Traditional publishers never got in trouble for their monopoly because they studiously avoided working in tandem—Random House did not collude with Bertelsmann to control pricing, for example. But they did—often—play follow the leader. If one publisher came up with a good way to make extra money, then the other publishers quickly followed suit.
. . . .
Just a few years ago, publishers had given up on building careers, deciding instead to launch newcomers all the time in hopes that they would become the latest Stephenie Meyer or Suzanne Collins. So the idea of building a career one midlist novel at a time had faded, and a lot of writers—who had been at this for decades—made noises about retiring or moved to comics/gaming/screenwriting or became teachers, truck drivers, or bitter drunks sitting in the corner of every writers conference within driving distance.
At the same time, publishers had given up on independent bookstores, making them pay full wholesale price for a book while giving a chain like Borders a deep discount for that same book. Which meant that the chain bookstore could sell that book at half-price or lower, while the independent, which probably paid half of the cover price, couldn’t discount at all.
Publishers didn’t care as long as they made their four-to-six percent profit every year. And because no one protested their business practices, there was a lot of skimming, and forgotten royalties, and unreported foreign sales. Who was going to fight the big bad publisher, anyway? A writer? Give me a break. The agents? Most agents soon figured out that they made more money if they went to bed with the publishers instead of the writers.
. . . .
Because if I had my druthers, I would indie publish and traditionally publish. I don’t like having all of my eggs in one basket, even if I own the basket myself.
So, selfishly, it’s better for me if a bunch of us shove traditional publishers kicking and screaming into this new world along with us.
None of us writers will ever agree on the best contract terms. What’s good for me won’t be good for you. You have different circumstances. I may not need a hefty advance. You might. I might think that a royalty rate on e-books that’s too low is a deal-breaker. You might not. And so on.
But we can—and should—agree on one thing:
We should be willing to walk away when a traditional publisher offers us terms we don’t like.
. . . .
The other area we as writers should completely agree on is this:
We should never ever ever ever sign a blanket non-compete clause.
As traditional publishers slowly realize that they no longer have a monopoly, they’re acting worse toward writers instead of better. They’re trying to scare writers or worse, force them into behaving a certain way.
. . . .
The clause often goes like this:
“The Author agrees that during the terms of this Agreement he will not, without written permission of the Publisher, publish or authorize to be published any work that might compete with the Work.”
(The capitalized Work refers to the book that is the subject of the contract.)
Sometimes the clause continues with this:
“The Author also agrees not to publish any other work without written permission of the Publisher for two years after the publication of the Work.”
The net effect is to prevent the writer from writing anything else without the publisher’s permission. Since the first part of the clause goes for the term of the Agreement, and the term of the Agreement is often dictated by sales, then that means that for a writer whose book (under this Agreement) becomes a bestseller, this writer will alwayshave to ask his publisher’s permission to write anything else—including blog posts.
Even the more limited “also agrees” clause for two years or six months or whatever “after the publication of the Work” is terrible. Because that still puts a writer’s entire career at the mercy of his publisher. It took three years from purchase to publication of my first novel. If you add the two years of the clause on top of that, I wouldn’t have been able to publish anything without my publisher’s permission for five years.
. . . .
Don’t let anyone tell you what to write. Ever. Ever.