On receiving the contract I read it quickly and then read it again more slowly and then one more time, after which I decided that I needed help to make the correct decision.
I bounced the idea off Goodread, which is a book readers web site, and I was very pleasantly surprised to hear from Stephen Leather, one of my favourite authors. He was kind enough to comment on my request for advice.
Just four of the nineteen Stephen Leather books that I have collected over the years.
Stephen advised me to retain an agent before signing with a publisher. So the next thing was to find an agent willing to represent me. Funny how history repeats itself – I was unable to persuade any Australian or British agent to represent me, even though I had a publishing contract and their cut from my commission would be 15%. Many of the agents that I contacted stated that they were ‘full’ – and others failed to reply.
I still wanted the contract read by someone who was aware of the pitfalls in the publishing industry, so I joined the Australian Society of Authors and paid to have the contract checked by their legal department. I received an eight page report containing thirty four suggestions. Some suggestions where easily fixed with the publisher, but for other suggestions the publisher wouldn’t budge. Certain clauses were going to be ‘take it or leave it’ clauses.
If I rejected a certain clause the contract to publish would be withdrawn. In the end I accepted the contract, after all, I’d always wanted to be published by a professional publisher and this company had been in the business for a hundred and fifty years. A strong consideration for me living in Australia was that a UK publisher would be able to market the book far better than I could in the UK & USA. I even had some of their books on my book shelf at home, which I’d bought some years ago.
At the request of the Company I sent the publisher’s editor a copy of the manuscript and I am pleased to say she (another female editor) only requested five small changes to the manuscript. One of the changes was based on the perception of how a reader would accept my description of an urchin in 1805, which would be unacceptable today (un-PC). I explained that in 1805 it was acceptable, but in the end I lost the argument and the word had to be changed. Overall I was pleased that the editor that I picked to do the original editing was a very good choice.
Once they were happy with the manuscript they wanted to change the book’s title and the book’s cover. It took me some time to get used to the new cover. I must admit that it is more dramatic than the original cover. The title in the picture below shows ‘The’ Triangle Trade, but in the final production I managed to get rid of this word on the grounds that it made the title sound like a textbook. It was published as just ‘Triangle Trade’.
I was then asked for suggestions as to marketing the book.
My suggestion was to produce the book in paperback, and I specifically asked that it not be produced as a hardback. I wanted it produced as cheaply as possible, and suggested that the publisher place copies in airport & railways stations book shops marketing it as an impulse buy for travellers. I was an unknown author, but with the new cover and at the right price, I thought that it would make an attractive read for a traveller’s journey.
The publisher already had a databank of customers to whom they could do a mail or e-mail shot.
Sales staff around the country where given the new book’s title and told to start marketing.
I was given a small advance on sales and the book was produced – in HARDBACK with a sale price of £15.99! I was sent six free books as the author.
At that time the exchange rate to the Australian dollar was $2 for £1.00, which made Triangle Trade one of the most expensive books in Australia, (and I think the UK) particularly for an unknown author.
I complained that Triangle Trade should have been issued as a paperback and I was told that they had been in the publishing industry for over one hundred and fifty years, and that they knew what they were doing. . . . . .I had my doubts, because I spend a lot of time in secondhand book shops. New paperbacks in Australia are expensive.
I buy new paperbacks from Book Depository because their prices are the lowest in many cases, as long as you don’t mind waiting a week or so for free deliver.
A year or so later the e-book version was issued at £4.99 (AUD $10.00), which is more expensive than the e-books from Stephen Leather, Lee Child, C. S Forster, Vince Flynn, Michael Connelly and many others.
Overall the sales have been disappointing. I receive a report of sales every six months, which includes details of my commission. My commission has not yet paid back the small advance.
On a positive side the marketing by the sales person working in and around Merseyside (Liverpool, UK) did a very good job by getting me interviewed by Radio City of Liverpool, the local Merseyside radio station. The radio station rang me and the interview went for about thirteen minutes.
The same sales person also managed a full page spread in the Liverpool Echo on the ‘Book’ page, written by Laura Davis, the Executive Editor of ‘What’s On’, in the widest read newspaper on Merseyside. As you know Triangle Trade (Ice King) is centred around Liverpool in 1804 to 1807 so the radio and newspaper link generated a lot of interest, but few overall sales, which I put down to price again.
If a reader of this blog is considering self publishing and they are fortunate enough to be picked up by a regular publisher, be careful as to what you sign. I signed away my own work (Ice King) for ten years in a cloud of euphoria, plus I have to offer any further books to the same publisher.
I suppose I could write under a non-de-plume, but it would be difficult to write the remainder of the King & Co. series under another name, because I have possibly a total of three or four books in mind for the series.
I sold a few hundred paperback editions of Ice King, and also hundreds more as an e-book before it was re-published as Triangle Trade, so there are too many current readers asking for the sequel by Geoff Woodland rather than A. Another.
Over ride your wish to be published in the traditional way, maintain control and do it yourself. Only reconsider this approach if you have an agent.
Stephen Leather being a prolific writer, has managed to do both, much of his work is published by a traditional publisher, and he has produced additional e-books, which he self publishes. Check Mr Leather’s link for a great deal of information on self publishing.