Yes ladies and gentlemen, it’s the thing all young writer wannabes dream of. The sight of the dotted line and those big block capitals, AUTHOR’S SIGNATURE HERE. I’ve handled a fair few contracts over the past four years, but only ever for short stories (and that novella). The full novel contract has always held the dual titles of Objective and Dream, the ultimate destination of the great writing pilgrimage I currently walk. Years of effort, failure and self-doubt, the triumvirate of burdens all authors must carry, and here I finally am. Ironfang has received an offer of publication.
Any writer who gets an email back from a publisher with a “file attached” symbol immediately breaks out in cold sweats. Reading words like “we’d love to work with you on this” just ramps the adrenaline even higher. Things take on a surreal quality. You’ve made it. Someone, finally, after all these years, has snapped up the bait. But beware:
I turned it down. Yup, I turned down Ironfang’s publishing contract.
Friends and family have called me insane. They do not understand the strange world of publication. I can only hope that I do, at least to an extent.
The truth is I shouldn’t have submitted Ironfang to the publisher that I did. They’re a small press, brand new, and sadly unproven. Independent publishers are great – I should know, all my work thus far has been picked up by a variety of indies. But I didn’t feel as though this one’s fledgling marketing platform could offer me anything I couldn’t already bring to the table. On top of that, they’re an ebook-only publisher, and I’m at that crisis stage of my writing career where I really want to see the thing I’ve sunk a year of my time into in chunky, page-turning print.
And they were only offering me 40% of the royalties, with no advance. “Only” I hear you scoff. I should be happy to be getting published by anyone in this day and age, shouldn’t I? But let’s get real, a publisher can only demand the majority of the sales cash if their marketing is responsible for its success. I had no evidence that this would be the case.
“You might never get this opportunity again,” one friend harangued me. And rest assured, that’s exactly the fear that delayed my rejection for two whole weeks. I felt like Cromwell, after he’d been offered Charles I’s crown (please indulge my history student fantasies). The ultimate conclusion I drew was, yes, I may never get a contract for Ironfang, but even if I self-publish later on the royalties (up to 70%) would be healthier for me than if I went with the deal they were offering. I can’t in all conscience blast Ironfang at the first press to pick it up if the deal doesn’t seem favourable. Of course, I shouldn’t have submitted it at all if that was my take, but I wasn’t sure of the contract details at the time.
Have I committed a deadly writing faux-pas? Maybe. I feel bad. I also feel potentially very foolish. Am I the man who threw away Something to gain Nothing? Maybe. Yet at the same time, this whole episode feels like an important progression on that long writerly pilgrimage. I’m no longer the teen who would leap at the offer of an unpaid epublication. I have ambitions now and, dare I say it, standards. You don’t become a professional by flogging your work to every press under the sun, you build up a reputation for success and create a demand for more.
Only time will tell whether this gambit pays off. Feel free to mock me when, in a few decade’s time, I’m still an unpublished wannabe. In the meantime, it’s back to publisher-hunting.