In December of 2012, I hooked up with a publisher (I’m weird about naming names because I don’t want to burn bridges) to produce my novel series, Femitokon. I sent a concise outline for the series (that’s what they wanted), and got a rep interested in my work. He got back to me, he liked my idea for digital-only and how I wanted to promote it, and an advance was quoted. I was excited. Things were going great (I had one set back, but I recouped from it) and with one novel left in the series to write – there’s eight altogether – I was excited to meet my first-draft deadline in January 2015.
Last month, the publisher announced their plans for “reader powered” productions; according to The Digital Reader, the publisher said: “…advances will be at least $1,500 with net royalties of 50%. Additionally, this new program will offer authors renewable terms over a five year period, allowing authors who do not earn a certain amount of money to terminate the agreement.” All of this hinges on the author completing the work, the publisher putting the work out there, and readership deciding if your series (or single titles) continue.
I was a little concerned. This wasn’t what I completely intended for my series, but it was damn close, and so I shot an email to the editor/rep I’d been talking to, just to make sure my series wasn’t part of this venture–as it was dictated to The Digital Reader. I have nothing against crowd-sourced fiction, I come from a self-publishing background (comics), and I know that putting work out there for free in small portions builds your fanbase as you keep writing—it works, I know it does–but it’s hard to maintain unless you have a job outside of it, to support you. Cultivating fan interest with release momentum and multi-media extras was how I planned to promote Femitokon! It was part of my pitch to the publisher back in December of 2012. It was exciting when the editor told me about how his publisher was working on developing content in this way, it was like it was meant to be!
The problem with publishing this way is that it works best when the writer has some source of funds coming in while they’re dedicating time to write for their readers and meeting publisher deadlines. I can’t do that for a publisher that’s only willing to part with $1,500 up front, and then expects me to keep working for just 50% of sales.
It’s tempting to jump on terms like this, because having the publisher do all the promotion and distribution (web work, updates, social media things, editing and uploading the work) makes being able to write, ten-times easier. Those others things in parenthesis, take so much away from your ability to stay focused on creating good fiction. I can’t write a digital series on such meager terms–if money was no object, I would’ve self-produced, or hit the kickstarter.
Macmillan’s Swoon Reads YA imprint offers the same model—but their advance is large. The ultimate goal for producing work in this way is to cultivate an online presence (or digital platform presence since eReaders aren’t just eReaders anymore!), and Macmillian seems to understand that writing is work, and you need some form of funding to dedicate substantial hours in your day, to do that work.
It took a few weeks, but the editor got back to me, and confirmed all my fears. Femitokon was indeed ‘transitioned’ to this exciting new venture, and I knew it was due to my setback last year. What frustrates me is that I spent the end of last year, and all of this year, rewriting every lost manuscript (all damn five of them), and finishing novels six and seven, praying the publisher wouldn’t say ‘hey kid, better luck somewhere else’.
I hate feeling entitled, and while that particular mode of publishing was exactly what I had in mind, the terms fell way short of what I needed to pull it off. It still feels like …hey kid, better luck somewhere else. I retired from the bank to rewrite all these books, and I was ready to sign a long term deal—shit, I was even ready to go back to work at the bank during the revisions phase, because hey—not all of us can live off book advances and print/digital-per-book-sold-profits. (The only way you can live off your fiction is if you’re writing for other forms of media, or your work gets a development deal.) I expressed my disappointment with this new direction, and was told that this was all that’s available to me at this time.
I’ve been here before. I create something, and the publisher says ‘this is what I need from you and this is all I can give you…’ Yes, I’ve been there, done that, and have never been happy with the outcome. Never.
My series is tailor made for digital release, it’s designed to cultivate online readership, to have readers interact with the world, it’s characters, and it’s drama. This mode of production is what drew the original publisher-prospect to it. I can’t sell myself short, I don’t have what it takes anymore to produce quality material on a shoe-string budget.
I’ve decided to walk away. I’m going to finish the final novel in the series, keep hammering away at revisions, and return to finding an agent or publisher for the series. I’ve got two prospects lined up, and I’m hopeful that something pans out for this series next year.
There’s wonderful people working at this publisher, they’re so supportive and they care about what they’re doing, I can just tell this about people. (I’ve met the opposite, that shows too!) I wish them them the best with this method of production, and I hope they find creators hungry enough to pull it off for what they’re offering.