Sunday, 5 December 2010
Just when you thought you had heard it all - A dear friend of mine has written an excellent historical biographical story which has gone through two critique groups and been edited professionally. This is a debut novel - a very good debut novel on which years have been expended on research, editing and rewrites - it deserves a wider audience.
After three years or so of trying, her New York agent submitted the novel to a mainstream US publisher and was offered a contract with an advance of $5000 US for a two year contract on this book and its sequel.
Not a large amount, but my friend has always maintained this was never about the size of the advance, her dream is the same as that of most new writers, to get her foot in the door of a leading publisher to kick start her writing career and to see 'her baby' on real bookstore shelves. Also, the advance is after all repayable from royalties, so if the books sell, she will simply have less to pay back to the publisher.
The contract was reviewed by a contract lawyer - my friend is no innocent - and her agent accepted the contract and returned a copy signed by both sides, to the publisher's office. Two weeks later the publisher send my author friend a copy, with the second page which specifies the amount of the advance, altered to half the original figure.
Her agent queried this, saying why aren't they honouring the original contract?
The author gets a phone call this week from the acquisitions editor, the upshot being, 'Tell your agent to back off, or we will invoke the 30 day kill clause.' i.e. 'Accept the reduced advance or we won't publish the novel at all.'
What does my friend do? Tell them to stick by their original contract and get canned? Or suck up the lousy treatment and accept their - illegal - terms? Also, if this is how she is treated at the beginning of their relationship, what are they likely to spring on her further down the line? Is this common practice? If so,where is their integrity?