The other day someone said to me, “I’m going to self publish because these publishers are crooks.” I asked why he was saying that and he said because the publisher only gives the writer 10% of the income and they take 90%. Obviously this person has a long road to travel to understand the industry that they are intending to enter. The hope is they will take the time to learn.
Traditional publishers take all the risk with your manuscript. They get it edited and proofread at their cost. The book design and cover is paid for by them. They are responsible for all marketing and distribution costs. And they’ve hopefully been in the business long enough that they built up skills in all of these areas that will make them good at what they do. This is what justifies the 90%. They may never re-coup those up front costs. They take a financial risk on your book.
If you self publish you will need to pay all of those costs yourself. And in most cases you’ll be going into the game with very little experience. This needs to be taken into consideration.
The key to the traditional publishing arrangement is the contract. Before anything starts, a contract needs to be negotiated and signed. As I’ve said before, writers must understand their contracts. Do not sign a contract that you not understand or agree with. A contract is a legally binding document. It links the two parties to certain obligations. Keep in mind that all contracts are negotiable to a point and in all cases a writer can walk away from a publishing deal if the terms are not agreeable.
So, having said that, I have a real problem with people crying over terms with traditional publishers, calling them crooks, when they are only following the terms of the contract that you both signed.
But When Might Your Publisher Really Be a Crook?
This is in no way saying that there are not some crooks out there. In Botswana, the biggest contract infringement I’ve come across involves the paying of royalties. Many publishers violate the contract and pay royalties late. Writers should know that late payment of royalties is a violation of the legal contract and can mean the publisher is in breach to the extent that the contract is broken.
Contracts should explain clearly when accounts close and when the royalties are to be paid. Since most publishers in Botswana only pay annually, one can clearly see the stress caused by late payment to writers since they only get one pay cheque a year.
The other place where local publishers fail is in their accounting of sales and the reporting of that to the writers. In the cases I’ve come across, getting comprehensive royalty statements is difficult. And to get a statement that has been audited is rare.
Many Batswana writers are searching internationally for publishers nowadays. More and more, the line between self publishing and traditional publishing is blurring and some crooks try to keep the water as murky as possible so as to confuse the writer. There are various permutations of what the writer and publisher do. The writer might pay some of the up front costs and then take a bigger percentage from sales.
For example, I have a deal for one of my books where I paid the up front costs but the publisher took care of getting the job done. They organised the designer and editor and the printing. Since they are skilled in publishing they also market and distribute for me. I can take as many books from the print run that I want, for those I keep all of the money from sales. The ones they sell I get 70% and they get 30%. I felt this was a fair deal for me. I got my money’s worth.
I recently read an article where some overseas agents were helping their clients self publish. The writer paid for and did everything and the agent only worked on distribution, but they took 40% of sales. This I felt was unfair. It is important to understand the entire picture before agreeing to anything in the current changing situation.