10/27/2013

How to Be An Author - Again

How to Be An Author: Publishers Part Deux

When I first started out I was excited to have a publisher, and that they treated me well. Well, at least I thought they did. I mean, what the heck did I know? I had zero experience of publishers, the publishing process, and what have you. I did have a LOT of horror stories from other authors about THEIR publishers and what evil things those rat bastards had been up to. But I'd also been raised upon the milk of human kindness and to believe that mankind was more good than evil.

So having a publisher who supported me? Listened when I talked, offered me contracts on books I'd never written? I was over the moon. We had loops, and groups, and conversations and mutual admiration societies. We had way too much familiarity and not enough professional distance and communication.
At first, I thought it was just me.

See, I'm a bit of a control freak, and kind of OCD about things like deadlines and due dates and yes, I think I'll blame all that on being a teacher for so long. So when time passed and I got no communication beyond the acceptance letter, I freaked out. Quietly. When the cover art form came out of the blue, and I still had no publication date, assigned editor or anything, I fumbled through it all as best I could. It seemed that the entire process was designed to wear me down.

Then after a while, I realized…publishers are human too. They don’t know what you need unless you tell them. And …like all humans, there are good ones and bad ones.

And they'll take advantage, swindle, or cheat you if you're not careful. (Please, I do not mean any certain publisher- well, okay at least one of my publishers to my knowledge engaged in shady business practices and that to the detriment of their authors. I've heard rumors about another publisher, off and on since I first placed a story there, but nothing concrete.)

If you think of your publisher as your friend, then you place an unnecessary strain on the relationship. We always want to give the benefit of the doubt, but we extend that benefit even further for someone we consider a friend.

Remember my first post on publishers? Well here's some things to add to that.

1.      Make sure you read your contract and you are comfortable with all the terms outlined therein. (In another post at some point, I'll detail what I consider "acceptable" contract terms based on what I've learned in the past three years – including some clarification of what some of those terms mean. Important court cases are being heard right now that will have bearing on some common clauses in the future.)

2.      Don't be afraid to ask for things you need to function at your best.
a.       Due Dates
b.      Publication dates
c.       Itemized promotion details
d.      Price points
(To Name a Few)

3.      Don't be afraid to speak out about things that make you uncomfortable.
a.       Rudeness from editors and in house authors
b.      Signs of incompetence
c.       Failure to meet contracted obligations

Why? Because every year new light is shed on some of the publishing houses, and every year I read the same thing in blog after blog written by authors who got stung.

They waited. They were polite. They turned the other cheek, understood, didn't apply pressure. Then they didn't get paid, didn't get their rights back and so on.

If something strikes you as off, don't be afraid to address it in those same author forums where you got cute little waves and welcomes. (Odds are, if you aren't getting paid, neither is anyone else.) You might be surprised by how fast a squeaky wheel gets oiled in public and ignored in private.  

The man behind the publisher's curtain isn't a wizard, and he isn't your friend either. He's not publishing books out of the goodness of his heart, and he DOES have his own ax to grind. So when you're sitting around at the end of the month wondering why you don't have any royalty report, and he's posting about the fabulous Winnebago vacation tour he just took…


Yeah. There's cynicism for a reason. 

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Be Yourself

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings, 1955