Unto the Breach

by wjw on February 7, 2017


So I’m pleased to announce that I have signed the contract for three more Praxis books.

Now I announced the offer in September of 2015, but it took until now to negotiate the contract.

What with publishers becoming more monolithic— only five left standing, after all— and feeling threatened by Amazon and new technologies, they’ve reacted by trying to get a bigger slice out of everyone else’s pie, particularly the authors.  Their contracts have grown more, well, oppressive.  Particularly as regards the reversion clause, which is the procedure by which authors regain control of their own work.

Reversion clauses used to be simple: if a book fell out of print, the author could ask for the book to be returned to print, or the rights returned to the author.  But now, as a result of new technologies, books never have to fall out of print.

For instance, there’s print-on-demand.  Instead of doing a big print run, a publisher could theoretically run off one or two copies, put them in a warehouse, and claim that the book is in print and available.  I know of one author who deliberately bought up every copy remaining in the publisher’s inventory so that she could invoke the reversion clause, only to have the publisher print a few new ones and refuse to return her rights.

Also, ebooks are forever.  A publisher could claim that the ebook sitting in Amazon’s inventory is “in print,” and refuse to return rights.

So the reversion clause has to be negotiated very carefully, so that ebooks and print-on-demand are excluded.  Assuming, of course, publishers are willing to negotiate at all.

Now as it happens most of my income these days comes from the rights of books I’ve reverted and made available as ebooks, so I’m particularly concerned with the wording of my reversion clauses.  And I can afford to negotiate those clauses over time, because my ebook money also falls under the category of fuck-you money, and I don’t have to sign any contract that I don’t like.  (In fact I turned down an offer a couple years ago.)

But I’m lucky.  First-time authors with no track record won’t have the leverage to negotiate favorable clauses, and so their work may sit in warehouses for decades, and their ebooks may earn a few pennies from one year to the next; whereas if they were actually relaunched by someone who cared (like the author), they could actually become a decent source of income.

(Which is why it’s really dumb for publishers to try to hang onto those pennies, and to maintain a whole infrastructure and bureaucracy dedicated to retaining those pennies, because even with a big backlist those pennies aren’t going to pay for it all.)

And so (I hear you ask) why seek publication by the Big Five after all?  Because (1) they offered me money, and (2) I don’t want to put all my career eggs into a single basket.   Ebook sales are volatile, many sales are generated by gimmicks that quickly grow obsolete, and I’m in competition with a couple million self-published authors who can’t write their way out of a paper bag, but who get just as much shelf space as I do.  If you’re published by a traditional publisher, it demonstrates that someone cared enough for your work to pay more than taxi-fare money for it.

And if the books fail, I’ll get them back, and then I’ll market them myself.  Win/win.

So I’d like to thank my agents Joshua Bilmes and Eddie Schneider for hanging on through sixteen months of negotiation.  Great work, guys.

And when will the first book appear, you ask?  In anticipation of a successful contract outcome, I’ve actually been working on The Accidental War for some time now, and it should be seeing print late in 2018.  Or so I guess.

As they say in the New YorkerOnward and upward with the arts!

IronOre February 7, 2017 at 11:27 am

Wonderful news. My introduction to your writing was finding the Praxis novels at Borders. I look forward to reading more of them. I have to ask though, how DO you write your way out of a paper bag? Does the ink make it easier to rip open?

Susan Beaty February 7, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Oh, this is the best news I’ve had in a while. The Praxis books may have been the first things of yours I read, unless it was Days of Atonement or The Rift. It’s been so long I don’t remember (or it might have something to do with reading 200+ books a year). I am very much looking forward to the continuation of the Praxis series, and will put a re-read of the first three books on my to-do list in 2018.

Jim Strickland February 7, 2017 at 3:52 pm

Congratulations! It m;201Z5466360395019160ay be the twilight of the big publisher, but dang… it’s still great to get a contract from one, let alone a contract for 3 books. Awesome!


Jim Strickland February 7, 2017 at 3:52 pm

I have no idea what it inserted between the m and ay in “may”

William England February 7, 2017 at 8:15 pm

Well congratulations! Looking forward to reading them.

Anonymous February 8, 2017 at 2:43 pm

The only better news would be a sequel to city on fire , looking forward to the books coming out

Clyde February 12, 2017 at 2:49 am

Cool! Looking forward to the new books. Will we see more of Lady Sula and Lord Martinez?

wjw February 22, 2017 at 2:19 am

But of course . . .

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