Category Archives: Contracts

The Craving for Validation Can Really Screw Things Up

Writers–especially new writers–crave validation the way a cat craves catnip. I’ve seen the craving result in a few writers doing some incredibly destructive things from a business perspective. I myself did quite a few stupid things business-wise due to the validation crapola in my head until I learned from much more experienced writers that the crapola was there and that I needed to get rid of it.

Validation is NOT asking “Is this piece of writing any good?”  Validation is all about saying stuff like:

When thus-and-so happens, then will I be a REAL writer.

It’s the part about “then I will be a real writer” that messes writers up in the head. Badly.

Several wise old pros told me, “a real writer is someone who writes, day in and day out,” and I used to be inexperienced and stupid enough to scoff at that saying.  Surely there had to be more to being a “real” writer.

I don’t scoff anymore, because I’ve learned the hard way that there’s a core seed of truth to what those writers said.

A writer writes.

A painter paints.

A singer sings.

A coder codes.

Whenever someone quits doing the action (code, sing, write, etc.) that is the core of their dream, everything grinds to halt in a matter of time. Writers who stop writing will eventually become the topic of “What ever happened to so and so?” among readers.

Also, validation is NOT about setting goals.  It’s fine to have goals.

What I’m talking about here is having a mindset where a writer is totally dependent on a particular thing happening to feel like a “real” writer. This dependency results in neediness that can be manipulated by scammers, and a frantic urgency that results in bad business decisions that can postpone (or even wreck) the ability to make a living as a writer.

For quite a number of writers, “thus-and-so” is “published with a NYC publishing house.” The problem is the “When I am published by a NYC publishing house, then I will be real writer” mindset leads to a neediness that makes it hard for a writer to do the negotiating that needs to be done to get a decent contract.

Here’s something to think about.  These NYC publishing contracts are between a writer and a corporation.  We aren’t talking about two individuals working out a joint partnership here. Those people you meet from the corporation can be really really nice, but at the end of the day it’s the corporation the writer signs with. Editors and CEOs can be fired.

The craving for validation from corporations based in NYC can be used against a writer in contract negotiations. It’s just the nature of business–the writer’s book is a profit-and-loss statement for the corporation. If a writer wants to play doormat, that’s the writer’s problem as far as the corporate entity is concerned. Sometimes an editor will warn a writer if the writer acts too much like a pathetic wuss in negotiations, but for the most part the writer is on his or her own.

The other nasty part of this “NYC publishing house” requirement for being a “real” writer is that all the great middle-sized publishing companies get ignored because one is chasing after a narrow definition of being “real.”  There are some terrific small and middle-sized publishing houses out there, ones that are going to be big publishing houses 15 years from now.

Lastly, the whole mindset of  “when thus-and-so happens, then I’ll be a real writer” also makes it harder to keep morale up. Several old pros have pointed out to me that writing is disheartening enough as it is due to the rejection process; there’s no need to pile more anguish on by setting absurd goals for what is “real” as a writer.

A real writer writes, day in and day out.

Everything else is just a goal to aim for.

It’s Not Indie VS. Traditional, It’s Indie AND Traditional

As fiction writers, we live in an exciting era right now due to the new distribution opportunities available through Kindle, PubIt, and Smashwords. But to hear some writers talk, it’s Indie vs. Traditional, and one has to choose sides.

Well, a lot of neo-pros and old (20+ years) pros I’ve been talking to are excited about being able to do both indie publishing and traditional publishing at the same time.  Having more revenue streams as a writer makes it easier to pay the bills each month. And as long as one is careful about reading and negotiating away any excessively broad non-compete clauses in a traditional publishing book contract, doing so should not be a big deal.

Short stories still need to go to traditional markets first if you want to sell them to a place like The New Yorker.  But if you write a novelette or novella that can’t find a traditional home, it is now possible to indie publish it instead of just letting it sit around unpublished. And once the exclusive time frame on a traditionally published story expires (and if you didn’t sign an all rights contract), you can republish it as an indie reprint to generate more income.

But one thing I want to emphasize is the importance of thinking twice before giving away a royalty cut to an e-packager for an indie story.  Dean Wesley Smith and J. A. Konrath and Barry Eisler debate the pros and cons at length in a post put up today.

We’re all in for a wild run over the next few years in publishing. Since I used to work in the software industry–which makes publishing look glacial by comparison–I confess I’ve welcomed the publishing technology breakthroughs that are bringing on a faster business pace.

Scrivener’s Error: Blog on Publishing Law

I’ve discovered an amusing website for keeping up with publishing law news.  Lawyer C. E. Petit has a site called Scrivener’s Error where he blogs about many things related to publishing gossip, especially anything involving publishing law.  Well worth reading.

Also, be sure not to miss Petit’s rants about the terrible contract terms being offered to want-to-be-published newbie writers by James Frey’s book packager Full Fathom Five, especially his post on this from November 13th called “The Million-and-First Little Lie.”

The insanity of the “I just wanna write fiction AND get published” mindset

I have no problem with someone saying, “I just wanna write.”   Creating art for art’s sake is a wonderful thing to do.

What drives me nuts is when someone says “I just wanna write fiction AND get published.”  That’s just crazy.  Because publishing is a business, and if someone wants to play the publishing business game, they’d better learn the rules of the business.  Otherwise, just slap a “I’LL BE IN TROUBLE” label on their back and be done with it.  Because one of the following WILL happen (let’s alternate between genders):

1) The writer will fall prey financially to a scam agent, a scam editor, scam contests, or scam publisher because she couldn’t be bothered to learn the business.  Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars will disappear into the black hole of scams.

2) The writer will be gouged in pricing by a subsidy or vanity press because he couldn’t be bothered to research actual publishing costs and methods.  Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars will be lost.

3) The writer will run into legal problems because she couldn’t be bothered to learn about publishing contracts so she could understand what she was signing.   If she’s really unlucky, she could find herself stuck in court for years.

3) The writer will be taken by surprise when his publisher goes out of business, sticking his books with that publisher in bankruptcy limbo.  He couldn’t be bothered to keep track of the financial health of his publisher.

4) The writer will be in financial trouble when she discovers her agent or publisher has been cooking the books.  She couldn’t be bothered to learn how to read a royalty statement, add important clauses to her publishing contracts to protect her interests, or how to track her own money.

5) The writer will run into serious career trouble when his agent dies, gets sick, dumps him, or leaves agenting as a career.  He couldn’t be bothered to learn the business of how to sell manuscripts to editors.

6) The writer will be surprised when her publisher drops her, because she couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to the print run numbers.

7) The writer will run into cash flow problems, because he couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to the out-of-print, e-book royalty rates, subsidiary rights, and reversion rights clauses in his contracts.

One thing I’ve noticed again and again at conferences is that the fiction writers I’ve met who’ve survived in the publishing business for 15+ years pay attention to the business side of publishing.  A writer can get away with ignoring the business side (if she or he is lucky) for maybe 7-12 years.  But statistically speaking, sooner or later a rough patch will happen, and the writers who survive to publish again are those who pay attention to the business side.

The difference between traditional press, vanity/subsidy press, and self-publishing

Recently I’ve had friends of friends approached by vanity presses trying to lure them into buying their overpriced mediocre services.  The story is always the same–a newbie writer has just written a first book, is not a member of any sort of national writer’s organization, and has absolutely no clue of how the business side of publishing works.

Then there was the whole uproar over the creation of vanity/subsidy press Harlequin Horizons (see the link about it at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for the most info.  But be warned, the comment section now stands at over 830 comments!) I’ve read quite a number of comments on this controversy, and was troubled by the number of people who didn’t know the difference between traditional vs. vanity/subsidy vs. self-publishing.

I think Writer Beware at SFWA does a terrific job of explaining the differences.  Here’s a link to their publisher definitions page.  Once you read this, you’ll know how to tell which press is which.

The Novelists Inc. blog has a post which lists several websites to help understand the hazards of vanity publishing.

My rule of thumb is “keep control of the money.”

In self-publishing, a writer gets competing bids from the best freelancers she can find for every part of the process (editing, art, making the book, publicity, e-book versions, etc.), keeps copyright and controls ISBN, and gets to keep all money made from sales.   You don’t get to do those things with a vanity/subsidy press–and on top of that you shell out large sums of money while they shell out little, and then you have to deal with them taking a huge cut of the money from sales as well.  A vanity/subsidy press makes its money off of writers, not book sales.

A traditional publisher pays the writer.   They take care of all of the expenses, which is why they get a big chunk of the sales.   Some writers exchange being paid an advance by an e-publisher in order to get a higher royalty rate (usually about 35%).   But those writers don’t pay the e-publisher, ever.

Writing is an art, publishing is a business.  Publishing presses are like any other business–there are great ones, good ones, mediocre ones, and slimy ones.   Shop around.