Tag s | Money

When the Gloves Come Off

Fist Slams Table in Anger

The publishing experience is rarely done in isolation. This means working with other people. And if their performances or efforts do not meet your expectations, conflict can occur.

Over the years I’ve seen more conflict than you can imagine–of all types and variety. But the majority of issues boil down to four areas:

  1. Editorial
  2. Production (cover design?)
  3. Marketing and publicity
  4. Getting paid

The issues can range from an editor changing the name of your main character to horrific cover designs to absent support for a book launch to delayed income.

When (not if) something like this happens, it is critical to know how to respond. This is where a good agent can be of great help. Your tendency is to become angry and vent … on your publisher. (Please read my previous post “Never Burn a Bridge.”) While the anger may get results, it can also destroy any relationship you may have developed.

Questions to Ask When Upset with Your Publisher

(1) Is this normal?
Does this happen a lot? What you may think is terrible and horrible is actually normal standard procedure. Especially with getting paid. Each publisher has different payment procedures and policies. Your agent should be familiar with the differences. Some houses won’t pay any money on acceptance until after all editing is done and the book is sent to typesetting. Others may pay faster.

With editorial conflict, that particular editor may be known for certain things they like or don’t like. We can help you put that conflict in context. Some editors have a light hand; some have a much heavier hand in their approach. Neither is right or wrong; they are simply different.

An advantage of an agent is that we work with nearly everyone in the industry and see the road maps for each of them.

(2) Can this be fixed? And how fast?
Sometimes an error cannot be fixed. For example, a printed book is missing pages, which is a printer error not a publisher error; but you can’t recall all the books already shipped and sold. Usually something like that is an isolated error.

Or what if there are typos in your published book? Recently this happened to a client with an enormous number of errors discovered. The ebook was fixed within days. The printed book had already shipped, but everyone in customer service was alert to any complaints. The second printing takes care of the errors.

I remember one case where an author’s book was published with the author’s name misspelled on the front cover. It was correct on the spine, back cover, interior page, etc. But on the front cover? (Ouch.)

More often the issues can be addressed in short order. Maybe not according to your schedule, but maybe sooner than later.

One thing to remember is that yours may not be the only fire that publisher is putting out that day.

(3) Should this be fixed?
With cover-design disagreements, it may come down to personal taste and nothing more. You simply may despise the color orange because that was the color of your walls in high school and you don’t want to be reminded of high school. Unfortunately, that can be a weak reason to force a change when everyone at the publishing company is enthusiastic over the cover design. This type of disagreement can be handled, if handled right. If you have developed a good relationship with the publisher, then the speed bumps can be handled on a more collegial basis.

(4) How Can I Express My Displeasure?
My advice is rather simplistic. Don’t press the “Send” button on your angry email for at least 24 hours. If you must shout and scream, do so with your agent only. Not your author friends, not your editor, not your local critique partners, but only with your agent. (Please, oh please, not on social media.) That agent is your “safe place.” Your agent will likely move you to the next question below to give perspective.

This goes to that impulse to show your anger immediately. Frequently, all anger does is create a defensive posture by the recipient. Once that wall goes up, it becomes harder to hear each other.

I know of a case where the author took their dissatisfaction to their personal Facebook page. A page that was not public. What they forgot is that reader’s can copy and paste. Their specific displeasure with a named editor was circulated quickly and landed on the editor’s desk. Who then called me.

(5) How Bad Is It Really?
Sometimes it is pretty bad. I’ve seen some absolutely awful covers. I’ve seen editorial notes that are head-scratching at best, scream-worthy at worst. I’ve seen publishers do some bonehead things with a book launch. (But to be fair, they get it right most of the time, depending on their budget restrictions.) I have also seen some bonehead things that authors have done. No one can claim inerrancy in this life.

We agents constantly play collections agents instead of literary agents, tracking down missing payments or slow ones. However, I dare say that 50% of the time when the question of “where is my check” arises, the money shows up in 24-48 hours. The impatience clock just ticked a little faster than it needed to!

Fortunately, most situations are not as earth-shattering as it may appear at first. Issues can be handled with quality communication. Remember, there are real people on the other side of the equation. I’ve seen editors brought to tears by the vitriol of an author. I’ve listened to authors express severe depression because of a situation. In my days as an editor, I had an author question whether or not I was a Christian because he didn’t like the design of his book cover. I know of cases where authors tried to get an editor fired because of their disagreement over the work done by that editor.

I wish I had the space to give a half dozen examples of how things of an egregious nature were handled with grace by the author in concert with their agent and publisher. Things can be worked out. Maybe not to a 100% satisfaction, but at least to a point of acceptance.

[An earlier version of this post ran in October 2014.]

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Where Is My Money?

Before I became a literary agent I had no idea how much energy this profession spent being a “collections agent.” Recently someone asked us the following questions (use the green button to the right to ask your question!):

What do you do, as an agent, when a publisher does not pay advances on royalties on time as per their legal contract?

What if a publisher is consistently late (months) saying they have cash flow problems and will pay when they can? Shouldn’t authors be able to count on getting paid the amount and on the date stated in their contract?

Is this common and is there anything that can be done or said regarding what seems to be a breach of contract?

This is an excellent series of questions. The full non-answer is “It depends.” Generally publishers are very good about making the payments according to contracted schedules. The above situation is much more dire and is a good reason to have an agent who know who to talk to inside the publishing house. There are ways to approach the situation that gets results, just remember, “Don’t Burn a Bridge.”

However, there are a few possible reasons that authors should keep in mind before getting impatient with a tardy paycheck.

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How Do You Measure Success?

by Steve Laube

A few years ago while talking to some editors they described an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). It this author’s latest book had sold 50,000 copies the author wondered why the publisher didn’t sell 60,000. And if it sold 60,000 why didn’t it sell 75,000? The author was constantly pushing for “more” and was incapable of celebrating any measure of success.

Recently there has been much ink spilled on whether Indie authors are better of than authors published by traditional publishers. Pundits have laid claim to their own definition of a successful book using number, charts, and revealed earnings. Following this dialogue can be rather exhausting.

I understand the desire to measure whether or not my efforts are successful. It is a natural instinct. If it is any indication, one of our most popular blog posts has been “What are Average Book Sales?” with thousands of readers.

In one way this is a wise question so that expectations can be realistic.

In another way it is unwise in that the cliff called “Comparison” is a precipitous one. I’ve talked to depressed authors who are wounded by numbers. I’ve talked to angry authors who are incensed by a perceived lack of effort by their publisher. I’ve talked to highly frustrated authors who wonder if it is all worth it.

Ultimately I can’t help but think this is all an exercise in determining a definition of success for the individual author. If you can measure it you can define it. That is as long as we know what “it” is.

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Who Gets Paid in Publishing?

With all the talk about Independent publishing vs. Traditional publishing and the talk about how writers can get rich if they follow a certain plan…I got to thinking. Maybe we should do a quick look at the Economics of Publishing to see if anyone is making off like a bandit. Sorry for you non-numbers people, but it is critical to understand the infrastructure (i.e. the lifeblood) that keeps your ideas in print.

The detective in the movie says “Follow the money,” so we shall. But first a disclaimer. These models are estimates based on years of reading contracts, profit and loss sheets, spreadsheets, and royalty statements. Your mileage may vary.

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How Authors Make Money

So, you’ve written a book. Good for you. Now the money will start rolling in, right? Not exactly. There are a number of ways authors make money, but writing a book is only one step in a long and arduous journey. And, though the details vary widely from one author …

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Many Happy (?) Returns!

by Steve Laube

Every first-time author is confronted by the reality of “Reserves Against Returns” as part of publishing economics. It is usually a shock and elicits a phone call to their agent crying “What happened to my money?”

Did you realize that book publishing is the only “hard goods” industry where the product sold by the supplier to a vendor can be returned? This does not happen with electronics, clothing, shoes, handbags, cars, tires…you name it. If it is a durable good the vendor who buys it, owns it (which is why there are Outlet Malls – to sell the remaining inventory). Except for books. Somewhere along the line the publishers agreed to allow stores to return unsold inventory for credit. In one sense, publishers are selling their books on consignment. Bargain books are actually resold by the publisher (after getting returns or to reduce overprinted inventory) to a new specialty bargain bookseller or division of a chain (which buys the bargain books non-returnable).

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The Minimum Wage Author

Most authors earn less than legal minimum wage writing books. Most do so for their entire writing careers. (U.S. Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. A full time person working 40 hours per week would earn an annual revenue of $15,000 at that rate.) In fact, they work for …

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Your Money is Your Business or Keep a Lid on How Much Money You Make

How much should author friends reveal to each other about contracts or other business dealings when they have business with the same publisher?

I think it is a huge mistake to reveal the amount of your advances to other authors. This is similar to finding out the salary of the co-worker in the office cubicle next to yours. When I was a retail store manager we had major problems when salaries were revealed, a near fist-fight between two people who had been friends.

Money is viewed as a measure of worth; i.e. a measure of the worthiness of your work.

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Actually, It Is About Money

It is well-documented, Jesus spoke about money more than any other subject, as recorded in Scripture. He knew it was part of everyone’s life and used it often to teach a myriad of lessons. Still, money can be a polarizing topic. One of my favorite sports books is Moneyball: The …

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