This post originally appeared June 26, 2011 on Erotica For All.
Over the years, I’ve turned down several short story contracts (some rather lucrative) because they included language acquiring all rights, in all formats, in perpetuity for a flat fee. Frankly, I can’t understand why authors sign these contracts, especially when, as is often the case, the dollar amount is quite low. Apparently, too many authors get so excited about being accepted for publication that they don’t read contract terms carefully. Or they read the terms while making assumptions about how a publisher operates (or used to) and incorrectly interpret the contract language based on those misconceptions.
Unfortunately, more and more lucrative markets with reasonable contracts have disappeared. Just recently I learned that Trojan Publishing in the UK, which has purchased five of my stories for three different imprints will stop producing print magazines.
Then, last month I saw a submission call from an editor who has produced many successful anthologies offering what I consider a reasonable fee. I wrote a story that was, in my opinion, perfect for her collection. While reviewing the submission guidelines to make sure it met them all, I happened on a link to the contract that I’d missed before.
Authors accepted for this anthology would be required to sign away “exclusive right to print, publish, reproduce, distribute and license” their stories “in all languages and in all formats … throughout the world … for the full term of copyright…” A young author who lives fifty years after signing such a contract, has given away the rights to their work for one hundred and twenty years. In addition, that language also could be interpreted to include audio, movie, and television rights, as well as rights for formats not yet invented. (The legality of that last option is questionable, but that doesn’t stop publishers from using it.)
During the last few months, I’ve read numerous blog posts and articles about indie and self publishing. Many of the authors who are choosing to self publish are rebelling against draconian contracts and publishers’ rights grabs. The contract above was the last straw for me.
Since then, I’ve researched options, studied formatting requirements, located art for covers, and rebuilt the short story page on my website. I put my first short story for sale on Smashwords June 1 and followed with additional stories each Wednesday.
I’m starting with works I’ve already had published in print. Most of those stories appeared in magazines and anthologies with limited (compared to the Internet) circulation. And, in order to acquire my story, fans had to purchase a collection of other works they may not have had interest in.
I can offer readers individual stories inexpensively (only 99 cents each) and collections of stories that share a theme for $1.99 to $3.49. When I write a new story, I don’t have to send it out to an editor, wait months (or years) for her to get back to me, risk a rejection, and possibly have to rewrite the story because it was written to specifications that another editor might not appreciate.
Now that I’ve learned the process, I can get a story published in a matter of days. It took almost three weeks to get my first story accepted into the Premium Catalog, which allows distribution to the major retailers including Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, and Apple. But, I had already started selling copies of my third story via Smashwords by the time the first one was accepted. (Update: Smashwords has since increased staff and time from upload to approval has decreased significantly.)
Caveat: I have a background in printing and graphic design. I’ve been involved in the publishing industry for decades and participated in its digital evolution. So, what was easy for me may be more difficult for others. Or, it may be something they don’t enjoy doing.
To anyone considering following my footsteps, I urge caution. If you’re not able to produce your ebook yourself, don’t be quick to sign up with a service that will format your book and design a cover for a percentage of your royalties. That allows you to get your book published without an up-front investment of time or money, but in the long run, it cold cost you dearly.
Let’s say you publish a book for $3.99. If you distribute it through Smashwords, your minimum royalty payment is $1.29 and most retailers pay more. If you sell just two books a day, you’ve earned $940 in a year. If your book is edited and ready to publish, you can get a basic cover produced with stock art and the formatting done for around $100. If you sign away your royalties, the entity that spent a few hours formatting your book and designing your cover will collect between $230 and $470 of that $940. And, they’ll collect that every year for the next seventy to one hundred years.
If you don’t have the skills to design a cover (and you don’t want to try to sell a book with less than a professional design) or the patience to learn how to format it, spend a few bucks now and save yourself hundreds over the decades to come.
Personally, I have fun designing covers and formatting ebooks. Not as much fun as writing, perhaps, but I very much enjoyed the process. (If you’d like assistance with editing, formatting, or cover design of your own book, contact me at http://pussycatpress.com/.)