Monday, November 03, 2008

Don't believe everything you hear

So, I've seen this a lot lately, and for the life of me I can't figure out why. I had no idea people actually still BELIEVED this one, but in the last week or two I've seen it mentioned by several people, so I'm going to talk about it here.

Of course, Victoria Strauss has already discussed it at the Writer Beware blog, but hey, the more the merrier, right?

Here's the big myth:

If your book doesn't sell enough copies to earn out the advance, the author has to give the advance back.

This is NOT TRUE. It is, in fact, 100% FALSE.

For whatever reason, as well, the numerous people I've seen making this claim, are all saying it was "a Random House author" they know who had to give back the money. I found this particularly interesting considering RH is now my publisher.

Let me tell you all something. When my lovely agentman was negotiating my contract, the ONLY things discussed about the advance were A)How much; B)When; and C)Joint accounting (I'm not saying whether or not I'm subject to joint accounting, mind, just that the subject came up). Not once, not ever, did the suggestion that if the book doesn't earn out I should give back the advance come up. It never occurred to any of us that this would be the case; in fact, I'm sure that if I'd asked Chris about it I would have been met with a long, puzzled silence, followed by a "No...why on earth would you think you'd have to pay it back?"

Of course, my denials--and the denials of far more knowledgeable folks than me, people like Cathy Clamp and Victoria Strauss--are brushed aside with the excuse that "Everybody's contract is different."

Well, yes, to some extent they are. Advances are different. Royalty rates may be different; grant of rights may be different. There's any number of little things that could change. But making the author give back the advance? Do you seriously, honestly believe that there are contract out there with major houses that require that?

Do you really think there are some authors out there who'd have to pay back their advance, and we've never heard about it? That such behavior wouldn't cause a stir, that nobody in the legitimate publishing world would have heard of it?

Really. Think about it. When Del Rey offered me an advance, what they were in essence doing was saying, "We think this book is good enough that it will sell X number of copies, which will equate to X amount in royalties. So we'll give her that amount now."

Why in the world would they even offer me an advance if they were going to make me return the money if they didn't earn it back? Why not simply offer me publication in and of itself?

For that matter, why wouldn't they have given me a much, much bigger advance? I'm not complaining, trust me, but seriously. If they knew whatever they didn't earn back, they'd get back, why not give everybody a million dollars? Why not give everybody only a thousand dollars? Why bother, in other words, with P&L statements or calculations?

Why be so choosy in what they accept for publication, if there's no risk? They get their money back either way, so why not? (Of course, there IS a publishing model that works this way--it's called vanity or subsidy publishing.)

And can you imagine the accounting nightmare if returning advance money was a standard practice, or even an occasional one? Advances aren't paid all at once, as everyone knows; usually you get a chunk on signing, a chunk on delivery of the edited ms, and a chunk on publication. Sometimes it's just signing and delivery, sometimes just signing and publication, but it really doesn't matter. Just imagine, for a minute, the complicated calculations and enormous staff publishing houses would have to do and have; Okay, we've paid Author B X amount of dollars, and we still owe her X, but before that check goes out we'll see what she owes us here...

Let's not even get into the thought of when that money would come due. Okay, Author B, we paid you 10k as an advance, and your book has been out 3 months and only earned 7k, but of course it could still sell for another two years, and then there's returns, and...

Seriously. You'd need a byzantine legal agreement and a huge team of accountants and lawyers in order to figure that one out.

It's silliness. Just plain silliness. There is no way in hell an arrangement like that would work, and if any of these people seriously thought about it for more than two minutes they'd see that.

Trust me. If Unholy Ghosts never sells a single copy (ohpleaseletitsellmoreohpleaseohpleaseletpeoplebuymybookpleeeeease) I still keep my advance. Every penny of it (save my agent's cut, of course, and the stupid taxes). I can spend it on whatever I want; it's MINE.

The other thing that interests me, though, about this rumor, is how many people claim they heard it from a real author who did a book or an article or gave a seminar. Why is this so interesting?

Because--and this is something we've dicussed on this blog before--any dipshit can call themselves an author, and claim to be an expert, and write article and seminars. Anyone.

Recently on Absolute Write we had a man who'd paid a vanity press to publish his books. The Amazon ranking for those books--yes, I know it's not a really reliable indicator but still--hovered in the millions. And yet, this man gave "publishing seminars" and charged a lot of money for his advice. I know one of the lies he told pieces of misinformation he gave out at his seminars was this same "You have to give back the advance" crap.

It never fails to amaze me how many people out there, who have no experience in real publishing, claim to be Published Authors (always capitalized) and to be able to help and advise others on the business of publishing.

And lots of them look impressive. They'll have fliers or posters that list them as "multi-published authors" or "bestselling authors". Never mind that they're multi-published with a vanity house, or that they're bestsellers in their particular genre at that publishing house, where they compete against two other books and hit bestseller status by selling five copies in a month. (Seriously; remember in the Publishing series when I talked about the girl with the starup ehouse who was excited about being a bestseller there, only to discover at royalty time that she sold three copies? That did actually happen.)

Anybody can claim to be anything on the internet, don't forget. Anyone can charge you money to listen to their useless and misleading and bad advice, don't forget that too. Just because Bob Bobbs (not his real name) charges you $800 for his advice, doesn't mean his advice is any good.

Just as with checking out publishers, just as with everything else, be careful who you listen to and give your money to. Check the credentials they present; do they call themselves best-sellers but you've never heard of them? Google them, what do you find--is it other people talking about them, or is it them talking about themselves? (If you goggle me, you get a lot of me, but a lot of other people talking about me, too, and I'm not particularly big or important. Someone whose only online presence is one they've made themselves, or among one very small group of people, is obviously not that big.) What is their Amazon ranking (yes, not too important, but it's something you can check)? How many reviews do their books have on Amazon, and are those reviews well-wrriten or do they sound like somebody's aunt cobbled something together ("This is an amazing book event! I couldnt put it down it was beautiful. Every one shuld read it. Bob Bobbs is a much better writer than Steven Kings or JK Rawlins. This book take the reader on a magical trip to world you never thought you would ever see." That sort of thing.)

Who are their publishers? What other books do those publishers put out? Check them out the same way we checked out publishers in the Publishing series; are they a vanity press? Quite frankly, unless you are claiming to be an expert in self-publishing, your credentials should be with real presses. A "publishing expert" who has never actually dealt with a major house is no expert. (I did my series on epublishers, yes, but I had/have a lot of experience with those. I wasn't claiming to know a lot about publishing in general, just about epublishing.)

Seriously. Do NOT believe everything you're told, especially not by people who don't know what they're talking about. Authors DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT have to pay back advances if their books don't earn out.

Trust me on that one; or better yet, trust every other published writer in the world along with me.

Thursday I'm going to talk about promotion and marketing myths and lies, because that's another big one I've seen recently.


writtenwyrdd said...

But, D, the rumor is much more exciting than the truth (and logic)! Thanks for sharing the facts on the topic, though. It's always good to have someone who knows explain the urban legends away!

Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely good to expose the myths. I'd already had this one exposed for myself, fortunately.

Devon Ellington said...

Great post.

And, by the way, anyone stupid enough to sign a contract without understanding every word, comma, etc. in it who THINKS maybe such a clause is included -- deserves to be so deluded!

You've got to know what you're signing; you've got to do your research; you, your agent and/or lawyer have got to NEGOTIATE before you sign.

I have no patience with these people.

Robyn said...

"You'd need a byzantine legal agreement and a huge team of accountants and lawyers in order to figure that one out."


BernardL said...

Very thorough myth busting post. :)

Marian said...

Thank you; that was extremely well-written and informative.

Do you have a link to the post about the author who was a bestseller with three books sold?