Giving Up Rights

I have been seeing a lot of misconceptions about contracts in the writing community lately, and I thought I might take a stab at pulling back the veil. One of the things I keep seeing is writers upset that contracts favor the publishing company and not the author. While the publishing company shouldn’t be predatory, the contract should favor the publisher. Before you close this blog in a fit of rage, let me explain why.

Writers are protective of their work, and that’s understandable, commendable, and a good thing. However, when you approach a traditional publisher you need to realize a few things. The first is that when you are traditionally publishing you must understand that you will be giving up some things. This is a reality – a contract must involve both sides giving something up and gaining something, and that is something many writers appear to forget. You give up certain rights to the work in exchange for the support of a traditional publisher. Assuming you are working with a good publisher you are going to be gaining more than you are losing.

Also it seems to be a trend that writers think that publishers should be a service to authors. That’s not how the business works. A publisher is in business to make money and benefit themselves. That’s the crux of the matter – they aren’t in it for you. While they may be altruistic and work to the good of the author they are looking to pay their people, make a profit, and continue working. That means they are going to write contracts to their advantage. That, however, is also because in this deal they are assuming the most financial risk.

Despite the fact that writing the book is an integral part of the process, the writer does not need to pay the overhead involved in publishing it. That’s squarely on the shoulders of the publisher. They pay for editing, typesetting, marketing, distribution, printing, ISBN numbers, cover art, and a hundred other things besides. They are investing a lot of money into this book, and they would like a return on their investment. They don’t want to break even, they want to make a profit. Does that sound mean? In some ways, but if they have half a dozen employees involved in the project they need to pay them, they need to pay the author their royalty, they need to pay for their location, their website, and all the other pieces of doing business. Unlike the author, they have overhead to cover that isn’t even directly related to the book. If they are big enough they have to pay for employee health insurance, retirement packages, taxes, and all sorts of other fees that writers never encounter.

Many writers hate the idea of giving up rights to their book. They argue that publishers don’t deserve subsidiary rights, that they shouldn’t get a penny more than they “deserve”. Unfortunately those people don’t take into account that the publisher, if they are doing their job right, is going to be both the launch pad for their book as well as their partner. The work of writing may be on the author, but the publisher is at least a 50% partner, if not more, in the actual work of publishing.

I don’t mean to make this sound like authors shouldn’t be cautious about giving away their rights. You should, and you should really consider everything you are giving up. But you can’t expect the publisher to foot the bill for everything and then eat scraps from the table of the sales. That’s not really how things work  nor would it be fair.

Assuming your book does amazingly in sales and you skyrocket up to fame don’t they deserve a part of that? If you get a movie deal or people want to translate it internationally, your publisher has been an intimate part of that experience and is the reason you have gotten where you are. Without that help you would either have had to learn how to do all of that yourself or paid others to do it. If you have approached a traditional publisher I assume that’s not what you wanted to do, so you have already made that decision. In that case, doesn’t the person, or group of people, who worked so hard to get you where you are deserve some form of remuneration? I would say it’s only fair.

Of course, all of this is assuming you have a reputable and legitimate publisher who isn’t taking you for all you’re worth and treating you like nonsense. I can’t account for that.

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