Every author's dream is to pick up the mail, open that envelope and find inside a publishing contract. In wide-eyed-innocence we rarely read the entire contract, get legal advice, or even ask a friend--is this a good contract?
No, we're pumped. Psyched. Someone has finally validated our hard work. We're going to become an overnight success.
So, what happened?
With the millions of books out there, the odds of becoming an overnight success are pretty much nill. Unless you have between $30,000.00 and $100,000.00 marketing budget. I'm sorry, did your contract not state that the majority of marketing would be up to you?
So what does make a book stand out?
Good writing and a great book cover. Most contracts contain a clause that the publisher has the last say on the cover. But the cover can many times make or break your book. David Morrill said this at the 2006 Love Is Murder Conference. Fight for your cover rights. It is, after all, your work and you will be the one standing in front of the public selling that book. If you indeed have a good book, that publisher isn't going to lose you over a cover. They're going to be willing to renegotiate the contract on that point at least.
The length of your contract is also important, as well as the rights you retain. Don't be afraid to fight for a higher royalty, digital rights and/or movie rights. Okay, the odds your book will become a movie are pretty slim, but I talked with an author at the Western Kentucky Book Fair whose book was being turned into a movie. Problem was he signed away his movie rights. He signed a horrible contract, and he wasn't going to make anything off the movie. His book, a debut novel had already sold 350,000 copies. Someone was making money, but it wasn't him.
My best advice to any author who receives a publishing contract--if you don't have an agent who will fight for you and your rights, then get an attorney who can explain the details of the contract to you and advise you. If you can't afford an attorney, talk to other authors published by this publisher. See how they feel about their representation. Check out their books and see how those books are doing.
Tomorrow I'll delve into self-publishing contracts which are becoming all the rage today.