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Should You Sign That Book Contract? Part One

Should You Sign That Book Contract? Part One

The first time I was offered a book contract, I left footprints on the ceiling after my happy dance. After years of writing and polishing my novel, and another year of rejections and situations where I came close but left disappointed, I finally had papers in my hand certifying that somebody wanted to publish my book. Considering this momentous occasion, I took more than a day studying each paragraph and wrapping my head around the legalese before making my decision. In the years following, after I took on the position of acquiring books for a small press, I realized some writers are so excited by the prospect of a contract that they may not read it completely before signing. This, naturally has led to problems.

To receive an offer to contract your book is definitely reason for celebration. However, if the contract turns out to benefit a publisher more than you, you should definitely think before you agree to handing over your work. This is not to say that all publishers are out to take advantage of you, especially if you are a debut author. It is important to know exactly what is laid out in the contract and what rights you have…and what you give up.

You can search the Internet for writers’ advocate sites that spell out the finer points and red flags you need to watch for in an agreement. Let’s take a closer look at some of them here.

Rights – When you sign a contract to a publisher, you give the house exclusive rights to produce your work in the formats noted in the agreement. This is an important clause to read, because it lets you know which rights the house wants (typically hardcover, softcover or mass market, and digital), and the wording may indicate that the rights extend to include written formats that haven’t been devised yet. Publishers may contract anywhere from one year to seven for a work, meaning you cannot petition to revert the book back to you until the time has lapsed. Of course, you will need to read the rest of your contract for exceptions that allow you to dissolve the contract if you believe the publisher has breached the agreement in some way.

You also want to look for a clause regarding the right of first refusal, which refers to your next book. Some publishers ask for this right if you complete a sequel, prequel, or related work. This means that before you query other publishers about your next book, you are contractually obligated to let the current publisher decide if they want it first. Some publishers, too, draw up this clause to refer to your next book regardless of its relationship to your first book. Some authors are wary of this clause as it can bind them to a publisher with which they no longer wish to work. You may not anticipate trouble in the beginning, but you want to be careful about clauses that can potentially hold you hostage.

Distribution – A contract may include verbiage regarding the distribution of your work. Now that digital formats have come into play, publishers have more options when it comes to selling books. It should be known, too, that third-party retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble have their own provisions by which they want publishers to abide. Pay attention to this clause, as it will tell you how the publisher plans to sell your work.

In later installments, we will look at other clauses in a publishing contract that the beginning author should know.

Kathryn Lively is a freelance writer specializing in articles on book publishers and social media writing. She is also an award-winning mystery author.

How to Handle a Negative Review of Your Book

How to Handle a Negative Review of Your Book

It happens to every author eventually. You may have your name or book titles set up in Google Alerts to monitor publicity, and a link appears to a review of your work. Nervous and excited to know somebody actually took the time to buy, read, and review your book, you click through to read but your spirit soon plummets. Somebody has indeed read your book, and not only didn’t like it but decided to let the world know why.

Seeing a less than glowing review of your book can prove frustrating. What author wants to associate a one or two-star rating with a work he/she has spent months, even years, crafting to perfection? One has to admit, too, that such a review looks like a blemish on a sales page, and if you have been the recipient of a bad review you might wonder how you should respond. Here follows two of the best methods of handling this situation:

1) Respond in the comments of blog or sales page: “Thank you for taking the time to read and review my work.” Then move on with working on your next book.

2) Do nothing. Move on with the next book.

That’s it. Oh, you may be tempted to fire off a scathing rebuttal, or vent via Twitter about how the reader obviously didn’t “get” the book, or recruit friends and family to vote down a review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble so other readers won’t see it, but let me give you this one piece of advice – don’t.

As an author, you need to think before you act. How you carry yourself off and online could affect how well your books sell, perhaps more than a mediocre review. When you fly off the handle and berate somebody for their difference in opinion and/or taste, you risk not only the loss of that reader (who may actually buy your next book to give you a second chance), but the loss of more sales now and in the future. It is important to remember the following:

1) Reviews are for readers. Yes, you can use the most glowing praise for promotional purposes, but readers write reviews to let other readers know what they think. When you see reviews as a written favor to you, you may be more inclined to explode at a bad one, and that is unwise.

2) Reviews are not to be taken personally. It is important not to view a bad review as a personal insult. A reader who gives low points on your book isn’t necessarily judging your ability to write. Negative reviews may not be linked to quality of writing, either – a reader may not have found the story compelling, despite your knack for good dialogue. If you can take anything from a negative review, it is that you provoked somebody to write about your book.

3) Even bad reviews can help. You must always remember that reviews are subjective – one person’s opinion. Consider a book or movie you recently enjoyed: did a friend not like it? Chances are a reader will see something in a negative review that will inspired him/her to read your book anyway.

4) Nobody escapes criticism. Stephen King, JK Rowling, Nora Roberts, and even Shakespeare have had their share of thumbs down.

For an author, the worst type of review is the one that is not written. The next time you find low marks on your book, just shake it off and take something constructive from the experience. Keep writing!

Kathryn Lively is a freelance writer and editor who has worked with several fiction publishers. She also specializes in articles on social media writing.

What Publishers Look For in a Query Letter

What Publishers Look For in a Query Letter

Having worked for several years as an acquisitions editor for a small press, I believe I have seen a few thousand, if not more, queries come into my e-mail inbox. That said, I am sure I have seen many examples of how not to write a query, as well as the rare few that inspired me to open the accompanying manuscript. If you are serious about submitting a book to a publisher or agent, and having said industry expert offer you a contract, you need the right hook that gets your book read and evaluated. It is not uncommon for editors and agents to pass on a project based upon a poorly structured query.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that your query letter must be the e-mail equivalent of a knock-down, glittering Broadway finale complete with jazz hands and confetti. The query letter is the very first glimpse an editor or agent will see of you, so it’s important to deliver one that is professional, simple to understand, and to the point. As you invest time in contacting multiple editors you may eventually catch on to certain quirks and red flags that help you determine what certain people like and dislike. I follow a number of agents on Twitter and pay attention when one vents his/her irritations regarding rhetorical questions in a query, among other peeves. This is a good way to tailor a letter to a specific person.

If you aren’t sure how your target will react, though, you should at least hone your “elevator pitch” as compelling reading. Imagine you’re in an elevator with the agent or publisher of your dreams. You have those precious seconds to convince that person to read and love your book. What do you say? This will serve as the heart of your letter.

What do publishers, editors, and agents look for in a solid query?

1) Your correct contact information. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received queries missing this pertinent info. If you attach a document to an e-mail, or if you compose in the body, you must include your legal name, your pen name where applicable, a phone number, and mailing address. Even in the Internet age, some in the industry still contact authors via the phone. It’s always safe to offer somebody more than one option for communication.

2) Information about your book. This will include the title, the word count, and the genre. As a personal preference I believe it’s important to present this data up front, because it allows the publisher/editor/agent to determine initially if the work does not fit the house’s guidelines. The time an acquiring editor invests in reading queries is precious, and if one has hundreds to read weekly he/she wants to sort through them as quickly as possible. Don’t waste somebody’s time with a pages-long query that ends with little to no information on word count and genre, especially if you query houses where those genres and lengths aren’t represented.

3) A synopsis of your book that is brief and best captures the story. You don’t have to recap play-by-play action or delve into the psyche of your characters, just the facts here. Introduce the conflict and briefly explain what happens to bring the story to conclusion. Remember the elevator pitch.

As a personal aside, you may wish to avoid cliches and guarantees. Claiming that your book is the next “Twilight” or that Oprah will want to add it to her book club isn’t likely to win you a request for a full manuscript. Sell the book on its own merits rather than compare it to something else. Show the publisher/editor/agent you are beyond compare.

4) A short biography. Focus on your writing history, particularly past credits and experiences. If you frequent writing conferences or are a member of an organization like RWA or SFWA, you may wish to note that as well. Show that you are active in the writing community and willing to sell yourself as a published author.

Before you do send off a query, have a fellow writer proof it for you. The last thing you want to send to somebody who may publish your book is a letter full of typos and grammatical errors. Good luck!

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and freelance editor specializing in articles on self-publishing services and freelance editing services. She also specializes in social media writing for businesses.