right here–maybe I should get a lawyer.” So thanks for that.

  13. I find it sad that you even have to write this post. I would think it was self-evident. Then again, I’ve been self-employed for 20 years, so self-evident to me is not the same as it is to others.

    Basically, it looks like there needs to be a “How to think like a businessperson about your writing,” class.

  14. Thank you, thank you, for speaking truth to power.

    You make the secondary point that low self-esteem will seek ego affirmation anywhere, even at the cost of common sense.

    I’d like to add to that that many, many new writers seem to think that their ego deserves a pass on learning how to write. But it is that, and only that, terribly hard work which will get a writer published by legitimate firms. Not marketing, not self-pubbing before the work is ready, not any sop you can throw to the always-hungry ego, up to and including the self-immolation of signing with scumblishers. (That’s a word I created meaning “scum who masquerade as publishers.”)

    And it’s damned hard work that changes you forever as a person. If you only “want” to be a writer, be warned: it won’t be worth it. If you need to be a writer, on the other hand, you’re doomed to change, so you might as well embrace it.

    And read this blog when you want a jolt of common sense.

  15. Thank you for saying all this John. As someone who would like to be published in the future, I’ve always struggled and strained against the advice that you have to be ‘flexible’ not as in willing to negotiate, but willing to take whatever is on offer.

    I think us ‘newbies’ have to be willing to say ‘ I’m not giving it to first person who comes along. I will not be impressed and awed that someone wants to publish me, I already know I’m worth it.

    When I sell something on Ebay, I know what it’s worth. I make sure that I get a fair price for it when selling it on. Why wouldn’t I do the same for something so much more a part of me than say a handbag or a video game?

  16. @Gabriel Squailia: Something you mentioned caught my attention. You said that after two years and four rejections, your “A-list agent” started sending your manuscript to no-advance publishers. That seems rather half-assed, in my opinion. He gave up after only four rejections? From what I understand, a lot of new authors get at least 1 rejection a month; and with a good agent a lot more. I’d suggest looking for another agent. One that will actually work hard for you rather than make what looks like a token effort to me. This is a layman’s opinion, just to clarify.


    It seems that new authors need to learn how to shift from being an artist that wants to share their work with the world and into a business person that’s selling a product.

  17. @uldihaa – That was my take, too. I’m flying solo now. By “A-list,” I meant “representing A-list, best-selling authors.”

  18. One small point about word usage, if I may: “I would say because many of these erstwhile publishers assumed that publishing electronically had a low financial threshold of entry…” is a sentence about prospective electronic publishers. But as I understand it, “erstwhile” refers to something that was just recently true but not any longer. (As a kid I learned the word from James Blish’s Star Trek adaptation “Balance of Terror” wherein Captain Kirk, having to abandon a wedding ceremony at which he’s officiating, is called “the erstwhile pastor.”)

  19. Gottacook:

    They were erstwhile in the first half of the sentence, and then got into the business in the second half. BUT edited to clarify anyway.

  20. I would like to point out the difference between the Random House deal and self-publishing is that in self-publishing, you own the copyright. That’s it. You’re not getting any advances for self-publishing an ebook, you’re doing all the editing and formatting costs yourself, but at the very least you own the copyright to your work.

    In short, they’re offering this dubious publisher imprint in return for owning the copyright to your work. That’s all. In the end, you’re a lot better off self-publishing and drumming up interest yourself.

  21. As a recently debuted author, I can confirm that, yes, we have negotiating power – or rather our agents do. Mine negotiated a two-book deal up to three books (at my request – I wanted to be sure of completing my planned trilogy) and ensured that the terms were equitable.

    I can understand how writers are so desperate to get a deal of any kind that they will kid themselves a Hydra/Alibi contract is reasonable, but it’s truly better to self-publish than sign away your rights to your work like that. At least with the latter, there’s still a faint chance a bona fide publisher will offer you a real deal later on (as has happened to the likes of Michael J Sullivan and Hugh Howey)!

    It’s a classic sign of a vanity press that they tie you down to fixed/infinite length contracts rather than “whilst the book is in print”, as is customary in publishing. And yes, it is possible to define what “in print” means in relation to an ebook – the technology is mature enough that agents (and editors) understand the practicalities (or should do).

  22. “Rule of thumb: If anyone gets paid, the writer gets paid. First. Because, once again: What the writer provides is why everyone else gets paid — and the writer has already done the work.”
    This is the Word of the Scalzi

    This refutes everything that anyone else ever has to say on the subject. Ever.

  23. As someone who self-publishes, I can say that I get as much out of it as I put into it. I value my work, and believe the only one that gets paid for it should be those who worked on it. I don’t need to chip in on the paycheck of some publishing exec who has never even glanced at my work. I pity any writer that has chosen the route of handing over their work to a company that does not value it, but expects to get paid for the author’s work… when the author has not been paid at all.

  24. @uldihaa: “It seems that new authors need to learn how to shift from being an artist that wants to share their work with the world and into a business person that’s selling a product.”

    But first, a new author must decide that she is, in fact, a businesswoman — and this is tougher than it sounds.

    It took me twenty years of hard work to hit my stride and produce novels that were up to my standard. During those ten thousand hours of sweat, I developed a strong idea of myself as an artist — perhaps an overblown one! — and I’m finding it tough to let go of that and go for the commercial jugular.

    If I’d started out, as Scalzi did, by browsing genre bestsellers and writing a book I thought could sell, this would be a different discussion. As it is, small presses that offer no advance appeal to the romantic in me. They’re in it for love and art, too — and in the mind of the desperate, unpublished author, the fact that their business plans are shaky or nonexistent only bolsters this sense of kinship.

    I’m not saying that’s a good thing, just stating what I see from my position.

  25. As long as writers are willing to stand in line to get screwed, it will be a buyers’ market. And a lot of writers are even willing to pay to stand in line.

  26. Thanks Scalzi. As a stay-at-home mom with two kids not yet old enough for school, it’s hard work just to find the time to write, much less string together the right words. It’s nice to be reminded that my time and effort are worth something–and that I’m my own first line of defense when it comes to getting what I deserve.

  27. @Gabriel: your comment provoked thought. In some creative fields it’s considered normal to use work that “pays the bills” to create a space in which to do more creative work. E.g. I have a photographer friend who, like many photographers, does head shots and weddings (among other things) to pay the bills. He also has a lot of ongoing artistic projects. He takes pride in all his work, but the art projects are the ones he’s really passionate about. And the commercial work is what makes the artsy work possible.

    Scalzi has been advocating a model that sounds like this for a long time. But it seems from the conversations I’ve read here that a lot of writers or aspiring writers don’t look at it this way. Is there a reason for that?

  28. @Gabriel Squailia: If you’re doing it for the art, then I’d suggest self-publishing. That way you keep all of the rights to your work. I’ll also ask if those small press artistic publishers are getting one or more of your rights to your intellectual property. If they are, then they really aren’t in it just for the art. Instead they would be a business looking to make money.

  29. One word for all of the above: Bullshit.

    A few more words I suspect John is far too modest to say for himself. Writers with “power” get involved in things like SFWA and Writers Beware because they’re not so cynical as to assume that a writer’s place is face down with a ‘kick me’ sign permanently attached to their arse and that’s the way it is. There are plenty of people in publishing whose default setting isn’t “exploitative douche-canoe”; and there are plenty of writers who have had shocking experiences but still think the much abused phrase “SF/fantasy community” actually means something. If you’re not at least trying to make things in your trade/professional better for the folks coming up behind you, what’s the point of you?

  30. …they fancied being publishers, so they started their businesses undercapitalized, and are now currently in the process of passing the consequences of that undercapitalization unto the authors they would like to work with.

    I just want to emphasize this bit. There are small publishers who don’t pay advances, and seem like stand-up people–Candlemark & Gleam are one–but the general trend I see among these publishers is that they decided to start a business in a my-uncle’s-got-a-barn spirit, without actually figuring out how small businesses work or what kind of stake you need to start. There will be exceptions and success stories, but as a general rule, most of these publishers, even if they’re not con artists, will fail and/or make a mess of their business, and depending on the contract will take the author’s book with them. The advance is, among other things, a guarantee that the publisher is serious about their business.

    It’s been said before, but a publishing contract is already a profit share; the question is just what stakes each side is willing to put up front. The author puts up a finished book; the publisher puts up an advance. Not paying an advance is tantamount to playing cards with money you haven’t got. It’s like an author coming to a publisher and saying, “I’ve never written a book yet, but when I do I’m sure it will be great, so you should give me money now.” What publisher would say yes to such a thing? Why should an author?

  31. I could live with no advance if the rest of the deal truly were a forward thinking partnership that favored the author… But it isn’t. It’s an even worse deal than a traditional contract! And then I remember RH is the house that 3 months ago gave a five thousand dollar bonus to EVERY EMPLOYEE because of what a banner year they had. But they don’t have the dough for advances? Bullshit, apparently.

  32. I am reminded of these lines from Shakespeare in Love:

    Hugh Fennyman: How much is that, Mr Frees?
    Frees: Twenty pounds to the penny, Mr. Fennyman.
    Fennyman: Correct.
    Philip Henslowe: But I have to pay the actors and the author.
    Fennyman: Share of the profits.
    Henslowe: There’s never any.
    Fennyman: Of course not.
    Henslowe: Oh, oh, Mr. Fennyman. I think you might have hit upon something.

  33. Seth Ellis:

    “It’s like an author coming to a publisher and saying, ‘I’ve never written a book yet, but when I do I’m sure it will be great, so you should give me money now.’ What publisher would say yes to such a thing?”

    To be clear, this often happens in non-fiction publishing — most of the contracts I’ve gotten for my non-fiction books, including the first one, have been ones where we’ve given the publisher an outline and/or sample chapters. However, in those cases, there is usually previous work that acts as evidence that the writer in question is capable of producing work on the intended subject, and is likely able to produce it on a deadline; in my case, I had written a weekly newsletter on the particular subject (finance).

    It is rather less common in fiction for someone to get a contract for a first novel without it being completed.

  34. I used to work with a publisher, on a niche (non SF) list where most of that publisher’s lists were trade, with bigger print runs. Ours were most about 1000, and as a result the internal sales targets were hard to meet. Original fiction was hardest to make work. When we could get the numbers to work, yes, we did really want to work with that author.

    We got a lot of our books through agents, and as a result, we didn’t get offered the full range of rights. I remember seeing the figures from the first book I saw come out of the slush pile; they were far better than those from agents, even with advances and 20 year rights (I think that publisher used that sort of thing). So the contract Random House is proposing could make them a *lot* of money. Imagine if 50 Shades had been done that way?


  35. Some people are so desperate to prove trad paper publishing is sooooo over that they’ll leap on any “new” ebook publishing model just because it is “new”. Regardless of whether or not it is new or whether or not it will actually get them money or sales. The important thing to them is that it just isn’t they way traditional paper publishing worked. Big business loves guys like that, makes it dead easy to grab their cash. Not only will they hand it over readily, but they’ll praise you for allowing them the privilege of doing so.

  36. Scalzi – No, I know non-fiction works differently, but as you say, at least there’s still a pitch, a demo, and a track record. And there are exceptions; my wife successfully pitched a non-fiction book to a small press when she was twenty-one, and against all expectations the book is still out there. I was just talking about observable general trends, especially in fiction: small publishers who buck the conventional financial models are by and large doing so with more optimism than foresight.

  37. John, how “completed” is a typical novel when a publisher picks it up? I assume it’s usually written to first-draft stage, but how long does the process of an editor working with a (relatively new) author typically take? A month of rewrites? Three months?

    My understandings of the current business environment commpared to traditional publishing are that copy-editing is easier, typesetting and/or formatting are much easier, distribution is more complex, and marketing is more confused, but the editing part of turning a raw manuscript into a finished story is still just about as hard as ever.

  38. @Avdi: I can only speak to my own experience on this front. My mother worked as a freelance writer and newspaper editor throughout my childhood and never quite wrote her Great American Novel, so I’m naturally superstitious about the pro/art split where writing is concerned. I tried it myself in my early twenties, doing a ton of hired-gun writing for a human resources consultancy, and at the end of the day I had nothing left. (This, too, might be superstitious, as I was miserable for many other reasons then.) That said, I subsidize my unpaid writing work with creative work as a DJ, and have found that to be an excellent workaround.

    In general, I think there’s a lot of nonsense in aspiring authors’ heads about Selling Out, which keeps many of us from trying freelancing or commercial writing on for size.

    @uldihaa: I’m still coming to terms with all this, but what keeps me from self-pubbing is the time investment involved in selling my own work solo.

    @Seth Ellis: I’m glad you mentioned Candlemark & Gleam, as they’re on the top of my list of small presses! And my real question is: if, as Scalzi says, publishing without an advance is always a chump move, what do we make of stand-up people like those at C&G, and those hopeful authors who publish with them?

  39. @Avdi – That reminds me of an interview that has stuck with me for years. Gary Oldman was being interviewed about his role in “Air Force One” and was asked about why he mixes blockbuster roles like that one with his independent work. He outright said that he only takes roles like the evil Russian terrorist in AF1 because it pays him enough to bankroll the independent movies that he actually enjoys making. It was a surprisingly honest answer and shows that balance of taking the high paying work to allow for the artistic expression, and even allowed him to do it more freely than if the independent work was his sole focus.

  40. cranapia:

    If you’re not at least trying to make things in your trade/professional better for the folks coming up behind you, what’s the point of you?

    This is exactly why I have so much appreciation for the educators and the watchdogs of the writing community: Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, Absolute Write’s Bewares & Background Checks, SFWA, and John Scalzi whether he’s wearing his SFWA Presidential Hat or is just spouting off wise and entertaing blog posts here. Not to mention the published authors who first taught me how to submit a short story manuscript, how to deal with a rejection letter, and what to expect from a publication contract. It’s thanks to these voices that, despite my relative lack of first-hand experience, I’ve become (I hope) as close to scam proof as I could hope to be. And I intend to pass that knowledge and wariness right along myself at every opportunity.

    Marie Brennan:

    I would add to this that letting a novel you’ve written languish unpublished on your hard drive is not, in fact, the worst fate you could suffer.

    Thank you for saying this–and thanks to everyone in my life who has taught me this. I really do try not to be all “get off my lawn” about the New ! Digital ! Self-Publishing ! Gatekeeper Free ! Future of the Industry, but seriously, I think the idea that five rejection letters means it’s time to put it in the Kindle marketplace is doing no aspiring writer any favors whatsoever.

  41. To me, this resembles several other attempts by name publishers to monetize their brands. The problem is, publishers don’t mean much, brandwise, to readers. It’s writers who fetishize names like Random House or Penguin. What writers are getting out of this is the opportunity to say “My book is published by Random House,” and for a lot of aspiring authors out there, that’s enough. They don’t really know what they’re doing and, in a way, aren’t really professional writers at all. Self-publishing wouldn’t necessarily work for them because what they want is the ego boost of saying/thinking that they’re published by Random House.

    There’s a TON of people out there who meet this description, possibly more of them than there are book buyers. It was only a matter of time before Random House, et al, tried to set up some kind of vanity press that they could gussy up to look enough like their real publishing program to win these customers. It’s gotta be tricky, since they don’t want to taint their legitimate brand with slush-pile rejects. Maybe this is a compromise. They will ‘publish’ all this stuff on the (very) off-chance there’s an E.L. James in there somewhere who will make them a bundle (which is why they hold onto rights). In the meantime, they can make some small profit by getting the authors to sell books to pay off the service charge at the back end.

    What’s confusing about all this is that some publishers are in the business of selling books to readers and some publishers are in the business of selling *publishing* services to writers who want to be authors. These two types of businesses used to be separate, but the first category of publisher is probably all-too-aware that there may be more money, or more reliable money, in the second category, especially if they can leverage the prestige of their brand among wannabe authors. I would be surprised if they thought that any professional writers at all would take them up on this, and that they mostly don’t expect to make money off the actual sales of the books published by these new imprints.

    The imperative for any writer is to understand which type of business you’re getting into. Since the second category basically caters to people who are too delusional or naive to know better, what that boils down to is self-education and not projecting a lifetime of fantasies onto the book publishing industry. Remembering that publishers are potential business partners and not certified validators of literary genius is something all writers should strive to do.

  42. When I first read about the Random House contract on your blog a few days ago, my first thought was, “If you’re going to pay for the publishing and get no advance, why the hell would you give the rights to your book to someone else?” You may as well pay your own editor, your own layout person, and keep your own rights by self-publishing the book.

    The saddest thing about the publishing industry is that they know how desperately people want to get published after putting months or even years into creating their projects, and they’re happy to take full advantage of that.

  43. I self-published my novel, which means that I didn’t go through a publishing house. I had my book professionally edited, and I designed the cover myself, using a professional photo. I did the ebook conversion, and after that I did the POD conversion, using Calibre. I have been doing all of my own promotion at my own expense. I received no advance, and no one but me paid for any of the services to get my book from manuscript to print.

    But, you know something–I own all the rights to my work. When I sell copies, I keep all the profits. I have my work on-line and on consignment in a local bookstore.

    Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to doing it this way. What I don’t understand is why anyone would want to pay someone else (either upfront or as a portion of profits) to “self-publish” a book. Yes, paying professionals for specific services involved in the production of the book is part of the business of self-publishing, just as paying a mechanic is part of the business of being a cab driver, but that’s on a per-job basis. You don’t see cab drivers agreeing to split their tips in perpetuity with the guy who changes their oil.

    These contracts seem to me to be the worst of both worlds. What, exactly, is the author supposed to be paying the e-publishing house for?

  44. my real question is: if, as Scalzi says, publishing without an advance is always a chump move, what do we make of stand-up people like those at C&G, and those hopeful authors who publish with them
    That not some people, despite being good people, don’t run their business ventures wisely and that others might legitimately be trying to experiment with business models. What I take from John’s posts is that it’s a chump move for an author to accept a no advance deal as a reasonable thing on the face of it and not to ask “Hey, why am I not getting paid upfront like everyone else working on MY book?”

    Keep in mind that the only way a publisher survives is if they make a profit or at the very least covers their cost. Certainly one way to do this is to have a portfolio of authors so that the risk is spread around but if they mismanage the portfolio they just fail faster. Each publisher should be trying to gauge the probable sales for each book. Set aside the advance. A publisher can’t spend $10,000 on getting each book to market and initial promotion and have those books make $9000 in profit and stay in business. They can survive some of their books doing that but if they’re good they need to be decent judges of likely sales not only across the portfolio but per book. If they’re doing that they should be able to project a royalty figure and offer the author an advance on that. If they can’t… why not? Are they undercapitalized and simply don’t have the cash in the bank? If that’s the case, how are they going to do a pro job of editing, production and marketing? If they do have the cash… why aren’t they paying the author a share of projected royalties?

    Remember, an advance isn’t charity. It’s saying to the author “We have some confidence that your book will sell THIS MUCH and that means your royalties will be THIS. We’re giving you an advance on that amount in recognition that you are providing the raw material for the final book we will release.” It’s an advance against your future earnings. Not a handout.

  45. Bill Stewart, it varies wildly from author to author and even book to book. I’ve never had more than one round of edits from my editor at Ace, and more than once she’s said she didn’t have anything major and was sending it straight on to copyedits. My average amount of rewrite time generated by an editorial letter is probably around 30 hours with 0 at the low end and ~100 hours at the high end. Otoh, I know of books that have had two or three rounds of editorial letters and significantly more time invested. Depends on author, editor, and project.

  46. Don’t get me wrong but I remember the late Marion Zimmer Bradley saying while she was the editor of Sword & Sorceress anthologies that she had MANY authors who had submitted story after story and although they showed talent they were not ready to be published. She said she knew the really good ones were the ones who persevered, and either kept rewriting their story or submitted something else. I think now that it is a little bit easier to actually get something published either due to self publishing or because of these shady contracts that some of these authors just don’t realize that their works just aren’t ready to be published. I know a lot of the stuff that is being e-pubed is mediocre at best, but yet these same writers continue to put out new works usually without getting better. So is it possible that other authors are taking rejection slips as more of a personal affront because they can see the quality of some of the stuff thats out there and know theirs is better. But they still don’t understand that, their stuff isn’t where it should be. Plus are other agents are giving up after 4 rejections, are they suggesting rewrites? I’m sure John got more than that when he first started. And I also wonder what do the agents think about this I mean how in the hell do you figure out their cut in all of this?

  47. An excellent statement of Yog’s Law, that ” Money flows towards the writer”. As Macdonald says elsewhere*, “An author shouid sign checks only on the back”.

    *citation needed

  48. With my accounting Devils advocate hat on, pure e-publisher plays should be able to pay a higher advance, as they are saving money because they don’t need to front the money for the conversion of dead trees into books, which frees up some cash as it’s not sat around a warehouse in the form of books (although this probably only accounts for ~10% of the up front costs in getting a book out, as you still need editors, proff readers, etc.), plus they save the time in which a book is printed and distributed, so the cycle time is lower.

    So pay more, ebook publishers ;)

    There is a reason why a publisher wants your book – because they think they can make money from it. There has to be value in the product, and so they should pay you.

    Back in my auditing days, many years ago, I did the audit of a highly respected poetry publisher in the UK. The whole thing was a vanity project, and basically never made any money, and even they paid advances (basically kept going as a hobby/philanthropic endeavor by a rich shareholder).

  49. This isn’t just an epidemic in the publishing industry – corporations in every industry have been trying to convince the labor pool that they have no leverage or power since the idea of paying people for work was created. Particularly over the the last decade-plus, people everywhere are working longer hours for less pay while the cost of living skyrockets and the big conglomerates make record profits. All because ordinary people – convinced that they have no choice in the matter – live in fear of losing their jobs if they don’t bend over and take it. Writers aren’t the only people who need to take a stand against these predatory tactics, but it’s a good start. If you can’t find a publisher willing to pay you upfront for the work they intend to profit from – keep trying. Take rejection as a call to adjust your approach and improve your skills. The feeling you get from that first payday is what makes all the time and effort and agony you endured worth going through.

  50. Mr Scalzi, I’m surprised you don’t rant on more about the part where the publisher wants all your rights for the lifetime of the copyright.

  51. The real variable is the quality of the ms. But trad methods of distributing are changing which is why I wrote’Authorpreneurship;The Business of Creativity’ focussing on the author as brand, which is a traditionally print and e book published by Keesing Press )Australian Society of Authors) but which also sells as an e-book from my author online store. Much depends upon the type of book and audience and method of distribution. But an advance is a vital sign of publisher confidence and investment in the title.

  52. @Gabriel Squailia, pretty much what rickg17 said. Candlemark & Gleam seem like they’re on the up and up, but if I were a writer I’d be looking at them and their business model, not with suspicion, but with caution. Why don’t they offer advances, if only small ones? Their site says “We believe that the royalty-only/revenue-sharing model is fairer to everyone, and helps make it possible to make a living as a writer and creative professional,” but that seems like an argument for a bigger share of royalties, not against advances, which is just a portion of your royalties up front. And I honestly disagree that the publisher not putting up anything against the author’s pre-existing time investment in the book is “fairer,” even in a revenue-sharing model. But good luck to them.

  53. I’m starting to think what we really need is a *good* list of resources for the self-publisher – or, for that matter, a list of vanity presses who provide full service and do it well. (I’m assuming such presses might exist, though I may be wrong.)

    I keep reading things like “You should self-publish, do x, y, and z yourself and keep all the profit!” contrasted with “People shouldn’t do that because they don’t know what they’re doing and you get horrifyingly bad covers and no marketing and books that are unreadable because of the grammar and spelling.” We need something that works. People need to be able to find out where to find a good cover illustrator, a good copy editor, a good marketer.

    I’ve been in technical publishing for most of my adult life, and I know what I can and can’t do myself. But if I didn’t have friends to draw on, how would I find people with track records and not just someone with a Photoshop course under their belts who decided to run an ad? (Note that I’ve never actually tried to find such resources. They may already exist. If so, it sounds like they need to be better known.)

    A deal like Random House is offering, no matter how bad it looks to those with publishing experience, can look pretty attractive to someone who just wants to get out a book, *especially* when people are starting to tell you in all sorts of places that you HAVE to do it yourself, when you don’t know how.

    (I’m basing all this on eighty million comments and forum posts I’ve read in the last six months or so.) (Okay, forty million.)

  54. But my relationship changed a lot when I realized my girlfriend at the time wasn’t the only person who’d ever date me. Well, it ended, but realizing that about my current girlfriend has made me happier in this relationship.

    And the author has even more leverage than that, because my girlfriend specifically is whom I want to be in a relationship with, while I’m much more interested in getting something published than I am in a specific press doing so.

  55. Booktrope offered me an advance before I signed. It was three figures but I negotiated other consideration instead but the fact they are a tiny, tiny press that offers advances says worlds about Random House and it’s Hydra scheme.

  56. There is one, huge problem with the ebook publishing model that goes beyond advances and contracts – marketing. By their very nature, ebooks are either the digital version of books written by known authors, or they are by unknown indies. Ebooks by known authors sell without marketing because in a sense the marketing has already been done. Ebooks by unknowns cannot be marketed in the old ways. Advertising does not equate to sales. Simple exposure to a brand name via spamming of Twitter and Facebook does not equate to sales either. The one thing that does seem to work, albeit slowly, is word of mouth.

    Ebook authors have to build a relationship with readers. Sitting in a bookshop signing paperbacks is not enough. Hugh Howey has built a relationship with his readers and /they/ are the ones telling their friends and complete strangers how good his writing is. No traditional publisher can mobilize this incredibly powerful sales strategy.

    That is why it’s almost mandatory for a debut author to become an indie. Plus if that author does sell some ebooks, the profits are not shared. Publishers do need a new business model but taking things away is not the way to do it.

  57. @Ell, there are many “resources for self-publishers” lists out there. The problem is that it’s easy for an unscrupulous vanity house to create a website that claims to be an independent writer’s group and is in fact an extended ad for their own services. Since most vanity houses offer services under a plethora of different names, keeping up them is a full time job in itself. (Writer Beware does a damned fine job, I will say.)

    As with any business, the best way to get the straight information is to ask other people in the trade. Want a cover? Find an indie book with a cover you like and ask the author where she or he got it–most of us are happy to share information. Finding a good editor is like finding a good plumber–the guys with the full page ads may not be the guys you want digging around under your house. It’s better to find someone who’s just had some work done and ask for a referral.

    This is why it is so important for authors to network. It is a business, no matter which publishing model you choose, and those of us who want to make a living in this business need to be able to learn from those who already are. (Like Mr. Scalzi here, who is so generous with sharing his experience.)

  58. Interesting article, of course when I got to the “Fuck You” part I immediately remembered the Captain Kirk explaining to Spock “Well that’s simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word.”. It made me laugh but caused the argument to appear to digress into a bitching argument between chumps. Your SFWA letter should talk like that.

  59. This no advance model is all over the music business. I have not published a book, but I have done a lot of recording and performing, and what you have repeatedly said about the importance of the publisher “having skin in the game” is spot-on.

    An example from my world: many clubs don’t advertise anymore. The artist has to do it. No skin. The club does not pay a set fee. It’s a percentage of the ticket price (“the door”). Again, no skin. The sound man employed by the club – they don’t pay him or her, either. The artist has to do it. In one well-known cabaret room in NYC, the sound man gets $100 per show. From the artist. Still no skin. Some clubs even charge the artist if there are fewer than a certain number of folks in the audience! Negative skin! Draw a small crowd for any reason whatsoever – blizzard, water main break, earthquake, Godzilla – and now you, the artist, are paying the waitstaff for being at the club. So everything is on the artist’s back, and the club itself has no incentive whatsoever to do anything to bring people in, because they can’t lose unless Godzilla steps on the building.

    As I said in an earlier comment, I have seen recording contracts that are near-duplicates of the Alibi contract. If a publishing house or recording company or venue find they can pay the artist nothing, that”s what they’ll pay. And while it’s all very nice to have an audit clause in a contract, it does signal that you, dear writer, are going to have to have an audit done to find any of your royalties.

    Thank you, John, for taking on this topic and worrying it like a terrier.

  60. Thank you, John. FFS, what’s so hard about ‘the person who does most of the work’ should get paid?

    I do understand about being desperate. But ultimately, that’s about vanity. You’re most unlikely to be the next big thing. Really unlikely. You’ll probably gain an element of job satisfaction in what you do, you can at the least of it self publish, and you might gain a modest success in what used to be the midlist. But otherwise – no. So why whore out?

  61. Thanks for writing this. Looking for a publisher currently; this sort of advice is helpful.

    Any pro-tips for a literary newbie? A sentence of encouragement? A word of advice? A small, cyber dance?

  62. A thought comes up, from who knows where: Would an author accepting such a bad deal end up paying out to the publisher in lack of sufficient revenue the book might produce?

  63. @ ynysprydain

    Panic is rarely a rational process. I’m not saying that to be snide. If you’re preoccupied with succeeding in the industry toward which life-long passions drive you, it can be hard to keep an even keel. Just ask any musician. Unfortunately, most of us cannot out-fiddle the Devil.

  64. Alas, it gets worse. I was reading on a romance writing blog that some small presses are “paying” their copyeditors and cover artists in exposure and free copies of the books they work on. So they can’t even use the excuse of taking all the financial risks (since, y’know, they aren’t spending any money) to explain why they don’t pay advances. I’m starting to think that entrepreneur is a dirty word.

  65. They had me thinking harsh thing about them from the clause that I understood
    as effectively being copyright theft.
    “[Yup, your book, Yers. But we have controlling rights].”
    Technically, not copy right theft.

    About copy right theft.
    -_- On you tube, a thing that happens is somebody does a *.* and somebody else
    says “!Mine!” and you tube believes the liar, and the liar gets all advert revenue.

    But on a brighter side, in a David Weber book, Michelle Henke [?] isn’t part of a
    tree cat but her Maine Coon stole part of her doughnut.
    I say this because my cat was hiding in the bushes and didn’t know that I could
    see his eyes reflecting the porch light and he came at me, but I’d seen him so I
    moved my foot and he missed.
    And I poked his forehead and gave him wetfood.

  66. Scalzi: First, for those you who think the “Hey, let’s not pay you an advance but instead you can share in the backend!” model of publishing was first thought up in relation to electronic publishing:

    The only reason I can think people still hold on to this is because they have a secret hope that publishing is a cabal and getting published is all about who you know. And I can only assume they hope this because then that means the reason that they haven’t gotten published is because the cabal and the gatekeepers are keeping out, as opposed to some more mundane reason like, oh I don’t know, their novel is unpublishable.

    The idea that this is a new thing invented by the internet ties deeply into the conspiracy theory that old-school, ink-and-paper model of publishing is cabalistic, and that the internet will finally let them break the bonds of this cabal.

    But then again, that’s exactly the myth every other vanity-press scam tries to plug into. We’re different, you see. We’re not like them. We’re not gatekeepers. We’re not about who you know. We publish everyone.

    Well, of course you do, because you’re either getting paid by the author to “publish” the book, either in the form of money or irrevocable rights to the book, and sometimes more. You’re not a gatekeeper because you know longer have anything at risk to get the book selling in stores.

    But then, that also means you’re no longer about selling books in stores, either. You can spend essentially zero effort selling the books in stores, and it causes you no harm at all. Since you don’t pay an advance, if the book doesn’t sell, you suffer no financial consequences.

    What the model then becomes is a numbers game. Get as many authors to sign over their books as possible. Don’t pay them any advance, and spend little or no money selling their books. Put the books on amazon and print-on-demand whatever sales you get. If a book starts selling, run off a few thousand copies, and make your profit there.

    it’s genetic-programming applied to book publishing. The only difference is in genetic programming, you usually have the computer generate a bunch of random entities and then see which ones survive. In genetic-programming book publishing, you get a bunch of random novels from authors by convincing them to give them to you for no money down. Then you see which ones survive (sell).

  67. A new scam is an online “publisher” that offers no advance AND keeps your erights for life +70 years after you are dead. They are called Autharium and have hid this “surprise” inside their terms and conditions.

    Passive guy (a publishing lawyer blog) reports it here:

    And as of tonight the ‘publisher’ Autharium has responded with a “we are not self publishers but more like traditional publishers”

    So traditional publishers traditionally offer no advance AND keep erights forever?

    The Autharium people have posted a response on that thread. Mr Scalzi I hope you get a chance to read it. Its really unbelievable.

  68. That’s easy for Scalzi to say because he has power now, but us newer authors have no power to negotiate.

    An author’s power comes from having written a sellable book. That power lasts right up until the point where the author signs those rights away to someone else.

    If you think there you have no power because you are a “newer author”, then you’re buying into the myth that publishers are a cabal who won’t publish your book because you don’t know the right people. ANd the reason you’re buying into that is most probably because the alternative would require you to admit that you have no power because you don’t have a sellable book.

    You can easily disprove this by putting your book for sale on a print-on-demand place like It will cost you no money up front and YOU KEEP ALL RIGHTS TO YOUR BOOK, so you can sell it to a real publisher who pays an advance later on if you want. Lulu will print paper copies on demand and distribute/sell ebook/epub versions through various ebook channels like amazon and such. They set a minimum cover price that is their cut. You decide how much more above and beyond that minimum you want for your cut. WIth the price set, they do order fulfillment and send you a royalty check every quarter.

    If you think you have power, then you think you have a sellable book. If you have a sellable book, then you can easily prove it by selling your book through, and when your sales go through the roof, you still have the rights to your book because doesn’t take them, so you still have the power to negotiate with a publisher who will pay an advance.

    But, there is a huge incentive for unpublished writers to believe the myth of the cabal. Because without the cabal, that means the only reason no one is interested in their book is because their book isn’t sellable. You have no power if your book isn’t sellable. pretending it has somethign to do with you being a “new author” isn’t really being straight with yourself or your writing.

  69. Just thinking about Scott Sigler here. He plugged away for years and years giving away his work for free in the form of podcasts, in order to build up a big enough fan base that he could sell himself to a major publisher. The difference between Sigler giving away his fiction for free and signing one of these ridiculous contracts is that once he got big enough that he didn’t have to work for free, he still owned the rights to the majority of his work He didn’t make any money on the front end, just like with these sorts of contracts, but he also didn’t sign away all of his hard work.

    So now, he gets to take his older works and rewrite and repackage them for sale under a reasonable contract, and he still has the right to sell his ideas for video games and movies and TV. And he’s also selling the hell out of T-shirts and hats and jerseys and pendants and all sorts of other crap for the fans. If he’d sold his first books for a no-advance, pay-all-expenses deal with a publisher, he’d still have probably had to do all the social networking stuff to make his brand grow, and the publisher would be getting all of the money from it.

    Screw that. Even when I worked in a lousy factory job, I didn’t work for free.

  70. While we’re quoting the wisdom of Yog, we might also remember that “A book that is publishable by one is publishable by many.”

    While it’s true that a single publisher who has made an offer on your book has the power to withdraw the offer if you say something like, “I’m not signing this contract while it assigns me no advance and you exclusive rights for life of copyright,” it remains the case that the publisher made an offer. If the publisher were worth publishing with, they made that offer because your book is publishable. Move on to the next publisher.

    On the other hand, if no one is nibbling except for that one publisher with the horrendously exploitative contract that you’ve been trying to talk yourself into accepting… consider the possibility that this one publisher is offering you a horrendously exploitative contract for reasons other than the publishability of your book.

  71. I think Mr Scalzi, that you and I were separated at birth!

    As someone who fell into writing largely by accident, I learned the hard way, the hardest of ways in fact, that in the creative world you can’t trust anyone but yourself and as such, these days I will only accept terms for any project, be it book or film, which are advantageous to one particular party, ME!

    The problem is, most writers enter the game not understanding the power they have. However, as I always say to budding screenwriters, Arnie might be famous for saying ‘I’ll be back’ but he sure as s**t didn’t make it up. A writer wrote it!

    Seize the power! YOUR power!

  72. I’ve published two stories in e-anthologies, and I got paid for both of them. I *didn’t* get paid for some academic writing I did, just author’s copies, but it’s a different publishing model.

  73. >Panic is rarely a rational process. I’m not saying that to be snide. If you’re preoccupied with succeeding in the industry toward which life-long passions drive you, it can be hard to keep an even >keel. Just ask any musician. Unfortunately, most of us cannot out-fiddle the Devil.

    I understand that. I’ve been in the industry for over a decade and have 15 novels out there: I get the drive. But you have to take a deep breath, put the ego on the back burner, and treat it like a business, otherwise you are likely to end up doing some serious self-sabotage.

  74. I honestly don’t see how anybody can argue in favor of the Hydra contract being a reasonable choice, ever.

    If we take as given that you’re paying for the expenses of editing, graphics and layout, then you might as well self-publish, pay the same expenses, and keep your rights. The *only* case the writer comes out farther ahead with Hydra than with self-publishing is if your book does so poorly, it doesn’t recoup those expenses. Ummm, yay, a publishing victory?

    It’s one thing to say “there hypothetically exist reasonable contracts that do not include advances,” and in a previous post you gave individual examples where you went that route. But justifying absurd terms because “you can’t get anything better” isn’t only unwise, it’s blatantly, fundamentally false.

  75. People want to believe these new publishers because they are desperate. They are willing to try anything. I personally think the worst part of those contracts is not the lack of advance. Its the intellectual property rights part of it. Lets say they took out the intellectual property rights stuff and this contract was just for 1 book in North America. If you are desperate and don’t have the money to pay an editor yourself, you could sign up for 1 book with them and if it works use those sales to sell future books to someone else. Sort of a means to an ends. It strikes many potential authors don’t have any other options. That being said, they would have to remove all the intellectual property rights stuff from the contract. Plus add in if sales are below ‘X’ in a year or so than all rights go back to you.

    What is you recommendation to people who keep getting rejected by publishers and agents? There is a SF ebook series called ‘Wool’ which was self published and is extremely popular. I know this is rare. Is this something you would recommend as an alternative? How should a self published author handle editing? I doubt they would have much money to pay an editor themselves?

    BTW, is the guy who wrote the book ‘Wool’ eligible for SFWA? He recently signed a contract to have his books formally published. Before that, would someone without a book contract who clearly has good sales be eligible to join SFWA?

  76. A point was raised elsewhere which you might like to address. An estimate was made of your royalties from Redshirts which worked out as follows:
    Ebook: $59,870.62
    Hardcover: $90,479.22
    Audiobook: $27,144.77
    Total royalties: $177,494.61
    The writer then went on to estimate your royalties had you gone with a Hydra-like contract. The person claims that your expenses would have been no more than $10,000.00 for reasons I can’t evaluate, since I’m not a writer and have never seen a standard contract for a book:
    Ebook: $149,676.57
    Hardcover: $165,942.45
    Audiobook: $84,827.40
    Total royalties: $400,446.42
    (less overhead charge $10,000)
    Net author revenue: $390,446.42.
    This is, of course, to buttress the writer’s claim that your advice to avoid such contracts is bad and that such a contract can be beneficial to an author. I take these estimates with a grain of salt – for instance, I do not recall anything in the contract as you reported it which limited overhead costs, and of course, a beginning writer probably would not sell as many books, etc. Moreover, would Random House even offer such a contract to an established author? Obviously, the standard contract would be more profitable for them in that case.

  77. Claiming that 10000 USD cover all the expenses involved in marketing and producing Redshirts (Posters. Book tours. Wil Wheaton. Cover designs. Typesetting. Editing. Proofreading.) is so fallacious that it renders every other point invalid.

  78. Reblogged this on Kicking the Pants and commented:
    The Random House Hydra/Alibi debacle has reignited the debate about pay-to-publish. Again, I advise sticking to Yog’s Law: Money flows toward the writer. Scalzi has more on why pay-to-publish business models (I prefer to call them scams) are a bad idea.

  79. Bonelady:

    “A point was raised elsewhere which you might like to address.”

    By which you mean another several hundred dollars was just raised for various organizations.

    The fellow in question has no idea how my contract is structured, so he hasn’t the slightest idea what I’m making. I will say his estimates amuse me. His estimates about production and marketing costs likewise suggest a profound ignorance of the real world (that $10,000 would have covered this for a week, at most). Additionally, if the fellow is trying to use the example of an outlier (i.e., a bestselling author with a large and healthy following) in an overly-simplistic “all other things being equal” sort of comparison, grounded in bad numbers, to show why these sorts of contracts might be beneficial to other writers, particularly new writers, then he’s, at best, once again letting his need to get his mancrush on get in the way of clear and rational thinking, or useful advice to other authors.

    Ignorant and mendacious is not a great combination, basically. And that’s all I will say about that. It’s nice he’s still making money for those various oganizations, however.

    As noted here, I have no problems with authors choosing not to take advances — or making any other sort of contractual maneuvers they choose — when the author has decided that it is in his or her own best interests to do so, based on several factors. This is manifestly different from the publisher having “no advances” as its default setting. Anyone who doesn’t recognize the difference between those two probably should not be dispensing career advice to anyone else.

  80. My friend Jason’s debut novel comes out in the end of August. His agent didn’t have any trouble negotiating a solid contract with a very nice advance, even though he’s a “new author.” But if you’re only looking at the choice as, advance versus back-end, you’re ignoring all the marketing that goes into the picture, which is especially important for a new author who doesn’t have the name recognition or existing fan base of an established author. The advance represents the investment Jason’s publisher is making in his work, which makes them more likely to put his book in front of reviewers, spend money on publicity, etc.

    And success in one arena can spread to others. His agent sold the television rights to Plan B and ABC, and there’s a pilot being shot right now. When making a decision to make a big money investment into a project, people are going to look and see who else is also invested. A zero dollar advance from Hydra, with developmental costs shunted to the author isn’t going to spark a lot of confidence. But if ABC looks and sees a debut novel with a lot of publisher backing is hitting the shelves right before the fall television season begins, it’s something to be taken into consideration when choosing which pilots to develop into series.

    Either way, the author’s gotten paid. He was able to quit his day job well over a year in advance of the publication of his novel, because he was paid first. He’s able to work full-time as a writer and develop his second novel, because he was already paid for his first. No inside connections. He doesn’t have an uncle in the publishing business. He had to send out query letters to agents just like anyone else. He wrote a manuscript that people wanted and they paid him for it.

  81. “This is manifestly different from the publisher having “no advances” as its default setting.”

    Why would a publisher make an offer to pay someone that they didn’t first ask for? Why would anyone offer money without first being asked?

    Do publishers just call you up and offer you advances to write for them?

  82. dh:

    I’m not sure you’re asking questions that conform to how publishing gets done. An author submits a completed work to a publisher and then if the publisher wants it, it makes an offer on it. Usually an advance is involved.

  83. J.

    That sure clarifies things. It seems like publishing is completely opposite from other productive industries, which involve people who need things making offers to people who make things, and the negotiating over price.

    From all the many posts its a little confusing to the average non-insider to understand how what Hydra or other e-book only imprints offer that straight up “pay for play” vanity book producers don’t offer. I would suspect you don’t have any similarly hostile feelings for those types of arrangements (given it’s all mutually understood)?

  84. > It seems like publishing is completely opposite from other productive industries

    I saw someone else make a comment like this… basically, why wouldn’t a publisher want to offer the worst deal and then negotiate his way up. But this is not the way other industries work, actually. Your mortgage loan company doesn’t offer you 20% interest and work its way down to 4%. No, if you have good credit, they offer you 6% (or whatever) and there’s a much smaller margin that’s negotiable. They offer you 30 years or 20 years, or if it’s outside that range, they talk about it early, not at the signing with the title company. In any situation where there’s contracts, there’s likely a range for most common terms.

    The issue here is that RH stepped way outside any common terms currently being given by a reputable publisher. And if it’s such a great deal, why didn’t *they* break the news to us? When they announced the lines, they should have said, we have a great new “profit-sharing” program and given some details… except then knew it wasn’t good. They knew they’d get less submissions. As much as the whole S&S and AuthorSolutions deal was crap, at least they provide the terms up front. They don’t ask for an author to submit, wait three months to hear back, possibly do an R&R, only to be handed a contract outside standard operating procedures. That’s just… well, annoying is the nicest possible word for that.

  85. >From all the many posts its a little confusing to the average non-insider to understand how what Hydra or other e-book only imprints offer that straight up “pay for play” vanity book producers don’t offer.

    That’s confusing to everyone! I can’t see the difference between Hydra and the vanity press unless Hydra is offering some added extra (like marketing with the RH name behind it), but it might depend on how much you have to pay them to do that…

  86. “It seems like publishing is completely opposite from other productive industries, which involve people who need things making offers to people who make things, and the negotiating over price.”

    I don’t think that publishing is completely opposite from this. You just have to remember who’s who. The Publisher is the one who needs something. The Author is the one who makes something. If the Publisher wants what the Author makes, they make an offer, and they negotiate over price. Call this Model A.

    What Vanity publishers do, and what Hydra and its ilk seem to be weaseling into, is switching the who’s who. They make “being published” the product that they make, find Authors who need their product, and sell them it. Call this Model B. Problem is, they tend to sell their product as if it were Model A, to people who think they’re getting Model A.

  87. @ ynysprydain

    But you have to take a deep breath, put the ego on the back burner, and treat it like a business, otherwise you are likely to end up doing some serious self-sabotage.

    Couldn’t agree more. Except that sometimes, perhaps often, it’s not ego but insecurity coupled with naivete that drives people to sell their donkeys for magic beans.

  88. Call this Model B. Problem is, they tend to sell their product as if it were Model A, to people who think they’re getting Model A.

    I think this probably the crux of it. I don’t suppose (and please correct me where I am wrong) that everyone is fine with a person of means paying to publish a vanity book. If you are a regional business author or motivational speaker or whatever, it could make sense. Or maybe you just aren’t that good at what you do. Or maybe you prefer for ethical reasons not to enter into contracts for your work. As long as it’s informed that you have a pure-pay to play relationship, it’s probably just fine. Serves a need. And reduces the number of submissions that are really just trying to get something in print.

    Hydra and the other e-book only imprints are selling close to the same thing. The author pays the direct costs of getting the thing “published”, whatever that means.

    So is this basically a form of watching out for previously unpublished authors?

    Isn’t the right question:

    “Is it better to be UNPUBLISHED or VANITY PUBLISHED or is it better to be PUBLISHED by Hydra (or another similar imprint)?”

  89. You just have to remember who’s who. The Publisher is the one who needs something.

    I think you have a really great insight. Although, it sure seems to outsiders that the publishers are in the power position. There is a nearly endless supply of unpublished authors submitting unrequested manuscripts, right? The publishers “need” to publish ebooks/books (QED, they are publishers), but they don’t need to publish any specific manuscript.

    The only real risk is that they later lament “the one that got away” – i.e. the next Twilight or Harry Potter or 50 Shades or whatever.

    In that sense, the author is the one who needs to find a publisher.

  90. The way it all kinda reads to me is like the Atlantic guy was whingeing about: in the democratized-content age, editorial doesn’t feel competent to predict taste and no longer has the power to make it, so in an attempt to stay relevant they’re trying to work out how to abdicate from that entirely and move to a New Model of throwing a metric ton of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. Generating the next Fifty Shades through the power of a million monkeys at keyboards and this time owning it when it happens. Of course they aren’t paying you an advance; you’re barely a step up from a Markov algorithm, to them. They only believe in your potential in aggregate. And since our culture has been bombarding us for decades with the message that doing art is Following Your Dreams and all that, why should you care, you’re getting to do what you want, right?

    This seems awfully blind to the fact that those million monkeys can throw their shit at the wall just fine on their own, but I guess the idea is that the power of their existing brands will bring people into the tent. Which I can’t see doing anything but cannibalizing those brands; thin paper shells called “Hydra” and “Alibi” are not going to insulate Random House from anything.

  91. I’ve been hearing this “The author takes no risk” b.s. for years and have responded pretty much the same as you have. What happens to the author whose book is completely fucked up by the publisher with bad cover art, bad editing, bad copy editing and nonexistent marketing. When that author sells no books and is subsequently invited NOT to return to his favorite bookstore, it’s his career that goes down the tubes, not the publisher’s. So to my mind, the author takes MOST of the risk. It isn’t always about money.

  92. Things I’ve learned today:

    Never take advice from fatuous old gasbags who succeeded in the easy-mode economy of a million years ago

  93. so brave:


    (shakes cane)

    Also, yes. As we all know, 2005, when my first novel was published, was the highwater mark of the “easy-mode” economy.

    Oh, and so was 2000, when my first book, about doing finance online, came out just as the first online bubble was collapsing, leading to the failure of that book.

    Want to exhibit any more epic ignorance, so brave?

  94. “@dh:

    Of course the publisher has power when accepting manuscripts. They have the power to choose which ones they believe they can sell and make a profit from. At that point, the power shifts to the author. He or she owns what the publisher wants. They can now negotiate acceptable terms that benefit both sides.

    Just because a publisher has stacks and stacks of manuscripts (called a slush pile), it doesn’t mean they have many (or even any) in that pile that they can make money off of (for whatever reason). Or put another way, they have piles and piles of hammers when what they want is a screw driver. I’m not certain, but I believe that publishers do “shop around” ideas to various authors to see if any are interested in them or let it be known that they are interested in a certain type of story and are paying particular attention to any submissions that fit those criteria; this is usually for short-story anthologies. Publishers are open to submissions because they are always looking for new talent and this is the most efficient way to find it. In a way, it’s like professional sports talent scouts.

    “Is it better to be UNPUBLISHED or VANITY PUBLISHED or is it better to be PUBLISHED by Hydra (or another similar imprint)?”

    My immediate thought is: UNPUBLISHED. Why? Because an author still has her or his intellectual property rights in full.

  95. RGB–

    Not anymore.

    That’s true. The value of a e-book only imprint is not 100% sure, especially given no advance.

    I think that this doesn’t change the dynamic – either the author finds a publisher, or he/she self or vanity publishes.


    Love the phrase slush pile.

    My immediate thought is: UNPUBLISHED. Why? Because an author still has her or his intellectual property rights in full.

    This brings us back to the age old “if a tree falls debate”. Or, maybe the “this little light of mine” debate. If the work is never published or otherwise realized for profit, then the intellectual property rights are worth precisely zero. It is essentially mental masturbation, but with a little bit more output than normal (hopefully).

    Do old manuscripts get published as frequently as new ones? I would imagine that something judged to have little financial viability now would retain that rating for many years. On the other hand, I suppose that light S&M fantasy novels from 10-years ago are slightly more marketable today than they were when initially rejected.

  96. Want to exhibit any more epic ignorance, so brave?

    How prevalent were e-readers and e-books in the mind of publishers in 2000 and 2005? Given that the Kindle – which basically created the e-book market – was not widely available until Q2 2008, it seems that it’s not out of order to suggest that your particular experience doesn’t have direct relevance to those authors trying to get published today, in an e-book only imprint world.

    You pointed out extensively that no-advance business models were not new, but is it true that e-book only no-advance business models are not new? Is there really nothing new under the sun?

  97. Gabriel Squalia says, in essence, that she has an agent who has decided to shop her book to publishers who do not offer advances, because it has been refused by publishers who do, on the basis that it is not something that they know how to sell, ostensibly because it is going to a niche market. (For niche markets, ‘don’t believe it will sell’ by a company that doesn’t have deep share in that market arguably means ‘don’t know how to sell it’.)

    This raises an alarm with me because agents are another middleman in the chain and the contract with the agent is every bit as rife for ripoff as the contract with the publisher. Volunteering to sell the book to a non-advance market seems to me like an unusual step for an agent, in my limited (but more than four times) experience watching published writers deal with them. I am hoping that you were consulted before that book was offered to these other markets.

    Gabriel, how is your agent being paid? Is the agency rate part of the contract? If so then the terms of this contract offering are of course not the standard terms and therefore the agent may also be getting different terms, and possibly, terms that are more beneficial to them than to you. Despite recent moves by some publishers to turn agents into “people who pre-screen our slush pile” and therefore unpaid editorial workers, in the world of contracts, agents work for themselves on behalf of authors, giving the service of being a middleman in negotiations of contracts, and have been known to do things that are not necessarily in the author’s best interests when they can make more money personally by doing so.

    As an alternative to a no-advance market have you considered an e-book release? There are costs you would have to deal with up front that publishers usually deal with, but Amazon and B&N do have ways to sell that could recoup that quickly, if your niche market actually has access to them.

  98. I for one would gladly give up an advance to get any of the following:

    * A fixed term contract – life of copyright is just ridiculous – re-evaluate the deal every 5-7 years (and yes there are old-of print theshold limits but they are so low to be laughable)

    * Retaining ebook publication rights – after all traditional does print well and I do ebook well – let them stay in their wheelhouse and leave me mine.

    * Better royalty rates – 52.5% vs 17.5% for ebooks – again ridiculous. At a minimum there should be an escalation clause as there is with higher hardcover sales.

    After all once you earn out (and yes I realize not all earn out…but I do), but the point is once you earn out your income is based on the royalty and you make the same whether the advance was originally $0 or $500,000.

    Look at Hugh Howey. He was turning down 7-figure advances because of all the crap that are in the “acceptable contracts” that are the industry standard. Like me, what he wanted was contracts with no non-compete clauses, no digital rights, and terms of license. As he put it, there are many things that dollar signs don’t salve. And I want what he wants; “a contract that, when read, made me feel like a human being.”

    So, yeah Hyrda and Alibi have shitty contracts, is anyone really surprised? But what about the thousands of contracts that the SWFA, and Author’s Guild, and all the agents in the AAR deem perfectly acceptable? If you want to rail about something…lets talk about the real issues, that aren’t facing just a handful of authors from some two-bit publishers. Let’s talk about the contracts from the big-six. After all the DoJ brought a case about collusion and ebook pricing? Is their any doubt that there is a “tow the line” mentality between them and exactly why are they all identical in such key factors?

  99. “…which if you refuse will never pass your way again…”

    And this is the hurdle so many writers need to get over. It’s not that they disagree with anything you say about advances, etc. It’s that they think THEIR book isn’t good enough to be published by a better company, and so they’ll settle for something lesser. Convince more authors to shoot their books towards the publishers with advances and better contracts, and maybe the models you’re describing will wither.

  100. As a tangential observation, the proper term for a company which publishes books at the author’s expense is a “subsidy press”. Now, all vanity presses are subsidy presses, but not all subsidy presses are vanity presses.

    The difference is that “vanity press” is a derogatory term applied to business that is essentially dishonest–claiming to be in the business of selling books, instead of the business of selling book creation services to an author.

    An honest subsidy press (and there are many) will be upfront about what they offer, what they charge for services, and most importantly, what they can not deliver–which is placement in chain bookstores, marketing services, and the like. An honest subsidy press will edit, typeset, design, and print your books, for a fee–what you do with them is up to you.

    There is a market for subsidy press services, many specialized technical works are published at author’s expense, for example, as are many books of limited local interest, company histories, family histories, books that a traditional, buyer-supported publisher would not be able to make a profit on.

    The changes in the technology, e-books and POD books, have forced changes on the subsidy presses, and many of them have transitioned smoothly to offering ala carte services for authors. If you decide to self-publish, a subsidy press can be a useful resource. But don’t call it a vanity press, it’s kind of like walking into a used auto parts store and saying, “Hey, nice chop shop ya got here!”

  101. A lot of good arguments here, but this post doesn’t cover the number 1 reason new writers should not sign with Hydra, or other similar scams.

    Once you sign, they not only own all rights to the current work for your entire lifespan plus 70 years, you are obligated to submit your next novel to them on the same terms. What, think they’re going to reject it, when it might be the next surprise blockbuster?

    Nope, they accept it, so you owe your next novel on the same terms, and your next, until you die or a class action lawsuit rescues you from such piracy of intellectual property..

  102. @Richard,

    if the contracts you are getting have option clauses as you state, then you need to have your agent modify that clause. That is not how options usually work. Generally an “option” is the right to get a “first look” at a future work, but the terms of THAT work are negotiated separately, and if you don’t like what they offer, you can take it anywhere you want to. You should not be obligated to “same terms” or not be able to say “no”.

  103. I’d be curious to know what you think of the “erotic romance” e-book market. I spent a little time looking it over recently and was fascinated, once I got past the hilarious writers’ guidelines. It’s a voracious market, with several companies (usually in business around five years) releasing anywhere from three or four books a month to three or four books per day and the most successful authors clearly being the ones that can churn books out at speed and have enormous backlists. I found one author with 135 books out from one publisher alone, and she writes for more than one. From reported numbers, she’s pulling down a six-figure income. But most authors are probably only making pin money of a few hundred dollars a book, if that. New authors are eagerly sought.

    Length is interesting: “novels” range from 20K words to 100K+, and there’s an active short fiction market (themed anthologies and stand-alones) in the 10-20K size as well. Manuscript turnaround times are usually fast, sometimes only a matter of weeks or days between submission and response. The ones with longer turnaround times (more than a month or two) usually accept simultaneous submissions. And the books come out quickly, usually within a year.

    Some of them offer sample contracts on their websites, and others spell out their terms fairly clearly. Generalizing about the contract features:

    – author retains copyright
    – short contract terms, usually 2-4 years before automatic reversion of rights
    – English-language digital rights, and occasionally print and audio rights as well
    – publisher assumes all the usual expenses, including editing, design, cover art, ISBN, etc.
    – no advance
    – e-book royalties of 35-50% of gross (cover price) if bought directly from the publisher
    – similar royalties off of net if bought through third parties (Amazon, Fictionwise, etc.)
    – royalties monthly or quarterly
    – sometimes a possibility of going to print or audiobook with royalties in the 6-15% range

    Despite the no-advance model, this doesn’t strike me as exploitative in the same way as the Hydra/Alibi contracts are, if one could stand to write in this genre and wrote at a speed that fits a quantity-over-quality model.

  104. After years of submissions and rejections, I finally found an agent willing to take me on, and was offered a book deal with a well-known publisher in 2011. I felt like I’d finally “arrived,” but then things started feeling shady. The original offer was whittled down in negotiations. They wanted to divide my small advance into four payments and wouldn’t commit to a publication date. Finally, they wanted changes to the story that made no sense.

    My patience for the process ended when my agent told me that the publisher said he’d read my blog and knew that I was poor. Being poor was supposed to make me so desperate that I’d give my work away just for the chance to be “discovered”. It was then that I decided to self-publish. My book did well on Amazon, even outselling several traditionally published books by famous authors in the same category. I made more money in my first two months on Amazon than the advance I was offered. In addition, instead of making 13% and paying my agent a cut, I’ve gotten to keep all of my net profits.

    Still, the allure of being published by a major house was strong, so when I was nearing completion on my second book, I once again started querying agents. I thought that the success of my first book would transfer to some interest, but I was wrong. Despite selling over 50,000 books on my own, I was told that there was no market for my work.

    Today, I’m absolutely committed to self-publishing. I don’t think I’ll ever query another agent. The pitfalls of self-publishing — the cost of it, the public perception of it, and even the nerve-wracking self promotion and limits of it — are less disagreeable to me than the crush of being lowballed and treated like a serf in the process.

  105. UPDATE: All the backlash Random House got from writer groups/orgs for these imprint terms made some difference. But even with Random House’s “improved” terms (, this is still an awful deal that desperate authors will go for, unfortunately.

    1) So they got rid of the Hollywood accounting (50/50 of net revenue–actual sales income–from the first copy sold), but trad publishers are NOT transparent about accounting and pull a lot of shit off the books. Many authors have sued over this problem and are tied up in court still. For example: “Random House will cover general publicity costs for the imprint, and up to $10,000 of book-specific publicity. Any book-specific PR above that amount will be borne by the author and deducted from net revenue before the profit split–but such expenditures will be optional.” I don’t trust them to NOT come up with misc PR charges that they deduct from my profits.

    2) Still no print version, which means you are NEVER able to print your book as long as RH has the rights. They can keep your book in limbo for years. And they have subsidiary rights. You are shut out.

    3) And no author should ever sign away lifetime rights. The reversion clause (occurs only if books fall below 300 sales in 12 month period) in this new deal looks potentially impossible to fulfill.

    So it’s stil a bad deal compared to self publishing. Sorry, Random House, I’m not impressed :(

    Christine M. Fairchild
    aka, The Editor Devil

  106. >dh says:
    >Do publishers just call you up and offer you advances to write for them?

    Note to self: Ask either Subterranean Press or JS about “101 Uses For a Spare Goat.”
    Further note to self: Buy some chevon.
    Because I hope those bastards that goats are taste good.

  107. Learning #5 (“If you don’t respect yourself or your work, no one else will either.”) sings. It needs to be printed on a Nerf Baseball Bat and then used to gently bop on the head new writers who will do anything for publicity, including giving their work away under terrible terms.

    That one and the first comment here “The writer works first, the writer gets paid first.”

    Thanks to John – hope everyone continues to get the message!

    – yeff

  108. >Screw that. Even when I worked in a lousy factory job, I didn’t work for free.


  109. I have taken on board all your teachings. I have self-published in print and now have a couple of publishers interested in putting it into ebook format. I was (although not now may I add) one of the sad individuals who was about to just accept the NO ADVANCE rule. Although no contracts signed as yet, I also have a lawyer on standby now. I am a convert and shall NOT accept the ‘NO ADVANCE’ bone that may be thrown. I am after all a published writer already, with a few sales to boot so I have to man up (woman up actually) and as you so rightly put it ‘if you don’t respect yourself or your work no one else will either’ get a little R E S P E C T.

    Thanks for the advice. I will pass this on.

  110. Furthermore, having read the numerous posts regarding your article I was pleased to see a positive mention for (Greg, March 13 2013). Having published through them I have to agree it is a great way to ‘test the water’ and it has worked for me. I can say to a traditional publisher I have some published work already, of which I own the rights. It has given me more power and following on from what I have learnt today, I feel totally empowered to say NO THANK YOU!, that’s about as far as us Brits go in declining something forcefully.

%d bloggers like this: