Are Minimum Author Contracts As Bad As They Seem?

Was reading through J.A. Konrath’s blog today (always good to inspire discussion and thought), as is usually the case, something was mentioned that inspired a “hmmm.” It isn’t anything new, in fact the subject has been mentioned many times before, regarding how many authors are bailing on poor to mediocre publishing contracts to go to self-publishing. Many more will do so in the future, with good reason I might add. Certain authors, in certain positions, find self-publishing a far more viable alternative to legacy publishing. This is a niche group of people in the world of writers. It takes certain things to fall into place for self-publishing to be effective. This is a good thing, mind you, and more power to them and their future success. What bothers me about it, is that they are used as the example for why everyone should self-publish (minus those are are already best-selling authors). Keep in mind here, that I’m speaking of fiction. Other types of books do not particularly lend themselves to self-publishing at this point in time in the industry. So, the question keeps coming up, “Why try for a legacy publisher when you will only get crap terms, and likely make little to no money?” You should just self-publish from the get go.

The fact is, most writers who self-publish will experience the same result, albeit in a much shorter time frame. Regardless of success or failure, self-publishing will always be a faster avenue to getting published and experiencing the results, whatever they might be. But, they say, “I can get my work out there quicker for people to see, and if it does well, I might actually get picked up by a big publisher anyway.” This saves me the wait/hassle of dealing with the enormous amount of time big publishers take to do things. This is the “farm team” concept of writing. I’m not saying it’s wrong or bad, but it is prevalent. This is the idea that you can work away for little or no money and with time/effort/patience, demonstrate your value to those who will be willing to pay you for your work. There are examples of this. A number of writers have built themselves to the point in self-publishing that a big publisher has taken interest in them. This is a good thing too. It’s yet another possible avenue for us writers to work with. Again, realize that the chances for success are very small. Part of the problem is that the big leagues just don’t have room for everyone who is good. They can’t afford it. They have to pick and choose. So, some are drawn from the ranks of the self-published, others are chosen from the slushpile, while others hook up with an agent to farm their value to the big boys.

The thing is, publishers have their own farm team. You can think of it like any draft in professional sports. Some prospects hold great appeal, their talent is obvious from the start, and they get chosen in those first rounds. They’ll invest in these people. They believe they have the highest potential. The further you go down in the rounds, the more chancy they believe the potential for success is. They get the contract minimum. They get a chance to prove themselves, but the odds are stacked against them. The publisher knows this, but they see something and are will to take a minimal risk on seeing it pan out. I was one of these low round picks. I didn’t get a lot of money, the investment was low on their part, and things didn’t work out as well as hoped for so they let me go. So, now I’m trying to see if another team will pick me up. Likely it’ll be for that player minimum type of contract. That’s the way the ballgame is played. You need perseverance and some luck. You get some benefits for playing with the farm team of the big leagues. You get editing, cover art, formatting, copy-editing, and the opportunity to work with professionals at little cost to yourself. You can decide to forgo the farm system and try it on your own. This costs if you want to give yourself a legit shot at the big leagues or find success on your own (see my previous post).

To say that the low end contracts are bullshit for writers (and yes, they are not great terms) and not worth one’s time, is a bit of a misnomer I believe. Outside of the niche authors in a good situation to say no, writers are really just forgoing one remote chance at success for another. So, while I can say I don’t like the “rookie” minimum contracts. It does get you in the game and give you a shot, which honestly, I don’t think is any worse than the shot one has trying it on one’s one, as far as chances for success are concerned. You’re trading control and potential income for needed services you don’t have to invest in on your own. Again, it comes down to what you are willing and able to do. How do the pros and cons fall for your particular situation as a writer? Just don’t turn your nose up at the minimum contract. You have to prove your worth and earn your spot in the starting lineup. It’s a system that allows for as many potentials to be brought on to the team as possible, and you are battling against all of those other low round picks to show your value to the team. If you prove success and still get the crap terms, well, then you have options open to you you didn’t have before.


4 responses to “Are Minimum Author Contracts As Bad As They Seem?

  1. Great analogy. It’s much easier to understand publishing put in these terms.
    Always a lot to ponder and factor in. I can see that becoming a successful author is difficult, no matter what path you choose.
    The great thing about having a small chance of success is that whatever you do, you don’t have a lot to lose.

  2. This is SUCH a good post! I’m pointing people here. An excellent, balanced view – and something I couldn’t put into words, but kind of had a sense of. Thanks!

    Hope you’re well, Jim. I was thinking about you the other day.

    • Hi, Aimee! Thanks, and things are puttering along. Working on a couple of projects, proposal in agent’s hands and crossing fingers. Hope things are going well for you too!