I happened to read a post about an author whose publisher rescinded their contract when they found out she’d done a DIY after signing a contract with them. From what she says, her contract is being canceled and she has to pay back the advance.
She mentions being “coerced” to accept the terms of her contract and intimates that every author is being taken advantage of. However, since she was deeply in debt, she took the deal. And the advance.
I’m not going to debate the issues of who may or may not be right because none of us have the inside story from both sides. However, I would wager that something exists in her contract that spells out the legalities of what she can and can’t do independently from her publisher. Additionally, she made the conscious decision of earning her livelihood from writing – an insanely difficult thing to accomplish since most authors have other day jobs.
Given her reasoning, I’m nonplussed that she dissolved her relationship with her publisher and lost her $20,000 advance. For a debt-ridden author, this has to be a very tough choice, and it’s impossible for me to judge her for her decision. However, I do wonder whether it was a wise choice in the long run.
Sure, I’m a big believer in karma and that the decisions we make set into motion certain outcomes. But are they necessarily successful outcomes? And if I’m going to get into a philosophical debate with myself, then the beagle better add more tequila to the pitcher of margaritas.
More to the point, I read stories like this and think about all those lovely writers I meet at writer’s conferences whose sole purpose is to land a good book deal. Would they be so quick to walk away from that book deal if they were in the same position? Or would they make different choices in order to preserve the relationship in order to enhance their writing futures?
I could go on for days arguing the phycho-blabbery of those points, but we simply don’t have enough margarita mix to keep me going that long. Here’s what I do know: relationships take work and mutual respect.
Publishing goes both ways, and smart editors and authors share mutual gratitude to be working together toward a common goal. As such, each side works to maintain open channels of communication. But there are times when those channels break down, and gratitude on both sides melt like the ice in the beagle’s margaritas, leaving room for Attitude to move in.
The downhill slide usually begins with Assumption. One side may act in accordance with their assumptions instead of looking at the potential consequences of those actions.
The author assumed it wasn’t a big deal to DIY e-pub, and I’m sure she never thought it would put her book deal at risk. But for whatever reason, it did, and this is where her gratitude (remember, she was broke and grateful for that $20k advance) dissipated and attitude took over.
This was avoidable.
- Why didn’t she consult her agent and editor before pubbing her DIY e-book? Case in point, one of my authors was asked to write an article for a magazine, and he asked if he could use a chapter from his upcoming book. Of course, I told him to go for it. Tra-la! It took him a fraction of a second to email me, and a fraction of a second to email him back. Had there been a problem, I would have cited the contract as to why this couldn’t be done.
- When she saw how upset the editor was, did she weigh the financial and professional benefits of remaining with her Big 6 publisher against going it alone and all the uncertainty that goes with it? Hindsight can be a three-legged dog who’s rethinking the the intelligence of trying outrun a garbage truck. It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of battle, but when the dust settles, are you like the dog, wishing you had your fourth leg back? Once you cross over the line, it’s mighty hard to go back.
- Did she allow emotion to cloud her judgement? Obviously, I have no idea. However, her post is extremely emotional – which I can understand – and it makes me wonder if that emotion ultimately served her to her highest and best outcome. She has an agent, who is probably less emotional and, therefore, more reliable in negotiating with the editor. Decisions made during emotional overload can be followed by regret that will follow you forever.
Case in point, I had an author many years ago who was verbally abusive to me. I put up with it for awhile until I had enough. I warned him that he’d crossed over the line, but that just encouraged him until he really went off the deep end. I cancelled his book contract within the hour.
When gratitude turns to attitude, you can’t help but reach a stalemate, an impasse. And when push comes to shove, are you in a position of strength, or have you relinquished everything in the heat of the moment? It’s hard to unburn a bridge because trust is the first thing that goes up in flames. The other side knows you have the potential to take things further than they need to go, so they’ll be wary of you.
It’s possible the editor was an idiot and entirely unreasonable, but it’s rare that editors are arbitrary to the point of cancelling a project. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s far from the norm. More importantly, this author comes off like she has a chip on her shoulder – that she was “coerced” into her contract.
Until someone sends me an updated memo, I have to go on the assumption this is still a somewhat free country, and we’re not forced to sign any book contract that we don’t believe in. She got $20k for her book, and were I in the financial straights she was/is, I’d find a way to make it work. As of now, she’s working without a net, so is she to be pitied or merely pitiful?
What would you do?