From agent Rachelle Gardner:
These days, I’m sensing that many authors are gung-ho to write and publish as much as possible. Now that the term “hybrid author” has been coined, referring to those who are both traditionally and self-published, everyone thinks they want or need to be one. As one author put it, “It seems like the time is now! It’s time to be prolific!”
I am not sure what makes people think “the time is now” as if we are in some kind of awesome bubble that is going to burst soon. We’re not.
We are in a long, slow transition period of our industry, in which people are experimenting with different ways of doing business. Some will work, some won’t. More importantly, different things will work for different people.
More does not always equal better. More books in the marketplace might mean more money in your pocket, but it also means less time available to pay attention to high quality writing, and less time available for giving each book the full weight of your marketing efforts.
If you are contracted with a traditional publisher, you may have restrictions on your ability to self-publish “on the side.” And this is not because publishers are overly possessive, or “dinosaurs,” or “just don’t get it.” It’s because they have an investment to protect, and it’s their responsibility to ensure nothing you do will interfere with the saleability of the brand they’re building (you).
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The publisher is working hard to position you in the market a certain way, and to maintain a level of quality for which they want you (and themselves) to be known. If you self-publish, they lose their ability to have input into the quality of your work, or the branding. This can not only reflect negatively on them, it can create confusion in the reader (who sees different kinds of books with your name on them) which can lead to lower sales.
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Publishers spend considerable money on several rounds of editing, copyediting, and typesetting. They also have expensive, experienced designers for your cover as well as the interior design of the book. It’s risky for them when an author self-publishes and leaves the publisher without the ability to ensure a certain level of quality.
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When a publisher contracts with you, they’re not only buying the rights to your books, they’re expecting you to devote the proper amount of time to the whole endeavor. This includes taking the time to write the best book you can, and it also means spending some time on the marketing of your book. Publishers are rightfully concerned that your efforts in self-publishing will take away from your ability to give your best to the books you’ve contracted with them.
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Publishers don’t want your promotional efforts on your self-published books to eclipse their promotions on your contracted books. If they allow you to self-publish, they may lose their right to set boundaries on what you’re allowed to do promotionally, and this can be disastrous.
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All of this adds up to competition, i.e. situations in which your self-pub books are competing with your traditional-pub books for the reader’s attention. That’s why the paragraph in the contract that covers this is called the non-compete clause. The publisher has a right to protect themselves from their contracted authors competing with the publisher, thereby potentially harming the publisher’s sales of your book(s).
Link to the rest at Rachelle Gardner and thanks to Mira for the tip.
For PG, this sounds like a first-grade teacher trying to make sure all the disorderly authors stay in their seats.
Many authors are “gung-ho to write and publish as much as possible” because they have this irrational desire to give up their day jobs and make a career as an author. Silly authors. Be quiet and do as you’re told.
PG has had discussions about non-compete clauses with a number of publishers during the course of helping authors with their publishing contracts. He has never heard a rational business basis for these clauses.
If you would like to have an interesting experience with a publisher, propose that the non-compete clause be reciprocal. The author won’t publish anything that will compete with the author’s book and neither will the publisher.
That way, the publisher can “devote the proper amount of time to the whole endeavor” and won’t be releasing any books that might compete with the author’s. After all, an author is “rightfully concerned” that the publisher’s efforts in publishing other books will detract from its ability to give its best to the author’s books they’ve contracted to publish.
In the non-compete clause world, the publisher controls the market and, when the publisher releases your romance novel, it will be alone on the bookshelves. Amazon will list no other romances for sale.
If you release a self-pubbed romance at the same time, romance readers will become hopelessly confused. “I never buy more than one romance novel a year,” they’ll say. “Which Jane Jones book should I buy? This is very disturbing. I’m going to wrap myself in my blankie and buy nothing except Doritos until my confusion goes away.”
On a more serious note, signing a publishing contract with a standard non-compete clause can prevent you from ever writing in the same genre during the term of your publishing contract (the rest of your life plus 70 years).
Passive Guy first wrote about this a couple of years ago in How to Read a Book Contract – Non-Competition. He will provide a further warning that some publishers attempt to disguise their non-compete clauses by burying them back in the contract boilerplate that inexperienced authors and some agents don’t read.