The Concept of Loyalty in Small Press Publishing

This posting is a bit of a warning, as much as it is a blog of my views on a particular topic.

When I was an author prior to dabbling in publishing, I often speculated what motivated publishers in their contracts and general relationships with their authors. I often assumed a lot of negativity. From a naive point of view I considered many of the contractual elements as being rather complex and extreme.

Now, I know there are unscrupulous publishers out there, and some of them do hover among the establishment, but as a publisher I also can see the other side of the ‘argument’. I will focus on this.

I can’t, for legal reasons, go into details, but I can say that despite only being in business for just over a year, and publishing 11 titles by end of this year, we have had contractual disputes or disputes that ran counter to what we consider to be the spirit of contract. Since then, mind you, we have tightened our wording. In most of these cases, it was authors who changed views on what they wanted, and sought every means to make it happen (or planned to). I pondered on more than one occasion why these things happened.

Firstly, it might not have been totally cynical, but rather, an act of ignorance. I can sort of live with that reason, and in one case an author made corrective action and we are grateful for that. The other reason is selfishness. If an author thinks they made a mistake going with us, or that there is a way to reinterpret the contract so that the publishing regime is realigned with the author’s new agenda, this is cynical. This is selfish. This is disloyal.

Disloyal. One use of the term is associated with a superior-inferior relationship, where the inferior doesn’t obey. I don’t mean this. I am talking about a small company that tries its hardest to support authors – to give them a leg up in the long ladder of a writing career, and expecting the authors to return this loyalty by sticking with us by contract and what it entails. If an author wants us to publish a title, we ask to have full rights to publish it – print, electronic, smoke signal, and worldwide. This is what our contract basically says. We expect no other copy of anything resembling  the manuscript to exist on any publicly accessible source. etc etc. It is amazing, in the short life of our company, that we encountered something in this space on three occasions. Disloyalty.

Cynicism aside, we have an absolutely fantastic family in IFWG Publishing. And I mean family. A bunch of writers who are like a small, virtual community and where many of us participate in writing workshops and joke and kid around. it is a by-product of mutual respect and loyalty. Yes, I am affected enough by the negative side to write this blog, but I can also say that the good far outweighs the bad.

So I return to my original thoughts. Yes, as a publisher, working with a myriad of people, some of whom can be disloyal and even downright wacky, it is critical to protect my business. Yes, a contract has to be wordy and long. Yes, I have to be tough on first publishing rights. Yes, I do have to be literal at times. But I also believe I have to be loyal to you, the writer, as well, and prove I am no hypocrite.
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2 thoughts on “The Concept of Loyalty in Small Press Publishing

  1. Gerry, I can see how it must rankle when you are doing your best in good faith but the people you are contracted with seem to be doing the opposite. However, let me play Devil’s advocate for a moment. (Don’t you just hate it when people say that? You know they’re going to get right up your nose!) First thing that strikes me is that selling all rights, worldwide, is not what most authors expect. From your point of view, selling mainly through online outlets, it makes perfect sense. But publishing until now has been a regional business and rights have been severely geographically limited. Advice on writer sites will be to hang on to geographic rights. Previously-published authors might be surprised at what they have signed (yes, they should have had a lawyer check their contract first.) Newbie authors might have no geographical expectations but it is the word “all” that seems to be confusing them. In their minds, they’re thinking they signed up to publish their “book” – a lump of dead tree with ink on it. They weren’t thinking “web serialisation” or “audiobook” or “translation” or whatever else they might suddenly decide would be cool. A lot of people don’t actually ‘get’ the idea of selling rights – or of what a contract is, for that matter. They might not, for example, understand that the contract is exclusive, or what that clause about the term of it actually means. Secondly, it does seem a bit extreme to want all rights. My first publisher wanted more rights than they will ever make use of, and I must say, it is annoying to have rights tied up with a company that won’t exploit them, which will let them just sit there for years, unused. It makes you start counting down to the day when you can get them back and make them work for you. Lots of publishers seem to ask for rights ‘just in case’ (I’m not saying you do!) – just in case the book takes off, they want the translation rights, just in case there is a film deal, they want the merchandising rights, and so on. It does not foster an attitude of mutual loyalty, it just makes you feel they have put their own potential business interests ahead of yours. You’ve also got to remember that all the agents and publishers who blog these days stress the fact that they and the author are entering into a business relationship. Some say quite firmly they do not want to be friends, they just want a professional business relationship. And that seems fine to me (as long as both parties understand what that means!) Of course, with my second publisher, I do have a friendly, enjoyable relationship, and I actually trust them to be diligent, fair and reasonable in our dealings. And it’s lovely, but not essential. In the end, the contract exists so that your personal relationship should not prevent you each from achieving the benefits you signed up for. Wound you up enough yet?

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    1. Not wound up at all, Graham, and happy to get other viewpoints; after all, I stated I was taking a narrow one. Regarding extended publishing rights, I understand where you are coming from, but interestingly, the breadth of the broad contract is mainly in terms of epublishing and printing, which we do as a normal course for all our writers – and within epublishing, it includes pdf, Kindle, Nook, and anything else we can extract out of smashwords. I think your point is valid in terms of audio and foreign language, although we would do it at a drop of a hat, given half a chance. If it is beyond us, we also don’t have a problem farming it out. I suppose the reason why we (and others) want full rights is in part because we put the major effort into editing, proofing and formatting, and want to get rewarded for it, along with assisting the author to be rewarded likewise. Just like the author’s creative output, the editorial and proofing output is persistent. This is a philosophical stand. The relationship thing is our modus operandi and unlikely to easily change – what we need to do is to advertise this better (via our site) (along with the nuances of worldwide, multi-platform rights), and form the correct relationships. I emphasize my earlier point, we have over ten authors now who have excellent relationships with us. Appreciate your views a lot, mate. Gerry

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