Breaking Free of the Contract

At the brink of the digital revolution, many people believed that publishers were going to lose authors and take huge losses in sales, that newspapers were going to become extinct, and that bookstores were going to crumble, leaving only the built-in Starbucks standing amongst the debris. That “cataclysm” never came, however, or at least not quickly enough to wipe traditional publishing from the playing-field. But there were some significant changes.

With the booming digital markets, writers were paying close attention to developments in self-publishing, and they were hungry for the better royalties that were in the independent writer’s favor. Prior to the digital revolution, authors were subject to the contract because traditional publishers held all the keys to the markets. Without assigning the rights of their work to a publisher, authors had little access to a significant audience. That, coupled with advertising and printing costs, drove royalty splits far in the publisher’s favor.

Since then, the contract still exists, but the author has been liberated. Freed from the monopoly of publishers, the digital age has provided renewed power to authors who now have a choice of how they want to work, make money, and get their writing out there. It is a privilege that is not being neglected in the least.

Two authors, who have been popping up a lot in the news lately, perfectly exemplify this point—though at opposite extremes. Barry Eisler, a bestselling thriller novelist, elected to pull a lone-ranger, rejecting a $500,000.00 contract with St. Martin’s Press in hopes of escaping the legacy model.

Under the contract, Eisler would only be making approximately $142,000.00 each year for the duration of the contract. Eisler, however, sees the potential to make more money in the long run. It might seem like Eisler is making an obvious choice, but one must consider that he is in a more comfortable position than most writers, who would probably find a half of a million dollar advance a little hard to refuse.

At the other end, there is Amanda Hocking, who despite her tremendous success self-publishing, opted to sign a 4-book contract with St. Martin’s Press in hopes of having more time to work on her writing so she wouldn’t have to spend time self-promoting.

“I want to be a writer,” she said. “I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation.”

Hocking’s position is admirable and seemingly unconcerned with the business of writing and publishing, but she has worked very hard to get to this point in her booming career. As a 26-year-old millionaire, she, like Eisler, is in a bit of a privileged position to make these course-changing career decisions.

A clear division has emerged in the world of publishing. The contract no longer dictates the terms of a piece of writing. Authors can now maintain all of their rights and artistic liberty, and successfully market their work without the need for a publishing house. The authors and publishers of the digital age must decide where to focus their goals: the victory isn’t in escaping the legacy contract, but in establishing a system where the artist has CHOICE.

What Would You Choose?

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