The first time I turned down a book contract, I thought I had made the worst decision of my life…and the best.
Let’s be honest, the first time we do anything is a big deal, and at that point, I had convinced myself I wanted to be a published author. It was something I REALLY WANTED. Granted, it took time for people to convince me to try, but once I went for it, I was all in.
I wrote a killer query letter (okay fine, letterS, because I was pimping out more than one story at once) and made sure my sample chapters were stellar. I had taken the time to study the industry, learn from those who had gone before me, and I had figured out what did and didn’t make for a good book deal.
In preparation, I had found a publishing lawyer, talked to authors at the publishing companies and agent companies I was submitting to, and I researched the people I was reaching out to with my query.
I was prepared.
And then I got down to business and started sending queries and doing pitching competitions. Everyone’s story with this is different, but for me, I started to hear back fairly quickly.
Again, I did my research if companies had reached out to me during pitching competitions, and I learned about how they ran their businesses. Some I passed on because I could already tell we didn’t align. Some I wrote back to. I did extended research on people who published with them. I knew my stuff. I didn’t waste my time just waiting around.
Then, the email showed up.
It was from the company that had published my favorite book ever…the one I thought was better than Hunger Games and Divergent. And they wanted me. Not only that, but they wanted to see more of my manuscripts.
So I wrote back and set up a time for a phone conference. After all, these people had a ton of standing in the community. I saw what they did with books. I knew the number of reviews they got on Amazon. This was my golden ticket.
I took the day off work (my day job) to accommodate them. I had a pad of paper to take notes and a list of questions. I stopped the work I was doing for my own business while I was waiting and sat down early for the call.
When I answered, she introduced herself as the owner of the company…and the red flags started.
She took my call while running on the treadmill. I wasn’t important enough for her full attention.
She then proceeded to speak negatively about her husband who was outside mowing the lawn and her authors. Yes, she bashed her authors. If she talked down about them to me (a stranger) what would she say about me to other people?
By the end of the phone call, I wasn’t feeling great, and my pub lawyer quickly confirmed my suspicions when I sent the contract over. To be honest, the contract wasn’t bad. The advance was pretty dang good. And their books did well.
This is the part where most people convince themselves they’ll never get another book deal if they don’t take this one, despite hesitations.
I didn’t sign it though. I knew if I gave them my book, it would have a burst of press, a good number of reviews, and then my book would be left to die after it brought in the money they wanted. And it would stay there for five years with nothing I could do about it. This was my chance to be published…but I protected my work instead of giving it away for the chance to be a flash in the pan.
A few days went by and they contact me to see why I hadn’t sent the contract back yet. They knew I was waiting to hear back from other companies after they made the offer, but they were so sure I’d fall in line that they couldn’t understand why I didn’t return it the same day. When I didn’t, they weren’t happy.
Ultimately, I walked away from their offer.
I walked away from other offers, too, where I didn’t feel my book was going to be taken care of the way I wanted it to be. In fact, I said no to a bunch of offers and then decided I didn’t want to publish because I hadn’t found the right fit for my books where they would be taken care of properly. I waited an entire year where I did nothing in the industry before the right fit found me and begged me to join them.
But remember that first company I turned down?
A year and a half later, it came out that they were doing some shady things behind the scenes. I had a lot of friends with the company and many of them were dropped from the company if the company had breached the contract with them and didn’t want to pay them, and then had to get involved in a legal battle to get their books back. Some had to give up first books to get the rest of the series. It was a disaster, but I avoided it because I didn’t take the first deal. I said no when I knew there were red flags.
In fact, I avoided several messy situations by saying no when I knew it wasn’t in my books’ best interests. I waited, and it took time, but in the long run, my books were protected and taken care of.
Is it hard to say no to a book deal, especially when you’ve waited so long and it’s a company you really want to sign with? Yes. But if there are any red flags AT ALL, you have to be responsible and walk away to protect your work. Otherwise, you’re stuck for five years in a bad contract. Trust me, I know from experience how bad that can be.
And because I said no, a year later, I found the right fit and became a bestselling author. That wouldn’t have happened under that company’s control.
Now, not all companies will end up dropping you or forcing you to sue to get your rights back, but if a company isn’t going to put 100% effort into marketing your book, it’s not worth it.
I have far too many author friends who have signed with very well known companies be left on their own to sell their books because they weren’t the golden child. They’re given the same responsibilities of a self-published author, but none of the control, often times leaving them cornered an unable to market properly.
So what are your standards for your book? What do you need to feel comfortable?
For me, I need to trust the company. I need to know that I won’t be called a problem child by my publisher both publicly and privately. I need to know I’ll be their star book, because if not, I can do that work on my own and keep my full royalties. I need to know they have a strong marketing background, highly engaged social media, and the right connections to sell books and get me on lists. And if my book isn’t their biggest priority, it’s not worth messing around with them and giving them a huge chunk of my profits.
I turned them down because I knew my book wasn’t their priority and never would be even though they begged me for the manuscript. Walking away felt like I’d never have another chance. But there’s always another chance…you just have to wait for the right opportunity to happen at the right time.
If you don’t feel over-the-moon good about a book deal, walk. away.
It’s as simple as that.
You wouldn’t give your toddler to someone you don’t know and just hope for the best when you see they’ve got a ton of other kids and the house is starting to break down. Protect your book baby like you’re protecting your puppy dog when you’re selecting a doggy daycare—make sure they are the best fit.
If you do, it might take a little longer, but you’re going to do a lot better. Maybe you’ll even hit best seller!
Don’t let your emotions control the situation. Remember, a book contract is a business deal…one you’ll be locked into for five years. If you’re excited to be in a relationship with the company for five years, jump in. If not, run and wait for the right fit.
PS that company is still in legal battles and still taking on new authors to pay for the ones they allegedly stole from…maybe be careful out there in query-land.
PPS I got more done sitting at the table taking notes than she did on her treadmill while we were talking. Maybe multitasking isn’t for everyone.
PPPS I’ve hit bestseller multiple times. That never would have happened had I signed any of those contracts in the two years before I finally signed with my original publisher. It was the best business decision I could have made.
Have you ever passed on a book deal? Why did you feel like it wasn’t the right fit?