Well, someone finally offered me a book contract, with an advance and everything. There were a few caveats.
Among the documents I received were instructions on what I should do to promote the book, all on my time, at my expense. Okay, small publisher, this is the direction things have been moving the past few years. It's not unexpected.
This publisher uses the big distributors, but says up front there won't be any books in big stores. People can special order from Borders or Barnes and Noble, but they won't be stocked. Too much piffle with returns, and Borders is a slow pay. Again, not unexpected, but disappointing to have it laid out so starkly.
It's up to me to get the books into independent booksellers, too. By now I'm getting the distinct impression the publisher's sales staff is me. This, too, is not wholly unexpected, though the luster of getting a deal is officially fading.
Then I got to the good stuff: the contract itself. The publisher gets, for ten years, the right to publish or assign, without limitation, all hardcover, soft cover, and electronic version (including "mass market") editions in all print formats (large, small, or condensed). They also get all audio, electronic, television, movie, cinematic, and other versions, as well as general licensing rights to merchandise and other items based on the work. They'll split any secondary rights fees with me 50-50.
I am required to buy one hundred copies of the book, at a discount of 50% from the publisher's recommended retail price.
10% of list for trade paper.
3% of list for hard cover copies sold at discounts less than 40%.
25% of e-book sales.
25% of any hard covers sold at 40-60% discount, after the publisher's expenses for producing these copies have been deducted.
Finally, we get to the good part: the advance.
$25.00. They even spelled it out for me, so there would be no confusion: TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS ($25.00).
I'm not arrogant about my writing skills. (Hard to be when I've been trying to get published for ten years.) This is not a guaranteed best seller. It's not going to make people cast aside their copies of the new Robert Crais or Lee Child or Ken Bruen so they can read it when it becomes available. But I'll be damned if I'm giving it away unless it was my idea to do so in the first place, just to see my name in print. I'm a whore, not a bimbo.
It's tough, reading their guarantee to have the book in print within eighteen months of a signed contract after ten years of trying. For the first time, I truly had an inkling of how virgin authors must feel when they hold their first copy of their first book. It's nice. For a few seconds I looked forward to it. Then I realized this is no better than vanity publishing, and a lot more expensive than going POD. I'm not saying I'll never do that, but I'm not going to delude myself into thinking I really "sold" a book.
I'm alleging no misconduct on the part of the publisher; they've done everything they said they'd do to this point, and have been up front about it. (I'm not going to name them, so don't ask.) I just thought some other fledgling author might come across this and get a better idea of what he or she is up against, maybe have a benchmark against which they can compare their offer. Or decide I'm an arrogant, self-centered prick who's walking away from a chance to get in on the ground floor. I'm not saying I'm right. Everyone can decide for themselves.
Just don't be surprised.