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Copyright 2000 Tara K. Harper.  All rights reserved.

TARA K. HARPER
WRITER'S WORKSHOP
Advice About the Industry

Expectations vs. Reality
Money, or, A Reality Check
Promises


Expectations vs. Reality

The writing/entertainment business is not like any other.  To me, coming out of a high-tech background, the publishing business seems to be made up of egos, potentials, possibilities, and implications more than anything solid or practical.  Over and over, I've heard horror stories in which the writer's expectations versus the publisher's actual commitment created serious problems between them.

My advice is:  Don't believe anything.  Don't believe anyone.  Be very careful to distinguish between what is a potential, a possibility, a "promise," and what has actually been put in your contract.  If you can distinguish between reality and potential, you will not be so inclined to set up situations in which you expect what has not actually been promised.
Things that are real: contracts, critiques, cover flats, first editions, second editions, royalties.
Things that are not real: promises, advances, promises ...
Things that you should make sure are real: your relationship with your editor, and your relationship with your agent.

This is the key:  Separate reality from potential, and you will find out what you really have in hand and will begin to understand what you can work with.

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Money, or A Reality Check

In my opinion, money from royalties is real; money from an advance is not real--at least, not until I have turned in the manuscript and it has been accepted.  In fact, the bottom line to me is that the money isn't truly real or "earned" until my book is out of the warehouse and onto the retail shelf.  Later, when the book has begun earning royalties (on books which are not being returned), I feel that I am on a more even financial keel with my publisher.

[ Just an aside: I make the point about returns because, even if the money you're seeing is for royalties, returns can put you back in debt to the publisher.  You don't have to repay such a debt, but the negative balance will be deducted from your next royalty check. ]

On the other hand, to the publisher, advances are incremental payments for certain types of "work:"  1) signing the contract,  2) turning in a manuscript which has been accepted by the publisher as final,  3) having your book released for sales, etc.  As long as you have lived up to your end of the publishing bargain through these stages, the advance for each stage is "earned" money.

If the publisher reneges on some aspect of the contract, you don't owe the advance back to the publisher.  If, however, you don't turn in your manuscript, you don't make the requested changes to suit the publisher's market, or you renege in some other way, you have not lived up to your own end of the bargain.  In that case, the publisher is certainly justified in requesting a return of the advance they have invested in you.

I take the attitude of the advance as a loan mainly because of my work ethic.  I advise others to be cautious about assuming the money is 100 percent theirs because of the many horror stories I've heard about this industry.  Some of the stories I've heard are probably urban legends (I couldn't verify the sources), but some were very real situations.

The bottom line in the industry is that things happen and markets change.  It's important to be aware of exactly what your commitments are and to understand how much leeway there is in your contract for each party involved.  If you really want to know whether or not you own the advance at any given stage, have a lawyer who specializes in publishing contracts look over your agreement.

Refer also to the Writer's Workshop, for articles on making a living at writing.

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Promises

There are no promises in publishing -- not of promotion, not of sales, not of anything.  You cannot guarantee to the publisher that your fantasy will sell; so there is no guarantee to you of wealth, fame, and fans.  If your story sells well when thrown out into the sea of titles, it is likely your next work will receive more promotion.  You don't need a promise to get more promotion for your next book; you just need another good (or better) book. Success is rarely an overnight proposition, especially when you have to build readership and name-recognition.

It is easy to get caught up in the hype of the publishing business.  However excited you might be at getting published, it is terribly important to listen carefully to what people say.  Just because someone says that you might get a lead-title slot, doesn't mean that you do get that slot.  The key word was "might."

Other key phrases:  "We really want to back you on this one,"  "We really believe this book will sell,"  "We're trying to promote you a lot more with this book."  Implications are not promises.  Also, verbal statements are not agreements, no matter what the lawyers say.

The good news is that if your editor really believes in you, a statement such as, "We really want to back you on this one," can mean that your book really does get more promotion.  This could include being touted at conferences and conventions by the publisher.  It could mean that the editor's presentation of your book to the sales force really will get them excited about selling the story.  It could result in your book being prominently displayed in bookstores when the novel is released for sale.

Until your book has been selling for a while, the popularity of your work is still a potential, not a reality to the publisher.  Don't expect them to make promises to you when you are still only a possibility to them.  Of course, after you have a few best-sellers and awards under your belt, things might be different...


Copyright 2000 Tara K. Harper

All rights reserved.  It is illegal to reproduce or transmit in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, any part of this copyrighted file without permission in writing from Tara K. Harper.  Permission to download this file for personal use only is hereby granted by Tara K. Harper.


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