Sunday, November 4, 2012

Staying Engaged

I was scrolling through one of my favorite websites the other day - The Passive Voice - and I came across a post done by literary agent Janet Kobobel Grant.  Aside from reminding me exactly why I've decided to eschew agents, as well as the pathetic tone of most of those who salivated over her in the comments section, one quote in particular stood out to me:

"Anything that absorbs the business headaches is a gift, allowing authors more time to focus on writing. Thank you."

I shook my head at the absolute naiveté of the statement.  Then I remembered that most writers have this mentality - once they make it, someone else can worry about all that messy "business stuff," and they can focus on why they went into this line of work to begin with, which is to write.

I'll admit that this is a tantalizing prospect.  Imagine being able to wake up when the sun is warm, pour yourself a mug of your favorite beverage, and write your next masterpiece in complete security, knowing that you will always be swimming in cash and won't have to worry about money.  Dollars will magically flow into your account, and all you'll have to do is sign some paperwork your agent or publishers sends every few months.

Unfortunately, writers who do this set themselves up for an epic fall.

You have to have a certain degree of business knowledge to make it in any line of work, and writing is no exception.  Even bestselling authors like JK Rowling and Tim Zahn keep an eye on the business side of their empires.  To do otherwise is to set yourself up as a slave to those who control your contract, and/or to forfeit your earnings to a guy who sits behind a desk and spent about as much time on your book as you did brushing your teeth this morning.

Most writers don't care for business.  That's why they write.  However, you need to have a certain degree of sense, and if you don't, you damn sure better learn some.  People all over the world will rub their hands together gleefully at the prospect of another rube coming down the pike, one full of talent and no idea what to do with the success they find.  I wish that everyone in the world was enlightened and always willing to do the right thing - I really do - but that's just not the planet we live on.  If you eschew your business dealings, you'll end up on the wrong side of one-sided contracts you can't get out of.  Worse, you'll discover that the books you wanted to shop around and try to start a bidding war on are now the exclusive province of some publisher that has automatic first crack at them, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Further, in all that nasty "business stuff," you should at least learn how to read a royalty statement.  Ms. Grant claims that one of her duties is to do that for you.  However, even the best intentioned people make mistakes.  Don't you want to make certain you're getting all the money you're entitled to?  What if they made a mistake on the percentage, or they forgot to include the last 25,000 in sales that you know occurred?  Was there an incentive clause in your contract entitling you to a greater royalty rate after the first 50,000 in sales?  Ignoring all of this means less in your pocket.

I understand that most writers don't want to bother with all that because it makes their head hurt, but trust me when I tell you that whether you put in the time and effort or not, someone else will.  Do you want to be taken advantage of and not maximize your earning potential just because you didn't take the time to learn the inside story on what's really going on?

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