Wednesday, August 11, 2010
For Love or Money
“I didn’t go into writing to get rich – in fact, I don’t care if I make any money. The most important thing is to get my book out there.”
This is a paraphrase of a comment I read recently, made by a writer who had signed a contract with a startup micropress and was warned about their paying royalties on net rather than on cover price. But it’s something I’ve read from writers printed by vanity presses as well, where they’re even less likely to recoup their initial investment.
Everyone has their own reasons for writing, and I don’t believe embarking on that with the primary goal of making money from it is a good idea. Mostly because it takes so much time and effort to produce work of a marketable standard (a commercial market, not just family and friends). But when it comes to publishing, money is more immediate and more important.
Getting the book out there
If writers only wants to make books available to the general public, they have two choices. They can either look for publishers with good distribution (in other words, not vanity presses and unlikely to be startup micropresses), or they can put the text of the book on the web. Whether they make it all available for free or go through Amazon for the Kindle, and set the price as low as possible, this is preferable to signing away rights to a press which won’t make the best use of them.
Vanity presses get paid by authors and therefore don’t need to get the books out anywhere. Micropresses or startups without distribution may want to get the books out into the marketplace, but they’re unable to do so.
Money isn’t important
Especially after a long slew of rejections, a publishing contract can be an oasis in the desert. You’re so relieved that someone loves your book and wants to publish it that fiscal considerations are the last thing on your mind. At worst, discussions of advances and royalties may be to the magic of publication what a prenup is to the honeymoon.
But there’s one reason money is important even for writers who don’t need or want it. It’s because sales are directly correlated to royalties. When the royalty statement arrives, it shows how many copies were sold and from where. We can’t count individual readers, but we can count sales.
Plus, I like getting paid for my work. Ideally, I’d rake in the Filthy Lucre hand over fist at a rate that would make John Galt weep, but in the real world I just want to get paid as much as is reasonably possible for my books. I didn’t work as a technician for free so I’m certainly not going to publish for free.
A bad impression
What are commercial publishers and literary agents likely to think if they come across such a claim from a writer? Actually, that’s not an “if”. Sample mistakes in query letters include “I’d be willing to forego an advance”.
Publishers and agents aren’t going to say, “This is an artist willing to make any sacrifice to get the book out there”. They’re more likely to see this as desperation or inexperience or both.
They’re in this business to make money, so chances are they’re looking for writers with the same goals.