The bittersweet taste of traditional publishing

book-436507_640One of the many reasons I have been more than usually absent from this blog in recent months is a rather large side project – a non fiction book. Now that we are in the final stages of reviewing the contract with the publisher, I think it may be worth adding my two-bobs worth to the discussion about self publishing vs. traditional publishing.

The new book, which will be about playspaces, came about in the most unlikely of ways. A chance in a million. On a whim, back in the dim dark days at the start of the year, I entered a competition on Goodreads. Remarkably, I won it, and some time later received a lovely hardback edition of a landscape design history book. Finding it hard to maintain the CPD points I need to maintain my qualification with a bub, I inquired of our professional magazine if they would like a review of the book, to which they agreed.

Now comes the remarkable part. I wrote to the publisher, asking for some of the images from the book to accompany the review. They forwarded these, and then came back asking if I would be interested in writing a book on playspaces. It’s a little eerie to know that you’ve been googled.

Joining forces with a friend of mine, we spent the next three or four months nutting out the exact contents of each section – chasing contributors from around the globe, and writing the first chapter. My other books have been much more ‘pantzer’ enterprises – they have been organic, growing during the process of writing. This one is firmly a ‘planner’, which is a real novelty for me. It remains to be seen if it will remain so, or if the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ shoot us into uncharted territory.

After that, it was all bundled off to the publisher, and went into limbo while it was reviewed by them and independent experts. All very rigorous, and very serious. Then suddenly, after a little back and forth, we have been offered a contract. Hardback and paperback, worldwide distribution. Hooray!

But wait…

The contract, as far as we can tell, if quite standard for the industry. It is, as a friend said, “no crapper than anyone else’s”. However, after getting used to the idea of 70% royalties in the self-publishing world, 6% on received royalties seems, frankly, more than a little exploitative. We worked out that on the first run, assuming all copies are sold, we won’t make enough to cover our communication, let alone any of the hard labour in writing the thing.

The other major difference of course is that we will have little or no control over the appearance of the book, where it is sold, or the marketing of the text (which may be a bit of a relief!). My other books – ‘The Artemis Effect’ and ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’, I have complete control over, and it may not be easy to let that go. I chose to self publish them for exactly that reason.

So – nearly a year down the track we are faced with a hard decision. Should we go ahead, on what is basically a pro-bono basis? There is the intellectual challenge, the kudos, and maybe the hope of improving playspaces around the world. One the other is a serious time and mental commitment when I have a small child, work, and have other things I would like to be writing. My co-author is trying to run her own business.

It looks like I may end up writing in every genre after all: Science Fiction and Parenting – done. Speculative Short stories and Poetry – underway. Non-fiction – pending.

I suspect we will go ahead, but I’d be interested to hear about your experiences and thoughts…

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6 thoughts on “The bittersweet taste of traditional publishing

  1. tough in those win/lose negotiations – instead of win/win – is there any chance of leveraging this into another book ? Could a lawyer help, but then there goes even more profit. Maybe you can leverage the book into some paid magazine articles, and use it to generate income from another way.

    Good luck, let us know what you decide.

    • I’m honestly not sure that I’d want to do another book under those conditions! I may be able to use some of the content for magazine articles – I think this is a good idea, although there are contractual sections about limiting that too.

  2. I dunno. I’m not a big fan of Taylor’s Swift’s music, but what did she just say? ” They are my songs and I deserved to get paid.” There are two artists in this house. We work for about 20% of the net from our distributors, which still doesn’t seem to be enough. Working for free, or what you are calling pro bono, not only devalues your work but it hurts everybody else who is trying to grind out a living writing books. I’d say no. Don’t do it.Your publisher is trading you nothing for your work.

  3. The dilemma of writing – I don’t even mind the idea of writing without sufficient payback, but I resent the idea of doing work on which someone else makes a bundle. That’s not acceptable.
    Best wishes to you in your endeavor.

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