Publishers and Agents and Business

On E-book Costs, from FutureBook, thanks to Passive Voice for the link.

It does rather leap from the page that “Simon & Schuster’s operating income before debt and amortisation (OIBDA) more than doubled to $7m”, which the publisher said “was driven by lower shipping, production and returns costs because of the increase in digital sales”.

Despite recent attempts to distract us all with talk of piracy and other costs associated with e-books this clearly indicates that is a massive red herring. There are costs associated with e-books, but they are clearly insignificant compared to the benefits.

At one major publishing company that I know of, when editors draw up a profit and loss projection when they are considering acquiring a book there is no column for e-book costs because they are regarded as being functionally zero and are simply dumped on to the hard back costs.

[Note — I inserted the Bookseller link; Futurebook had it earlier in their post.]

So at least one of the big publishers considers the costs of e-books to be negligible and doesn’t even project for them. Yet the big publishers are still moaning and wringing their hands and trying to convince us all that they HAVE to charge $15.95 for an e-book because they’re expensive too and if they lower the prices on e-books they’ll be losing money, oh noes!

Sure. If the costs were that high, they’d show up in the P&L projections. In actuality, they have to be pretty tiny to be completely disregarded in the preliminary estimates.

Give it up, guys. You show up to make your public speeches wearing a barrel, but we all see the servant waiting behind you with your suit ready to put back on.

On bad contracts, check out Don’t Sign Dumb Contracts by Passive Voice, who used to be a lawyer. Lots of good advice there; I particularly like this bit:

2. Every contract is negotiable, so negotiate what you don’t like. “This is our standard contract” is the oldest scam in the world. Standard contracts are for banks who print them by the million. Publishers and agents may want “standard contracts,” but they probably also want world peace. You don’t have to accept their standard contracts. If a publisher or agent is interested enough in your book to want a contract with you, they’ll be willing to change some things. Negotiation is the process by which each side to a potential contract discovers how much they want the contract.

Authors are in a terrible psychic spot in negotiating their first contract with an agent or publisher. They sent out a million queries before they got an agent. Ten publishers turned down their manuscript before one became interested. Authors are inclined to think, “I’ll sign anything. Just don’t tell me no again.” Don’t get into that mode. Your old buddy, Passive Guy, will guarantee that you’ll be in a worse psychic spot if you and your manuscript are treated like trash under the terms of a bad contract. You must be ready to walk away from a bad deal.

Sometimes the contract they hand you will be fine — I’m happy with my publisher’s standard contract. But I read the whole thing, nodding all the way, before I signed the first one, and I look over subsequent contracts to make sure they’re the same, or contain only changes that’ve been discussed beforehand.

Read the whole thing — this is good stuff.

Then read Advocates, Addendums, and Sneaks, oh my! by Kris Rusch, which Passive Voice links to in the post above. I’ve linked to Kris before; she’s worth subscribing to.

Here she’s talking about the potentially adversarial relationship between authors and publishers, and how an agent used to be the author’s advocate with the publisher, but isn’t any longer. Publishers are tightening up so much that even top agents don’t have the clout to get advantages for their clients in contract negotiation anymore, and many agents are more concerned with protecting themselves and their agency than with protecting the interests of any individual client.

Dean Wesley Smith (Kris’s husband, and another long-time pro writer who supports himself on his fiction income, as Kris does) has been advising writers not to bother with agents for a while now. Kris hasn’t completely agreed with him before, but now she does. Read the whole post to find out what new information and developments made her change her mind.

Angie, who’s in Long Beach at the hotel, enjoying free internet before boarding the ship 🙂

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Angela Benedetti lives in Seattle with her husband and a few thousand books. She loves romance for the happy endings, for the affirmation that everyone who's willing to fight for love deserves to get it and be happy with someone. She's best known for her Sentinel series of novels, the most recent of which is Captive Magic.

2 thoughts on “Publishers and Agents and Business”

  1. Angela – Thanks for the mention and congratulations on reading your contract.

    A typical contract is not a lot of fun to read – uneven style and a contrived ending, etc. – but if you go through it carefully, you should be able to understand it. If one contract clause references another, stop and look at the referenced clause and make sure you understand how the two clauses work together.

    If there is something you don’t understand, ask. After you receive your answer, if the language of the contract does not clearly reflect what you’ve been told it means, suggest a change so the contract matches the explanation.

    If there is ever a need to look to the contract to resolve a disagreement, you may be dealing with someone different than the person who explained what the contract meant. That’s one reason for modifying the contract to reflect what you’ve been told it’s supposed to mean.

  2. PG — you’re very welcome, and thanks back for the post. 🙂

    I’m with a small, niche e-primary publisher, and their standard contract is short and to the point, without a lot of dense legalese in it. If I were with one of the big New York publishers, I’d probably want (and need) an IP lawyer’s help to get through it. I agree completely about the language clearly matching the explanation you’ve been given; it’s easy enough for someone to say, “Oh, Joe was mistaken about that,” or “You must have misunderstood Ann,” and if that’s not what the contract says after all, you’re out of luck. If I saw something I thought was squirrely in a contract, I’d want a neutral and knowledgeable third party to explain it to me, not someone who worked for the other party to the contract. [wry smile]


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