Author Gets Bad Book Deal
And here's what we're going to do about it.
I wanted to briefly talk today about one thing: rejecting a bad publishing offer.
When you are a first-time author (and even sometimes when you're not), the prospect of trying to find a publisher/agent can be incredibly daunting. That shift—from writing (an internal focus) to "marketing" (an external focus) is something we've talked about before—and it's a shift that doesn't necessarily come naturally to writers.
Someone can be a good writer or a good marketer, but it's rare that they be both.
So, when authors do make that shift—do put themselves on the line—and begin promoting their work (even if that promotion is just writing a query letter and sending that out there)—it can take a lot of courage, a certain amount of will, and a fair amount of resilience too. (We know this because helping authors with queries and agent/publisher research is something we here at Toho Publishing do!)
The result of getting over this initial fear is that authors are often thrilled with their first offers. Yet there are countless stories of, well, this: an author is super afraid to put their work out there, an author becomes jubilant when a deal comes faster than expected, that author accepts it prematurely so they don't have to keep querying, and then that same author regrets the deal a year down the line when they realize just how bad a deal they got. And that's just what we at Toho Publishing want to avoid.
I won't give the name of the publishing company (because there is a .1% chance that I'm wrong about my analysis), but yesterday, we had an author receive an offer from a publisher. The author was ecstatic, and rightfully so. And don't get me wrong: I was excited too; however, I was a bit more reserved because, frankly, the offer came to soon and the offer letter itself was short and generic. Here's what it said:
... congratulations! We are interested in publishing your novel. As you are aware, your contribution to promoting the book and holding book signings will be critical for its success.We have attached a contract for your signature. We need the contract back signed within two-week time, so we can slate it for publication.
Note a few things:
there are a few typos (no space after period, "two-week time", ambiguous pronoun, etc.)
the email doesn't even mention the name of the book OR the author's name
the email's generic, clearly a form letter
there's no talk of why they want to publish the book
the publisher doesn't even want to schedule a phone call!
So, as soon as I read the letter, I was hesitant. Of course, any publication deal (even a bogus one) is exciting—the life of the author is filled with so much rejection that we have to celebrate even the smallest of wins—but I consider it my job here at Toho Publishing to help and protect other authors, so we started researching the publisher. What we found was disheartening:
The webpage looks incredibly old (like it had been made twenty years ago) and has typos, well, everywhere.
There's no mention of who's on the team except for the founder. And even that person's name is a bit difficult to find.
They have published LOTS of books. You'd think this was good. But the next question is: are they marketing those books? Answer: NO.
They have very few news articles/blog posts/etc.
Continuing the search online, we found:
Very few reviews of them—anywhere.
They had only three reviews on Facebook, and one of the reviews was a one-star. (We're still waiting to hear back from the author who left that review.)
Frankly, the covers of their books look bad.
Their Amazon sales, at least at this moment, are horrible (most of their books are ranking worse than 1,000,000). (Yes, you read that number right.)
No social media presence.
In a nutshell, they are a 30-40-year-old company that's published tons of books and yet the publisher is difficult to find online. What this told us is that this publisher has a "book machine". They take on a book a month (over 12 books a year), offer no advance, and then require the author to sell x number of copies. The publisher seems to do zero to promote the book. In short (and especially after seeing the contract), it's clear that the offer is a bum deal.
This is difficult news for any author. We all want to have our work received with the care and attention we know it deserves. But there are predators out there (Call me Amazon), and there are people out there who've figured out a way to make boatloads of money (in the long run) without doing that much work. But if all the stories we've heard about authors getting horrible deals teach us anything, it's this:
Enjoy the excitement of the offer. Go out for dinner. Celebrate. Drink too much. But then, the next day, return to the offer with a cool (hungover) head and ask yourself: objectively, is this a good deal? And if you can't be objective, ask a friend, another author, a lawyer, us, ask someone who knows. And if that deal turns out to be a bad one, cry if you need to, go for a walk, and then pick your chin up, there's work to be done ...
Oh, but the GREAT news about all of this is the following:
The work we now have to do is use that offer (even though it's a bad one) as leverage for other publishers and agents. Here's the line I'm having our author send the agents she's already queried:
Dear [INSERT AGENT NAME],
I am excited to inform you that my novel, ******, for which I queried you recently, was just offered a publication deal.
However, I want to make sure that the book receives the love and care that it deserves and that I do not jump into an agreement too quickly.
Will you please let me know if you are considering ***** for representation? Thank you so much! I await your response,
And now, we're mentioning the publication offer in every new query we send out. See? As they say, every cloud has its lining.
Btw, if you have your own publishing horror story, feel free to share it below. Thanks!
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