Welcome to Writers Talkback. If you are a new user, your account will have to be approved manually to prevent spam. Please bear with us in the meantime

Publishing deals...

Hello everyone, I'm a long-term subscriber to WM but have only lurked here so far... took the plunge and joined today as I have a burning question to ask!

I am an established writer, mainly magazine articles, in quite a niche specialism. I have one book under my belt already, published a couple of years ago: I won't say who the publishers were as I had quite a bad experience with them. I was very keen to bag myself a publishing contract at the time so didn't think too hard about the terms: they didn't pay me an advance at all, so it was a 'royalties-only' deal. You can guess the rest.

Second publishing deal is now under negotiation with a different publisher. It's a much more established one and has a good 'reach'; but the deal this time is one-off fee/advance - but no royalties. 

They tell me 'this is how we always do things'. It's a collaborative publisher - i.e. they work up the synopsis in conjunction with a writer and then work with a larger publisher to actually get it done. They have good connections and it's among the better (as in best-known for producing successful books) publishers, in my field.

This makes me so uncomfortable. I really, really, really want to do the book as it's a subject I've wanted to write about for ages - so it's going to really hurt to turn down this deal. But I don't want to be ripped off again. 

I can't decide what to do. It might be that the book doesn't sell that well, and I'll be better off with the one-off fee. It might be though that it sells lots of copies (to be honest I would have thought this was more likely, not because of me but because of the very of-the-moment subject matter and the companies/organisations which would be connected with the book). 

I am joining the Society of Authors so they can at least look over the contract. It's not usual to have an agent in my field of work but there are one or two - perhaps that might be better?


Thank you :smile:


  • Welcome Sally.  :)

    Definitely get the Society of Authors to look at the contract first.
  • Welcome! My advice would be to take advantage of the Society of Authors' service. Listen to their feedback before you make your decision. 
  • Thank you! I will definitely do that. Has anyone else got any experience of 'non-standard' publishing contracts which don't follow the usual model of advance + % royalties? Is it becoming normal to break away from that model do you think?
  • Take the deal. My experience is that an advance in the hand is better than no royalties later. And another book in print will be great for your professional profile. It'll help you get more books published later.

    And if this book is a great success, you'll have more negotiating power for the next.

    My last novel was published with no advance and has so far not recouped enough royalties to deserve a payout (very small publisher). But it's out there being read and reviewed and I still look like a working author. 

  • Take the SoA advice. Perhaps ask questions like what is the average royalty check for their authors of similar books, or, do the books ever/how often do they pay a royalty? 

    For poetry, you get both advance and no advance models. If you are an author who doesn't sell many books yourself, then an advance is better, then you have the advantage of both an advance and the royalties. If you go with a publisher who only does royalties and you sell lots of books going round schools for instance, then you get your royalties straight away. But the average middle list book does not earn out its advance, even with a huge publisher without you selling lots yourself. My first book had a 1,500 advance, sold out in the first month (as my latest title has)  and it earned royalties after one year and still pays out each time, but really, not a lot. Not a sum worth having, and it is on sale in every bookshop in the country, still there since 2016. 

    My first book only got an advance, or a payment, and I've had no royalties, and that irritates me as I know it is still selling. And it takes away your needed desire to sell it yourself.

    i don't understand Gerald's point above that his book is getting royalties but has not sold enough to get them even without an advance. He should get royalties from the first book sold. The publisher's expenses are not for him to pay.
  • Liz some small publishers only pay out royalties once they reach a certain amount such as £20 to avoid the admin of making lots of tiny payments. They will roll over anything due until it is enough to be worth paying. I assumed that is what Gerard meant.
  • That's it. The minimum payout is £50.

    My advice would always be to take the advance and run. Statistically, most books barely make any royalties worth worrying about - or at least not enough to cover the advance.

    And the way the industry is going, even an advance is getting rarer. These days, I don't expect to make any money from published books. I just hope somebody reads them.
  • GeraldQ said:
    These days, I don't expect to make any money from published books. I just hope somebody reads them.
    Don't you know the stats for your work?
  • i think in this case I do think the advance is probably your best bet. 
  • If it's a topic that might need updating in the future then there may be an opportunity for further updating.

  • Could you try negotiating a clause where you got an additional payment if sales topped a certain amount?
  • Don't you know the stats for your work?

    On one hand, I'm not sure I want to know the stats. I've been surprised by how even large and well known publishers seem unable to sell books.

    It's ten years since my first book was published and these days I see publication as the final step in the process. That's my indicator of success: that I'm still a publishing author on the market.

    Whether anyone actually hears about the book or buys it is another matter. As soon as one book is published, I'm on with the next one. I've learned to understand that enjoying the writing process is pretty much the only reward I can expect.
  • Well, they must be selling well - otherwise you wouldn't get new contracts. I must admit, I do enjoy tracking my sales. 
  • Different publishers. If I get contracts, it's because they think the books are good and may sell. But with bad publicity, that's usually not the case. My last book has been read by more review bloggers (with free copies) than it has by paying readers.
  • That's so sad. 
  • I'm not sad. I wrote a great book. Now I'm writing another. Maybe one day somebody will notice...
  • Thank you everyone for all your thoughts and suggestions! I am hopefully going to get a draft contract today so I will send that off to the Society of Authors and see what they say. You are quite right about sales - you never quite know what's going to happen, so I may be better off just taking the fee and running anyway. It also occurs to me though that I will have little incentive to increase their sales by banging on about it on Twitter/Facebook/Insta, or flogging books at the talks I do, or in any way selling the actual book, which is silly of them as I have really good contacts in my field and am known for writing about the subject matter the book is about. I might raise that with them and see if we can get a bit of an incentive in there....!!

    I'll keep you posted. Good luck Gerald, I think sales are lovely but it's the writing that counts, so you're doing an amazing thing just by completing a book (I've only ever managed that once and I know what a massive task it is, so you have my respect!)
  • Re publicity, a great editor I had at Macmillan once told me the only thing that truly boosts sales is TV coverage. The stats would seem to agree.

    I used to follow my sales via royalty numbers and Amazon rankings and I noticed that nothing made any impact on sales: not highly visible reviews, not appearances at festivals, not radio appearances, It has to be all of those over a prolonged period. And TV.
  • That must be soul-destroying. 
  •  I will have little incentive to increase their sales 
    Except for ALCS, plr, professional pride, and to raise your profile generally. If the book does well then this publisher, or another, will be more likely to offer you another contract.
  • I hope you're going to return with an update on this, Sally.
  • Yes don't worry, I will - at the moment the contract has been held up by the Frankfurt Book Fair so I am waiting to hear what they're planning to offer me. On the plus side, the SoA have accepted my application for membership, so I'm poised to comb through the fine print in forensic detail! I will return to let you know what happens... Thank you all for your interest and support x
  • Oh, I'm so pleased you haven't forgotten us and look forward to hearing more about your publishing journey. :)
  • That's great news. 
Sign In or Register to comment.