This is a reprint of an article written by Roger Dean Kiser, author of The White Boys: An American Tragedy, and is one of the best I have read about the realities of the publishing business. Kiser says:
If I may, I would like to make a few points that may be beneficial to a few of you interested in publishing a book.
I am sure that my stories had a little to do with pushing my rating to a higher position, but most of all it was the hard work going on behind the scenes. I spent hours upon hours of reviewing stories in order to make enough money to promote my stories. I always watch the time of day, and the date(s) to make sure that my work would be seen, at just the right time, and by the most readers. A time when most of you would be on the computer and available to read and review.
No matter how good your story (or my story is); if you do not do the hard work your stories will go unnoticed. It will become nothing more than a bunch of worthless words.
As time goes by you will learn that writing a story is the easy part. Getting published is the hard part. However, even if you self-publish, which I would never do, how many books will you sell? After your family and a few friends buy your book who is left? Even then you will have to battle your friends to support you. Believe me, I have been there.
In my opinion, self-publishing companies are somewhat like some funeral homes. They thrive off the client’s feelings. The self publishing company uses your feelings of happiness and joy, while a funeral home feeds off your feelings of loneliness and guilt.
For example: Let’s take your first book and place it in Barnes and Noble. Inside the front cover we place a ten-thousand dollar bill. Now you and I know that inside that book is something of great value (your work). Now in comes the customer who sees twenty-five thousand books sitting on shelves, along with yours. How would they know that your book has more of a value than do the other books? THEY DON’T.
Then how do you sell your book? Well, I can tell you this… The publisher is not going to do it for you. They are out to make money and whatever it takes to promote your book is going to be your responsibility.
Well, I was lucky and I sold more than 600 copies of my first book in about four months. I held book signings in four states. During that four month period I made about seven-hundred dollars. However, I spent almost that amount in traveling expenses.
Having a devious mind, I thought of a trick which I used on Amazon.com. I would find books similar to mine and I would review them. Not once did I ever give a bad review. However at the end of the review process it asked if I knew of a book which was a better read. If so, it asked for the ISBN Number of that book. Hell yeah I know of a better book, MINE!
I then spent hours entering the ISBN number of my book. I repeated this thousands of times over the next few months. How many books did I sell that year? Quite a few. Damn that was pretty good. Bought myself a new truck. Once the money was gone, I was right back where I started.
I worked twenty hours a day, seven days a week to push my books. I gave away thousands of my stories for free just to get my name out there. I have stories in more than 30 books in five countries. My stories are now used in five states for the testing of school children. I have stories on ten thousand web sites around the world. Yet, how many of you have ever heard of Roger Dean Kiser?
What is my point? The point is this: writing is a never-ending battle. It is a claw, scratch and very hard climb to ever reach the top.
Oh, let me tell you about the movie deal.
I managed to put together a movie deal with Universal Pictures, based on my book. I was to receive fifty-thousand dollars up front and then four additional payments of fifty-thousand dollars, as the film progressed. My publisher (Adams Publishing) told me that they held (all) the rights to my first book and that they were to receive the fifty-thousand dollar payments. I was to receive 7.05% of that.
To make a long story short: They refused to budge and I refused to budge, so the deal fell apart. In the end we both got nothing.
Do not sell your soul just to get your story published. Hold on to as many rights as you can. There are many rights associated with the publishing of a story/book. Television rights, movie rights, book rights, audio rights, foreign rights, CD rights, DVD rights; and the list goes on and on.
An extreme example of the contract: You can sell to white people but not to black people. You can sell to red people but not to white people who are deaf. You can sell to black people but not to white people if they are crippled. You can sell to purple people but not to brown people if they have one eye. A contract is so involved that the average writer cannot understand what is actually happening or what it is saying. Generally, the writer is so excited about being published that they will sign anything placed before them.
I know you will go get yourself a good lawyer and he will make it all simple and clear. Don’t bother wasting your money. The damn lawyers are just about as bad as the publishers. They will suck what little money you do get, out of your pocket faster than a sponge dropped in water.
DON’T DO ANYTHING without giving the contract much thought. Many times the book itself is not where the big money is located. The large payday is in a movie and/or television deal. What you get in the contract is not as important as what you might give away.
The contract(s) with publishers are that extreme and are that detailed. They want every penny they can get out of the contract. They act as though they care about you and YOUR IMPORTANT STORY. Believe me, they do not care. I will repeat myself….They do not care. It is all about the money. They want you to do all the work. They will keep you hyped and allow you to spend everything they gave you up front to promote your own book. Another thing they do not tell you is this: Whatever monies you do get up front must be paid back as the book begins to sell. If they give you three thousand dollars, up front you will have to pay that three thousand back to them out of your royalties. They know that you are excited and will spend every penny of that money in the promotion of your wonderful book. Why wouldn’t you? You are going to be a millionaire anyway, RIGHT?
Several years ago I hooked up with several producers/directors from Hollywood. I had them purchase the rights to my first book from Adams Publishing. I was made many promises and felt I was on my way to the BIG TIME.
Well, to make a long story short…They purchased the rights to my book. I got fifty dollars and that was all I ever received. They made several of my stories into movies (called shorts) and entered them into many film festivals. They received top awards and then the producers moved on to several major film deals. I was left behind and forgotten. It is important that you ask that a TIME LIMIT be placed on the contract. Should something go wrong you will not be locked into the contract for years.
I then published another book (overseas) and was told that I had violated my contract with the above producers/directors and that they were going to sue me.
Well, to make another long story short…..I won the argument but by then the foreign publisher was too scared to proceed and withdrew the book from the overseas market.
The main point of this writing is to show you that writing has many pitfalls and it is not an easy business. It takes a lot of hard work and hours, upon hours of your time.
What is the secret to writing a good story? Not just a good story, but a story (or book) that will sell. It must have meaning and it must have a purpose. Your story must shine above all others. If your writing does not invoke feeling(s) it is useless. It is useless because it is only equal to thousands of other stories written about the same subject.
I have always said “Any writer can make a reader see an apple, but a good writer can make them taste it.”
That is the secret. You have to make them cry, laugh or get mad. Everyone wants to feel something when they read. That is why they pick up a book, or watch a television show. That is what it takes to become a published writer.
One last thing you should know.
My thought was this: If someone offered me a movie contract, based on my book and it made twenty-five million dollars and I only received one-million dollars I could live with that screw job. However, that is not how the Hollywood system works. If they make twenty-five million dollars you will be lucky to receive twenty-five thousand dollars. To be even more honest you will be lucky to receive five-thousand dollars.
The reason this happens is because, under the contract rules, they will use your portion of your proceeds under what is called expenses. They will eat lobster and steak, while drinking fine wines throughout the entire shooting of the movie. All the while, patting you on the back and talking about what a great book you wrote. When all is said and done you will be left alone with a book that is useless and has no more value. It is important that you get some money upfront.
How much money are we talking about for a story which might be used for a television series?
If the story is used in Canada you will receive about one thousand dollars per story. If used in the United States you might receive as much a five thousand dollars per story.
If you do get a chance to get a piece of the pie; you had better grab all you can while the grabbing is good. When the smoke clears that will be all you get out of the deal.
Use your time and energy to get known to as large an audience as possible. Do that in the shortest amount of time possible. The internet is one of the best free tools you have. Forget your local newspaper unless you are scheduling a book signing. It is a waste of time. It might be helpful if you live in a large city (one million or more). If you get something working in your favor, stay on top of it. Do not wait for others to make a decision for you. Call them, hound them and stay on their ass until you have succeeded. Others do not care about you, your work or your interests. They will do favors for you only if it puts something in their pocket. I have wined and dined with the best and it was all a waste of time and money.
What I did in order to get my name and stories known on this site is exactly what you have to do on a larger scale. YOU and YOU alone have to make it happen. No one is going to make it happen for you. All I can tell you is that you had best sleep with one eye open when it comes to Publishers, Television and Hollywood.
WHAT ABOUT AN AGENT?
Many are up and coming agents who are looking for the next Stephen King so they can make millions quickly. If you sign a contract with an agent (who is worthless) you are locked in for a year or two. That can kill you. Most good agents want to represent writers who are already established-someone they can/will represent for less of a percentage. It is almost impossible to talk to a well known agent.
Getting an agent to represent you is like applying for credit. The bank will not give you credit unless you have an established credit record. How does one establish credit if no one will give them credit in the first place? Taking on a agent is a chance you will have to take.
Does anyone remember Five Star Music Masters? They were a company who charged thirty-five dollars to put your words to music. Thirty-five dollars was a lot of money in the 1950s. They made millions. No one was ever turned down. All submitted poems and words were “fantastic” and would hit the top of the music chart. (Is there a lesson here?)
One last thought to remember: If a publisher thinks your story is worth millions they will pay you one-hundred thousand dollars to allow them to publish it.
For those of you who write “heartfelt stories” Chicken Soup for the Soul Books is the best way to have your work published. Its an easy $300.00 per story and I have sold hundreds of my own books because of my stories printed in that publication. Their web site submission is free to all.
I am not saying give-up or don’t try to make a career in writing. What I am saying is this…A walk though the woods can be very enjoyable, and profitable if you know where the bears and the deep holes are located.
Good luck and good writing.
January 7, 2009 at 6:24 pm
Wow! Now that’s what I call straight shooting. But he pegged it right, most authors are so excited to get published, they don’t look beyond the dotted line where there signature is required.
I’ve a friend who has gotten multi-book deal. In chatting with a couple other authors with the same publisher, it was discovered that some had done the very same thing Kiser mentioned–signed away all rights and a minimal advance. This was my friends way of stressing the importance of getting an agent, and a good one.
The way I see it, everyone that touches your book, wants a piece of the profit on it. As Kiser says, it’s up to the author to be sure it’s as small a piece as possible. Not easy for a newbie author.
March 9, 2012 at 6:02 pm
Hie this was very interesting and useful article …iam just a 22 year old trying to make it ..I have a good story to write just don’t know how to go about it.and I really just need something like this to help me ..thank u