Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Trouble with Book Contracts

In one of my earlier blogs about taking the road to indie publishing, I said,  But as you’ll see later, I wasn’t finished with trying the small publisher route.

I know, I know, you thought I was a committed indie publisher. And I am, but I still need to entice readers to buy my stories. To gain exposure for my contemporary romances, I decided to try and sell one of my short stories to an established digital publisher. Sure, I wouldn’t make much money, but my goal wasn’t to make money.

My goal was to connect with readers. 

The Search

I used the same criteria I used when I first decided to submit to digital publishers. I already had a list of publishers from my earlier search, but it needed updating. Membership in Romance Writers of America (RWA) offers too many benefits to mention here, but one is their  publishers and agents overview that lists publishers who want romance stories. 

I checked out the websites of publishers I thought would be a good fit to get a feel for the way they presented themselves and their product. We all know the cover is the key to gaining reader attention so that’s a major item on my list. Are their covers attractive? Was their website easy to navigate? Did they have a solid stable of writers? What about their pricing?

What About E-book Pricing

Or, what’s with the high price of some e-books? All things being equal, one would think it’s cheaper to create an e-book than a print book. I operate on that assumption and try to price accordingly. I want to put a reasonable price on my work. To me, reasonable means the price an average e-reader is willing to pay to read something written by an unfamiliar writer.

I have to put myself in that writer category because while my name is becoming somewhat better known among the writing set since I published She Sat, He Stood, What Do Your Characters Do While They Talk, I am basically not a well-known author. (Except, of course, in my hometown.) Thus, I tend to price by the length of my work. I don’t think a 10,000 word short story should be more than $.99. Only my family and friends might be willing to pay more for one of my short stories. (Thank you family and friends!) With that in mind, I price a little higher for a novella and higher yet for a full-fledged novel.

Match Made in Heaven

My search netted me a digital publisher who priced the way I liked, had a user friendly website, and put nice covers on their books. Using their online submission process, I submitted my short story, “Love to the Rescue.” I chose this story because it’s set in a small town, but it wasn't an obvious Tassanoxie story, which is where my other contemporary stories are set.

Imagine my surprised delight when an editor called me two days later. She called because I hadn’t answered her email! Admission time. No, I don’t check my email 24-7. Sometimes I take a day or two off and do other stuff. She had tried to contact me via the Internet when I was doing non-electronic living.

This was the fastest response I ever got on a submission! And the editor loved my story and wanted my legal info and street address so she could send me a contract. I got all excited, called my husband, texted our daughter, and in general danced around the house. 

Then I got the contract.

Contracts Are NOT An Author’s Friend

Contracts between publishers and authors have never been overly favorable for the author, but it seems to me they have gotten steadily “grabbier.” I can’t think of any other way to describe how the publishers try and grab as much as they can, leaving the author with very little.

This publisher wanted everything from the cat to the kitchen sink. And buried in there was some wording that made me worry I could lose the rights to my small town Tassanoxie series, because “Love to the Rescue” was set in a small town, too. In fact, once I decided to indie publish it, I went back and revised it into a Tassanoxie story.
Turning down this contract was made even more difficult when the editor sent me a lovely cover for the short story. Was I nuts?

Why Turn Down A Contract for a Short Story?

While I don’t expect “Love to the Rescue” to ever hit the big screen, it is not an impossible goal for a short story. For example, “The Minority Report” started out as  a short story and “The Rememberer” led to the TV show, “Unforgettable.” And while I was willing to forego making a lot of money with the publisher, I refused to give up all ownership of my story forever.

While I enjoyed the thrill of having an editor once more validate my writing, in the end, the experience reminded me that indie publishing is a good path for me.