Why I Turned Down a Publishing Deal

On my author Facebook page and Twitter page this weekend I ran a poll with some options on what to write about in my next blog post. On both platforms the majority said that they wanted to read my thoughts on why I turned down a publishing deal. Quite a few of you also said you’d like to read a post on my favourite children’s books, so I’ll cover that subject in my next post.

I’m not going to name the publisher that offered me a publishing agreement for one reason – even though I decided not to accept, I am still very grateful to that organisation for showing faith in my story and for wanting to work with me. It’s not something I take for granted and I would not want to put other people off working with this particular publisher with some of the detail I’m about to write below.

So, (‘get on with it’ you’ll be thinking by now!), why did I turn down a publishing agreement? Isn’t that what every unpublished author dreams of?

Yes and no. All the arts industries are changing, anyone can release their own song, publish a book, upload a film on YouTube… being a creator has never been more accessible. Yet thousands of writers still send their work to agents and publishers, waiting weeks, months, sometimes even years, hoping to receive a letter or email with the magic words that someone wants to publish or represent their work.

Early on when I completed the first draft and edit of The Adventurers and The Cursed Castle (which had a different title back in those days), I wrote to a few literary agents – all of whom either didn’t reply or politely declined my manuscript without offering any feedback. And I get it – having worked in a recruitment firm many years ago I know what it’s like to receive lots of applications which you don’t have much time to read, with no time to write back to everyone individually. Most of the big publishers only accept manuscripts through agencies, so I wrote directly to a few smaller publishers. I was a lot more encouraged by the responses from these organisations – even though a couple declined, their emails showed that they had read my sample chapters in full and they took the time to comment on what they liked and what could be better (the latter really helped me refine and improve my manuscript).

One day one of these small independent publishing firms asked to see my whole manuscript and about a month later, offered me a publishing agreement. It was a ‘hybrid’ deal – they were asking for a small amount of my money to contribute towards the publishing costs, in return for a royalty rate roughly three times higher on paperbacks than large publishers tend to offer. There’s lots of warnings out there about ‘vanity publishers’ – companies that ask authors to pay them to publish their books. These companies usually charge the author thousands of pounds to publish their book. I didn’t feel like the company that offered me a deal was a vanity publisher – firstly, the contribution they wanted from me was very small (about one quarter of what I went on to spend publishing my book independently) and secondly, I had reached out to a couple of authors who had worked with them and neither gave me the impression that this company had ripped them off.

So why did I turn it down? By this point I had already started researching what it would take to publish independently. I had made connections with people who had published their own books very successfully already and was in touch with industry professionals who were offering their services on a freelance basis for editing, proof-reading and cover design. (I can do another post if there’s interest on publishing independently, but the bottom line is never try to do it all yourself – the end result will end up being rubbish!)

I asked the publishing firm a lot of questions – about their marketing strategy, the cover, pricing, distributors that they used, etc. They readily answered my questions but two things became clear – 1. they had a different vision for my product than I had, and 2. although they seemed very happy to work with me, by signing this deal I’d be handing over control for some of the most important decisions about my product to someone else. One of the main sticking points for me was the cover design. I had an image in my mind of the illustration I wanted, whereas the publishing firm wanted to create a cover using stock photos. Stock photos can look good on teenage books, romances and other adult novels – but I really wanted an illustrated cover for my children’s book. This would be my first time putting a product out there – out into the wild– and it was going to have my name on it! So how it looked was extremely important to me.

A part of me was tempted to take the offer – it would have taken a lot of the publishing workload off my hands, for starters. There’s also a lot of snootiness and prejudice out there surrounding what some call ‘self-publishing’ (I prefer ‘independent publishing’ – as other professionals were involved in turning my story into a book and it wasn’t a standalone effort). Having the name of a publisher behind you can be empowering. But I realised that – for me – not needing one was even more empowering. And so I thanked the publisher and took a different path.

I wouldn’t rule out accepting a publishing deal in the future depending on the circumstances. It’s difficult to make a living from writing either with or without a separate publisher – but there’s success stories across both routes. Andy Weir independently published The Martian at first, which has now been turned into a hit film starring Matt Damon. Adam Croft has sold over 1.5 million thriller books independently and has turned down offers from big publishers because he is doing so well as an indie author.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both being an indie author and a traditionally published author, which I could write about in a lot more detail, but this post is already pretty long! If you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them as best as I can. Look out for my blog post next time on my favourite childrens’ books! Oh and if you haven’t already, check out The Adventurers and the Cursed Castle (BY ME!) on Amazon*, Waterstones, Barnes and Noble and all major retailers!

Bye for now,

Jemma

*I am a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.


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