I was in a vulnerable head space when I submitted my manuscript to an epic fantasy novel contest that I discovered online. Okay, I knew it was not a prestigious annual contest like L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future or the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award. (I’ve been rejected from them, too!)
This publisher was an unknown name, a start-up looking to establish itself in the rapidly changing landscape of e-books and print-on-demand. For anonymity’s sake, let’s call them A-to-Z Publishing.
I sent in my well-bruised query package one more time. What a relief! Not only was my novel accepted but they LOVED it!!
I am writing to inform you that [title] is definitely a finalist in the Epic Fantasy contest. Contest winners will be announced on [date].
We are especially thrilled to write today to inform you that we are offering you a publishing contract with [A-to-Z Publishing] for [title], even before the contest has closed. We love the story, your writing and the characters.
We are excited to work with you and see your author career grow!
What attracted me to A-to-Z Publishing was their unique program of author-marketing seminars. They require all of their authors to undergo this training in promotion, publicity, and social media. They call it their commitment to success.
Writers hear this all the time. “You have to promote yourself! Even the big publishers don’t do anything for you unless you’re J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin!” It adds an extra layer of hopelessness on top of the despair, that even if you are lucky enough to be chosen from the slush pile, your book will never sell unless you hit the bricks to get your face out there.
My handicap is that I have zero marketing experience. I’m the little Girl Scout who only made a sale when her parents bought a box of cookies. As a bookworm nerd (a.k.a. introvert), I chose careers in secretarial jobs and word processing. Now I am a paralegal in immigration law where I concentrate on government application forms. I have avoided careers that required customer-facing or public speaking skills. I thrive in jobs that require sitting quietly at a keyboard. Promoting myself would involve a huge mental leap and a transformation of my self-image. Just as I took courses to become a paralegal, I expected that marketing was a skill set that I could master if I worked hard enough. I was seeking a mentor, and I thought I had found one.
Regret Number One: I should have had a publishing lawyer review the contract before I signed. Many of the clauses are not in my best interest. For example, A-to-Z got the rights not only to this book but to all future books in this series. They had right of first refusal on everything I would ever write for the rest of my life. They would own foreign translation rights, audio books, and movie or t.v. adaptions—as if a small e-book press could ever pitch this book to Hollywood? I guess they were hoping to discover the next Fifty Shades of Gray. The contract’s terms were life-of-copyright with no expiration date. Royalties would be calculated from “net” profits and not from the “list” or retail price of each book. It had all the classic traits of a boilerplate contract from a vanity press. But I had never seen a publisher’s contract in my life so I didn’t know better.
Frankly, at that moment, I did not care about being smart or well-informed. I was flattered and excited to be named the grand prize winner. I wanted to be published so badly that I would have signed anything they put in front of me.