A Detour in the Publishing Journey

20 April 2012

From author Boyd Morrison:

On January 3, eighteen months after Simon and Schuster released the first of my four thriller novels, my publishing career in the U.S. came to an abrupt halt. If that had happened on January 3, 2007, my career would have been over in this country. But because it was January 3, 2012, I now have an opportunity to go back to what got me started in the first place: self-publishing.

. . . .

[After receiving a three-book contract, the first two books of which received good reviews and made several best seller lists] I turned in my third novel in the series, The Roswell Conspiracy. My publisher at Little, Brown UK loved it, saying it was his favorite so far.

. . . .

Given all the praise the book has garnered, it was quite a surprise when I got word in January that [American publisher] Simon and Schuster rejected the book and canceled my contract. Deciding not to renew a contract is common in publishing, but canceling a contract once the book has been turned in is much more unusual. S&S didn’t give me any editing notes or let me submit any subsequent revisions. They simply declared the manuscript unacceptable because it needed “too much work” and demanded the advance back, a permissible action according to my contract as well as the contracts of most other authors. I admit the book needed some editorial guidance, which was provided by my wonderful editor at Little, Brown, but I didn’t end up adding or a removing a single chapter from the version I sent to S&S.

The first step following the rejection was to see if any other publishers would be interested. After the manuscript was in its final print-ready form, my agent shopped The Roswell Conspiracy around to the other North American publishers. Many of them praised the novel itself, but all eventually passed on it, considering it too risky to pick up my thriller series in mid-stream. While The Ark has already “earned out,” meaning the sales of the book have earned me royalties over and above the advance payment, The Vault sold in fewer numbers, not the trend publishers like to see. The last of them dropped out a week ago.

So I’m back to where I was in 2009, with a highly praised novel and no one willing to publish it. Before electronic self-publishing became a viable alternative, that would have been the book’s death sentence. The novel would have never seen the light of day in the U.S. But because this is 2012, when self-publishing is no longer stigmatized as vanity publishing, I can release the book on my own. I’ve done it before, so I have no problem going back to it, and my agent is very supportive of the decision.

Because of the strange circumstances, I’m in a rather unusual — perhaps even unique — position. I will be electronically self-publishing a novel in North America that is simultaneously being launched by one of the Big 6 publishers across the rest of the world in the same language. The book has already been edited and copyedited by Little, Brown, and they’ve graciously allowed me to buy the rights to the British cover for use in the US. Essentially, all I have to do is upload the book, and it will be on sale throughout the U.S. I plan to do so just a few days after it’s available in Great Britain.

Link to the rest at the Huffington Post

Here’s a link to The Ark and here’s The Vault.

Morrison was the first indie author to get a major publishing deal. His three books sold well on an indie basis. Kris Rusch speculates that S&S was convinced its New York magic would increase sales far above their indie level and was wrong.

This is a cautionary tale for high-selling indie authors who receive an offer of a traditional publishing contract.

The rejection of the manuscript for Morrison’s third book illustrates a standard publishing contract clause – the Acceptance Clause. For all intents and purposes, the publisher can reject a manuscript for any reason and demand repayment of any advance associated with the manuscript.

For those who want a traditional publishing contract, getting the contract is great and receiving the advance is even greater, but you may lose your contract and advance if the manuscript isn’t accepted for publication.

On additional point – under the terms of most agency agreements, the agent earns the commission by obtaining the contract and will take a percentage of the advance. If the author has to repay the advance, typically the agent will not repay his/her share and the author will have to pay that as well.

For illustration, if you receive a $100,000 advance, your agent will receive $15,000 and you will receive $85,000 (often in installments, but I won’t deal with those). If you have to pay back your advance, you will have to repay the $85,000 you have already received and come up with an additional $15,000 as well.

Some publishing contracts allow you time to shop the book to other publishers. If you’re successful, you use the advance from the second publisher to repay some or all of the advance to the first publishers. Usually, there is no provision for repaying the advance from self-publishing royalties.

If PG had been advising Morrison, he would have recommended amending the publishing contract to make the advances non-refundable. If an indie author is selling well enough to generate New York attention, he/she has some leverage in contract negotiations.

Kris also says that St. Martin’s is doing a terrible job at promoting Amanda Hocking’s Trylle series.

Switched, released by St. Martin’s in January, is only 2,042 on Kindle’s paid list, selling at $8.99. Torn, released in February is 1,740.

You’ll recall that Hocking’s books used to dominate the top ten paid Kindle titles. My Blood Approves, self-published in March, 2010, has a higher sales rank than either of her St. Martin’s books. PG doesn’t think the new covers are much better than the indie covers.

Here’s a link to the excellent latest post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch that’s well worth your time.

Big Publishing, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Self-Publishing, Self-Publishing Strategies

48 Comments to “A Detour in the Publishing Journey”

  1. That sounds like a complete nightmare. By having to pay back the agent’s advance, it’s like a penalty in addition to getting fired. Like having to pay something to the human resource person at your job if you get laid off.

    • RE paying back the agent’s money to the publisher–This is an example of how vague and unregulated the biz is. There is no standard or regulation for how this works, and there’s often not even a formal agreement between agent-and-client about how to handle such a situation until AFTER it arises.

      There are instances of agent’s repaying their commission when a deal goes south; but this is strictly voluntary and it’s considered a graciously courteous/principled/supportive act on the part of the agent.

      There is no requirement/expectation whatsoever that the agent repay his/her own portion of the money that’s being repaid, and, yep, the writer OFTEN get stuck with repaying the publisher 15% more money than she actually received in payments, because the agent isn’t going to cough up his share and there is no law (or force on earth) that can compel him to do so…

      If you’ve got a 2-book $100K deal on the table, your signing advance will usually be somewhere between $25,000 and $33,333 (depending on how you negotiation the pay out), your agent will collect $3750 to $5,000 commission from you on that first check.

      (That sum is more than I pay my lawyer to negotiate a first-time contract with a house, and THOUSANDS more than I pay her to negotiate an option contract–i.e. a contract who opening terms are based on our previously-negotiated contracts with that house, rather than being based on the house’s boilerplate.)

      Then, say, your editor resigns or is laid off and you’re reassigned to an overloaded editor who can’t stand the kind of book you write and doesn’t think you should ever have been offered a contract. (This happens. See the chapter “Orphans of the Storm” in my book REJECTION, ROMANCE, AND ROYALTIES about the publishing biz.) You deliver book #1 on the contract. It sits gathering dust on the editor’s desk for 8 months, thus ensuring it can’t make its release slot (4 months later), so it’s removed from the schedule. Now you have no release date. You’re meanwhile halfway through writing book #2, a sequel to book #1… which your replacement-editor, upon finally reading it, declares unpublishable and unsalvageable, adding helpful comments like, “I really don’t know what you want me to say,” and “I don’t know what to tell you,” and “We can’t publish this.” And nothing MORE than that, though you ask for feedback and discussion.

      Your agent’s most helpful, inciteful, and problem-solving comment is, “I gather the editor doesn’t like your book.” Apart from that, your agent is incommunicado, whether you want to discuss solving this problem, getting reassigned to a different editor, writing a replacement book, seeking a contract elsewhere–either with this work or with brand-new material, etc., etc. All you get from the agent is disengaged disinterest–which (although, happily, not how Morrison’s agent responded, is how far too many agents respond to this situation).

      Ultimately, your only way out of a frozen mess where your books will never see the light of day and no one will take your calls, is to cancel the deal, which will include repaying the signing money, so you can reclaim the books and find a new opportunity elsewhere for them…

      And now you find out that your agent, who collected $3750-$5000 2 years ago for emailing your 2-book proposal to an editor pal and accepting “standard” terms in the contract, and who has done nothing since… except to keep that money. And -you- will have to cough up $3750-$5000, over and above what you were paid, to get out of this mess… with the agent meanwhile (a) advising you against buying back the books and (b) offering ABSOLUTELY NO solution whatsoever to this mess and absolutely no support or assistance whatsoever in resolving it any other way.

      Although it doesn’t -necessarily go like this (there are examples of agents who actually -do- fight for their clients, as well as some who’d also give back their commission in such a circumstnace)…. it’s a pretty common scenario. And one typical of example of why I think too many literary agents are more of an expensive handicap for many writers, rather than a valuable asset.

      • Sounds like the voice of experience, Laura.

        • As explained below, I’ve had four deals canceled on me over the years, but I’ve never had to give back any money. But I know some writers who HAVE had to give back money, and it got expensive for them when their agents declined to do the same.

          OTOH, I’ve certainly been in the position several times (as have any number of writers whom I know) where the agent “earning” the commission very first person to abandon me when something with wrong with a publisher, an editor, or deal.

          And I’ve been in a situation (as have any number of writers I know) where, when a problem arose that was so serious I thought about canceling the deal myself, the agent “representing” me (a) threw me to the wolves and (b) had only one thing to say, which was, “I’m keeping -my- share of the money, so you’ll have to pay that back out of your own pocket.”

  2. Posted this right as you took the post down temporarily:

    When I found out that advances could be taken back, it did a lot to kill my interest in traditionally publishing. Being a practical sort, where even a $500 debt stresses me out, the thought of getting even a(n arguably pitiful) 5k advance would stress me out, because I’d not be sure I could use the money for anything until after I was paid out and earning royalties. I’d have to have a contract like you stated, where any paid portions of an advance couldn’t be taken back – and from what I’ve heard about publishing contracts lately, I think they wouldn’t be too keen on it.

    And considering I’ve just finished reading a thread discussing the Wake Up story and the Batman episode Perchance to Dream where one of the people commenting said that a way to discover if you’re dreaming is to read something and if on the second time you read it the text changes, you can be sure you’re dreaming… It was quite a surreal moment when the article I was replying to disappeared. ;)

    • See my post below. A writer sometimes has to pay back the advance, but it’s unusual. Usually, you keep what’s already been paid out, when a deal gets canceled.

  3. What a nightmare. I hope the author can generate enough sales to help repay whatever he owes them. In the meantime, can someone please remind me why signing with the Big 6 is such a great thing?

  4. Well, he should be able to make the money back when he publishes the book….

    But I got to congratulate Simon and Schuster for proving the utter uselessness of traditional publishing. (Not to themselves, I’m sure — they’ll continue to say that it’s the author’s fault. Obviously indies are substandard. And this proves it, right? Right?)

  5. This is just more confirmation to stay the hell away from those big publishers and their fancy contracts that leave you out in the cold. They just seem too self-serving and not at all looking out for their authors like they should be. I know it’s a business but still if you’re going to screw your authors they’re not going to do business with you.
    As for Amanda Hocking, I follow her blog every once in a while and she herself barely mentioned those books. Sometimes I think she made the wrong decision for herself. I think she is far better at self publishing than the tradtional publishers that she handed over her work to. She’s doing another series with them so I hope that goes better for her.

    • My suspicion is that Hocking is not happy with sales and may realize that she gave up way too much control in exchange for some editing she could have easily hired someone to do.

      • Yeah, I feel like a lot of the time these new writers are basically paying a hell of a lot of money to get an education….

      • You are right about that, PG. Amanda is an FB friend and she posted on her FB page that she is worried about her Trylle series not doing well. I told her that it isn’t her fault because she was successful first, without her publishers. And she could do it again if she had to walk away. I think she is learning from this experience.

        I remember emailing Kris when Amanda first accepted the deal with St. Martin’s, telling Kris that I thought Amanda should not have done it because the increase in price would affect sales and Kris said that like all of us, Amanda will learn by experience. And she’s learning. But at least her books are still popular so she still has something to be proud of.

      • Amanda didn’t get much editing either. Being interested in such things, I compared word for word the first chapter of SWITCHED (I had read the original version and thought it enjoyable but in need of solid editorial). The result: about 10 single word changes. Just tiny smoothing. Not even a real line edit and nothing mid or high level. The book is packed with highly redundant sentences, characters saying the exact same thing a page later, characters stating obvious things that aren’t shown. It’s a decent story, but it needed a genuine edit. Amanda could have paid any of a dozen freelancers a couple thousand dollars to do a great job of it.

        • I’m still bitter about the ending of the Trylle series – and much as I enjoyed Hocking as a writer, I don’t plan on ever buying another book from her because it royally pisses me off when people screw with the formula. I think had she hired a proficient editor in the first place, they would have pointed out the folly of the ending of she chose, and had her change it. When I heard about the St. Martin’s deal, I desperately hoped they’d make her change the end – but she announced that they wouldn’t be changing the books at all. It is funny that there was only ten word changes – part of the reason why Hocking was so gung-ho was having a “real” editor who would help fix her work and make it professional.

          • I read the first one also– It was .99 and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I’m not a paranormal romance fan but it didn’t strike me as being much worse than any of the others I have read.

            The price increase was a bad idea. I agree with Laura Resnick’s opinion on that issue. I didn’t read either of the other two books but I did notice quite a number of complaints about the ending. Romance fiction is kind of rule bound IMO and writers don’t seem to have much leeway without a fuss being made, so that might have affected her sales.

            • I don’t know. The way I see it is that it’s her story and she can end it the way she wants. I’ve heard people complain about how Suzanne Collins ruined her ending but I thought the ending was really good.

          • I actually liked the ending to the trilogy. I didn’t think she screwed it up at all. So … hmmm, I guess we’re all different.

        • I was also curious about how much Switched was changed, so thanks for the data point, Andrew. I think the editing on Trylee was light by her request. She’d mentioned on her blog that she talked over what she wanted to do with her editor, and because it had already been published, she didn’t want any noticeable changes.

          The editing thing is interesting because it was one of her main frustrations when self publishing. She’d hired several freelancers, and readers were still complainig that her work needed editing. She found it time consuming to find and vet editors. In the interview that I can no longer find on google, she says she prefers her St. Martin’s editor because the freelancers she’d hired before were not aggressive enough in their suggestions.

          I’m sorry to hear that she’s worried about sales though. Hopefully things will work out.

          • I had a comment dialog with Amanda and I had the impression she didn’t really buy into the value of good editing. She grew defensive. As a writer, I find that defensiveness is the enemy. One must step back and look objectively at the text. It doesn’t matter WHY you wrote that awkward or redundant sentence. It only matters does it add value to the story or take away.

            I’ve used several freelance editors, and the good ones are very aggressive. But you need a real editor with years (or decades) of editorial experience. And they cost real money. At least $1500-3000 a draft for serious editing. More for a very detailed line edit of a full novel. The value added by a skilled editor is immense, no matter how skilled a writer you are.

            • I’m guessing she might have changed her opinion since then. I found the links to a few of her blog posts about editing and how it’s one of the main reasons she took a traditional deal. It’s stuck in moderation at the moment, probably cuz I looked like a spammer for only posting two links without any words.

            • Mmmmmmmm…..

              She doesn’t need to defend anything. She needs to stop listening to the whiners, frankly.

              I say this not as a fan of her — I am not a fan of romance, or paranormal. I have never read her work. I don’t care if it’s complete illiterate trash: she clearly gives her audience what they want.

              IMHO, what she needs is experience so that she can zero in on people who can give her feedback that helps her voice and tell everyone else — including critical readers — where to go.

            • “IMHO, what she needs is experience so that she can zero in on people who can give her feedback that helps her voice and tell everyone else — including critical readers — where to go.”

              Lol, don’t we all… :-)

            • Okay, I totally agree with Camille on this one! Editing is necessary but if the editor takes away from the voice of the author, then she/he is doing it wrong.

              I was considering hiring a freelancer who wanted an editing job, so I gave her a bit of my writing because I wanted to see what she’d say. When I go it back, the comments, which were all over, actually suggested words I should put in the text instead of my own. I thought: Hmmm, that’s not the way I would write it, though. That’s not my voice. I didn’t hire her.

    • I’ve gotten the same impression. She blogs a lot less than she used to, as well. I have the impression that signing with a traditional publisher didn’t give her as much extra time as she hoped it would.

      She has posted about Switched some, and that’s the only reason I knew that the tradpub version had even come out. Considering how much YA fantasy/paranormal I read, the fact that I haven’t heard anything about it in any other venue is proof to me that KKR is right about S&S not doing a good job at all.

    • At the risk of being a party pooper…I feel kinda bad for Hocking with all the pulling apart of her decision that goes on in the indie blogosphere. My vote is for not reading too much into her career/state-of-mind/life-direction from how often she blogs and what she blogs about.

      I’m not quite sure why people think she doesn’t blog much anymore, since she’s blogged 3 times in the last 5 days. And even if she were blogging less often, there are many other possible reasons — she’s focusing on other stuff now that she has a fan base, blog fatigue (which happens to many, many bloggers), realizing that blogging doesn’t necessarily drive book sales, etc. And not mentioning your books is seen in other contexts as smart marketing. Heck, Joe Konrath doesn’t blog as often anymore either, and I don’t think it’s because he’s given up on self publishing.

      I mean, you guys might well be right, I have no idea what she’s thinking. But I think there might be some tinted glasses at play here to be seeing regret on the part of an author who has stated both on her blog and in interviews that she’s enjoying the traditional publishing process, finds it much easier than self publishing (http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/2011/09/countdown-for-switched.html), and plans to stay with them unless they really seriously screw up (can’t find that link, but she said that in an interview during the relaunch of switched).

      • You make a fair point, Livia. Mea culpa. (Also, I have apparently missed some of her posts lately, so nobody should rely on anything I have to say in that regard! :-P)

        I do very much hope that she’s happy with everything she’s doing. I haven’t read any of her books (yet; one is on my Kindle) but I wish her the greatest success.

        • Sorry if I came across as ornery, Clare! I’m a bit grumpy after a week of suboptimal dissertation writing :-)

          • Nope, I didn’t think you were any more ornery than usual ;) I try not to mind when my failings are pointed out, especially if it’s polite. It’s like constructive criticism on my fiction: now I know more than I did before, and I’ll do better next time.

            Sorry about the dissertation. I hope it improves.

  6. Weren’t there a bunch of people commenting here that unhappy with another article a few weeks ago that said, “don’t spend your advance immediately”? Now the other shoe has dropped. Its not really your money until the book(s) have come out.

  7. You should be quoting the Kris Rusch article that you linked to here. It’s something I already knew, but she presented it in a way that reminded me why I don’t want to go down that road.

    I’ve heard many pro-traditional authors defending publishing as protecting quality. I think Kris is right though – nowhere does it say that the publisher has to do a good job with your book. They don’t have to promote it, they don’t have to give you a good cover, they don’t have to live up to any sort of standard. They can throw you out in the wind and then blame you when it doesn’t take (and the taking back the advance thing scares me too. How could you ever spend that money? What if you had to take out a loan to pay back your publisher?)

    I feel bad for Morrison – he probably thought he was living the dream and it didn’t quite work out so well.

    I’m also wondering how Hocking’s situation will work out, given Morrison’s. Will her publisher dump her because they’re not making the money on the Trylle series that they expected to? What happens if her first two books in the new series don’t perform as well as they wanted them to? It sounds like publishers are just expecting that indie books take little to no effort to market.

    • “It sounds like publishers are just expecting that indie books take little to no effort to market.”

      Sariah, you hit the problem on the head. Publishers view themselves as the Fairy Godmother without which Cinderella can’t get to the ball.

      But today’s Cinderellas took classes at Wyo-Tech, now runs their own coach shops, and are doing quite well. But there’s a few who still want to go to the ball, even if the ball means cookies, punch and dancing with a dirty, old prince.

    • The problem is they are buying a name and the expectation is that readers will buy the writer’s books even if they price is high and promotion limited. That doesn’t really work, unless you’re a King, Clancy or Rowling (to name a few).

      There’s also the issue of price shock, which can’t be helping. The books are expensive and from a bestseller list perspective that means lower sales and lower rankings. Not a good thing as most have learned by now. Both Hocking and Morrison were selling to a specific market, who have specific price expectations. When one tries to travel upwards like that it creates inertia that hurts sales (1. It’s a smaller market; 2. That level of buyer has higher expectations; 3. Its not the market/s that they initally dominated,)

      If I was a fan of either, I would be ticked off having to pay more after having paid a price that was reasonable in my mind for the value of the entertainment that the authors provided. Too bad for them, I guess.

  8. Let’s be explicit.

    What this does is knock the basic assumption underlying “tradpub is better” in the head, slice it into steaks, and serve it for the pleasure of PV, Kris Rusch, and a number of others.

    That is: The services provided by traditional publishing will result in better books and therefore higher sales. By bailing, S&S is demonstrating that that isn’t so — or, at the very least, that it isn’t sufficiently so to carry the overhead of tradpub. We indies have thought that was the case for some time now. It’s kind of nice to have it confirmed from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

    On a secondary level, it’s also confirmation that the people making decisions at S&S are dumb as rocks, with the implication that the other traditional publishers are probably about the same IQ. I can see them canceling the contract, but it’s the demand for returning the advance that’s putting a frisson up everybody’s back and causing the incident to go viral.

  9. The Hocking series published by the Trad publishers are overpriced– $8.99 vs $2.99.

    H P Mallory, another self publishing star, isn’t exactly burning up the boards with her first trad book either. It’s taking a lot of dubious 5 star reviews to keep it at a 4 star overall. However it does have a mmpb edition and the pb is priced the same as the ebook.

    • In traditional publishing, when it’s done well (and sometimes it is), there’s a lot of thought/analysis invested in moving a writer from mass market paperback (mmpb) to hardcover (hc) in terms of asking: Will this author’s readers buy her at $27.95, when they’ve so far been used to buying her at $7.99? Consumer price expectation is factored into -whether- to move a writer in hc, and whether it’s the right time or the right particular book in her career with which to make that move.

      But the thing is, of course… there’s a huge, self-evident difference in the book’s PACKAGE between mmpb and hc. An hc is clearly a more expensive and more permanent format–one which can last through dozens or hundreds of readings (ergo, the format that libraries rely on), whereas a mmpb starts falling apart after two readings. HC has long been the preferred format for a “keeper,” a writer (or specific title) the reader wants to own and re-read for years.

      Maybe this was the mindset (is the writer ready for this price-hike? Well, sure! Just look at that swelling tide of enthusiastic readership! It’s time!) that publishers had in mind when moving successful self-pulishing writers from their own $2.99 (or $0.99 or $4.99) price point to the publishers’ price points of $8.99-$12.99…. but, if so… it’s a stragegy which did not take into account that, with ebooks, the PACKAGING FORMAT remains -exactly the same-.

      With the increase we experience in buying a writer who’s been moved into hc, we can readily see/feel/experience why we’re spending more money to read this writer now; it’s clearly a more permanent, sturdy, and costly format.

      But… what would be the reason to pay 300% -more- to buy one ebook instead of another ebook by the same author?? To the reader, the packaging and the experience is identical, so why does one cost 300% more than the other just because of WHO’s releasing it? Even if quite a few readers are willing to spend more… maybe not ENOUGH are willing to do it to satisfy a publisher’s sales expectations for that writer?

  10. Actually, no, you don’t usually pay back the money on a canceled publishing deal.

    It often depends on WHY the contract was canceled, as well as on WHO canceled the contract. (Oh, btw, one minor quibble with Morrison’s interesting article; cancelation of deals after they’re underway, books have been published, books are being delivered, etc.–is actually pretty common. Not an everday occurrence, but I don’t actually know many career writers to whom it has NOT happened; and it’s happened to many of us multiple times. Publishers reneging on previous decisions is pretty common. The subject takes up about half a chapter of my book on the writing/publishing life, REJECTION, ROMANCE, AND ROYALTIES.)

    When the -author- cancels a contract (ex. a friend of mine bought back a book she was no longer interested in writing after her spouse was diagnosed with terminal illness), typically all the on-singing portion of the advance (uincluding the agent’s commission) for books-not-delivered (or delivered but then pulled before publication) on the deal has to be repaid by the author to the publisher. (Ex. If you’re canceling book #2 of a 2-book contract, but book #1 is already on bookshelves, you don’t repay the money for book #1.)

    But when the PUBLISHER cancels the contract… no, you often don’t have to repay any of the money. They write it off and walk away. Yes, sometimes you do have to repay them, but certainly not always (or even usually). It typically depends on why they’re canceling.

    If, for example, you signed a contract and then just never wrote the books, they’ll cancel on the basis of non-delivery and, yep, demand all their money back. (Well, in =theory= they’ll cancel. In reality, some publishers know that most writers don’t have the money anymore (it went to mortgage and groceries) and can’t repay them, no matter how they threaten. So in some instances, instead of canceling–which they certainly have every right to do–they’ll just keep asking for the book for years.)

    If they’re canceling due to weak sales… If they’ve decided this, say, on the basis of 2 books in a 4-book deal: You don’t give back a penny for the 2 books already on bookshelves, and you still receive any additional advance-payments owing to you for those 2 published books (ex. the “on-pub” money for the upcoming paperback editions), as well as any royalties earned in the years to come. And you’d rarely be asked to pay back and “on-signing” portion of the advance money already paid out for books #3 & #4. It can happen, but usually, you keep that money and the publisher just writes it off. (Moreover, though this is less common, sometimes the publisher actually pays out the REST of the advance for the canceled books (yes, really) when issuing the cancelation papers.)

    If a publisher cancels a book because it’s “unacceptable,” they may or may not ask for their signing money back. I know of many instances where the money only had to be repaid if the author (who no longer HAD the money) sold the book elsewhere and thus repaid the old signing-portion of the advance out of the new one.

    The instances in the media which have created the popular but mistaken belief that you typically have to repay the money in a canceled publishing deal always have two UNusual factors in common: They were always deals for a LOT of money (at least six-figures, and usually seven-figures); and the writer declining to repay it is someone in the unusual position of actually HAVING the money (i.e. a movie star or other sort of wealthy celebrity figure). When those two features are factors in a canceled deal, yes, the publisher usually demands its paid-out money back, and usually goes to court if refused.

    But when the publisher has paid out $10,000-$20,000 to someone who they know doesn’t have it (and who they know, moreover, will have even LESS money after paying a lawyer when sued by the publisher for the advance), they usually just write it off.

    In my own career, in four instances, publishers have canceled deals on me after paying out some or all of the advance without publishing the work; in every instance, I was told to keep the money. (And in once instance, I was also paid the remaining portion of the advance.) Two of those deals were canceled because the publisher folded; one because my work (in a work-for-hire situation) was deemed unacceptable; and one because the publisher was disappointed in sales (in that instance, I promptly resold the unpublished/canceled books elsewhere, but was still never required to repay the advance).

  11. As a former agent said to me “I’m not your friend.”
    None of them are there for you. You are there for them. And when they’re done with you, they toss you like a used tissue.

  12. Oh, P.S. Canceling a deal for “weak sales” is usually a publishing decision, but it’s amazing how many bad editors get to wreak havoc on the business lives of writers -and- publishing companies by declaring books “unacceptable”–books which, in fact, after being declaring “unpublishable” by some editor then go on to sell to another publisher and do very well in the marketplace.

    This discussion has brought to mind a high-placed editor (no longer in the biz, thank goodness) who was NOTORIOUS for doing this–and for doing it with lead-name writers with big readerships. In, she was notorious for doing it with writers whom she had gone out and actively courted away from other houses to get them under contract!

    In some instances, the writer would just wind up leaving–and taking a bestselling book -and- prolific bestselling career–to another house because of the editor’s inflexible position that a delivered book by an experienced bestseller was “unsalvageable.” In a couple of instances, writers who suddenly found their busy careers descend into sudden paralysis because of this editor (who wouldn’t approve a book, declared it couldn’t be fixed, wouldn’t pay for it, wouldn’t schedule it, etc.)… heard she was preparing to leave the company, quietly waited her out, and then got those books accepted and released by those houses (and subsequently enjoyed long and productive relationships with those houses) right after she left.

    Yet publishing is run in such a way that ONE lunatic editor like that can make THAT big and costly a mess for writers and publishers… over and over and over and over.

  13. Mr. Morrison’s post interests me because my company,IPG distributes Little Brown UK titles in the US market. That is we distribute the print editions of their titles, but only if we also distribute the e-edition or if they agree not to sell the eBook in our market. Our policy may seem unfair, but it is still usually the case that the print edition drives the eBook sale. When we take on a UK published title for distribution here, we make a serious investment in marketing and publicity. We know that eBooks sales will to some extent cannibalize the print sales. Why should we give the UK publisher a free ride on the eBook edition? It may be that Mr. Morrison will come out money ahead, but he will be on his own in terms of generating interst in his book.

    Curt Matthews
    CEO,IPG/Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

    • From what I gather, he was pretty much on his own anyway — and it was on his own that he got the sales that made the company pay (…too much…?) to publish the next books.

      I’m not sure there’s much down-side to him doing this on his own again, save that someone else controls his rights for the first two books right now.

      You may invest in marketing and publicity, but from what I’m hearing, bigger North American/US houses… Well, it’s a lot more hit or miss. At best.

  14. Re Amanda Hocking, it seems her trad published books are doing well – see this article in Publishers Weekly: http://bit.ly/I0Qcjn.

  15. Chin up Boyd…You’ve got the gift. Unfortunately I can relate to what you’re going through from personal experience…More reason for entertaining a variety of publishing options…
    Cheers
    Vince

  16. Amanda Hocking recently posted an update on how her publishing is going. It’s worth reading since there are so many rumors going on about her right now.

    http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/2012/04/how-am-i-doing-now.html

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