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
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.
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.