Monday, March 06, 2006

More on work for hire v. royalties

Last week I drew attention to a comment by Lynn W. Scanlon in which she recommended that writers should give serious consideration to negotiating a flat payment for a book (work for hire), rather than sign the traditional contract which provides for an advance against royalties plus, if you're lucky, a flow of further payments over the next few years.

Well, it turns out that the day after making her comment here, Lynne wrote a longer piece about this topic on her own blog, the Publishing Contrarian. It's a very, very interesting piece of work. If nothing else, look at the sentences in bold. E.g. 'There is no money in publishing for the vast majority of authors.'

It's worth remembering in this context what I said in my book The Truth about Writing, namely that an advance isn't really an advance at all: it's a retrospective. As often as not, you've written the novel, or done the research for the non-fiction book, before you sign the contract.

Anyway, Lynne's discussion of this topic generated a fair bit of debate on her blog and was subsequently picked up and chewed over at Galleycat, where the good and the great congregate and put in their two pennorth on these matters. See the post of 1 March, and 2 March (1) and 2 March (2). There may be more by the time you read this.

I don't have much to add. But one thing is for sure. When I first started thinking about 'being a writer', and approaching publishers, which is about fifty years ago now, there was absolutely no way in the world that I could ever have found the kind of inside information which this sort of post and discussion generates. Ab-so-lutely unthinkable. In those days, we (wannabe writers) were all groping in the dark.

Tess Gerritsen also makes a point which strikes me as being slightly -- well, let's just say that she has a different view of publishing economics from mine. She says that 'many, if not most, top-selling authors never earn out their advances -- and they have absolutely no problems negotiating their next contracts.'

No indeed. And you know why? Because, as stated here more than once, the unit cost of printing vast numbers of a particular book is so massively reduced that the standard royalty rates become virtually meaningless. So the advance is really in the nature of a fee for services anyway.

Furthermore, if the publisher is prepared to offer the same sort of deal again, i.e. an advance which is unlikely to be 'earned out', in terms of old-fashioned royalty calculations, then this can only mean one thing: namely that the publisher made a big fat profit on the last deal and looks forward to doing the same again.

Ah me.

Another grimly amusing comment comes from a publisher. 'In my experience, most writers don't try to live on their writing income... They are not "in business" in the same way a publisher is.'

And in one sense he's right. If writers had a good clear business head on their shoulders, most of them wouldn't be writers in the first place. However, most writers would love to be rich and famous; and, in the hope of becoming so, many and many a writer would, and does, pay to get a first book into print. Or, even if our writer manages to get a book published by a mainstream firm, she will use her own money to help market the thing. I had an email a while back from a writer whose advance was $7,500 and who had spent, when she wrote to me, $14,000 of her own money to help it to take off.

Technically this is known as a self-inflicted wound.

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