There's an interesting discussion over at JA Konrath's blog about contract negotiations. Since it's a problem I hope to be facing soon, I'd like to get as many opinions as possible.

Any Crimespacers care to join in?

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I'd like to join in, but I'm not sure what the question is. Still... having read Konrath's post, I'd say a lot of this should be handled by listening to your agent. If you don't have one, get one. I didn't have one for the first five books I sold and I didn't know what I was doing. My agent has a very different look at things and she CAN walk away from the table (a move which I would not do on my own which makes me a horrible negotiator).
Hi Steven. Here's my original question on JA's blog:

What about someone like me, waiting for his first offer? Should I take whatever I can get (from a reputable publisher, of course), just to get my foot in the door? Or should I still be willing to walk away if the offer is for a low, or even no, advance?

Joe's answer:

Numbers follow you.

Everyone in publishing is looking for two types of authors, the proven bestseller and the sexy unproven newbie.

The sexy unproven newbie can get a lot of money and a big marketing push, if he writes the right book.

If you go with a smaller press, you're no longer new or unproven. Bookscan coldly reports that your first novel sold 1245 copies.

How likely is it that one of the big publishers will pick you up for book #2 after seeing those numbers?

best to hold out, and lose your virginity with someone whom you love.

Joe's answer makes sense to me, but I thought it would be interesting to hear a variety of opinions from some authors here. I know some of the writers here have gone with small presses, and I'd like to know their rationale/strategy behind making that decision.
St. Martin's is one of the houses we've submitted to. I like the books they publish, and would be proud to be part of that team. Good luck with your book, Jon.
I'll let you guys know, Jon. Thanks!
Well... Joe's answer is only part of the equation and not the entire picture. The other side of the coin is considering the source of a book and factoring in why it may or may not have sold as well. Authors with smaller publishers are getting picked up by larger houses. Simon Wood has moved to... Dorchester, I believe it is. Troy Cook is moving from Capital Crime Press. Dave Zeltersman has been steadily working his way up from being self published to having a book coming out soon with Serpent's Tail. MJ Rose started off self-published. Authors can and do move up the ladder, although when you start with a small press the deck is stacked against you.

But starting with a big deal stacks the deck against you in a different way. If you sign a big deal for your first book the pressure is on you to perform. You have one or two kicks at it... and if the first book doesn't do as well as hoped despite your contract you may not get much publisher support for book 2. Having money thrown at you doesn't guarantee anything, other than what you get paid first time around. You may actually shoot yourself in the foot if you don't earn out your advance.

Actually, the person to talk to on it is Kevin Wignall. I think he'll give you a smart perspective. And Steve Mosby. Well, next week my interview with Steve will be out. And something he says in there about advances, publisher support and long-term commitment tells me that (at least in the UK) there are publishers who don't just look at the bottom line sales figures.

And... if you don't have an agent you're unlikely to be offered a big deal. If you have an agent, listen to them and talk to select people you trust when making decisions. If you don't trust your agent to advise you, well, you probably shouldn't be with them.
Hi Sandra. I signed with The Poynor Group a couple of months ago. Jay's a great agent with many years experience, and I trust him completely. My book is currently on submission to several of the biggies in NY. I'm very optimistic about my chances there, but there's always the possibility that all will pass. If they do, then we can either submit to smaller presses or start working on another book. I think the decision will ultimately be mine, so I'm looking for some wisdom from authors who have gone the small press route, to see if it might be worth it. JA Konrath says no, and at the moment I tend to agree with him. Just seeking some other opinions.
I think if you have an agent who's submitting your work to the major houses, and you don't get a sale, you should just let it go. Take the time you would have spent promoting it if it sold to a small press and put that into writing another, better book. You were going to do that anyway, right? So get right to it. If your current book sells, you'll be that much further ahead if you've already started the next one, and if your book doesn't sell this time out, you'll be just that much closer to taking another shot.

Assuming you're hoping for a writing career, in the big scheme of things, a single book just isn't that important. My first book didn't sell, while the second one did (to Berkley) this past January. Hang in there, and good luck!
Thanks, Karen! I think that's good advice. Good luck with your debut!
Some of my favourite authors started out small press and then got a deal elsewhere - Al Guthrie, Ray Banks, Duane Swierczynski, Victor Gischler. So it doesn't seem to have hurt them. The Pollyanna in me says that good writing will always win through, and those guys are excellent writers.
Hi Donna. Thanks for showing those examples.
Hi Ray. Thanks for that perspective.

I guess it should be said, of course, that all small presses aren't created equal. Some are quite respected in the publishing community, get good distribution, reviews from the trades, etc. So, it's certainly possible to build a stout career from a small-press start. And, there are a handful of authors who even started out self-published and then later got picked up by a major.

Like I said before, there are no guarantees any way you go. You can't force luck, so sometimes you just have to follow your heart.

Looking at it from a business standpoint, though, I think Konrath makes a good argument. I want to be able to ditch my "day" job and write full time, and still have time for a good deal of promotion. The only way for me to do that is to get a decent advance. I have no means of support other than my own income, so I need a sturdy launch pad. At the risk of sounding overconfident, I believe it's going to happen for me. I believe I'm going to be a bestselling author. People usually laugh when I say that, but if you can't really visualize it happening, if you're unable to actually put the words out there for the universe to digest, then it probably won't happen.

Okay. I'm starting to sound like a self-help guru so I'll shut up now. :)
To some people I've run across in this industry--including booksellers, others authors, print reviewers, and the International Thriller Writers--a small publisher like mine ranks me with the self-published. I'm almost an outcast. Others are more open minded, and note the increasing number of mystery and crime writing awards won by small presses. I guess the way I look at it, a lot of great writers like Joe K. jump right from high school to the major leagues, while some of us have to start in the minors and work up. Like someone else said earlier on this thread, I think the quality of the storytelling will be the deciding factor, not where I started. I chose to begin my career, not wait for another, better chance later. Listen to your agent. I did.


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