Sunday, 5 December 2010

Publishing Woes

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.'

Nice eh?

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?  


History and Women said...

Although this sounds very shady, and it's most definitely unprofessional on the part of the publisher to make this change, as long as the author has done her research into this publisher and their overall reputation is good, then she should be okay. After all, it is only an advance. Most important is that she's been spotted and is on the first rung of the ladder to becoming an established author with a major publisher.

The problem is, we writers struggle so much to find an avenue for our work that the publishers know they can easily get away this stuff and exploit us.

Great post, Anita. Good for you for sharing this with us all. It's a wonderful lesson.

Tara Chevrestt said...

That's awful. I sincerely hope your friend gets her novel published. Perhaps this could be a sign that that is not the publishing company for her? I wouldn't want to be treated like that for two years and I would search for another.

Anne Whitfield - author said...

What sad news for your friend. It makes me wonder how they'll work with her in the future. However, less the advance, the less she has to pay back out of her royalties, but it does stink that they would do this.
In the current market the ground is very shaky for authors. What do we do for the best? I'm still trying to work that one out.
Hopefully, this is the only issue your friend and the publisher have and from now on in everything runs smoothly and the book is a great success.

KarenG said...

Oh gosh this sounds terrible. Nasty stuff, and I think I'd say no exactly for the reason you state. It shows the beginning of a bad relationship.