Turned Down a Book Contract!

by Don H. Meredith
(Duffield, Alberta, Canada)

The Search for Grizzly One

The Search for Grizzly One

When a traditional publisher told this author their contract was non-negotiable, he chose not to sign.

I am a freelance writer who earns his living mostly from contract writing and magazine articles and columns. However, my first love is fiction, and I have published two so-called young-adult novels.

My first novel, Dog Runner, was published in 1989 by a traditional book publisher, Western Producer Prairie Books (Saskatoon). I was very pleased with how they treated me.

Unfortunately, Prairie Books went out of business. As a result, I had to find a new publisher for my next novel, The Search for Grizzly One. I soon learned the publishing industry had changed remarkably in the intervening years. The Internet had come into play, and digital technology was challenging the way publishers do business.

Some were not reacting well at all. Most no longer accepted unsolicited manuscripts, initially only wanting to see brief inquiries, including an outline and some sample chapters. Many were not interested in new authors and stated so on their web sites (fair enough). Others simply ignored my inquiries, not even acknowledging their receipt (I guess common courtesy is no longer valued). Some acknowledged my inquiries but were not interested in the manuscript at the time (also fair enough).

Turned down a book contract

Only two requested to see the manuscript.

After reviewing it, one liked it but said it didn't fit into their publishing program (fair enough, at least they read it). The other liked it very much and wanted to publish it. However, they sent me an untenable contract in which I would have signed over all my rights (including film, video etc.).

When I tried to negotiate changes (only licensing book publishing rights), I was told the contract was non-negotiable (I always thought contracts were negotiable by definition; I guess I was wrong). So, I walked away (stories are legion of authors losing significant revenue because they signed all their rights away in their book contracts).

The book publishing industry is in crisis. In a nutshell, there are more writers who want to publish books, more readers who want to read books, but fewer traditional book publishers willing to consider the work of new writers.

Being completely frustrated with how my second novel manuscript was being treated by traditional publishers, I decided to self-publish it using one of the services now available on the Internet. I chose iUniverse because of how they handled the reprinting of Dog Runner. I investigated other such services (e.g., LuLu, Trafford, Xlibris) but found them either to be more expensive than iUniverse or not provide the services iUniverse provides.

What I did appreciate from iUniverse was the editing services they provided (for a price).

After my experience with Dog Runner , I realized how important a good editor was to the quality of the book. A lone writer just does not see all that an experienced editor sees in terms of grammar, consistency, etc. You may think you have a great manuscript, but a good editor will ensure it is excellent.

As a result, my novel was chosen by iUniverse for special promotion, and it won a runner-up award in The Writers' Digest self-published books contest. Grizzly One has won the 2006 Outdoor Writers of Canada Award for Best Book. So, I don't regret publishing it.

I am no longer frustrated, and people are enjoying the story.

I have been happy with iUniverse. Of course, because Grizzly One is self-published, I am responsible for its promotion and marketing.

I don't really have enough time to do all these things, but I'm doing what I can when I can. As a result, I sell most books when I'm on the road promoting it. Otherwise, sales are slow but consistent.

Would I do it again? Probably not. Through this process I have learned a lot about the publishing business and have determined that promotion and marketing are not what I do well. I'm a writer and a speaker. One thing is for sure, I cannot write when I'm promoting. So, next time I will try to get the book published the traditional way, or perhaps on-line. We'll see.

In summary, I don't recommend self-publication as a first choice. However, if you have exhausted all other publishing routes and you must get your manuscript published, it is an alternative that is becoming much easier to pursue.

Visit the guy who said "No" to a book deal!

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Apr 13, 2008
Refusing a book contract
by: Steve B.

Don, thanks for a helpful, thoughtful, information-filled self publishing story.

The thing you say that sticks the most with me is your own self-evaluation:

"Promotion and marketing are not what I do well. I'm a writer and a speaker. One thing is for sure, I cannot write when I'm promoting."

Your statements suggest questions every self publisher should ask him or herself:

Are the skills required of me ones I have? Are they skills I enjoy using? And do I have the time to do this right?

Thanks for making us think!

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