As any of you who have read my recent blog posts know, I finished my first novel a few months ago, and, a few weeks ago, my agent submitted it to a fairly heady list of some of the biggest editors in the business. And guess what? I got a deal! A good deal, from one of the Big Five (which until recently was the Big Six, until Penguin and RandomHouse merged to form an entity that comprises a whopping 25% of the book market) within weeks of submitting the manuscript.
But I’m not taking it.
Why not? The short answer is, the deal wasn't good enough. My agent (and I) had hoped I would get an offer I couldn't refuse -- the kind of offer that lets you know a publisher is going to put your book at the top of its list and put the considerable weight of its infrastructure, budget and expertise behind you. But those offers are extremely rare, and, unsurprisingly, I didn’t get one like that. I got one a lot like the offer I got on my first book, which I accepted gratefully nearly ten years ago: from a major house, with a good advance and a well-respected editor attached. But then, as now, the message was not, “We will do anything to have this book!” It was more like, “We like this enough to publish it and see what happens. (And you'd better have a good platform.)”
It was the kind of deal I'd told myself I wouldn't accept, and yet...I still considered taking it. Even as the founder of an independent press, with an attractive publishing option of my own, it was enormously hard to shake the conventional wisdom that says it is always better to publish your book with a Big Five publisher, no matter what the advance is, or whether you think they will make your book a priority, than it is to publish with an indie, or (quelle horreur), to invest in publishing it yourself. First try to get a traditional book deal, the thinking goes, and if you can't, then move on to explore other options.
In the end, I was able to think clearly, and arrive at the right decision for me. For many writers, going with the deal I was offered would absolutely be the right decision. There are many factors to consider, perhaps most importantly whether you can afford to wait on book sales and forgo an advance. It isn't a simple matter of super-big-deal or CreateSpace-here-I-come. (That would be really silly.) I am here to argue, however, that it is high time to break free of viewing the traditional book deal with a big publishing house as the primary goal, neglecting to consider other publishing options until that avenue has been exhausted. These options should instead be considered side-by-side. Because in light of the opportunities new technologies present, unexamined acceptance of the average midlist book deal is shortsighted at best. At worst, it can be damaging to an author's career.
I'm currently at work on a piece explaining why I am one hundred percent convinced this is true. At the heart of it lies the critical question authors should ask of any book deal: what am I getting in exchange for what I'm giving up? Please stay tuned! And in the meantime, a big shout out to my fellow authors at SWP. I am so proud and excited to be officially joining your ranks. (My novel will pub in fall of 2014.) We are on the cutting edge together, and, despite my recent detour--or perhaps even more enthusiastically because of it--there is nowhere I'd rather be.
(Any questions about whether SWP is on the cutting edge might be answered here: check out this press release about our recent distribution deal with Ingram Publisher Services!)