Wednesday, August 30, 2006

WC2006 Panel Notes: The Business of Writing

Speakers: Gay Haldeman (moderator,) Rebecca Moesta, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Eleaner Wood, Kevin J. Anderson.

I'm trying to translate my hasty scrawlings into something literate, so most of these are point form. If I've misunderstood something, hopefully one of my kind readers can clarify it in the comments?

Book contracts
These often contain common "mousetraps." An agent works to help you avoid those traps. The panel discussed the following points:
• Hold on to your rights. This includes audio and translation rights, as well as distribution/printing in other countries (like the UK, for example.)
Royalties—sometimes you can negotiate for more, but not always. Smaller press publishers may not.
• It's always good to sell a license to the publisher instead of selling them the rights, if possible. That means you retain ownership of your work, but they have purchases "permission" to use/print it.
• Consider selling your book, then getting an agent. But don't sign anything—an agent can't help you if you've already entered into a contract.
• Read all your contracts carefully. Have a professional go over them with you.
• The proper response to a publisher's offer is "thank you, I'll have my agent talk to you."
• Out of print rights—try to have the rights of publication returned to you when your book goes out of print. (Then you can try to resell if you want.)
• Be wary of the Print on Demand Clause that is often worked into contracts now. It allows a publisher to let a book go out of print, then retain the rights so they can print more of the book if/when there is a demand.

Treat writing as a business. When you sell your first book, you have just started your own small business. So know how to do your taxes. (Sorry, all of this is American Tax information. I don't have any figures for Canadian or European.)
• Your advance is against your profits. It is a "front." The majority of publishers will not hand over a cheque for your selling amount when you sell the book.
• Advances can be broken up into many payments upon meeting certain goals like:
- Signing the contract
- Submitting a manuscript outline
- Submitting the manuscript
- Release of the hardback
- Release of the paperback
- One year after the release of the paperback
• So it's very important to budget.
• Set aside money for taxes. Put this money in an account that you cannot touch.
• Now for some math:
Let's say you sell a book for $10,000. Your agent takes 15% (or $1500, which is deductible) and 25-30% is paid in taxes ($2500–$3000.) You really only make $5500–6000 for your book.
• You're taxed on the amount you receive in one fiscal year.
• Look into foreigner exemption when the rights to your manuscript sell in other countries.
• Your publisher will give you a 1099 report form. This is necessary for tax purposes.
• You can consider incorporating—applying for a tax ID—but shouldn't do it until you start making a profit.
• Con(ferences) are deductible, so save your receipts.
• If you can show rejection slips, you can possibly prove intent to be published and write things off. Someone said you can do an indefinite show of losses.
• Sales reps decide your advance, based on how much they estimate your manuscript can make the publisher.
• Don't go crazy with your advance. Don't change your lifestyle or start massive spending. Make the money last as long as you can.
• Put money aside.
• Invest in GICs (sorry, not sure if that's what they're called in the States,) stocks, etc.

• Most royalties average 7%–8%. (I was told 10% by a smaller publisher, because they aren't selling by volume. With them you traded a smaller print run for a larger royalty percentage.)
• Simon & Schuster was mentioned as being really awful about paying royalties on time.
• In October and May you get a royalty statement from your publisher.
• These statements cover December–June, and June–December.

Your publisher will want the book to sell itself.
• "You are responsible for your own career."
• Large publishing houses only give the top 5% of their books advertising budgets.
• Advertising is expensive, so you want to work on promotion. Write press releases, try to get interviews and local exposure.
• Do a Drive By Signing. Go into your local bookstore and offer to sign copies of your work. Talk to the owners and managers to arrange signings, contest, etc.
• Turn your books on the shelves so they're "cover out."
• Romance writers were always expected to do their own advertising. So they're great to pick the brains of. Ask a romance writer for promotion advice.
The best promotion you can do: write the next book. Keep going and looking forward. Don't fixate on a single book—remember, you're building a career.

Final Words of Advice
• Have a website/web-presence. Yes, a blog counts!
Look at Rachel Vincent, she's already got many of us foaming at the mouth for Stray, and it doesn't come out until summer 2007.
A small print run and lack of distribution will kill your book.
• Don't let your blog take away from your writing time.


Rachel Vincent said...

There's some great advice in here. I hope everyone's taking notes!

c.rooney said...

Much of it was things I'd heard from either my parents (who run their own business) or marketing class or during the business seminars we were giving in the graphic design program. Still it was helpful to get the refresher course.