Friday, 13 January 2012

Why Should Writers Be Grateful?

An offer is made - the writer should feel grateful. That seems to be the overwhelming feeling, whether it's an offer of representation from an agent, or a deal from a publisher, or for an appearance at a literary festival. You should feel grateful, and let's face it - usually we are.

But gratitude doesn't pay the rent. In all of the above situations, what the writer is being offered is a business deal. The person making the offer isn't doing it out of the goodness of their hearts but because they think they're going to make money from you. Perhaps we might start being a little less grateful...

Take literary festivals. The organisers are paid. The brochure printer and website designer gets paid. The venues get paid. But there's often no mention of payment for the author, or it's a nominal amount. And you'd have to sell 1000s of books to get back in royalties the cost of a lost day's work.

The agent and publisher - yes, they're taking a gamble, but they're doing it for business reasons. Lovely that they think you've got potential to make money for them, but unthinking gratitude? Why shouldn't you question the terms and conditions?

I was talking to a friend about garages and cars (I've had car problems recently). He said he wasn't interested in either, he just wanted his car to go. At his last visit the garage asked him to rate the service he'd been given. As he didn't tick "exceptional" he was phoned up to ask why. He said they had done the job they'd been asked to. That wasn't exceptional, that should be normal.

It's a bit the same for writers. You've done a good job and you're getting the appropriate response for it. You shouldn't feel grateful, but normal.


Philip C James said...

"you'd have to sell thousands of books" to see a return on investment of your time against the opportunity cost of lost writing time is true so you'd want to see your appearance properly promoted in local, national and specialist media so your name is on the mind of those buying books in future. So it's best to have something to say when you appear. "AUTHOR SIGNS BOOK" isn't likely to appear as a headline but "AUTHOR ATTACKS LIBRARY CLOSURES" might.

It comes down to an earlier post. Think about what you need or want in business terms for yourself and ask for it in the contract. You can ask for anything not actually illegal in statute law; it's up to the other party to accept, reject or negotiate.

Having said that, I'd just be grateful for a day out of the garret!

Victoria said...

The question about what you can reasonably ask for in a contract is interesting. I suspect that many new writers, unless they're unusually hard-boiled, go in dread of being seen as un-cooperative.

docstar said...

I think a moment of gratitude followed by "Okay, let's get down to business - this is my money we're now discussing" works fine.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Gratitude should not be misplaced - I agree with you. They are not doing the deal out of the goodness of their hearts, are they? Writers have voices and they shoud use them.

Sarah Duncan said...

I think docstar puts their finger on it - a moment of gratitude followed by getting down to business. But I agree that it's hard; no one wants to be seen as being unhelpful or unco-operative.