I have a friend. He is a writer and takes his writing fairly seriously. He sends out work occasionally. Has a few published books with reputable publishers.
But he has a problematic attitude toward the publishing business. The problem is he does not care about it. His main focus is his writing, as it should be if you are a writer. The problem comes, though, when you now jump the line and submit your work to publishers. Publishers are business people, business people who love good writing, which is nice, but they are primarily business people.
The thing with my friend is he forgets that. He steps into that relationship all starry-eyed and thankful. “Look at these lovely people who want to publish my book! Aren’t they wonderful and oh so kind?” They might be wonderful and kind but that is not a priority. Again, I cannot stress this enough: they are business people in a business where they want to sell books and make a profit, the biggest profit that they can. That is not evil. That is not cheating. That is business.
But my friend is still walking around with his eyes blinded by those troublesome stars so he is not seeing things clearly. He gets a very long contract with lots of legal writing and it only makes him tired. He checks the royalty rate, checks his name is spelled properly and then he signs it. These folks like him; they will never put anything in that tiny writing that might harm him, that might create conditions better for them and less so for him. They are kind remember? Wonderful and all that.
Then some years pass. He is forgotten a bit about the book. He is onto other things. Does not someone owe him money? He wonders when they will show him a statement about how many books they have sold. But he does not phone them or trouble them with emails. He waits because they will sort him out when they are ready. They are kind, akere??
I like my friend and he is a good writer. But he pisses me off to no end. He makes nearly everything in the business side of my life more difficult. All writers like him do. It is okay to be a writer who does not want or need to earn money from their
By its very nature a contract is always a place of battles. It is a give and take, back and forth until a compromise is reached. As a professional writer who earns all of her income from my writing, I must be well-versed in contracts if I am to survive. I approach them on the first offer as a statement of what is best for the publisher. I reply with what is best for me. And that is how we begin our negotiations.
Once the contract is signed, we are both legally bound to it. I have integrity, so if I have signed a contract, I will abide by it, and I accept nothing less from the publisher who has signed the contract too. That is what it means to be a professional in the business sphere.
But my friend is the sort of writer, and sadly the publishing industry is swamped with his type, who holds no one to account, even himself. If the publisher sends no royalty statement each period, that is fine. If royalties are a month late, a year late—no problem! If the publisher makes all-reaching demands on the contract such as world rights when they can barely sell in Botswana or first refusal of the writer’s next work or the cost of illustrations coming out of the writer’s royalties— that is fine for my friend. In any case, he does not even know about it because he did not read the contract.
This attitude makes it difficult for people like me. Despite the rumours, I am not a diva. When it comes to business, I act professionally, and I expect the people I do business with to do the same. I have an obligation to the work that I have done, to my book, and to other writers, to insist on integrity and professionalism from publishers. If I do not do that, as my friend does, I make it more difficult for the writers who come behind me and that is not fair.
I wish my friend would change; it would make my life much easier.