It’s Not About the Money…It’s About the Contract, Timing, and Price

I had several on-line conversations last week about Brenna Aubrey’s decision to turn down a six-figure advance with a major New York publisher in order to self-publish. If you would like to learn more about her decision you can read about it here. Her reasons were:

  • The Non-compete Clause – which would put restrictions on what she could publish and when.  This wasn’t an issue with just one of the houses bidding, all of them had these clauses and it conflicted with her ability to become a hybrid author. For the record, I agree 100% with Brenna’s objection to the non-compete clause, and I’ve written about it many times in the past. In fact, it was a non-compete that almost derailed my own traditional publishing career. I, too, had a three-book six-figure advance and was more than willing to walk away because the original non-compete could, in theory, by a career killer. It took many months of back-and-forth between my wife, my agent, and the contract lawyers at my publisher but we finally got a version de-fanged to the point where I could sign it. I HIGHLY recommend any author being presented with such a contract, to pay particular attention to this clause and consider what the ramifications are if interpreted in the worse case scenario.
  • Release Schedule – Publishing does indeed move slowly, and this may mean years from the time you sign until when the books are released. In Brenna’s case, the delay really wasn’t very long.  The first book moved from an early 2014 release to a fall 2014 and the other books would follow soon after in 2015. A delay of this sort wouldn’t have been an issue for me, but there is an aspect of this that would be, and it bears pointing out here. There are ways, besides the non-compete clause, that a writer’s ability to release titles can be infringed. Author’s need to pay particular attention to the Author’s Warranty or Indemnification clauses.  Sometimes it will say that the author “warrants” that the books being signed will be their “next published work.”  If the book is being released very soon, then this may not be worth fighting about.  But if the other aspects of the contracts indicate that it could be years before the book is released, well that’s another matter entirely. In the original version of my contract, the publisher had up to two years from when the book was deemed “acceptable” to get it on the market and I wasn’t comfortable with the potential risk.  Again it required further negotiation to ensure that the books would come out in a timely manner and I could find myself locked out from earning for several years.
  • E-book pricing – Brenna was concerned that some of the publishers would be pricing her ebook at $8.99.  She felt that as a debut author she wanted to be priced much lower (and in fact when she released it she priced it at $2.99). I’m personally not a fan of this pricing model, but there is no denying it has worked for many.  I think people will pay a reasonable price ($4.99 – $9.99) for an ebook that they enjoy.  But the important thing is she felt loosing control of this important aspect could adversely affect her career…and I think control over the pricing of your product is an important consideration. From my perspective, I don’t think we can expect for publishers to write into their contracts that the author has veto power over pricing issues, but perhaps we can hope for an environment where the author is included in such decisions.

Based on her very reasoned response, I think Brenna made the right decision to walk away. It was courageous and smart. As I said, I’ve been in her shoes myself. And there were many times when it looked like the negotiations couldn’t get me to a contract that I would be comfortable signing. For me, walking away wouldn’t have been nearly as big of a deal. I already was earning very well through my self-publishing, but in Brenna’s case she hadn’t let pulled the trigger. But it’s important to note that Brenna’s decison had nothing to do with had to do with shaping her control. She wasn’t walking away because the advance was too low, the royalties too little, or even that she thought she would make more through self than traditional.I think many people in the conversations I had missed these very important points.

Personally, I think she will end up earning more through self-publishing.  She has already made back her costs for production (cover design, editing, and so forth) and has a profit on the first book of over $16,000 (40% of the $40,000 advance – on a per book basis). Not bad for just over a month since release. She has sold more than 10,000 copies proving she can find an audience.  But even if she didn’t earn more…the non-compete could be a “career killer” as could alienating her audience by a price point that is out of line from what they want to pay for her writing. Hers is a great example of an author who is thinking long-term and considering her entire career and not rushing to sign on the bottom line without careful deliberation.

For those who are interested in this story and want to join the conversation, you can of course post comments here or also check out these links: Reddit | Chuck Wendig’s Blog | Hugh Howey’s Blog.

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  1. Hi Micheal–

    Once again, I find myself grateful that you choose to blog for Amazing because I’m always attentive to what you have to say. Thanks for the alert.

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