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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14 responses

  1. Ooh! I like people who aren’t afraid to stand up for their opinions. Ergo, I like you.

    Well said, good lady. We can only be walked on if we allow it, and I ain’t no doormat. (No judgement implied on poor Allison, since I don’t now and never will know the details of her situation.)

  2. I made two recent references to my books being my children, and I have two real children – that doesn’t change the fact that my books are my babies. Mary Shelley considered Frankenstein her progeny and there was an entire plot element regarding creators and how they view their creations. We brought them to life.

    I can’t say I am 100% attached to my titles, but I feel strongly about them, and I wouldn’t give them up for just anything. I think if I were Allison, I’d be returning the advance, especially hearing that the title was chosen before the manuscript was read. That’s irresponsible on the publisher’s part, as well as insulting.

    I’m fortunate enough that my first publisher is sticking with my chosen title and is even using my original artwork as part of the cover design. I’m thrilled, to say the least, but I’ll keep all of this in mind, for future reference.

  3. I really like your comments here. Thanks for sharing Allison’s story. I’ve heard of such nightmares. My mom went through a self-publishing company and ended up having several herself. She just got the rights back to her novel this year. Hearing these stories, and having seen my mom’s mistakes in the way she handled her publishing experience (she was one who would give anything to have her work published…and to be fair, it was one of my favorite reads growing up), gives me good advice about how to handle the situation should–well, maybe I should say when–it show up.

    As for the baby stuff, yeah, I feel like you do. I’ve read other authors’ blogs who say nay about it, but honestly, when you put years of blood, sweat and tears into that, it does become something as special as a child.

  4. Your post was spot on but you’ve missed the bigger picture that I was hoping you would dig into when I saw your North quote.

    The issue here at hand is not standing up for yourself or having the courage of one’s conviction. We are tested in numerous ways, not just how we stick to what we feel is right when it comes to our artistic endeavors.

    Nor is the issue is playing well with others on a team effort, as you alluded to when you changed your title in your Guardian series, but not for the other novel.

    The issue at hand is elitism. Allison was the victim of elitism. It wasn’t that her opinion didn’t matter because that’s what the contract said, it was clear that she was dismissed because they thought themselves better than her. That is elitism, and just like the politics that vilify North, elitism is wrong, and elitism in the publishing industry is bad.

  5. I turned down a publishing contract for two reasons:
    1. Because of how crappy their contract was.
    2. Because of they way they treated me (they actually said “if you don’t sign this contract, I have 20 other author who will in a heartbeat).

    Seriously? I wasn’t letting anyone treat me like dirt. For any reason. My book is worth more than that. And so am I.

    I felt sorry for those other 20 authors. The ones who didn’t respect themselves or their work enough to refuse to be treated like crap.

  6. You are absolutely, 100% my hero on this subject. Every “Allison” should require that both her agent and her publisher read and understand this post and sign off on it.

    And the thing about a book being the author’s baby is not sentimental romanticism, it’s a metaphor for taking responsibility. It’s not about being egotistical, it’s about being humble enough and ferocious enough to stand your ground when you have to. Like any reasonable parent.

  7. Amen.

    Though honestly, I have different works that mean different things and depending on which one it is, I’d be willing to move farther with some than others. Like my Fantasy “The Trials” there’s a certain way I imagine my book to be, and there are certain things that I can’t see as changing. Though I’m willing to compromise and work with a publisher on a lot, and I’m a pretty flexible person, I have to say, I want everything to feel right and if I can’t look at that book with pride and joy (like when I look at my children, ehm.) Then it’s not being published by the publisher in question. I’ve put too much on the line with it, I love it too much to let it become something I can’t stand to look at. But then again, I have other stories that I don’t think would bother me as much, though I still wouldn’t tear it to shreds and allow myself to get to the point of hating it. I’d give back the advance. Period. You are correct, we’re worth more than that. I would, as Chantal mentions above, be completely and irrevocably insulted if a publisher dared to pick out a title and cover for my book before reading it, and that to me, would prove they don’t care enough about my vision as an artist, or my opinons as a person, and have no respect for me or my career. I would turn down anyone who dared insult me in such a manner. I want my book published as badly as the next author, but seriously, we (as writers/authors) don’t have to bend over and take shit like that.

  8. Interesting post. I’ve always heard/assumed that the publisher has the ‘final’ word on cover and title, but that it would necessarily be in consultation with the author whose name is on the cover. If the marketing and graphic experts at a publisher come up with a better title and great cover art that the writer believes helps sell the book, that’s ideal. But as we all know, and you reminded us so well, never assume nothing, and the ideal is seldom reality. Thanks!

  9. Oh the irony of Oliver North even saying the word “truth”! The juxtaposition with the Shakespeare quote is apt. LOL!
    As for a novel being one’s baby—gestation, prolonged development in the womb–like years–seeing what was once new territory when you started being suddenly put on the market by faster, already established writers, then not being sure of its born or not yet–that isn’t a baby really–its much worse.
    I have to admit I have yet to read Allison’s article. I just saw 10 shades of red with the quote.
    Cheers,
    A

  10. I walked away from a contract that would have seen my work on Napoleonic spies turned into a Sharpe-like sequence of books, taking one character out of the novel and turning him into a historic James Bond with fresh totty in every book. And yes, they told me my title, ‘Of Honest Fame’ (from a quotation by Byron) had to go.

    It was a great contract offer. Very good money. Very high profile. But–it missed the whole point of my novel, reduced a multi-layered plotline and several main characters to the single focus, and removed the literary style. And, given all that, I reckoned it would have landed me in a padded cell. So I made my farewells, strolled politely from the room, and subsequently said, “Thank you for your kind offer, I have so appreciated your enthusiasm for my work, but in this instance, I have to say no.”

  11. Very well said. Know that I appreciate your thoughts and efforts on the path ahead of me. I am quite sure there will be plenty of my own bridges to cross of my own as I proceed on the path toward publishing Veil of the Dragon (Planning on Keeping the title.) But I also know that, thanks to the warnings (or wardings) of fine people like you, and a bit of providence, that the path will be somewhat lighted.
    One of the bridges I know I will have to cross will be regarding my artwork. The publishing industry just isnt set up for author’s to do it themselves. I have this vision of those cool old books with an illustrated plate at the start of every chapter. My hope is that when I get to that particular bridge, the fact that I have an active web site and existing platform where the writing and artwork co-exist, then at the very least it will bring the conversation to the table. If the answer is no, then it will be a choice that I will get to make, on how I choose to proceed forward.
    So, thank you again. I appreciate your words.
    Tom.

  12. Of course, your novels are your children. I know mine are and now that I’ve self-published one it has a life of its own that I can’t even guess at.

    This whole episode sounds like what happened to me and my editor two years ago. Good thing I didn’t sign a contract regarding the publishing of the book. But I am still undoing many of the things he told me to do because I found out he didn’t know what he was talking about.

    Regardless, I think as writers we need to share these experiences and come together to help each other. There is so much we can teach each other and help each other with. But this is neither the time or place for my soapbox. So I’ll stop here.

    Thanks for posting this. It is very good to know.

  13. I always refer to my book as my baby. It’s unpublished, been rejected three times already- but don’t fool yourself. I would get rejected twenty more times AND turn down a contract if I was being treated like that by a publisher. It’s like standing up to bullies. If we don’t, no one will. If you look at it from a workplace perspective, because on top of being our baby, our books are also our business, it is a matter of being treated with respect in the workplace and about the work you do.

  14. Right now… at this moment in time… I don’t think I’d have the guts to stand up for myself. I’d like to sit here and say, “Heck ya I’d walk away!” But I don’t know if I would. Not because I lack a connection to my work or because I’d sell my soul to get published, but for the simply reason that I lack the courage to say no. I lack the conviction that if not them, then someone else. Or the belief that, as much as I love what I’m writing, other people will love it too.

    The upside is that I still have time before I will be seeking publication, which means I have time to practice saying no… time to learn which battles mean something to me and which don’t… and time to grow as a person and a writer.

    Thanks for this post. It would be amazing to see what could be accomplished if we all stood our ground together. But you’re right, there are those who won’t, so someday I’ll be standing my ground with the few. I appreciate you!!!

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