Will my publisher be my publisher forever?

I’ve been doing some mentoring for a few new writers and find myself passing on information that I am surprised isn’t basic knowledge. Then I remind myself that I worked in a writers’ centre for three years, so what I take for granted isn’t necessarily common knowledge. So, I figured I might start blogging about it in the interests of making it common knowledge for interested folk.

Today’s topic: Will my publisher be my publisher forever?

Short answer: No, probably not.

Long answer: Many things can happen in a writer-publisher relationship to make it either go bad or simply reach the natural end of its lifespan:

Rampant insanity on the part of writer or publisher.

Unprofessional behaviour by writer (not delivering on deadline) or publisher. (Maybe I’ll publish the books by the launch date, maybe I won’t. Bwahahaha.)

A publisher may go bust (a more frequent risk with small publishing houses).

A writer may refuse to do any promotional activities in the mistaken belief it cheapens their art – go ahead, pay for your groceries with artistic credit, I dare you.

A publisher may not think organising promotional or marketing activities is important – or indeed that it’s just too hard (cue: fainting couch and wailing) … with the range of social media available to us today, marketing = not so hard. Imagine if Oscar Wilde had Twitter at his disposal … well, obviously he’d be Stephen Fry, but you see my point.

A publisher may be, let’s say, recalcitrant on the issue of royalties. This sucks. No one likes chasing after money.

The publisher who is a frustrated writer and tries to rewrite everything you send is not helpful.

The writer who resists any and all reasonable edits, is equally unhelpful.

As a writer, you may grow beyond the small press scene – and if you want to be someone who actually makes money from your writing, then there is a good chance this will happen. Writing a 5k story for $50 kind of sucks compared to writing a 5k story for $300. With any luck – and as part of keeping some good karma going – when you are in a position to support yourself through your writing, then give something back to the small press scene by writing a story for $50 – your name on the cover may just help sell more copies and keep a small press ticking over.

Even with big trade publishers, you may not spend your life with one publisher. Your books may not be selling – there is a chance your publisher will have to ‘let you go’. You may have been one of those folk who go a ridiculous advance on your debut novel and it sold five copies – all to your mum. Reluctantly, they will let you go. Finding a new publisher may be difficult – so regard any HUGE advances with suspicion. Conversely, you may be earning a lot of money for your publisher and another publisher decides they want to woo you away … so, if you’re feeling unloved at your old publisher, you may well shift over to another who sends you roses and chocolates and asks you how your day went while handing a much larger cheque to you.

Writers have more than one publisher depending on the rights they’ve sold – one publisher might have paperback rights, another limited edition hardcover rights, yet another the German translation rights for the paperback edition, and another the French translation rights for the hardcover edition. In your career you will have more than one publisher anyway, so don’t stress too much about it.

Try not to burn bridges, no matter how nuts someone seems or how bad their behaviour. If someone asks you about your experience with such and such a publisher (or writer) be professional but honest. Don’t start a flame war or internecine strife – this may be interesting for bystanders, but it doesn’t do your writing community any good.

So, no. Your publisher probably won’t be your publisher forever. Enjoy the relationship while it lasts, always be professional and when it’s time to move on, do so graciously. No fighting over the fainting couch.

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