Monday, August 15, 2011

The Book Process: Part 2

Part 2: Sealing the deal

If you've gotten an offer from a publisher, what happens next?

Two things. First, you have to come to agreement on the terms of your deal. You might negotiate specific points with the acquisitions editor first -- like the amount of your advance, the percentage you will make on each copy of the book sold, and deadlines for the work. Some items will be pretty flexible while others will be set in stone. Which are which depends on the publisher and the editor.

Some publishers of knitting books are craft-book specialists. They may be corporate relatives of a knitting magazine (think Sixth & Spring, Interweave and XRX). Others are publishers of all kinds of books who include craft books as part of their business (think STC, PotterCraft, Lark and Krause). The extent to which you can negotiate may also depend on how "corporate" or "crafty" a particular publisher is.

Popular Misconceptions about Book Contracts

1. You will get a lot of money.

Not likely. There are a lot of book proposals out there, and a lot of people who consider knitting design to be a sideline to their regular profession (meaning they will accept less because they aren't doing just knitting design for a living). The bigger the knitting name you are, the more influence you have to get a bigger advance (because there will be more competition to sign you, and because you are a surer bet to sell lots of books). A past experience with the publisher that turned out well may also be a point in your favor when it comes to the amount of an advance -- if your last book sold really well, say.

A friend once told me that she was asked by an acquaintance if she was making tons of money on her book. The acquaintance said "So do they give you, like, $150,000 or something?" Hah! You're lucky if you get in the $5000 to $20,000 range, depending on on a lot of different factors, like how big the publisher is, how famous you are, and so on.

2. You get to keep all the money in the advance.

Maybe, maybe not. Different publishers do the deal different ways. Some give you an advance that is all yours to keep, and the publisher also has a separate budget to pay for things like photography, styling, tech editing and other designers who might contribute patterns. Others give you an advance from which YOU are expected to pay various costs -- tech editing, photographer and stylist, contributing designers. You may also have the option of either hiring people like tech editor and photographer yourself and getting a larger advance OR receiving a smaller advance and letting the publisher do the photography and editing (and paying the photographer and editor directly).

No matter what, though, you have to do the math.

Say you get an advance of $8000 (I just made that number up; no, I will not tell you how much my advances have been, nosey-pants.). Suppose you are doing a multicontributor book, and you need to solicit designs from about 18 other designers. If the publisher has a separate budget for designs, and is handling all the photography, getting paid eight grand and keeping it all for your work on the book is not bad. But think how quickly that money gets eaten up if you have to pay all 18 contributors out of it. Suppose you are doing a hat book, and suppose (just to make the numbers easy) that each contributor gets paid $250 for their pattern. That's $4500 of your advance, over half of it, that you have to pay out to others; you are really only getting paid $3500 to write the book and design the patterns you are contributing. That may sound like a lot of money, but there's a lot of work involved in writing a book. Just the number of emails that I deal with on a weekly basis answering questions, researching things, getting information out to my contributors is a substantial amount of work, let alone designing, knitting, writing and editing.

Likewise, if the publishing company agrees to pay you $30,000, you may be jumping for joy. But if you've got to pay a photographer at a thousand dollars a day to shoot the pictures from that money, not to mention models, a stylist and tech editing, that money is going to get eaten up awfully fast.

Update: MMO points out that you also have to pay taxes on this money, as a self-employed person, further eroding the take-home amount.

3. You can negotiate exactly the terms you want in your contract.

Unlikely. There are certain provisions that the publisher won't budge on. They won't change a single word or even eliminate a measly comma that doesn't belong there anyway. Other provisions may be open to negotiation, like amount of advance, and dates for deadlines.

But overall, the publishing company has most of the power in these negotiations by simple virtue of the fact that lots of people want to write books and only a few can get published each year. That means if you are displeased with a provision or term of your deal, and the publisher doesn't agree to change it, you may end up having to decide if it's worth it to suck it up and go forward with the deal, or walk away and not do the book.

4. It's not worth it to hire a lawyer to look at the contract.

That all depends on you. Are you comfortable reading technical material? Do you have a better-than-average understanding of legal terms and concepts? Are you planning on asking for very specific terms? Do you do this for a living or as a lark?

I am fortunate in that I'm a lawyer and my husband is a lawyer. So we are very comfortable going over legal material and interpreting it. (No, we will not review your contract for you for free.) You have to decide for yourself whether the expense of hiring a lawyer is worth the comfort of knowing that you were advised by an expert. Of course, for some folks, hiring a lawyer is prohibitively expensive and in this case, you've got to do your best to understand exactly what you're getting yourself into, perhaps with the help of the library and Google.

After you agree verbally on terms, then the publisher will send you a written contract. Getting the contract signed is the second step of the process. You make sure the terms reflect the deal you agreed to, suggest any changes to the language that are necessary are desirable (the publisher may accept or reject changes, probably rejecting most of them), and sign. At some point after that, depending in part upon how the particular publisher works it and on what deal you struck, you'll get a check for (typically) half your advance. You'll get the second half when all your work is done.


Diana said...

You didn't mention anything about having a literary agent. Is it uncommon to have one represent a craft book? I've written four books, three which were sold without an agent, and I can't imagine doing that again. My agent on the 4th book (cookbook) saved my skin.

Carol said...

I was going to do a separate post on agents.....

Anonymous said...

For Internet references, Cornell University School of Law has a very fine web page with lots of good legal information.

Melissa Morgan-Oakes said...

You forgot about the taxes bit. You know, the part where it's self-employment, so you get to pay your social security contribution and your "employers" contribution too? I love that part.

Barb B. said...

I love the neighbour who thinks that writing a knitting book is going to mean I have a paycheque like "Castle" or maybe Stephen King get. Yup. Sure. I will sell over 1 million copies. Of course.
Or the ... "I could have written that book". or .. "you're just knitting, why is it taking so long to write that book?".
Good article Carol!

Bridget said...

It's good to know how things work, especially in the craft book business. And coming from someone who a) has done it, and b) can discuss it in an understandable way, is really valuable.

Though I am now crushed that the book I plan to write will not make me a millionaire. Or possibly even a thousandaire.