Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Turned Down a Publishing Deal

About three weeks ago, I was offered a publishing contract from a traditional publisher for my thriller story, Faces of Hatred. The deal included a small advance, books in three formats (hard cover, eBook and audio book) and paperbacks after the story sold enough of the other formats to justify the trade paperback printing/distribution costs.

I was thrilled. My artistic achievement, Faces of Hatred, finally found a home.

I spent the last 35 years in the insurance business, often analyzing contracts, so naturally, I scrutinized the document. One question after another surfaced. I ran these issues by my agent, and she shared many of my concerns.

"No problem," I thought. "We'll negotiate the questionable issues, sign the deal and get started on the production process. I'm only a few days away from my dream coming true."

While the agent negotiated, I dug deeper into the company, beginning with a look at their existing offerings through Amazon. I saw a distressing pattern. High prices. Worse still, I didn't recognize the names of most of their authors. Sure, Dan Brown, Stephen King or Tom Clancy can command such prices, but what about an unknown, debut thriller author like me?

Consider the excellent, paranormal novel by Sass Cadeaux, The Secrets of Albion Falls. It's a great full-length story at $3.49 for 330 pages . . . consumers win. They get a wonderful novel, not some short story or novella being hyped as a "novel." How could I possibly compete against a quality novel offered at such a fair price when my eBook would cost three times as much?

In addition, the publisher's editor wants me to cut a number of chapters out of my book, chapters that graphically illustrate the trauma suffered by the people (faces) who are harmed by terrorism. Those chapters are central to the story. I'm not sure my artistic concept and theirs match.

Other questions arose. Each one threatening to reduce the chances for my book's success. Am I tempted to sign anyway? Of course. But, after much thought, I sent them a rejection that ended with the following note, "Ultimately, both publisher and author should be excited about collaborating on a new book for the public. I realized I do not have enthusiasm for this deal, hence my final decision."

Bottom line--the deal didn't feel right. I have just rejected an offer for my thriller for the second time in six months. Neither company appeared to be a healthy field in which to grow my dream. Yet, many aspiring authors would have snapped up the deal will little hesitation. Does that make me stupid? Perhaps.

What about eBook pricing, since this is one of the core issues in my decision?

I am a consumer advocate. Businesses have a moral/ethical responsibility to give readers "value received" in exchange for their hard earned money. Some "indie" books masquerade as novels. Lately, I have seen short stories and novellas promoted on Amazon as if they are full-sized books. That's just wrong.

Before I purchase a book on Amazon, I check the page number count to make sure I am getting a full-length story. If an eBook only has 100 pages, and Amazon asks $3.29, there's no way I will buy it. My own western-romance-paranormal novel, Ghost of Lost Eagle, is priced at $3.49 for 366 pages in keeping with my consumer belief that a penny a page is a reasonable price for an eBook. If the book ends up being a great story, then it becomes a great find, and I tell everyone I know about it.
My decision to reject the traditional book publishing offer might haunt me in the future, but I don't care. I have to be true to my values. I will only support a book that I love, and at a price I believe is fair for readers. To me, that's a win:win. Now, where am I going to find that special publisher who agrees with my values? <fingers tightly crossed>



  1. Maddening as the pace may be, one has to stand firm with one's principles and values, especially when there is a clash between publisher and readership that's discernible. Support the public first! They're buying your books and propelling your career, aren't they?

    1. Completely agree, Dave. For me, the reader comes first. That might be heresy to an editor who thinks profit-first, but over time, my readers will always know what to expect from my work. I believe there are editors and publishers who agree...I just have to find them. LOL

      Thank you for your comments...Dean.

  2. Consider that if there were a number of concerns and compromises you knew about up front that you struggled with, once the contract was signed, I strongly suspect at least a few more troublesome items would've cropped up.

    Yes, finding a big publisher can help to launch a career. But, if you sign with a big house, and your novel flops, it could do more than simply stall a writing career. And it wouldn't matter one bit that the reasons for failure were due to the publisher's decisions, as opposed to the author's.

    1. Terry,
      Excellent point. A traditional publishing contract can be a double-edged sword. If your book succeeds, it can launch a career. If it fails, you can kill a career before it really gets going. That was the foundation under my concern about pricing and making my book competitive. I'll find the right place for my thriller soon.

      Thank you for your usual wisdom...Dean.

  3. I have 3 novels published by traditional publishers and one under contract. Recently I've been having second thoughts about the entire publishing business and when my contract term was up for my first novel last month, I requested my rights back.
    Some of my author friends have gone the self-publishing route and are making a great success of it and selling lots of books. Why? Because they can price them any way they want and create special offers. The other great thing about self-publishing is that there is no 1 year delay before your book is released, which is especially important if you are writing a series.

    1. Hi Trish,

      You make some compelling points about self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Kindle Direct self-published books pay 70% royalty, so traditional publishers must offer outstanding marketing and sell good volume for their typical 25-30% author royalty to be profitable to authors. If they fail to produce those extra sales, then there is no advantage to going traditional.

      In my case above, the traditional publisher sells books at high prices, almost assuring failure for unknown new authors. Worse yet, if a newbie author "fails" that first book, the chance of selling another book to a different traditional publisher diminishes, so the impact of noncompetitive pricing is not limited to the one book in question.

      Good luck with your move into self-publishing. With an established fan base, you should be okay as your fans will spread the word about your work.

      Best regards...Dean

  4. Like mass media would only publish stories within their editorial policy, does the traditional publishers have attitudes that kills good works?

    1. Herbert,

      I do not believe traditional publishers intentionally want to "kill good works." However, in their zeal for profits, some appear to be pricing good books at uncompetitive prices; prices that might be hampering widespread success for those authors. Book pricing is critically important for first-time authors who need to build a big fan base. For that reason, I rejected a contract that, otherwise, was attractive.

      Thank you for your thoughts...Dean.


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