Thursday, July 13, 2017

Being first


I have a friend (how many of your blog entries start this way?) who is self-published. She has several (nine) books out, and they've done fair to middling, as best I can tell. I don't know how to tell precisely how well they've sold, but they're in the mid-hundreds in their categories on Amazon.

She read one of my manuscripts ages ago before she started self-publishing, and, to get quickly to the point, she wants to publish my manuscript.

She has never published anything for anyone else.

My gut says this is a bad idea. But on the other hand, the manuscript in question doesn't fit easily on the shelf - it's a tough shop. She's willing to take on the publishing and marketing costs. And she wants 50/50 profits.

My question for the blog is this: regardless of details (who gets what, etc.), this doesn't fit easily into traditional or self-publishing. With a manuscript that is likely never to see the light of day otherwise, can I still shoot myself in the foot with traditional publishers on other projects in other genres by doing this?

In other words, is this as horrible an idea as I think it might be?
What's the worst possible thing that could happen if you did this?
The book will tank and you'll be very disappointed.
That's it.

Publishers won't care if you've published something else. If you wanted them to publish the book that tanked that's when things might get dicey.

And you're not a debut, but hell, we'll work around that if we have to.

Bottom line: You will have a published book with sales numbers.
This will be a good thing if the book sells well.

Will the book sell well?
You've already said it's a tough sell.  Yes it's harder to find an agent than it is to find a reader. But, you need ONE agent. You need 10,000 readers.

The alternative is of course to publish under a pseudonym and never mention it when you query for your other books.

Of course, you didn't ask what I thought about the idea of being a guinea pig for someone's first effort at running a publishing company.  I will say only this: I never like to be first. I like to be third. I like the idea that rookie mistakes get made on someone else's book, not mine.  And no matter what, publishing someone else is NOT the same as self-publishing. For starters you'll need a contract. With an audit clause for the money. And a royalty schedule. And agreement on who registers the copyright. And then of course the warranties and indemnities clause.

You would be  ceding control of your intellectual property to someone who has limited publishing experience. And NO experience selling books other than through retail channels. You're essentially signing up for self-publishing with no control and half the money. Weigh that against the very lovely idea of your book reaching readers.

There is no wrong choice here. You won't kill your career no matter what you choose or how hard that book might crash and burn.

38 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...


OP, you said:
"My gut says this is a bad idea."

One should never ignore one's gut.

Susan said...

Listen to your gut, OP. In all things--for the good and the bad--listen to what your gut is saying. It's trying to lead you down your best path.

That said, I'm a big advocate for self-publishing. I think many of you who know me know that. But this would give even me pause. Janet's advice is sound, as always, but I want to add my two cents because I have experience working with other authors in the self-publishing arena, and it can get messy.

First, make sure you are legally and financially protected before going forward. Who holds the rights? What's the price of the book and how does that fare with the 50/50 royalty split? How much of the marketing costs will be covered and is there a cap on the amount she's willing to spend on marketing? What's the marketing plan?

As far as publishing costs she'll be covering, those are pretty nil. I'm assuming she already has a block of ISBNs for her own work, so that won't cost anything additional for her. And she probably also has a company created for publishing, so those costs are taken care of. All that's left for self-publishing are cover design, formatting, and editing. Is she willing to cover the costs of hiring out for these things or does she expect to take them on herself (thus minimizing costs even more)? How skilled is she as a designer and an editor and is that something you want for your book? Additionally, is this just for e-book or for print? Will she cover the cost of initial book stock to be sent for reviews?

Lastly, how transparent will she be with regard to what your book is making versus the royalties you are receiving? Will you have opportunity to look at the reporting?

I would weigh the pros and cons, especially when it comes to the marketing. In self-publishing that takes up a majority of time and energy (and money), so it's nice that someone is willing to do that for you, but to what extent? Make sure those expectations are set forth with how much she's going to do and if you're expected to do any at all. If you really want to go the self-publishing route, you can set yourself up as your own publisher for less than $3K and do it yourself while keeping all the royalties.

All this said, I think the question becomes "Does this potential partnership benefit you?" If your gut instinct is no, you probably have your answer. Just don't give up on seeing your book on a shelf one day, no matter which direction you choose.

Kitty said...

If you think this is a tough sell, then this one time go for it. After all, as Janet said:
What's the worst possible thing that could happen if you did this?
The book will tank and you'll be very disappointed.
That's it.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

OP: I'm a cautious sort so bear that in mind. You mentioned that this is a friend. If you do go ahead with this, be very sure all pertinent details are in writing so that the two of you know clearly what's expected of each other.

Susan said...

Whoa. I'm sorry for the lengthy comment, Janet!

While I'm in threat of being shipped off to Carkoon, this is OT: I don't know if everyone has seen it, but there's a cool interactive/experimental short sci-fi story making the rounds. It's set hundreds of centuries in the future where people have stopped dying and football is being played across states (it's in partnership with SBNation, which apparently is a sports site). You can "read" the story here: 17776 . I found the method of storytelling fascinating and wanted to share.

Colin Smith said...

I'll just add my AMEN to the caution over having someone else "self-publish" your novel. That's really the issue here. Nothing wrong with choosing the indie path. It's whether you do it yourself, or have your friend do it for you. If you go with your friend, as has been said, be sure to treat this as a business. Make sure everything is negotiated and in writing. Don't rely on the trust between friends, or either one of you remembering everything you agreed to.

All the best to you, Opie! :D

Amy Schaefer said...

I think Susan covered the details beautifully, so I'll just add one question: do you want to remain friends with this person? There is a reason people keep their personal and business dealings separate. Hopefully you two will be celebrating your joint success for years to come, but, if it all goes sideways and you can't even hear her name without getting dizzy from rage, then what? Are you still going to have to see her at school pick-up or your weekly hockey game?

Not to be a downer, but you already have doubts. Just add this to your list of considerations.

MA Hudson said...

I'm sure that somewhere in the archives Janet has said that being a debut novelist really counted for something with publishers. Has this changed? Is it no longer a thing?

OP, Just triple check all those legalities that Janet and Susan mentioned before you embark on an 'else-publishing' deal with a friend. Good luck.

Colin Smith said...

MA: Let's see if I can recall all that's been said about agents and debut authors (others keep me straight on my facts). Ultimately and always, it's about the writing. An amazing novel covers a multitude of sins. If you are a debut, there's no baggage, and nothing an agent needs to worry about (at least professionally--what you get up to privately may impact, but that's a different matter). If you have previously published (either trad or non-trad), the agent needs to know. Disclose the fact on the query, but leave the details for The Call (details being agent/editor names, reasons why the relationships no longer exist). If you are indie, are you trying to trad pub a previously indie-pubbed book? That might be tricky. Best to go with a new novel. Great sales figures for previous novels will help your cause (shows the agent/editor a large potential audience for the new novel--minus the now-former-fans who will troll you on Twitter accusing you of "selling out to The Man").

To sum up: the great thing about being a debut is you are virgin, unsullied by the industry. But being previously-published has its advantages too. It depends.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

The journey to getting published is personal; there are numerous paths to take. I have several real life friends who've chosen the indie route, created their own logo/brand - they're very happy with their decision and love having 100% control. I know several people who have done a hybrid kind of thing: started off indie but are now with an agent.

I know others who have gone idie, but would prefer to have guidance during editing, design, and tending the business side. Our own Susan P has a beautiful website for a perfect example of someone seeking this type of help. (And may I add... our Susan is whip-smart, savvy, honest, incredibly kind and a whole bunch of other terrific things but I'll stop here).

OP All the best to you!

C M said...

This is the worst idea. Please don't do this

Cheryl said...

OP: You say it's a tough shop, but have you tried? I've been hearing a lot about genre-bending books recently, so it may not be as hard to place as you think.

nightsmusic said...

I guess I'll ask the question no one else has, unless I missed it...if you want this manuscript published, why aren't you publishing it yourself? Amazon, of which I have a love/hate relationship as it is, makes it darned easy to do. Why turn your everything over to someone else who wants to learn how to publish other people's work? Your gut is telling you this is a bad idea. Listen to it. There's a reason we have instincts and a fight or flight response to things. In this case, fly.

Megan V said...

Susan hits the mark head on with her advice.

Nevertheless I want to add her comment and to Amy's follow up question with a concern...

Is your friend acting like a friend in this situation?

Many friends enter business partnerships together. Some even enter situations where a friend or relative acts as agent or manager, touting the fact that they have their loved ones best interests at heart. But I think there's a significant difference between a business partnership and the situation relayed here. And the latter is a situation that gets sticky at the best of times.

Your friend is attempting to start up some quasi-publishing business with you as the first client. She's asking you to take on the risk of this unproved business and expecting equal returns because she is taking on the publishing costs. They've not demonstrated a model or plan for their business or explained what the expect costs to be, what the editing process is, what rights you're giving up etc. If she wants you as a client of an unproved business, she had better have all the facts and plans laid out and reasons for why she's asking for even split of profits etc.

What your friend is doing does not appear to be well thought out. Moreover, in my mind, this may even be someone just trying to take advantage (which is not the action of a friend).

If your friend has some success with self-pub, why wouldn't they, as a friend who likes your novel, simply be willing to give you advice as you self-pub on your own (unless you have given your friend reason to think you won't self-pub)?

If they want you to help with their non-existent business, why not ask you after they've got they're s*** together.

Maybe I'm being too harsh here, but all in all, I think there's a darn good reason your gut is screaming run for the hills.

Don't let the desire to see your novel in print drive you off a publishing cliff.










Lennon Faris said...

Sounds like a recipe to lose a friend, but maybe (I hope!) that's just me.

I wouldn't do it. I like business situations baggage-free. I think it would be hard enough to acquire an agent and publisher without anything that might pull you down.

If you did it I would def. use a pseudonym.

Boy do I sound negative this morning! Anyway, good luck, OP! (That was sincere. It almost sounded sarcastic in light of the rest of my debbie-downer comment, but I'm rooting for ya OP).

Elissa M said...

Does the friend have the connections to get your book into places you couldn't if you published it yourself? Why did the friend make this offer? Did you give her any indication that you were considering self-publishing this book but didn't really want to do the work yourself? These are things I would think hard about if I were in this situation. Essentially, what are the friend's motivations and what is she bringing to the table to earn her 50%?

Also consider your own motivations. You say your manuscript is "never likely to see the light of day otherwise" and that it "doesn't fit easily into traditional or self-publishing". How do you know this? What publishing professional told you this and how are they so sure? Have you queried it? Have you had it read and professionally critiqued? Did you workshop it and get knowledgeable feedback?

We writers are good at lowering our expectations so rejections don't hurt as much. It's easy to convince ourselves that something about our work (other than our writing skill) makes it unpublishable. OP, whatever you decide, don't make that decision because you aren't 100% confident in your manuscript or your skills.

We may be like woodland creatures, but not all forest residents are rabbits or mice. If I'm going to picture myself as a creature from the woodland, I want to be an elk striding confidently into the meadow, head high, knowing this is where I belong despite possible predators.

Be the elk, OP, not the mouse.

Craig F said...

What is the worst that can happen?

You could lose a whole mess of friends and gain a lot of valuable lawsuit experience.

Susan and Amy hit most of it. If you wish to do this you have a lot of things to get ironed out. The devil is in the details.

In the time it takes for that to happen you could write a query and synopsis, hit the query trenches and, if it is good enough to draw a large audience, secure the services of an Agent and be published.

If it isn't good enough for traditional publishing, self-publish. If you don't feel it will work as self-published either; ask why you got picked for this venture. Is it really because of a manuscript read ages ago?

Kelsey Hutton said...

Just a quick note--if your self-publishing friend's books are regularly in the mid-hundreds for her category, that's not middling success--that's GREAT. Especially with nine books out!

For comparison, Sean Ferrell's "Man in the Empty Suit" is ranked #852 in the Romance > Time Travel category today, and #1632 under Science Fiction > Dystopia.

Of course, it all depends on the category and how mainstream/obscure it is. I'd suggest getting some more information from your friend about her sales strategy, and what she plans for you, before making a decision. But either way, you need to feel good about it--don't ignore your gut.

Good luck!

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Opie, when you say your ms is a tough shop, is this because you've queried 157 agents and they all rejected it after reading pages, or are you saving them time by pre-rejecting it before they've had a chance to read it?

Nothing wrong with indie publishing. Lots of trad authors go hybrid. But not a single one hands the work over to another indie author to do the grunt work.

Do your research, rely on the advice of others if you want to, but retain 100% control over your own project. Learn this lesson the easy way.

Jessica said...

All the other comments basically summed up my thoughts, but I'd say go with your gut and don't do it. It's always a bad idea to mix business with pleasure, and as the other commenters have outlined, there are a mess of pitfalls.

If there's some reason you don't want to self-publish it yourself and you've exhausted all agents, look into small presses. They're more willing to take on hard sells, in my experience anyway. Good luck OP! I think you know the answer already :)

Emma West said...

I had the same question as nightmusic - why not just publish it yourself? If your friend is a good friend, she could offer advice if you're stumped, but really how hard can it be? Plus then you get 100% of the dough. Also, it will give you experience in something that might end up being important for you to know. What if the book does well and you decide to self-publish more? Why give away rights and knowledge when you don't have to?

Good luck with whatever decision you make (but don't make the one your gut is warning you against).

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am joining the echo chamber of "why not self-publish it yourself?" I do not see the benefit of letting someone else basically self-publish it for you.

Hi Reef. My day job is devouring me. If you don't hear from me for a few days, please send help or cake baked by Colin's talented daughter. Thank you,

RosannaM said...

I have been going back and forth on this one. And I still have an uncaffeinated brain, so take that into consideration when giving my comment any weight.

As things stand the manuscript is gathering dust, so if it has no other route into readers' hands, I would say take the risk. The risk/reward ratio does not seem too scary.

Of course you could self-publish, but that route requires you put on all the hats and start learning what your friend has learned with her books. She has gained knowledge with those.

That said, have a great contract, and spell out all your expectations.

BJ Muntain said...

It sounds to me like OP might do better self-publishing the book themselves, with maybe paying friend for some guidance, insight, and advice. It may not be as lucrative for the friend - and it will cost OP more money - but at least OP will be in control.

Amy Johnson said...

Congratulations on getting this far with your manuscript, Opie!

Elissa: I so like your "be the elk" advice. Be the elk, everyone! Be the elk!

Susan said...

Melanie! You're too kind, I'm blushing over here! <3

I just want to clarify that I'm not against this, OP. This is your decision entirely. I just strongly recommend using caution and making sure all the expectations are set forth, that you have an iron-clad contract (speak with an attorney if you can), and that it's what you really want. I can understand the allure of having your book out in the world with minimal effort on your end, but this is your book, it's something special to you. I just want to make sure you're able to give it--and you--its best chance. Good luck!

meredithmansfield said...

50/50 profits for WHAT????

That's not the way self-publishing works. If you decide that's what you want to do, go find out more about how to do it yourself. Because this isn't it.

Join facebook groups of self-published authors. Most are more than happy to help a newbie find their way--and not charge for it, let alone half the profits, which is ridiculous. Sounds more like Author Solutions than a friend, frankly.

BJ Muntain said...

To add to Colin's memories about 'debut author': The 'baggage' mentioned most often is the sales of the previous book. Bookstores use previous sales numbers to decide how many current books to order. If previous sales are abysmal, they might not order any, because they want to sell books, not store them.

Publishing this book under a pseudonym might deter this bias against previous sales, as Janet mentioned.

Steve Stubbs said...

OP, your gut is telling you that you are a babe in the woods.

Business, thy name is treachery.

Your partner's offer to bear the costs will evaporate when the costs start coming in. Are you prepared to pony up for editing, book design and cover art?

When it comes time to divvy up the money (assuming there is any) a problem will develop, both surely and suddenly. Heed the advice of Polonius:

Neither borrower nor lender be,
For loan oft loses itself and friend.

Or my favorite:

I had the money and he had the experience.
A year later he had the money and I had the experience.

If the deal is properly structured, you don't have much to lose but the MS. But are you covered if your partner or some stranger decides to sue you? What if someone tries to initiate a criminal action? (Your partner briefly talked to a Russian lawyer at a cocktail party or something.)

Julie said...

Okay, I'm outing myself as the Opie.

The M/S is historical fantasy - I've been told by traditional agents in both fantasy and historical fiction worlds, "not me."

The Indie author in question is a friend purely because she beta'd my M/S and I returned the favor with hers, so our relationship is based only upon the reading and critiquing of each other's work.

I have generally hated the idea of indie publishing - I'm slightly neurotic (okay, more than slightly), and have always wanted someone to help me navigate the waters of publication. I hadn't given up on this M/S... far from it, it hasn't really made the rounds of agents. It's just seen a couple, and I put it aside and wrote something easier to shop, (a mystery) in the hope that I could get this M/S published after the mystery.

But then out of the blue, I got this communication from this friend, saying she hadn't been able to get this M/S out of her mind and if I hadn't had luck with it, she wanted to know what I thought about her publishing it.

Naturally, I turned to Janet and you guys. In the meantime, I sent her the most recent M/S, and kept working on the mystery, which I'm in revisions with, with an actual agent - which makes this whole thing a bit sticky, because she doesn't do fantasy.

So that's the story. I don't know a darned thing about contracts or any of it - that's why I wanted an agent. A great agent.

THANK YOU ALL, and especially thanks to QOTKU.

-Nemo

Claire AB. said...

Julie,
Many congrats on the progress with the mystery!! That's amazing news!! And IMO, this is where you need to focus your energies. It's tough to have multiple genres going with your WIPs (Janet just posted about this on Tuesday), but if you get an agent for your mystery (fingers crossed!!) s/he can help you figure out the best way to proceed with the fantasy. And I'm pretty sure most agents WANT to weigh in about that. I doubt very seriously any of them would want you to take the offer from your friend. Self-publishing might be fine, but having this person hang out their publishing shingle with your work? Like the others, I wouldn't recommend it for a bunch of reasons, but I really can't see an agent recommending it, either.

Again, bravo on news about your mystery, and best of luck going forward!

Peter Taylor said...

Good to hear the mystery is shaping well, Julie.

You only need tell your friend 'Not just yet' with the historical/fantasy and perhaps pay for an appraisal from an editor at a major publishing house at a SCBWI or other Conference (I'm paying about $50US to have a work critiqued by a HarperCollins commissioning editor in September and with a 20 minute discussion. And another ms with an editor from PenguinRandom). I always learn a lot and can then give the work a better chance. I did get one contract from such a meeting.

I've had 6 books published so far, all by traditional publishers, and I also feel nervous of self-publishing, but I do have works in progress that I know will have a very limited market, e.g. a compendium of 18th and 19th century Lancashire dialect speech (which could be useful to writers of historicals). I may do a limited edition print run on cream paper including hand-printed lino-cut or similar illustrations, and also a digital edition on Amazon.

Our local State Library also regularly pays $5,000 or more for a copy of an artist's book they like, so it could be more profitable to develop an edition of 10 or 25 copies of a children's book using an interesting structure than sell the story to publishers.

Good luck!

MA Hudson said...

Colin - thanks for that. All makes sense. Just wondering though, whether the mood is shifting about self-publishing. It seemed to almost be a mark against your name amongst trad publishers, but now maybe no one cares. Like with everything - times they are a changin.

kdjames.com said...

Julie, don't make me come over there and sit on you. Self-publishing is not hard and it doesn't need to be expensive. Do not EVER have someone self-publish "for you." You're smarter than that.

Janet told you worst case of this scheme from an agent's perspective. From a writer's perspective, worst case is your book does really well, gets lots of great word-of-mouth and sells a ton of copies. Maybe in the first year you earn $40K, or $80K, or maybe even $100K. And you're willing to give HALF of that to someone who paid maybe $250 for a cover, spent 10 minutes filling out her contact/financial info instead of yours, and perhaps did some minimal promo for you? NONONO.

If you decide to go with this friend's idea, at least cap the amount. She can have 50% of profit UP TO a certain amount of anticipated expenses (maybe $500-600?) and the rest is yours, forever. Make sure there's an escape clause for when you no longer want to do business with her.

If all you want is someone to hold your hand through the process and tell you which step comes next, hell, I'll do that for free. Click on my name and you'll find contact info. Because writers help each other; they don't exploit each other's uncertainty and lack of experience.

Peter Taylor said...

Julie

Brianne Johnson, senior agent at Writers House, is seeking historical fantasy

LynnRodz said...

OP, Janet, Susan, and your gut have said it all. Good luck to you on whatever path you decide.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Oh, Julie, dear heart, historical fantasy is a hot market right now.

Everyone has been talking Random Penguins or indie as your two options, but you sound like you might suit a reputable small press very well.

This is presuming you don't get an agent for your mystery. Her advice may trump mine.

If you get this agent, ask her advice. If you don't get this agent, by all means, keep querying! Query both mss at the same time.

You sound like you want a team to back you up in your pub journey. I don't blame you. But the indie author's offer does not sound like a good one, financially. Take all the moral and professional support you can get, but keep the financials, outgo and income firmly in your own pocket.

Agents, small press, and indie distributors take much smaller percentages than what your friend is offering. If you go with her, negotiate a better percentage.

But ultimately, i think you're better off taking a different route. Go read up on several self-publishing sutes like ALLI, query agents W I D E L Y, and tell your indie friend, "not yet."

Julie said...

Thank you all so very much - I've been I'll for the better part of a year, so the historical fantasy was set down along with much else in favor of healing. I'm really just getting back to work now, and as the mystery is so much easier to deal with, it was my first priority, but "savvy," I am not.

In other words, your advice on this is so helpful.

Thank you!!!