Path to Publication 3.1: Second Time's the Charm!

After the collapse of my first book deal, I'm back in business—Polis Books will release my debut novel, New Yorked, in June 2015, and has contracted me for a follow-up, City of Rose. This is a monthly column about taking a book over the finish line. 


June 9th. 

That, it seems, is the publication date for New Yorked. Sure, anything could change between now and then. That's many, many months away (can't say for sure exactly, I'm not good at math). But as of right now, that's the date. 

I got another date, too, and this one is even more important: February 1st. 

That's when my second book, City of Rose, is due to my publisher. What happens if I don't deliver? I read my contract in a sleep-addled state and I seem to recall something about finger screws and honey badgers, but that might not be accurate. 

So this will be a short column, as I'm 20,000 words into City of Rose, would like to hit somewhere around 65-70,000, and should probably dump some of my energy into that. (And less energy into Titanfall, a game which I have gotten so good at, it's both impressive and deeply depressing.)

But real quick, I have a column to write, and it's due soon, so here we go...

What happens if I don't deliver? I read my contract in a sleep-addled state and I seem to recall something about finger screws and honey badgers, but that might not be accurate.

How to negotiate a contract

So I'm writing this having just sent off my contracts to Polis Books. Three signed copies. My understanding is that my publisher, Jason Pinter, will countersign, then he'll keep one, I'll get another one back, and the third will be burned during a full moon as tribute to the elder gods.

Publishing, man. It's a strange industry. 

So how exactly does one go about negotiating a contract? 

Damned if I know. My agent, Bree Ogden, handled all of that. I didn't even see the contract until she was sure I'd be happy. I like to imagine the negotiation process is somewhat similar to American Gladiators, but again, this is just speculation. 

But Bree and I had a conversation beforehand, about what my priorities were. Which were: Getting the most out of our sub-rights, making sure I've got a say in the process, and broaching the subject of other published works and non-compete clauses. 

Here's what that means: 

Sub-rights: Publishers tend to want to keep all of your sub-rights, which are things like audio, foreign, merchandising, film and TV, etc. And some publishers have mechanisms in place to sell and capitalize on those rights. But sometimes it can be a little more lucrative to keep those rights, and for your agent to sell them direct. For example, you might get more money selling your audio rights to a publisher of audiobooks, rather than bundle them in with the book rights. 

Involvement: I'm a big fan of getting something in the contract saying you have say in choosing the cover. Maybe not approval rights, but at least consultation rights. This way your publisher can't just slap a dumb cover on it and you find out when it's too late and then you weep softly into your couch because your literary novel has a cheesy bodice-ripper cover. 

Non-compete: Some publishers will include a non-compete clause in their contracts, saying you can't publish anything within a certain timeframe, around the release of the book. The idea is that you don't want to take attention away for their release (though I believe that with search algorithms and the digital market, that isn't really true anymore). But, I didn't want to sign a contract that said I couldn't release something else. I've got a mess of short stories sitting around and am toying with the idea of self-publishing them in a collection. Play at the hybrid author thing. 

So how did I do in my contract with Polis? 

I'm not going to say. That wouldn't be fair. Jason and Bree worked very hard, in good faith, to nail this down. I will say every party came out happy. Here's something I learned during my years in City Hall, as I sat ringside for the land development deal in Coney Island: Nobody gets everything they want. Never. The key to a good negotiation is that both sides walk out happy with what they did get. 

I'm happy. So are Bree and Jason. Best-case scenario, for sure. 

The next steps

It's an incredible feeling of relief to have these contracts in the mail, on their way to Jason, and to be back in business after my last book deal was very unceremoniously canceled. 

Since I've been burned once now, I'm still feeling a little jittery, and will probably remain so until I have the book in my hand and can slap myself in the face with it, to verify that no, I did not accidently ingest a large amount of peyote. 

Coming soon: Cover and edits, two things I was incredibly excited to get from my first publisher, and never did, but Jason assures me are on the way shortly. Once I get those edits, I can start working on the blurbs. I've got some excited names lined up, and can't wait to get this thing out in the world. 

Though I do have one to start off with: Josh Bazell, author of the absurdly fantastic Beat the Reaper (seriously, read this fucking book), who years ago offered to read a draft and gave me some great notes. He recently gave me this gem: 

“Now that even farthest Brooklyn has yuppie bankers all up in its business, it’s nice to be reminded that this city still has places only the dead and Rob Hart know. The New York of New Yorked is a place of heartbreak and murder that I highly recommend you visit.”

—Josh Bazell, author of Beat the Reaper

That's a damn good place to start. 

More soon!

In the meantime, got questions about contracts and negotiations? Let me know—I will answer to the best of my ability. 

Image of Beat the Reaper: A Novel (Package May Vary)
Author: Josh Bazell
Price: $11.94
Publisher: Back Bay Books (2009)
Binding: Paperback, 336 pages

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.

Comments

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day September 3, 2014 - 8:17am

Great stuff, Rob - that is high praise indeed (Nic Cage SNL intensity) from Josh B - Beat the Reaper and Wild Thing were tremendous reads, so your book will be in good company!

Question about word count - somewhat unanswerable, how many words does a piece have to be to be considered a novel? Is there a soft-guideline? I've been writing the first draft of my book in Word and I never even looked at work count until now, I always gauged by page count. I'm at 80K words, about 265 pages. I suspect I will wrap up the draft between pages 300 - 320, not sure what that word count would be. I knew this thing was going to be bigger than a novella, but for some reason my inner-voice keeps calling it a "small-novel". Now I'm kind of wondering exactly how to define it - or if it's even worth the energy to define?

Thanks, Deets

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 3, 2014 - 8:32am

Thanks for the kinds words. Josh is a great guy, and I'm thrilled to have him backing me up here. 

As for word counts: It's funny, I know people who only look at page counts and don't look at word counts, and vice versa. Page counts are a little tough to go buy--because your count could be different based on font size, line spacing, etc. So I prefer word counts. 

Roughly, the average number that gets thrown around is 80K for a standard-sized novel. Granted, there's a sliding scale--you can go over or under that. But once you start getting under 60K, you're encroaching on novella territory. Over 120K, and you're looking at some edits to bring things down a little. Still, there are no hard and fast rules. Good writing is good writing, and with the various access points now available--self-pub, micro-presses, small presses, etc.--your word count isn't something you need to live or die by. Service the story first. 

For reference, New Yorked was submitted at 76,000 words. I expect to start working on the final pass edits soon, and I'm not sure how much I'll be losing, though I'd be surprised if it's more than a few thousand words. 

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day September 3, 2014 - 12:56pm

Thanks, Rob - very helpful! Couldn't agree more - service the story first. Originally I thought it would be a novella, but as it evolved, I've realized to tell it properly, I needed to expand the scope and word count. So if that meant a longer project that I'd spend more time on, so be it - that's just the way these things go some times (though I will be glad when I finally type that last page of the first draft). Oddly, it's not you that tells the story its done - somehow it's the story that tells you when it's done.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami September 3, 2014 - 4:47pm

You brought up an interesting point. I wonder if short story collections are better self-published?

Bad covers always scare the crap out of me. Though I guess it's irrelevant now that I gave in, and switched to graphic novels.:P

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 3, 2014 - 5:13pm

Short story collections are a harder sell to a big publisher, whereas a smaller publisher with a smaller overheard, or with a print-on-demand or eBook only model, might be more willing to play ball. Again--access points! The more of them there are, the better. 

I think it's more lucrative for an author to self-publish his or her short story collection, only because you keep most of the money forever and ever. And personally, I think published and self-published works feed into each other. 

For example: I have a self-published novella (again, because of the length, a tough sell). When New Yorked has a pre-order page I'm going to put an ad with a link for it in the ebook version of The Last Safe Place, and I'm going to put that thing up for free at Amazon KDP. I tried it once and moved 800 copies in two days.

This time I'll do it for longer. More downloads, more people will see it, and sure, not everyone is going to order it, but every little bit counts. 

Had that novella been controlled by a publisher, I probably couldn't do that. But since I control it, I can do whatever I want with it--including use it as a marketing tool for New Yorked

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated September 4, 2014 - 3:29pm

What was the logic on making it free when there was any other product to promote?  Just messing around seeing what would happen?

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 4, 2014 - 3:34pm

I made it free the first time just out of curiosity; I wanted to see what would happen. 

And I learned that a whole bunch of people will download it and then when the price goes back up everything will screech to a halt. 

Which was not useful then. 

It's very useful now, because I've stumbled on a pretty easy source of advertising. 

That's money I won't make on the novella, sure. But the minimal costs of the novella have already been paid off. So I'm not losing anything, and I have the potential to gain a lot. 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated September 5, 2014 - 12:34am

Are you trying to get all the other stuff you have on there, Thuglit and the like, linked to your author profile?

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 5, 2014 - 6:51am

My Amazon author profile? Yeah, everything's linked up. There are a few credits—Needle, Helix Literary Magazine—that aren't available on Amazon. But this is most of it. 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated September 5, 2014 - 11:13am

Oh, okay.  I glanced at it when I first read this and noticed a few weren't so I was wondering since for a second before the first deal feel through it looked like you had two profiles on there.  Is getting that all set up correctly a big hassle or something the publisher is doing?

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 5, 2014 - 2:20pm

I handle the Amazon profile. Most authors tend to do it themselves--it's sort of on par with Facebook and Twitter. 

Some authors let the publisher handle it, and sometimes no one touches it and Amazon populates it with whatever's available. 

This is one of those things that's best to control, as an author. I've got a lot of credits on mine, but most of them are from different outfits--different magazines, and something that's self-published, and soon a publisher. So it's a bunch of different things to organize.