No Room for a Misstep
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Even a few years ago, such a thing as forgiveness existed in publishing. If an author missed a few deadlines, or a series’ trajectory wasn’t upward, the publisher looked the other way and then turned around and offered a new contract. Publishers understood that a writing career doesn’t always move forward at a regular pace but sometimes stops and starts as the author figures out how to consistently write good manuscripts and juggle marketing and publicity simultaneously.
But today, don’t even think about making a misstep. The likely outcome is that publishing with that house will end, or maybe even your career. I’m not being medodramatic; I’m just observing the realities of publishing today.
What does that mean for an author?
- You can’t play around with a variety of genres because more than one interests you. Once you have a foothold via one or more contracts, you need to consistently write for the same audience and build your reader base. No diversions can be allowed; it’s just too tough to make it even when everything is going for you.
- If you turn in a manuscript that was dashed off in the last two weeks before the due date, your days as a published author likely are numbered. Standing right behind you is another writer who is willing to work harder and more effectively than you.
- Not sure you want to write for the general market or the Christian market? Decide today whom you will serve. I don’t mean that in a sacrilegious way; I mean you really can’t serve two divergent audiences that do not want to blend together. They’re the proverbial oil and vinegar. A separate website, different tweets and Facebook entries, separate e-newsletters, even signings–all need to be segregated. How, with so many demands on today’s author, does one successfully negotiate attending to two audiences?
- Not taking your publishing relationship for granted. It’s easy to think the grass is greener over yonder. But, if your publisher is maintaining the size of your advance, it means you’re in a good place. With shrinking store shelves to sell your book from and ever-increasing pressures on traditional publishers (including Amazon being able to set the price a book sells for), advances are tending down, not up. So if you’re maintaining, you’re in a good place. If your advances are increasing, you’re in a stupendous place. Don’t decide that because a publishing house flirts with you and suggests a change would do you the world of good that such really is the case. If your publisher appreciates you, appreciate your publisher right back.
- Choosing not to write a contracted manuscript. Think that’s a ridiculous misstep that no one would make? Earlier this year Penguin decided it would not let authors take advance money but never produce a book. So the publisher sued such authors. Some of the advances were upper five figures, many were mid-five figures, but a few were $10,000 and $20,000. If one added up the amount of money paid out from the authors Penguin sued, the sum is more than a million dollars. Penguin isn’t the biggest publisher (or wasn’t when it filed suit, but now it has made a deal to join forces with Random House). Imagine how much money a Random House and a Simon & Schuster has on its accounting books but doesn’t have the manuscript it paid for. And imagine what that choice would mean to an author’s reputation.
- Avoiding an inflated view of what size of advance your manuscript warrants. Recently I talked to an author whose first several books sold from 3,000-5,000 copies. She told me that she would reject any offer that didn’t include an advance of $25,000 or more. Wait. Publishers generally set the advance based on the number of copies they believe they can sell in the first year. If a book sells 3,000 copies in its lifetime, an advance of $5,000 is much more realistic.
Lest this list strikes you as depressing, let me say that publishers are eager–yes, eager–to connect with authors who work hard, meet deadlines, write great manuscripts, stay focused, and appreciate what the publisher brings to the table. When you think about it, isn’t that true for any relationship? Go back over the points I’ve made and ask yourself how that translates to relating to a spouse or good friend. Aren’t these just sensible guidelines? If not, please set me straight.