About that Alibi contract, or, A horribly long post about publishing

I debated whether this topic would be worthwhile, and in the end, I’ve decided to go with it.

There’s been a bit of an uproar in the online writing community regarding the contracts offered by Random House’s digital first imprints, namely Hydra and Alibi. This post by author John Scalzi made the rounds of my local RWA loop, and while there have been significant changes made to the contracts since this whole crapfest started, Scalzi takes the time to pick the contract apart and state what, exactly, is wrong with it. Buried in the rant is some very useful information, particularly to someone who has never had the privilege of reading a book contract. So steel yourself and dive into Scalzi’s post.

What Scalzi took issue with from the start was the no-advance stipulation. In other words, royalty only. Ilona Andrews (half of the writing team made up of Ilona and Gordon Andrews) pointed out in a tweet that for a publisher that offers advances to not offer advances for some of its imprints is a very bad sign. And to an extent, I’d agree with her.

But what it leaves out is that the no-advance model is exactly what other publishers that those imprints are trying to emulate are offering.

(That is a horribly constructed sentence and belies my writing prowess. But whatever. I don’t have the patience to try and fix it.)

In a later blog post, he pointed readers toward agent Evan Gregory’s post on why the royalty-only model works, and, like Scalzi’s own post dissecting the original Alibi contract, is worth reading for anyone thinking of going digital first (y’know, people like, oh, me?).

The Alibi post drew a few comments from my chapter mates. A large number of them are digital only authors. One member echoes my own thoughts on the matter: she’d rather get paid after she’s produced the material, therefore actually earning the money. I have a feeling for some authors, especially newer ones, the advance may be the only money you’ll see, as the royalties are mere pennies.

At this point in my pursuit of publication, I’ve pretty much decided, at least for my first titles, I’d rather go digital first. The idea of making actual money off this whole writing gig is a pretty appealing one, and yes, I’m not naive enough to believe it’ll be a huge pile of it. But. If you were given a choice between having a quality product put out on the market at least a year earlier, possibly more, than a comparable one product being introduced up to two or three years later, and the earlier product earns you enough money to buy a new pair of shoes whereas the later one only earns you a frickin’ latte, well, which one would you choose?

Let me break it down (and keep in mind, my understanding of how this works could be wrong, and if it is, please correct me). With a digital first publisher, many will allow you to bypass the need for an agent all together, which saves you some time. The response time for queries is, on average, 8-12 weeks, sometimes longer depending on the publisher. Say you get yourself a yes. Or a YES YES OMG THIS IS FANTASTIC AND I MUST HAVE THIS NOW (because really, as writers, that’s what we’re hoping for. The all-caps declaration of love.) Your lovely book could come out any time between the next few months to the next year. Promote, promote, promote, lie, beg, steal, and your royalty checks start rolling in monthly or quarterly. Total time between querying and publication? Anywhere from a few months to a year, possibly a little longer, depending on the space available in a particular imprint’s catalog.

Your other option (and I’m not going to go into self-publishing; I know very little about it and am therefore supremely unqualified to say anything on the topic) is the traditional publishing route. In this day and age, that means you get an agent. So. In a best case scenario, you query your dream agent, she says I love your query send me the full, you do, and then you wait. This takes weeks. Many weeks. She finally calls, all those many many weeks later, to offer representation. Yay, exciting, champagne and confetti and cupcakes all around. Then, you, the writer, get your butt in the chair and start working on your next book. And the one after that. And possibly the one after that. Because you know what your agent is doing? The same thing you did to land an agent: querying editors. This takes months. Then, assuming all goes well and the book is sold, well…it’ll likely be another two years before that book hits the shelves. Again, promote, promote, promote, lie, beg, steal.

What, you expected them to give you a marketing budget? Pfft.

Count it up. That’s probably…almost three years from when you first queried Dream Agent to walking into your local Barnes and Noble and seeing your baby on the shelf. And, mind you, that’s a best case scenario. For many, it takes longer.

While I’m over here, chortling, because in that time I may have managed to publish another book. Possibly two. And bought myself several new pairs of shoes.

I’m not saying there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. In fact, for many authors, you may have no choice but to go the agent route because of what you write. There are a number of fabulous agents out there who bust their asses for their authors, and that’s the kind of agent you want.

But don’t rule out a small press or digital first publisher. Big things are happening with them. Hell, two RITA winners from last year were published by Carina Press, a digital-first publisher. Entangled regularly has their books pop up on both the USA Today and New York Times best seller list. We’re starting to see publishers for other genres outside of romance (Thomas and Mercer, the crime fiction imprint of Amazon Publishing, just landed a new acquiring editor, Alison Janssen, formerly of Tyrus Books. Samhain, long known for its romance publications, now has a horror line.) The world of publishing is changing, and it’s time to get on board. Because if you’re not willing to be flexible, you’ll be left out in the cold.

Want a chance to pitch to a digital first publisher? Carina Press will be hosting a Twitter pitch session on Thursday, April 4th. Use the hashtag #carinapitch, and be sure to check the Carina submissions guidelines for more information on what they’re acquiring (not just romance!) and the blog on how to pitch. Information will be posted closer to the date.

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