If the Box Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Wear It

photo http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1426375 by Bas van den Eijkhof http://www.sxc.hu/profile/mistermastMost new authors dream of getting a book deal; having a publisher contact them and say, hey, we want your book. I’ll reserve comment on the value of getting a book deal for another conversation.

Some time back a client turned down not one, but two book deals. Two publishing houses approached them and said, hey, we want your book, just sign on the dotted line.

And they thought and they thought and they said, I don’t fit in the box you’d like to put me in.

And then they said the hardest word in the language of business: No.”

You do not have to fit into anyone else’s box. You do not need permission to be, do, have, on your own terms.
If the box doesn’t fit . . .

7 thoughts on “If the Box Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Wear It

  1. Wow! Wonder how many of us would be savy enough turn down such a contract. I guess they were on to something. As a former entertainment, I did turn down some lucrative deals. Now that I look back, I can also say, that I didn’t fit in their boxes either. Good read.

    1. When you know your core values, you can see what doesn’t align. The folks who struggle with decisions like this usually haven’t sat down on the first of the year and decided “What’s more important to me than money this year?”

  2. Too many writers are so excited about the “prestige” of being awarded a publishing contract that they fail to think about whether or not that contract is any good.

    Will you retain editorial control so you can approve or reject any edits the publisher wishes to make?

    Will you get to approve the cover art and typography? Even big publishers botch these tasks every day.

    How long will you have to wait before you see your book in print? Two years is standard.

    What marketing resources will the publisher commit and for how long?

    If the book doesn’t sell and ends up backlisted, will you be able to buy back your rights or will any future marketing efforts undertaken by you primarily benefit a disinterested publisher who has moved on?

    How many books will have to be sold before expenses and your advance are covered and you can begin to receive royalties? Is your publisher forthcoming about business metrics?

    What about eBook rights and rights to any characters you may have created? If the publisher buys your spy thriller, are you free to write another using the same character? Do you have to publish that book through the same publisher? What if Disney wants to make a movie about your character or your book? Who owns these rights?

    A contract is only as “good” as its real benefits to you, the writer. When you get that acceptance letter from Random House, call your lawyer, pay for some good advice, and celebrate after you’re what you’re signing is a good deal.

    1. Hulloo, Dave! Great to see you.

      True sign of generosity and expertise when someone can write an entire article on a subject, then leaves it as a comment on someone else’s blog ;)

      Great stuff. Hmmm . . . I wonder if I oughta just scoop it up and make it a guest post so folks don’t miss it?

  3. Good story.

    “No” is so often a hard word to say. It is hard to say “no” to things that are fun but consume writing time. It is hard to say “no” to writing what might sell when you have something in your heart that you want to write but that might not sell. And of course, saying no to “validation from the establishment” might even be the hardest. “We like your book, but here is who you have to be, what else you must do for us to give you money for it,” is incredibly backhanded praise, but writers so often hear little praise that even that is seductive.

    1. If the establishment were to offer me the validation of a traditional publishing contract, with money and stuff, that would be a hard “no” to say. In the end, I think I’d say it, but despite my belief traditional publishing rewards sales, not art, it’s seductive indeed.

      I try to fill myself with praise from my fans. It’s unhealthy to focus only on the pats on the back, but re-reading some of the praise for my books reminds me that my right folks are responding, and I can keep doing this a little bit longer.

      1. It all depends on the contract, doesn’t it. A “no-compete”, which is becoming common these days, would make the “no” much easier unless there were some incredible compensations. And the validation is, as you point out, from the business world. It might or might not mean anyone thinks the book is good art.

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