There’s a Monster Under my Contract

“I came here to tell you the truth; the good, the bad, and the ugly.” ~Oliver North.

 

Before you read this, you need to read this. Done? No, really, go read it or else this won’t make nearly as much sense.

Now…what do you think? I think that the whole scenario “Allison” has gone through, is for the birds. And she has a good agent. Some agents aren’t worth the paper their birth certificates were typed on, but there are others who work hard and give a damn. Can you imagine her situation had she been with one of those guys?

Reactions to the original post were varied: I saw everything from denial, to acceptance, and everything in-between. More than a few authors reacted with some measure of (hmmm…what’s the right word) surprise(?) to the situation. Others stated that they don’t care what happens to it, since all of it is out of their hands anyway. Some stated that it didn’t surprise them in the least and that Rachelle’s example only served to show why self-publishing is always better than the traditional model (then they proceeded to launch into a long-winded rant on ‘The Industry”).

Truth is, there’s nothing out there to bite you unless you let it.

 Now, before you go accusing me of talking out of my rear-end, let me state for the record that I changed my title because my publisher asked me to. Guardians of Legend was originally Fable. I changed it (with guidance), no problem, because the logic was solid behind the request and I wasn’t attached to it. I had the same request for a different book and declined consent. A Thief of Nightshade will remain A Thief of Nightshade. Period. I’m not negotiating on that. So, we came to a compromise and worked around the issue and chose a later publication date for it (there was a conflict, etc…long story, it would bore you). Bottom line is that when it mattered, I stood my ground. Was I willing to walk away from a contract over it? To put it simply, yes. Though, to be fair, there is a little more to it than that. Would I have balked had it been Del Ray? Yup–You bet I would have.

Here is a post that will show you most succesful authors have title changes and that the great majority of them get input into what the titles will be. This is important because I’ve heard a few people lately make the assumption that the publisher will, in all circumstances, not give you any input into things.

See, here’s the thing…”the finished work with cover and title isn’t mine and I know that,” ummm…yeah but it has your name on it. YOUR NAME! Let me say that one more time…it has your name on it! There are a lot of things that have diminished in value over the years, but a man or woman’s name and their word, should still be worth something and in my book—they still are! I don’t care if you’re buying the rights to my work: If you’re giving me credit for it, then I need to be involved in how it comes out in the end. I just wrote a post a short while ago, in which I stated to not be a pain to work with, and to choose your battles. Most large publishers are going to consider your feelings and what Rachelle says is absolutely correct, Allison’s experience is NOT the norm. But, it’s just one example of how something that can look innocuous and even entertaining, can turn out to be nothing but a nightmare. 

$5,000. That’s the average advance for a decent sized press. I am guessing that to be the amount Allison could have opted to pay back if she were able to break her contract and do so. Is her agony worth that much? She thought it was. I applaud her patience and ability to be professional and handle things with grace and dignity. But, my point is that clearly she didn’t choose the right battles because she sounds miserable. Her first novel’s publication isn’t the stuff of fairy tales, or even the bittersweet reality of most of our experiences. Still, its lack of fairness concerns me: The Author is again put second to everything and everyone else related to the project.

The cover and title aren’t the book? Like hell they aren’t. If they weren’t, you’d never title your manuscripts. You’d simply label them ambiguously; Manuscript #4, or POS #45, or what have you. You name them, like you name children.

“But you’re romanticizing again—my work isn’t my child.”

Bullshit folks. I’m calling this one just like I see it. Bullshit. 

“Listen J.S., you’re being a know-it-all ass. My work really isn’t an integral part of who I am. I love it, but it’s not….my baby,” you whine.

OK.

For some folks sure, I believe you—your work isn’t your child. You’re merely babysitting it. You don’t care what happens to it once you send it *home. But, it’s still a growing thing that needs nurturing and support and a foundation. (* Home being whichever house you sell it to.) Whether you like it or not, it’s a fluid thing—you’re either taking responsibility for it, or your aren’t.

Now that we’ve got that at least somewhat settled, let’s consider the same scenario with other authors…before they made a name for themselves: V.C. Andrews, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Dean Koontz, etc. Would The Stand, or Carrie, or The House of Thunder, or Flowers in the Attic, be the same under other names? Depends on the names. Names—titles—are words. And words, after all, are what this whole business is about and a title isn’t anything more than a careful selection of the most important words in your entire story. You’re summing it all up. If someone suggests something that has nothing to do with the novel…they don’t deserve to publish your novel.

There it is again…that word…deserveYour work is worth more than you give it credit for. It’s worth more than a measly 5 grand. Yes, that’s a lot of money for most (it’s a LOT of money for me). But in the long run, your creativity and your time is far more valuable than that. Don’t just accept things because “that’s the way they are.” No, things are the way they are because they’re allowed to be.

I am NOT saying that I wouldn’t sign a contract for that kind of an advance. At all. You’re missing my point if that’s what you’ve gotten from this post. What I’m saying is that “Allison” wound up in her predicament because of what we, as authors, have allowed as a whole. WE DID THIS FOLKS!

What if every author stood firm? What if every author refused to sign unless they had more say in the cover art and title? What if every author refused to sign unless percentages were higher? It’s an all or nothing venture isn’t it? We all agree to it, or not. And it’ll likely never happen. It can’t…there are too many authors who will do anything, give anything, for just the sliver of a chance. I can’t blame them, not really. I suppose, to some, unless their work is approved by the masses, then it means nothing—not even a measly $5,000. You already know how I feel about the masses…(woe is the writer who mounts their merit on the masses)

The monster under the bed, the overbearing influence of major publishers/editors, are things that if you are destined to become one of the greats, one of the well-knowns of the world, are things that you’ll outgrow in time. Stephen King doesn’t have to worry about this. J.K. definitely doesn’t have to worry about this. So, all I’m saying, is that until you reach that stage, there will be a certain amount of peering through the darkness, upside down, with a flashlight in your hand—hands trembling, clutching the sheet with sweaty palms. Just know that the attitude you approach the monster with, is the attitude you’ll be met with. The funny thing is though, as I stated earlier, there is no monster. Not really. Yet, this process is integral to our development as authors. It molds us professionally and in some cases personally.

I would have been respectful. I would have picked my battles with care. But, I wouldn’t have allowed myself or my work to wind up in a position where just thinking about it broke my heart. I can say this without doubt because I know that the concept of “marketing and sales” hasn’t suddenly rendered authors sterile when it comes to things like titles. I’ve heard more than one author state that they aren’t in the business of selling books.

Really? And hookers aren’t in the business of making love….in a way, you’re right about that. You aren’t writing your book merely to be a “product.” Unless, you are, of course, writing it only to be a product. In that case, maybe you aren’t capable of choosing a title for your hard work. Maybe you don’t know what image might best display the meaning of that hard work. Tolkien lamented once that the original cover of The Fellowship of the Ring had nothing at all to do with the book. Psssh. What did Tolkien know? I mean….he’s considered the father of modern fantasy…who the hell was he to think he should have some say in how his work was packaged?

Oh…wait….

I have a friend who turned down a contract from TOR because they wanted to change more than he was willing to. I’ve read his novel and it’s brilliant. What they were asking for would essentially rip the guts from his work. His actions in that instance made me respect him even more as an author. He knows what he’s worth—what his name and word are worth, and he won’t compromise. Bravo J. You embody this post.

What would you have done? Honestly?

P.S. Don’t even think about getting into a smart-assed, snarky, heated battle with me on the whole not my baby thing. I won’t approve nasty comments here. Period. It’s my party and I’ll deny your rant if I want to.

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