Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too?
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).
Here are just a few considerations, from the publisher’s perspective:
1. Branding issues.
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.
2. Quality issues.
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. If the quality of the self-published effort is lacking in any way, it can reflect poorly on the publisher and it can lead to lost readers, not just on the self-pub books but also on the trad-pub ones.
3. Time issues.
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.
4. Promotional issues.
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. What if you are working with a self-pub company who wants to put two of your books on a special “free” promotion… the same week your publisher is doing a big launch for your latest front-list release? Readers may be exposed to both promotions and choose the “free” books over your new release. You have just undercut your own sales.
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).
What if you’re self-publishing as a way to help promote your traditionally published books?
This can definitely work. If you are only publishing once a year, maybe getting a novella or some ancillary materials out there “in between” can help keep you in your readers’ minds, and whet their appetite for your next “big” book. It has to be done right, in such a way that it doesn’t compete but enhances sales, and usually will need to be done with your publisher’s permission. Sometimes the publisher will even want to be involved. If they see you’re capable of increasing your productivity, they may want to contract you for those extra “in between” books rather than have you do them on your own.
As I said up above, we are in an age of experimentation. Publishers have a lot to lose in terms of investment, so it behooves them to move cautiously when trying new things. But take heart—most of them are trying new things!
Have you thought about trying to become a “hybrid” author? What are your thoughts now that you have a glimpse of the publisher’s side?
Update: This post unleashed a storm in the comments from those who found it offensive and angering. I wrote a follow-up to clarify what I was trying to say. Click here:
Agents Represent Authors.
A publisher has to protect their investment in the brand they’re building—you. Click to Tweet.
Will your publisher let you self-publish too? @RachelleGardner tackles the thorny question. Click to Tweet.
Publishing isn’t in a bubble that may burst—we’re in a period of transition. Click to Tweet.
[…] di questo articolo di Joanna Penn, pubblicato nel settembre 2013 e scritto in risposta ad un intervento poco felice dell’agente letterario Rachelle Gardner (che io peraltro conosco e seguo con […]
[…] two articles. Make sure you read both because she was misunderstood when she wrote the first one: Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too? Agents Represent […]
[…] Gardner recently wrote an article on this topic – looking specifically at the reasons publishing houses may prefer their authors not […]
[…] Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too? – Rachelle Gardner […]
[…] post was inspired by an article on agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog entitled ‘Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too?” which sparked a lot of passionate comment and offended me over the aspect of permission. […]
I get really tired of the chip on the shoulder from self-published authors. Nobody is out to get anyone. I think Rachelle makes some good points. Quantity doesn’t make quality. I’m sharing this with my writers group.
Well, who are you to sell me ice ? Your ice is going yo melt when the very first ray of sunshine coming from within my inner voice will burst.
Who are you to tell me that I can stay unborn untill I will eventually die?
Who are you to tell me that I have nothing to share during my life time?
Who are you to tell me that I have no right to find North?
Publishing my first book was my very first step into Serendipity.
If you have something to say about my book changing my life you should say it now or remain silent forever!
Write your book, share what you know, LEARN WHERE NORTH IS!
This is my first time coming to this blog. Some great conversation and ideas going on here. It’s definitely made me put on my thinking cap. Thanks for making me think, by the way! 🙂
I think the non-compete clause issue depends on your industry. I myself am a traditionally published self-empowerment author. In our industry, it’s common for people to sell digital products and courses. Often times, we have to have things like speaking, coaching, consulting, and workshops in combination and in addition to digital products, if we are to earn a living as an author. I think a non-compete clause in my case would have really dampened my ability to earn money from e-courses (which technically, often include an ebook).
Regarding quality: I myself tend to hire editors in all cases. For example, prior to submitting my manuscript to my publisher, I hired a person to do an evaluation. I made the changes and had her polish and “dress” it before I turned it in to my publisher ’cause this is how I roll. I am not the best with the technical aspects of grammar and punctuation, so I hired help. I would have done this too, if I had self-published. Either way, it was an investment.
Speaking of investment, since I’m a first-time, traditionally published author, I’ve really had to bust my tail. I’ve invested my own money in public relations, marketing, besides editing. Whether you self-publish or get a book contract, you will work hard, invest time, and money. Very few publishers have the bandwidth to support first-time authors, unless you are well-known or have a huge platform (at least in my field of self-empowerment). To me, having a non-compete clause would prevent me from making digital products I could make and give away for free or sell to help build my audience and income. I wouldn’t have a sustainable way to earn income to spend in my business to do more marketing or travel to promote my book.
Thanks for your excellent insights!
Hi Rachelle, I read your post and I too am scratching my head over the harsh reactions. I think you’re right on the mark. I’m with a small publisher and although they are wonderful, they are still a business and I want to the best for them as they want the best for me. I don’t think of myself as ‘working for the publisher’ but my publisher is my business partnership. If they succeed, I succeed. If I succeed, they succeed. If I self-publish something that doesn’t have that eagle eye edit that my other books get, then that is a reflection on my business partner and that’s not good for either of us. I am wanting to self-publish a book, but I want to do it between publishers, not while I’m still working with my current one. I don’t want to do anything that will mar them. So to all the self-publisher writers out there, take a breath for pete’s sake!! It’s a business and should be respected as one. She’s not siding with the big pubs but giving very good advice.
[…] not immediately dismiss the idea of also using traditional publishers. Rachelle Gardner explains the perils of being a hybrid author from the publisher’s point of view, while reiterating strongly that an agent is first and […]
You have some very valid points but what publishers are you talking about? Do you just mean publishers in general? I’m with 5 and none of them have expressed any of these concerns to me…yet. I just started self-publishing, too, in order to reach more readers.
[…] Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too? […]
Rachelle, I see that you’ve taken some flak on this topic but I’m having a hard time figuring out why. I think you made some salient points that every writer should seriously consider. Maybe I’m missing something, but I can’t find fault with anything you have said. It is what I would consider a common sense partnership between the author and the publisher. If they are going to produce your book, clearly they are making an investment in you, and your product, and don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that. The flip side of that coin is don’t sign with one and go down the self publishing path where you have complete autonomy. I didn’t see anything in your post that would have led me to believe you were standing in the publishers corner. I appreciate the commentary on a very serious topic.
Thanks, Andrew. I appreciate your perspective! It just goes to show that we all interpret things through our own filters. There were so many different takes on this post!
Rachelle, I see that you’ve taken some flak on this topic but I’m having a hard time figuring out why. I think you made some salient points that every writer should seriously consider. Maybe I’m missing something, but I can’t find fault with anything you have said. It is what I would consider a common sense partnership between the author and the publisher. If they are going to produce your book, clearly they are making an investment in you, and your product, and don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that. The flip side of that coin is don’t sign with one and go down the self publishing path where you have complete autonomy. I didn’t see anything in your post that would have led me to believe you were standing in the publishers corner. I appreciate the commentary on a very serious topic.
Thank you for posting this. The article and the comments have been really interesting to read for an Indie writer and Industry professional.
I love Indie publishing. I think it’s fantastic for those with the tools to use it. Publishers can also be fantastic. It depends on the book. I work for publishers (editing), and I love that part of my job.
I think your post really highlighted the Publishing Company’s point of view on this. It’s interesting as an Indie to see their concerns, and also their expectations of their own business. I think that in order to institue a non-compete clause that is reasonable, the publisher needs to be able to offer the author a lot, whether that be big sales, a big advance, or around-the-clock marketing.
Unfortunately, sales are not completely predictable, and the current advance/royalty percentage with the bigger publishers is becoming grossly out of proportion. If the print royalty was as close as possible to 50% and the electronic royalty near 70%, I think the model would work much better for all. Realistically the cost to create an e-book is incredibly low, so a higher percentage would make a big difference to most authors.
Anyway, I wanted to pop in to say thanks for this. I get what you’re trying to portray here, and I think that the Industry will adjust (however slowly) as more Indie success stories happen and e-books grasp a firmer hold on the market. I also hope POD books become more popular, even with large publishers, for environmental reasons. Even though each copy may cost more, less returns and unused books sitting on shelves means less paper wasted.
Cheers! Many kudos to all of the Independent authors working their butts off in this crazy world!
[…] On Monday I wrote a post in which I attempted to explain the publishers’ concerns in this new age of hybrid authors who are both traditionally- and self-published. […]
[…] here’s a post from Rachelle Gardner that asks another, rather more difficult question. Will my publisher let me self-publish too? What it means is whether a traditional publishing contract allows for self-publication of other […]
Forget about indie authoring vs traditional contracts. The gap is widening everyday, like it or not, good or bad. And no one is more able to take advantage of self publishing opportunities than experienced, traditionally published writers. “No compete” is nothing but a muzzle, a taming of the shrew.
It isn’t a question of branding, quality or promotion. Everyone wants that and they are very reachable by anyone today. Traditional publishers don’t own the rights.
But I’m curious about the traditional agent. Are they evolving? Are they moving with the trends? Will they innovate or just cheer lead tradition?
The market is glutted with those offering branding, quality and promotional services. Can the traditional agent become the trusted person to guide new authors through this maze?
And as far as time goes, it is the traditional approach that demotivates. Why bother when someone else is in charge and has all the answers?
By the way, I’ve read more than one poorly written traditionally published novel that made it into the market based on the success of previously written books by the same author.
Which means, of course, that even tradition gets sloppy.
“But I’m curious about the traditional agent. Are they evolving? Are they moving with the trends? Will they innovate or just cheer lead tradition? The market is glutted with those offering branding, quality and promotional services. Can the traditional agent become the trusted person to guide new authors through this maze?”
Perhaps you’re new to my blog, but I’ve written about this several times. Yes, any agent who is going to stay in business is evolving. If we see our jobs as “bringing together authors and readers” (rather than a more myopic definition like “selling books to publishers”) then we have no problem expanding into all the ways we can help authors bring their books to readers. And that is what most of us are doing.
What’s the MOTIVE behind going hybrid should be the first question.
On the above list of why not to’s, I should think the branding and quality issues would be uppermost, in particular, the quality of the outcome. DIY is SO accessible, and I would think that at some point, every author would have considered going hybrid (makes me think of a Prius, I’m sorry. Who coined such a phrase??) but may not necessarily give in to doing both.
A writer feeling the need to be prolific should head on down to their local book exchange or second hand store, or chat with a real live bookstore owner and pick their brains about the benefits and drawbacks of being prolific. Unless you’re a bestseller, I doubt they would recommend it. Last week I chatted with one such store owner, and she can’t sell bundles of three books for even 50c. It’s a case of the great flood. A waterfall of books cascading everywhere, right around the globe. She’s going to have to use them as firelighters this winter.
Quality VS quantity… If it’s an equation, quality wins every time no matter how much you can produce. If only Shades of Grey knew that. At least in the eyes of one shop owner I spoke to, that one was all and only about the hype. That kind of feedback (and knowing the content) completely puts me off ever picking it up, and I won’t be the only one. Go for quality. The world’s full of enough rubbish for the sake of making a dime.
[…] Agent Rachelle Gardner recently posted on potential issues hybrid authors may face, namely their publisher letting them self-publish. Gardner points out that most publishers invest time and money in building up their authors’ brand, and they don’t want authors to damage their hard work by putting out something sub-quality — or a work in a different genre that could confuse readers. […]
I’ve been making my full-time, self-supporting living as a novelist for 25 years. My current publisher (which has been in business for over 50 years, publishes NYT bestsellers and Hugo and World Fantasy award winners, and is distributed through Penguin) does not include non-compete clauses in its contracts with me–since it relies on protecting its investment in my work by building a fruitful business relationship with me, rather than on restricting my ability to make a living via egregiously restrictive contractual clauses. Moreover, it recognizes that I am a freelancer, not an employees, and that I must make a living. The house is aware that I also self-publish, and this isn’t a source of friction between us. They recognize that any growth in my career is good for my career is good for ALL my titles. (In fact, they offered to introduce me to a contact who could help me exploit the subrights of my self-published titles.)
It would be good for everyone if more publishers would follow this example. If they would, then I’d know far fewer writers this year who are walking about from new contracts, after years in publishing, because they are increasingly unwilling to sign egregious and unreasonable contractual clauses. Publishers need to recognize that the rapid expand of choices, options, and opportunities available to writers means that the smart, experience, and commercially viable ones aren’t going to keep putting up with the sort of terms we accepted back a career writer’s choices were to sign such terms or else not have widespread access to readers. That has changed, and publishers need to keep moving with the times. “My way or the highway” is an increasingly unviable negotiating strategy for them now that the writers on the other side of the table have a variety of options which we did not have before for earning our living.
This is especially true when you consider how seldom the four points you mention are actually applicable. For example, far from being “branded,” I’ve had to point out to more than one publisher that they’ve misspelled my name on the cover and in their promo materials, have misstated the genre, have printed cover copy for the wrong book, have packaged the work for a different genre, have neglected to include my name at ALL. With regard to quality, a full 1/3 of the books I’ve delivered and released haven’t been edited (and I’m pretty sure that some of them weren’t even read). In terms of time–with advances dropping and sales down, we’ve all been used to doubling our former writing pace and/or getting day jobs to pay the bills, and surely my time management in my professional career is the concern of the writer, who is an independent adult, rather than the concern of the publisher (who, in my repeated experience, should focus on their own time management–maybe then we wouldn’t wait 32 months to get published, 9 months to receive a D&A check, 6 months for an answer to an option proposal, etc.). And as for promotional issues… well, I’m far from the only writer I know whose had a dozen books that the publisher treated like a state secret (“NO ONE must know about this!”) rather than like a commercial product they were actually trying to sell.
If a publisher can keep a writer so busy and so well-paid that it’s practical for her to write just for them in order to make a good living, put her kids through college, and set aside something for retirement, probably she will indeed do that. That’s the sort of process and relationship a publisher should focus on if it wants exclusivity–rather than focusing on urneasonable restrictions of a freelancer’s ability to earn a living.
Finally, if one does sign a non-compete clause then, like an option clause, it should be VERY narrow in order to be reasonable and fair. Ex. The writer cannot publish another book in this specific series or in this specific subgenre (ex. supernatural romantic comedy under the same pen name) until 6 months after the release of the final book on this contract, for example.
Wow, very impressive!
agents of late have been blatantly shilling themselves and the supposed
value they add, often with a hint of desperation in the mix of their
condescension and disdain for self-pub, which they expertly balance with
alluring praise of the few breakout indie sellers.
But not Ms. Gardner!
With her there’s no mention of the priceles and, otherwise completely unobtainable, collaborative, master publishing team
effort without which you’re guaranteed obscurity for life in the bottom
dredges of KDP, no utterance of the dogged determination and raw will
with which these “all powerful” agents force publishers to yield and
concede to wholly favorable author terms on contracts, no promises of
movie and foreign print sales, no mention of the career building and
life affirming “nurturing” that all Big Pub authors receive and not even
a syllable about validation.
Nope. None of that disengenuine, pedestrian shite.
comes right the f#@k out of the gate, swinging for the fences for Big
Pub in defense of their age old “1-book-a-year-per-writer model” while
condeming independent writer output and then tops it off, incredulously,
by advocating for no-compete clauses.
Deep breath. Simply amazing.
applause for Ms. Gardner for being so brutally honest about whose side
of the Author/Big Pub negotiating table she’s firmly planted on.
It was very refreshing, actually.
As a self-published author myself — oh, and an agent who is actively helping and encouraging many clients to self-pub in addition to their traditional contracts — I am so glad to have impressed you!
Kidding. I just wish I had expressed myself better. I have to laugh, though, at people not realizing what they are accusing me of.
I. am. a. self. published. author.
I am also an author’s representative, an agent, advocating always for the author. One of the reasons I do my job well is because I have a deep understanding of the thinking behind the walls of the publishing house. I was simply trying to illuminate that.
Obviously I failed miserably, because instead I managed to convey a tone of “being on the publisher’s side.”
I’m on the author’s side. But any good negotiator knows that you need to understand the other side.
I always learn something from your blog, Rachelle. Thank you for writing so clearly. Today, I learned that I am still fiercely independent – only without the acrimony (I hope).
In a perfect world, I would have an agent who believed in me and was my bff and soulmate. We would be a team – strengths and weakness in all the right puzzle piece places. Together a publisher would discover us, and we the publisher. Publisher and Agent would be so incredibly in awe of my voice that I would be given carte blanche as an artist. —— If somebody would just correct my punctuation without changing my story — take care of booking me for all the best bookstores and conferences, keep me encouraged and send me a paycheck:)
I’m not sure if I’m technically a hybrid writer. My traditionally-published books were released in 2006, 07, 08, and 09. My self-published e-books were released in 2011, 12, and 13.
I can totally see this from the publisher’s point of view. In my case, I really think my self-pubbed books are helping my traditionally-pubbed sales.
For example, my e-book, The Husband’s Guide to Getting Lucky (2011) has boosted sales of my book Is That All He Thinks About? (2007).
We’ll see how this changes if I get back into the “real” publishing world someday.
It’s posts like this one, Rachelle, that make me so cussing glad that I decided to NEVER hire an agent and seek a traditional publishing contract.
If a publisher gave me a call I might consider being a hybrid author. But for now I’m going the self-published route. Two books written. A book of poetry on the way. And the quality is still there.
I’m disappointed with this post because the hybrid author is the future. The way for corporate publishing to deal with the indie revolution isn’t to fight it but use it to their advantage the way HC is doing with Hugh Howey.
I’m published with a progressive boutique press, and they’re happy to have me self-publish stuff that doesn’t fit with their list and they encourage me to appear in as many anthologies and literary venues as possible. If I find new readers on my own, those readers buy my other books, too. Rising tide lifts all boats.
The non-compete clause treats authors the way the old Hollywood studio system treated actors. As slaves. The master/slave relationship doesn’t work out all that well for the slave. I think you’re on the wrong side here.
Amen to all this. Competition is a MYTH of publishing. If I read a book I like, it makes me want to read more like it. Why do you think those megaseller hit series start huge trends in publishing? Because readers want more.
Actually, I’m on the author’s side. Always and only on the author’s side.
But I UNDERSTAND the publisher’s side, which is necessary for me to do my job well. Obviously in trying to explain the publisher’s side, I came across as taking a side in the “traditional vs. self-publishing” debate. That wasn’t the intent of the post.
I was so sure that people who know me and have read my posts in the past — and my SELF published e-book about SELF publishing — would not jump to these conclusions! But I was wrong. I sure didn’t explain myself very well here.
Rachelle, you asked
What are your thoughts now that you have a glimpse of the publisher’s side?
My answer is that none of those arguments are any of my concern. Certainly the publisher may consider them important, but they are the publishers’s concerns, not mine.
They should be the concern of my agent (yes, I do have a very good, very reputable and effective agent) only insofar as they are clauses she needs to be aware of when negotiating my contract and working in my best interest. As a writer who still publishes through a NY house, I need to know what those arguments are, to consider them and be prepared to counter or refuse them in our negotiations. I do NOT need to make them my own. The minute my agent tried to defend a non-compete clause I would fire her.
Perhaps you only meant to educate writers on how the publishers look at the issue. Fine. But you didn’t say that, and from the tone of your post I infer that you are sympathetic to their arguments. Am I wrong?
That’s what bothers me most about this post. It implies the writer is the employee when they are not. The writer is the vendor.
Actually, to say that the author is going to fire the agent implies that the writer is the EMPLOYER — which they are.
Yes, they are. I was agreeing with the comment I quoted and disagreeing with the tone of your post, which did not establish by any means that you felt the writer was a vendor to the publisher—not an employee.
Yes, I completely miscommunicated. My goal was exactly as you stated: to educate writers on how the publishers look at the issue.
When talking with my clients, I am often in the situation of needing to explain where a publisher is coming from, so that we can discuss ways to get the author what they need in context of needing to make it a win-win. For that, we must understand the perspective of the party on the other side of the table. I think sometimes when I am trying to explain a publisher’s perspective, it may be interpreted as “defending” the publisher. But there is a difference between explaining and defending, and I see that I need to make that distinction more clearly.
I don’t agree with all the arguments of publishers. But it’s necessary for me to understand them. Also, there is nothing wrong with being “sympathetic” to their arguments — that doesn’t mean I’m going to agree or give in to them! I have my author’s interests to protect, and that’s what’s most important. But as I’m sure you know, good negotiation requires having a true win-win philosophy, and that can even include being sympathetic to the other’s side. However, I advocate for authors, not publishers, so that will always be my primary consideration.
Thanks for that clarification. Perhaps if you had said up front that “here’s an insight into what I face in negotiations” it would have helped our perception of your position. I was certainly aware of the issues and arguments (thanks to my extraordinary agent) during the negotiations on my last NY contract, and we did consider all of these points and try to find a compromise that left everyone satisfied (or at lest not dissatisfied).
Again, thanks for the clarification.
[…] Publishing From Rachelle Gardner: Will My Publisher Let me Self-Publish Too? and Blurb Etiquette by Mike […]
“Have you thought about trying to become a “hybrid” author?”
I had that hope during the period when I was on the later stages of the query-go-round. Early on I never entertained the thought of self-publishing, nor of being a hybrid author. Late in the query-go-round process self-publishing began to look at an unfortunate but probably necessary back-up plan. Once I decided to self-publish, I’m pretty much committed to that approach and have given up all attempts at breaking into trade publishing.
“What are your thoughts now that you have a glimpse of the publisher’s side?”
That my decision to self-publish looks better and better.
If you even for a second think large corporations care about your “image”, or even their own, you’re clearly delusional and need to go lie down before you hurt yourself. Case in point–Author Solutions and Penguin. And every other major publisher out there ripping off new authors, taking their money THROUGH SELF PUBLISHING (or so they call their vanity money sucking trashbins).
Writing is business, like any other business. Money is their only concern. ONLY CONCERN. Let me repeat that so it’s nice and clear:
MONEY IS THEIR ONLY CONCERN.
And it should be yours, as a writer, as a businessperson. In balance with your quality comes quantity and profit. And you would never EVER allow another to dictate to you what and when and how you could sell your product in another industry. So why do we in publishing?
This is rubbish.
Rachelle, would you ever agree to a non-compete clause which prohibits you from signing another writer who writes in a similar genre? Because, clearly, if you’re working with Writer B, Writer A is being neglected, right? But I’m guessing that you would never sign such a clause.
So, publishers are allowed to sign and market any number of writers, with no restrictions whatsoever. Same with agents. Yet again, it’s the content producers (i.e. the ones whose work makes everything else go) who have to compromise their own career. Sign away your rights for the rest of your life with no guaranteed return (or even that the book will ever be published), receive a terrible percentage, be prohibited from using your talents on your free time, *and* be treated like a five-year-old who can’t possibly be trusted to work independently to further their own career? Sounds like a dream come true.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be
comfortable with an agent who is exhibiting the belief that a publisher
should completely own a writer’s entire career, not just the books contracted for. That’s made even worse by the fact that a writer won’t have any idea if their publisher is actually doing right by them for a couple of years.
Thanks for your great comment!
You’re right – you SHOULDN’T be comfortable with an agent who doesn’t negotiate non-compete clauses.
Clearly I’m miscommunicating here. I absolutely do not believe publishers should own an author’s “entire career.” In fact, I’ve never once had one of my clients sign a contract in which I haven’t worked hard to negotiate the non-compete in such a way that is agreeable to the author and won’t restrict them from what they want to do. I’ve often had to go through several rounds of negotiation over the non- compete alone.
I have numerous clients who are traditionally published either with more than one house, or alongside self-publishing. They wouldn’t have been able to do this if I’d allowed standard boilerplate non-compete clauses to remain in their contracts.
I wrote this post so that authors will have a better understanding of their publisher’s possible concerns. Just because I wrote it doesn’t mean I agree with it. But when an author summarily instructs me, “Make sure you get rid of that non-compete,” they need to know what they’re up against.
Hope that helps clear things up!
Rachelle, I certainly appreciate the clarification, and it’s great to hear that you do fight the non-compete clauses.
This article certainly does you a disservice, because it absolutely reads like a defense of publishers (and, lately, we’ve been seeing too much of that from, I dunno, The Author’s Guild). Many publishers do believe that they own every aspect of a writer’s career, do insist on non-compete clauses, and there’s no reciprocity whatsoever.
I chose to not pursue a tradpub deal (and I’m happy with that decision), but I understand why others would, and it seems like the amount of real advocates for authors is dwindling.
Dan, I just needed to go back and address your first statement because it keeps niggling my brain. “would you ever agree to a non-compete clause which prohibits you from signing another writer who writes in a similar genre?”
First, some publishers DO have that kind of arrangement, in which they have a “big” author who writes a specific genre, and the publisher agrees to a non-compete on their end. They agree not to sign any other authors who write in that genre.
Second, I don’t have any kind of non-compete like that, but I practice it in my day-to-day business on two levels. (a) I make sure that I don’t have too many authors writing in similar genres. And (b) when I am submitting proposals to publishers, I make sure my authors are not competing with one another in the editor’s stack. If I have a romantic suspense out on submission, I won’t send a romantic suspense from a different client to that same editor until the editor has made a decision one way or another on the first. If the publisher is trying to fill a single romantic suspense slot, I don’t want the editor to have to make a choice between my two clients.
So I’m trying to watch out for each of my client’s best interests by not having them in competition with each other.
Yes, but you choose to do this as a good agent who knows her business – not because you are compelled to by someone else. Writers are just as capable as you are of behaving intelligently where their careers are concerned, and should be given credit for that.
After all, writers can manage without agents and publishers. Agents and publishers can’t manage without writers.
When most literary agents write about self-publishing, it’s an article filled with factual errors, lazy analysis and/or some bizarre mix of self-justification yet disdain for the status quo. My personal favorite is completely misunderstanding the market in which an independent author operates in, quickly followed by the Amazon bashing between the lines.
This blog post is one of the better ones. I love the title because it is provocative and accurate, and goes right to the core of the contractual relationship between a publisher and an author.
To answer’s Rachel’s question: myself, like many others, are rejecting publishers (and thereby agents) even before we get to cutesie-poo notions of non-compete causes and such. That’s because the royalty rate for ebooks is a non-starter. Amazon gives a 70% royalty rate for authors who publish their own books.
But wait! I can hear the calls of but the editors! The proofreaders! The cover designers! It can’t all be about the money! WHAT ABOUT THE QUALITY.
Any independent author with a internet connection can find freelancers for all those things and they are.
Which leads us to the hybrid question: most indies find this an odd question because the answer is “it depends.” If I had a series selling like mad on Amazon, I would love to consider an agent for foreign rights because independent author that I am, that’s a big time suck and well worth it. The same for print rights. I am limited (but not blocked) on the time suck required to get my book into a bookstore. If I am in the position where I got people knocking on my door, then yes. An agent would be great at that stage.
But I am not “hybrid.” I am an independent author. Hybrid is a word that leaves the connotation that I am going to morph myself into being presentable. I’m not going to morph myself. I’m going to use my sales leverage and brand to negotiate in good faith.
With all that said, Rachel, I disagree with the core of this article. “We” are not in a long, slow transition period of our industry. “You” and publishers are. From my end, things change and happen at a rapid pace and I actually have to work at keeping track of all the wonderful, cool options and people I can interface with. The ecosystem and support options are fast moving… for the indie. It’s not my job to try to merge systems. It’s my job to write the best book possible and get it out to as many readers as possible.
It seems that if a traditional publisher doesn’t want me to self-publish, then they need to provide a reasonable chance for me to be able to make a living off of the books they publish for me. (Of course,this is entirely theoretical for me at this time.)
What about large publishers who have their own self-publishing division, who sometimes bring self-published books under the larger company’s wing when they believe in the book, or when self-published sales are very good?
The “self-publishing” divisions of large publishers are either run by or are close imitations of Author Solutions, one of the most egregious author-scamming companies in existence. See David Gaughran’s recent blog on the subject by googling “The Author Exploitation Business.” Publishers seem to be quite shameless about this new way of taking advantage of authors.
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Like Joanna, I found the very form of the question somewhat
disconcerting. “Will my publisher LET ME?” Like I’m in third grade?
Rather, the question should simply be, “How May I Self-Publish
Successfully?” I’m not owned by a publishing company. I am not begging for Kibble. I am a writer who knows what he’s doing, who can deliver the goods, and to whom readers pay because of said goods.
Writers who are “gung ho” to write more and make more money are doing what writers only WISHED they could do in the “old days.” And our mantra is, we can work with publishers, too, as long as a mutually beneficial deal can be worked out. Which is how it should be.
Also, I don’t get the whole “less time to pay attention to HIGH QUALITY writing” thing. I’d put it to you this way: time does not always improve quality, and for writers who know what they’re doing, fast is often better vis-à-vis plotting, series writing, and even style. While some writers linger over “high quality” writing for a year or more, then wait a year or more for the book to come out and sell 3,000 copies, self-publishing writers who have put out several books and novellas and are taking in four or five figures each month.
Besides, who is judging “quality”? The readers, that’s who, and who is going to tell them to stop buying “fast” writing because it’s not “high quality”? Self-publishing and hybrid writers will stay out of that conversation, thank you very much. Because it’s a) irrelevant to us; and b) we’re too busy writing our next book.
Now, it is quite true that a traditional publisher is making an investment in a writer, but how much of an investment is an open question these days. Do publishers really spend “considerable money on several rounds of editing”? The answer is . . ..increasingly . . ..no they do not. They can’t. They’re laying off editorial staff and spending less on freelance. The authors are having to make up the difference, even as advances are dropping faster than beer cups at an Oakland Raiders game.
When an author contracts with a publisher these days, if said author and agent are doing it right, it is a true partnership. It is no longer serf and beneficent dukedom. The author does owe best efforts to the publisher, but that doesn’t mean he or she cannot produce best efforts on other projects, too.
Promotion is to the same effect. It’s easy enough to work it out like mature business partners. Communication is a good thing, so long as it’s not thought of by one party as “my way or the highway.”
Oh, and by the way, writers and their agents should not accept boilerplate non-compete clauses anymore. Work them out to mutual benefit, being as specific as possible.
I’ve been on the side of publishers this whole time in the new era. I like publishers, want them to be around. But I am also in this business—and have spent a quarter century sweating at my craft—to make actual money. With self-publishing now a reality, and the consequent income
being where it is, why would should I spend any time wondering if I’m going to be ALLOWED to self-publish?
The question I have, rather, is this: When will I bring in a publisher to benefit from my writing expertise, and from whom I can also benefit?
That’s a business decision, not a matter of “allowing” writers to do what
Excellent points. You said what the entrepreneurial side of this writer didn’t know how to put into words.
I write in multiple genres. A non-compete clause will kill my creativity and product diversity because my novels and series interrelate. I plan to publish some of my genres as eBooks but some I’ll be querying hybrid agents.
BTW hubby bought me your Self-Publishing Attack eBook. Wow. It just clears up any author confusion about indie pub. I highly recommend it. IMO it’s almost a preemptive rebuttal to Rachelle’s blog post.
I’ve read Self Publishing Attack, too. And wait, I am a self-published author! And gosh, my self-published book deals with… self-publishing!
Just because I am able to explain in detail how publishers view things (which is necessary in order to be a good agent), I wonder why you think I am against self publishing and that my post requires a “preemptive rebuttal.”
In all the contracts I’ve negotiated, I’ve never once accepted a boilerplate non-compete. But I didn’t even get into that in this post. I was attempting to explain to authors what kind of thinking they (and we agents) are up against.
I am a “hybrid” agent. Our agency is helping many of our clients (everyone who wants to) self publish.
It is a testament to the extremely virulent “us vs. them” mentality out there, that a post explaining the publisher’s side of things is so completely interpreted as being anti-author and anti-self pub.
I am sorry that I miscommunicated so severely!
Rachelle, I suppose we’ve all been dramatic, being expressive writers and all, myself included with my preemptivism and so forth. In my own defense, I did say “ALMOST a preemptive rebuttal” 🙂
A couple of nice ladies over at Books&Such have highly recommended your self-pub eBook too, and it’s on my list to buy as soon as I finish JSB’s Attack book.
I just read an article by editor Jevon Bolden in which she described the agent-editor relationship, and it dawned on me how difficult your job is as an agent dealing with trad pubs. You’re between a hot rock (author) and a hard place (editor/publisher).
Innately, human nature looks at things from outside in (whereas God looks at us from inside out). Thus, as a writer, I look at agents/publishers from a writer’s perspective. It’s true that unless I have walked in your shoes at least mile (can’t remember which native American tribe this saying came from) I can’t even begin to understand what you do. Still, I have to look at things from the perspective I am familiar with: my own.
One thing I appreciate about your post is how you allow the free flow of discussions (i.e. uncensored) on your comments section. I think the presence of so many self-pub authors does add to the lively discussion, and as a writer trying to publish one way or another, I welcome the POVs.
What surprised me is this: where are the people from publishing houses of whom your blog post was about? Do they not have something to say? They left you alone to hold their defense.
Yes, there is static in the publishing air these days — on all sides, I might add. What with the recent writer’s conference in San Francisco, and talks about the mutability of agents at the London Book Fair. Things, they are a-changing fast.
As a writer, I’m happy about the deluge of choices I have today compared to 16 years ago.
Thank you again for even responding to my comments.
I like your comment.
I think this is an interesting post especially given the comments. I’m wondering if the hybrid medium translates better from self- to external publisher, rather than the other way around. I see Rachelle’s post as coming from the publishers’ angle. They’ve invested resources already, and they want to keep reaping benefits later. It’s the same in any industry really. I have seen authors doing e-book short stories that tie into their main series. Does that come from the author or the publisher?
I hadn’t thought of myself as an author with any particular label. I am still focusing on traditional publishing pursuits far more than self-publishing.
I have a hybrid project though, that is more a product than a book. I am looking into producing that myself because it’s not something a publisher would probably take on (we’ve asked a few). It is related to Christmas/Advent, and my next contracted book is a Christmas book, but we cleared it with my publisher during the contract negotiation process. The two projects will likely appeal to different audiences (one being Advent/Nativity oriented and the other being published by a mainstream publisher with completely different content).
My agent and I talked through many of the points you raised; they are important considerations. My hope is to get my self-produced project completed and released for the coming holiday season, while my book won’t release until at least 2014. I feel like I’ll have the freedom to promote my Nativity project this year because the other won’t be on anyone’s radar yet.
I don’t necessarily want to be a hybrid author. I’m not planning to self-publish any of my other ideas at this time, in part because I am aware of the complications it brings in being able to do my best in writing and promoting them, as well as doing justice to the rest of my life.
Just trying out the hybrid author route. I write for children and have traditional book deals but have written a chicklit novella under a pen name, which I’ve self-published. I’ve never had the time to complete a full length adult book so haven’t tried to get a traditional deal yet but in the meantime, it’s an interesting experiment. Cupidity only came out today so I can’t say how it’s going yet. My agent is being very supportive, though.
Publishers not allowing their authors to self-publish because writing something else on the side might affect the quality of their product or their brand feels to me an awful lot like companies not wanting to hire women with young children because parenting would interrupt their ability to work long and late hours.
If the author is a professional, she’ll write the kind of book she promised the publishing house she’ll write, no matter whether she’s a self-published on the side.
The difference here is that the author has a choice. If an author signs a contract that prevents her from publishing her own work, that was her decision to make – she should just make sure she agrees with it before she signs.
You are right, and we are working hard to change publishers’ views on this. The author needs to deliver the book(s) promised, and otherwise, what they do with their time is nobody’s business, even if it’s writing/publishing/promoting other books.
Just yesterday I considered a similar topic, but in a different vein. What if every wannabe recording artist and amateur garage band could upload their recordings to radio stations for people to request. Most likely, their earlier musical efforts wouldn’t be worth requesting. But later they improve and–Boom!–a major Nashville company picks them up and wants to mass market their breakout CD. Would that company appreciate their earlier, inferior efforts, which could actually smirch their musical brand? The analogy isn’t perfect, but might give some friends a little perspective.
As an author under contract to a traditional publisher, I’ve watched with interest from the sidelines as the lines seem to have been drawn between those who have chosen to self-publish and those who seek or have found a relationship with a traditional publisher. I wish there weren’t so much defensiveness and (let’s face it) acrimony on both sides.
Rachelle makes good points with the arguments from the viewpoint of the publisher. Others who have made a success with self-publishing have presented their side of the story elsewhere, and those comments are now showing up here. So long as the discourse is civil, that’s fine.
This post presents an alternative view. Eventually, each writer must make his or her choice. As for me, I thank Rachelle for what I think is a valid presentation. But, as my father used to say when it was obvious that opinions differed, “That’s why they make Fords and Chevrolets.”
Richard, in the interest of full disclosure, might you want to point out that you are one of Rachelle’s clients. 🙂
In my life I have learned not to burn bridges. If midlist authors get dumped by traditional publishers, they might want to keep their options open about indie publishing.
For me, I’m sitting on the fence on this one. As a reader, I read both printed books and eBooks. As a writer, I don’t know which way(s) I’ll go yet.
P.S. As for cars — we like Honda. To each her own 🙂
No secret that I’m represented by Rachelle, but like book reviews for my fellow authors, “I calls ’em as I sees ’em.” And I think she presents the publisher’s side accurately.
Richard (who drives a Subaru)
Richard, I envy you. I wish I had a literary agent! I teach English in Turkey and try to promote my 5 books on Amazon (in paperback and eBook format). Could you put in a good word for me to Rachelle? I have a great Facebook following, a good blog, Twitter, Youtube videos that match my travel adventure books, and my articles and photo essays about Turkey brought me some recognition on ‘Digital Journal.’ So often, WHO YOU KNOW matters most of all.
Lonna Lisa Williams (Google me)
Rachelle, it’s good to see the publisher’s side of this issue. Thanks for sharing it. I understand it better now. I can definitely understand a publisher wanting to “protect their investment,” especially in this time of transition.
As far as becoming a hybrid author, at this point in time, I don’t see myself doing that. Though I know people who have gone that route. I can see it being a successful venture, particularly if the author has his/her publisher’s blessing.
I agree with Joanna and Ernie. I think why this article appears to be misrepresenting the hybrid position is its assumption that being a hybrid author is about people with a traditional publisher moving into self-publishing. The reality is increasingly the other way round. Many of us have been self-publishing for some time, and if we are going to consider moving into traditional publishing, we will take some persuading and an offer that’s right for us and our creative freedom. In my case, I’ve had interest from traditional publishers for three of my books, two novels and a poetry collection, and whilst I greatly respect the publishing industry, that’s just not for me.
I understand the concerns you raise, but when writers are moving the other way, their working practices and product quality are there for all to see, and publishers can make up their minds as to whether they want to deal with us from a position of knowledge
I’ve done the hybrid approach and it worked great in between book projects. However, I can see the danger of it interfering with writing and marketing. Most authors need to spend more time making lists of newspapers, radio stations, and websites where they can market their books.
However, I look at self-published books as a way to market my books by creating a level of familiarity with readers. I usually dot them with my social media profiles and website URL’s so that they can find me while reading. I don’t know if the return is quite equal to the amount of work, but releasing my own ebooks has exposed my work to thousands of readers. In addition, I’ve benefited from the practice of writing more. After self-publishing a few books, I have noticed that editors tend to ask a lot less of me compared to the overhaul I had to do on my first traditional book!
I think this is an excellent post. As a self-published author, I think that many of my writer-friends are indeed interested in having both traditionally published and self-published books. I too would consider it. I do have a question, though, Rachelle. A friend of mine just self-published her first book, but she did so under a pen name. Her thinking was that she has another genre of book that she wants to pitch to traditional publishers and does not want there to be “genre confusion” in the marketplace. My first thought was that this was a mistake — my opinion is that a first-time author should do everything she can to build her brand, whatever genres that incorporates. In other words, worry about “confusion” later. But she was concerned that traditional publishers wouldn’t pick up her other genre if she were known for her current one. So I guess my question is (sorry that this is a bit long-winded): Does using a pen name benefit new authors in any way if they’re interested in being a hybrid author and pitching traditionally publishers?
Hi Dina–Great question. That was my question too.
Dina, there is no hard and fast answer to the question. Using a pen name has its benefits and also has distinct disadvantages. The biggest problem is trying to manage two whole careers basically — imagine having to blog, tweet, Facebook, and otherwise promote TWO people instead of just one. That’s the position you put yourself in with a pen name. Yet, it can protect the reputation of your real name, and it can be a good idea for those who want to write different genres under different names.
I believe Stephen King actually did this a while ago, as Richard Bachman, to try out a slightly different writing style and to discover if it was the name or the quality of writing / storytelling that brought the money in.
With the right platform, especially as an expert in their field, self-publishing can be the right choice for some authors. However, as an aspiring novelist, it wouldn’t be the right choice for me.
As a reader, I could write a long blog about the number of authors whose books I no longer buy because I’ve been disappointed in the quality of their novels. As writers, every book needs to be our very best effort.
Thanks for this insightful post.
I’m also a fan of this blog, and tweet it often, but this post really offends me – as it suggests that authors are not ultimately looking out for their readers or their own careers by wanting to be hybrid.
“Will your publisher let you self-publish too?” is such an awful
question – because one of the best things about self-publishing is the
empowerment of the author. It shouldn’t be up to the publisher – it should be up to the author, who has to take charge of their own career.
As a self-published author:
1) I am working hard to establish my brand – I am working on this ALL the time, as opposed to being one of many authors the publisher has to work with.
2) I take this very seriously as my full time career, and I invest in every book – with several rounds of editing – structural, line edits and copy-editing as well as beta readers of the genre and specialists e.g. surgeons, police officers (for crime/thrillers). I also have professional cover design and interior design for my print books. I care for every product that goes out there – again, more so, because I have so few ‘products’ compared to the number that publishers have.
3) As an author, I am ultimately concerned with my readers – don’t you think I want to give my readers the best books they can? Of course I am going to deliver the best work in the time available – but I work damn hard so I can get more books out there.
4) You’ve seen what many traditionally published authors say – publishers want authors to do as much marketing as possible. You’ve said yourself on this blog that authors need a platform.
Self-publishing as a hybrid is not ‘competition’ for the same reader. The reader will devour your latest book in a couple of days tops – and then they want more. As savvy authors, we want to give them more. I can’t see how that is competing – if anything, it is helping the publisher. More product = more visibility and a cheaper book indie published can be a gateway drug into a more pricey traditionally published book.
I have a NY agent and I am interested in a hybrid deal with a publisher who wants to work together as a partnership. However, I will certainly not be signing with any publisher who wants to stop me self-publishing as well.
You are right, Joanna. I didn’t even occur to me that the title of this post was a bit old-fashioned. It’s a new world out there. Perhaps Rachelle was talking about long-time, contracted traditionally published authors looking to self-publish as a way to be prolific, as opposed to the new crop of educated and entrepreneurial self-published authors contemplating traditional deals.
Well put, Dina. And thank you, Joanna. Both of you make valid points for indie publishing.
No, I am really talking about every author who wants a big, traditional publisher and also wants to self-pub on the side. The agent will have to negotiate that non-compete so that self-pubbing is a possibility, but the publisher may not be interested in “giving” on that one.
It’s really not so easy as “just walk away.” Some authors have a book a year coming out from big publishers, and they count on that income, those sales that only the publisher can get, that promotion the publisher does. They also count on the incredible learning experience of being taken through several rounds of deep editing on every book. It’s a LOT to walk away from, if it’s the career you’ve been working hard to build. Authors in this situation often have a very strong appreciation for all the value the publisher adds to their books and their career. So while it may seem simple to say, “I will certainly not be signing with any publisher who wants to stop me self-publishing as well,” perhaps it’s easier said than done. In any case, these decisions are specific to each author and their situation.
I hoped that the post would point out legitimate concerns publishers might have about their authors self-pubbing on the side. If you’re paying attention to the vast amount of self-pub books out there, you know that very few of those authors go to the same trouble you do, to ensure quality.
I think authors can be “empowered” whether they are traditionally or self-published. I think of it as similar to being an employee of a large company vs. self-employed. Each situation has its pros and cons; some people are more suited to one than another; but either way, people can be empowered and have terrific careers.
Concerns yes, that I have no doubt publishers indulge in. Legit, no.
I was thrilled to see your post here because I wondered how you would feel about this topic. Well said.
A quick question for you–do you write in all the same genre? Would you feel differently about my scenario:
I’m concerned because I write primarily YA, midgrade and children’s chapter books but I want to self-publish an adult suspense thriller. My YA is being considered by traditional publishers. Will I blow my chance with them if I self-publish using a pen name for my suspense? It’s a lot more “marketing” work” to have two different names. Thanks.
A good agent would probably have no problem — if the publisher is reasonable — with making the non-compete be genre-specific.
One of the ways we negotiate the non-compete is to limit its scope so that it protects the publisher’s interest while also protecting the author’s ability to branch out if they desire.
I understand how the title question seems awful to begin with, but I didn’t make it up! I’m writing from years of experience negotiating author contracts with traditional publishers. To say “it shouldn’t be up to the publisher” is to ignore the reality that authors sign contracts that have specific requirements, so some things ARE up to the publisher. They have the right to put certain restrictions on a contract. In the past, the “non-compete” has been a standard feature, difficult or impossible to remove, to the point that the only option is to walk away from the contract. If an author wants to walk away rather than sign a non-compete, that is their right, and they are free to go somewhere else.
Of course, many companies require high-level employees to sign non-competes as a condition of employment. A non-compete in a publishing contract can be looked at the same way. Is a non-compete ever fair or ethical? Maybe, maybe not — it can be debated. But it’s surely not specific to publishing.
Bottom line, the title of my post is definitely meant to be provocative but it’s also reality. Authors sign contracts that spell out what both the author and the publisher are “allowed” to do.
A relationship with a publisher is NOT the same as if you are an employee of ACME Widget Corporation. It can NOT be looked at the same way companies require high level employees to sign non-compete.
How about if the Author has to sign a non-compete, the publisher has to as well? How would a publisher like it to be barred from anything that could even remotely compete with my work?
Your comparing apples and oranges. Most non-competes in the corporate world are limited to a certain period of time, say 6 months to 1 year in a similar industry. They’re used to stop employees from taking the latest and greatest company secrets to a competitor–not to prohibit a second stream of income or trying a new career path.
The arguments againt the noncompetitive clause seem to come from a sense of entitlement – that an author is such a special breed of cat that the normal rules of intellectual property shouldn’t apply.
It’s a bit like Ayn Rand’s philosophy, that a certain level of inteelectualy ability absolves the bearer from conventional morality. Same song, different verse.
The point is that publishing is a business, and publishers have the right, and the contractural and moral obligation to their shareholders, to define contracts in such a way that protects their interests FIRST.
As authors, we become de facto contract employees. That’s the reality, and to rail against it on the grounds of artistic freedom is unprofessional.
You want freedom, self-publish. You want the chance to see your book in Barnes and Noble, play by the rules.
That is just flat out wrong. I no way, shape or form is a writer an employee of the publishing house – unless he has an employment contract and draws a regular salary.
It is not entitlement – it is just common sense. We don’t “rail against it on grounds of artistic freedom” (what an utterly silly argument btw – have you actually read the responses so far?). It is a business descision.
The publisher looks out for his interests first? Guess what, so do I and as a writer I strongly object to anyone limiting my ability to or completely prohibiting me from earning a living in my chosen profession.
Drawing a regular salary’s irrelevant. Here’s an analogy –
If you design a piece of computer software, and sell the rights to a software publisher, you can be expected to be ‘hired on’ for support, development, and possibly marketing. You may draw a salary, or you may receive a lump sum. At any rate, your obligations don’t end when the contract’s signed, because you have the required intimate knowledge of the product.
A noncompete clause, in this case, is vital, because you know how to solve a certain ‘problem’, and if you figure out a better way and take it to a higher bidder, you’ve just walked away with your original publisher’s money – and left them with a less-desirable product than that for which they paid.
With books – say you sell a definitive sci-fi novel to a publisher, and while they’re in production you realize you can both make it better AND get a quicker, better return, and write and SP an improved (and somewhat disgused) version under a nom de plume.
What publisher won’t work to prevent that? Sorry if it limits you, but if you don’t want it, stay independent.
You do realize, that the example you described is not the reason a non-compete clause is in the contract, right?
Nobody is talking about taking a book, contracting it to a publisher and then turn around to sell it otherwise. There is no need for a non-compete clause in that case, because I usually sell my book exclusively to the publisher.
The non-compete clause prevents you from publishing ANYTHING else while that book is under contract.
In your example that means writing Software X for the company that hired you to do it and then being prevented to write totally unrelated Software Y for another company.
Back to the bookworld that means – contracting a sci-fi novel to publisher A and being prohibited to write a romance novel for SP or another publisher. Or write a blog post, or a tweet or a short story for that erotica anthology.
This entire post is hilariously wrong, especially the part saying it’s about “intellectual property.”
Signing a contract doesn’t make you a de facto empoyee. It makes you a supplier and no supplier in their right mind agrees to supply one outlet to the exclusion of all others for the rest of their life.
Good luck to you, Joanna. There are so many nuances to why a traditional house frowns upon you selling books on the side, it would take pages to explain. They are not the villains but are protecting their investment in the product they are partnering with you to create. I am sure you have your readers’ best interests at heart. Your passion is evident but this is just business. It is the same with any business. Let’s say I work at a widget company, making widgets. I clock out and go make widgets, to sell, on my own time – my employer does not look favorably on that, does not see that as “more visibility” for his widget. Or perhaps I am a financial counselor for a bank – you don’t think that they have non-compete clauses as well and allow their counselors to go out and sell financial counseling services on the side? Entering into a publishing agreement with a traditional publisher is like going to work for them, whether you want to see it that way or not.
I was thinking about this very thing, since the first novel I wrote was aimed at a particular audience and I don’t think a publisher would take it on, while they very well might take my second novel. I’d hate to not be allowed to self-publish my first book that I spent years slaving over just because of a clause in a contract. If a publisher won’t publish one of my books, I should have the right to publish it myself. It’s my work, and it’s different from the book that they are taking on.
Joanna, I agree with you. I also get a sense of empowerment by self-publishing. But it’s exhausting. Even with a Master’s degree in English and experience as a professional teacher who taught grammar and therefore understands it (too) well, I put in far too many hours trying to promote my books on Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Youtube, my blog, and ‘Digital Journal’ which publishes my news articles and award-winning photo essays about Turkey where I’ve been (barely) surviving the past two years.
Honestly, I hardly make any money on my 5 books (in paperback and Kindle format) or my articles. I support myself by teaching in the Turkish economy. Maybe my new eBook about my Turkish adventures (with photos and links) will sell. After all, I married a Turkish man and have many stories to tell . . . so often it’s WHO YOU KNOW that brings success. I don’t see many literary agents or publishers who speak English here in Turkey.
I agree with Joanna. Indie authors are people. People trying to feed families and pay mortgages. Shame on publishing houses for trying, once again to squash the little guy.
I have to admit, I’m fascinated by your perception of publishing houses trying to “squash the little guy.” It’s all a matter of interpretation, I guess, but nobody in traditional publishing is spending any energy trying to squash indie authors. That is not what motivates any of this. If there is anything that’s perceived as “squashing,” in reality it is simply companies protecting their investment, as any good business person will do.
Do they do it perfectly? Have they found exactly the right way to protect their investment without unduly restricting the rights of authors? Some have, some haven’t. But nobody is out to squash anyone. And that’s just my perspective.
I have been a very successful self-publisher for over 20 years as have several people I know, such as David Chilton, whose “The Wealth Barber”, made him several millions of dollars. That’s why I just laugh I hear about the “indie revolution” and when I hear people like Joe Konrath claim that they are pioneers of self-publishing.
I have also been a “hybrid publisher” for over 15 years. If you are very good at playing the self-publishing game, your traditional publisher will not have any qualms about any of the promotional endeavors you undertake, for your self-published works or for those published by the traditional publisher. In fact, if you are truly creative, your traditional publisher will be learning from you because you are coming up with truly innovative ways of marketing that traditional publishers have not thought of trying themselves.
If you want to be a truly creative being, and have your traditional publisher take note of your truly innovative promotion, these quotations must resonate with you big time.
“Creativity varies inversely with the number of cooks involved in the broth.”
— Bernice Fitz-Gibbon
“The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you’re playing by somebody else’s rules, while quietly playing by your own.”
— Michael Korda, Ex-Editor-in-Chief at Simon and Schuster
“The human soul is God’s treasury, out of which he coins unspeakable riches.”
— Henry Ward Beecher
“The great creative individual . . . is capable of more wisdom and virtue
than collective man ever can be.”
— John Stuart Mill
“The radical invents the point of view. When he has worn it out, the conservative adopts it.”
— Mark Twain
In short, if I was approached by a traditional publisher which would deal with me only if I stopped my creative marketing and my unique approches to selling foreign rights to my books, I would tell the traditional publisher to take a hike.
Ernie J. Zelinski
International Best-Selling Author
“Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
(Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
(Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)
You mentioned cover design teams–I’ve long wondered if a publisher will ever allow a writer some sort of ‘veto clause’ or similar? So many book covers these days are terrible, and a few of us really care a lot about having a decent cover. I’d hate to go through the excitement of having a big publisher pick up my book only to see them put a terrible cover on it. I don’t wish to dictate how they do a cover, but I’d at least like the ability to say, ‘Hey, that one isn’t working!’
Ted, my first 2 novels were published by Doubleday. I had no input on the covers, but they were gorgeous. My third novel came out under William Morrow, and the cover was good, but contained an error (historical reality problem), which they were very kind to correct at my and my agent’s request. The next 3 novels were also through William Morrow/HarperCollins and I was given contractual rights to veto the cover. To my delight, they allowed me to sketch out a basic design, and then their artists made it better (much better!). So, yes, some companies do that. I’m not sure if it’s common, but Rachelle could tell you that.
Here’s one caution. Most bookstore customers will see your novel spine out first. Be sure the name of the novel and your name is easily read as it is printed on the spine. I know that seems like a no-brainer, but one of my novel titles was impossible to read when the novel sat on a shelf, spine-out.
A very thoughtful post, and sage advice, as always. 🙂 I especially like your comments that authors all seem to be rushing to get books out as if the world is going to end – a bubble as you describe it. I find myself wanting to be more prolific and keep forcing myself to slow down. Quality is all that matters. I totally agree that it’s going to take a long time for the industry to shake out, and it’s definitely going to look hybrid.
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As a literary agent, shouldn’t you be the one vigorously fighting to CANCEL the non-compete clause in contracts rather than justifying it? Are you the author’s representative or not?
As I have mentioned in my responses to many comments above, I have been vigorously negotiating non-compete clauses, to the benefit of my authors, ever since becoming an agent. Few authors have the clout and the leverage for it to be completely eliminated; but almost all authors, with a good agent, can end up with a non-compete that serves both their interests and the publisher’s. I have never once – not a single time – had an author whose career or goals were stymied by a bad non-compete I’d allowed into a contract.
I think the biggest advantage of self-publishing is that the writer is in control, and no longer needs to worry about what the ‘publisher’ wants. In any case, a successful self-published author who has been picked up by a traditional publisher is in the unique position of dictating terms..and that’s because the publisher wants him/her because their books are selling. A perfect example would be Amanda Hocking who is a hybrid author and continues to be. Publishing is a business at the end of the day, and no publisher would put restrictions on an author whom they know is bringing in the money.
A fan of the blog but this post is… wow. Not suggesting anyone should break their contractual agreements if they were unlucky enough to sign a noncompete precluding self publishing. But any modern agent needs to be crossing that right off the list, first thing, unless a big amount of money is on the table to pay for that right.
Because it’s not just self publishing we’re talking about, is it? If we’re talking about books that can utilize the brand and author resources, that means books by other publishers too, even digital-first pubs, etc. So I should lock myself in to a publisher who might reject my next book out of hand? And who probably will if I don’t follow strict word count/genre/style/story guidelines that aren’t even clearly spelled out and might change at any moment?
Like first look rights, does a noncompete agreement get nullified if they reject the next book? If not, the unfortunate author might just be stuck, unable to go elsewhere but unable to publish here. Obviously that’s a question for the agent, but it’s a sticky situation I’d really rather avoid.
I can promise you this much: I spend more time and money on branding and positioning for myself than my publisher ever has or probably will. And I wasn’t even counting time spent writing the books, which does, in fact, count. I own that brand, not my publisher. So the idea that they can “let” me do anything is ludicrous to me. They can if I sign away that right in the form of a noncompete, but why would I? If my publisher asks for exclusivity, the first question out of my mouth is what I’ll be getting in return. And no, a standard book contract with a token advance will not cut it. Not when we have options, and thank the Lord, we do.
“But any modern agent needs to be crossing that right off the list, first thing, unless a big amount of money is on the table to pay for that right.”
All the agents I know negotiate things like options (“first look”) and non-competes very carefully and strongly, according to that particular author’s needs and situation. Unfortunately, “crossing it off the list first thing” is unrealistic for most mid-list-type authors whose only leverage is walking away. And it would be ridiculous for us to waste our negotiating capital trying to completely eliminate a non-compete from a contract for an author who has no plans to branch out in their publishing. We’d do our best to soften the non-compete to allow for options in the future, but we may want to use more of our negotiating leverage elsewhere in the contract.
Every author’s situation is completely unique, so while you may decide to never accept a non-compete of any scope, others are free to choose otherwise.
I am actually a self-publisher… who is starting a publishing company. But this company won’t be traditional either. It will try to incorporate many of the new developments in the publishing industry. I have thought about trying to become “hybrid” but I am actually doing okay as a self-publisher, and so recently decided against even approaching a traditional publisher.
I suppose there is a chance that getting published by a big name house could give me some instant credibility that might take years (or decades) to build on my own, but I am not sure that this is the route I want to take. So for now, I am sticking with self-publishing (through the company I am starting).