Category Archives: The Writing Life

Publishing Contracts of the Draconian Variety

Chapter eleven in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


 

We find out in On Writing that Stephen King signed a contract he considered not quite indentured slavery, but in the neighborhood, when he sold Carrie for a $2,500 advance.

I didn’t know that and had no literary agent to know if for me. Before it occurred to me that I might actually need an agent, I had generated well over three million dollars’ worth of income, a good deal of it for the publisher.

That was 1974. It’s 2016. 42 years later. Guess what the starting advance for a book deal is?

$2,500

You know, $2,500 — the amount that was not quite indentured slavery, but in the neighborhood 42 years ago. Fast food workers aren’t the only ones whose wages have stagnated in order to pad the pockets of billionaires. Add to this the practice of most modern publishers who include a clause in their default book contracts that literally forfeits your sixth amendment right to a fair trial. Add to this the “most favored nation” clauses that prohibit you from charging, for instance, any less than $12.99 for the e-book version of your work, even though a lower price point typically results in much, much higher sales volume, out-earning even the $12.99 price point (more on that in the next article on author earnings). Add to this phrases like “advance against royalties generated from this or any other work of the author,” which basically bundles all of your work together to earn back the money the company fronted you in your advance.

The aforementioned $2,500 advance.

Add to this how you will need to sell tens of thousands of copies in a very crowded marketplace in order to get a second book deal and that your second book will need to sell tens of thousands more in order to justify a third and a fourth. And, of course, the little bit about how the publisher now owns the rights not only to these works, but to the characters in these works and — through that nice little non-compete clause — your right to work in that genre again.

By the end, you haven’t sold your book.

You’ve sold your career.

For $2,500.

Don’t worry, if you want the rights to your career back, they’ll always return it to you… for a price.

Contracts in publishing are no different from contracts in banking: they favor the big guy over the little guy.

 

As a little guy, you must find ways to work this towards your advantage starting with a refusal to sign contracts that:

  1. Don’t pay well,
  2. take away your right to a fair trial,
  3. take away large swaths of your intellectual rights,
  4. cripple you from the long play.

DO NOT accept short-term gains over long term, exponential momentum. DO NOT sell your birthright for a bowl of soup, your career for a couple grand. It’s not worth it. That’s the short of it. Remember: $2,500 today is worth $25,000 or even $2.5 million ten years from now.

If you want to read up more on contracts, grab a copy of How to be Your Own Literary Agent and pick Porter Anderson’s brain — he keeps a firm pulse on the industry.


Don’t have time for the whole series?

That’s okay, I made you a…

CHEAT SHEET TO BOOK BUSINESS

Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:

  1. Intro
  2. The Gateway Drug: Poetry
  3. Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
  4. Where and How to Sell What You Write
  5. From Daydreams to Written Dreams
  6. Rejection Slips
  7. Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
  8. Regular Writing Assignments
  9. Making Good Money… in a shadow career
  10. Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
  11. Draconian Contracts
  12. Author Earnings
  13. Succeeding for Others
  14. Blaze a Trail All Your Own

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image from U.S. Geological Survey

Making Good Money… in a Shadow Career

Chapter nine in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


Once you’ve read The Writer’s Market and come to terms with the good sides of your gift, once you’ve started putting down your daydreams on paper and decided to work regularly of your own volition, once you’ve reformed your craft through that self-assessment called “rejection,” you’ll figure out how to make good money.

In many inferior ways.

You’ll figure out what it’s like to be making good money in a shadow career.

Remember when in the Where and How to Sell What You Write section when I told you that tons of people out there want to make money off of you, the writer, and don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart?

Remember when in the Any Money Makes a Pro section when I told you that making passive income will help you create the space you need to start making money off of your writing?

And remember when in the Quarterly Assignments section where I told you that regular work is a double-edged sword? How it can lull you into passivity?

Well smash all of that together and you’ll get the shadow career.

You can make good money off of people who want to make money off of you, people who are offering you passive income or the space you need to make money writing, people who want to give you very regular work.

It’s called advertising.

Chesterton taught us in Utopia of Usurers that in a modern capitalistic society it’s not that there won’t be any good art. It’s that there won’t be any art that is not simultaneously advertisement and that’s a considerable step lower. Spiderman can’t shoot a web without shooting at a Dr. Pepper can. The Transformers can’t show up on screen unless they’re the most recent model of the Dodge Charger. Half the clichés Americans use didn’t originate with poets as they did in other cultures. They originated with copywriters — anyone who watched the first episode of Mad Men knows this. But anyone who has watched Mad Men also knows that all of those boys have a manuscript in the bottom draw of their desk or a painting at home or a dream to be a movie star.

You can make a lot of money selling someone else’s work. Is that what you want?

If it is, be the best salesman in the world. But very, very few people show up to career day in gradeschool saying, “When I grow up, I want to have higher sales figures than Dale Carnegy and Zig Ziglar combined.” Warren Buffett didn’t even think that, exactly. He was too busy learning about class ranking for horses and reinvesting his profits for compounded interest.

My guess is that someone so burned you early on, so drilled into your head that you can’t make money writing that you got desperate and tried to short circuit the process. I did. I was burned by a great many people I respect and started making a lot of money doing something that resembled fiction writing on the outside but was very, very far from my goal. I would have been better staying at the hospital, in the end, because I ended up taking a five-year detour around my goal. I wrote copy for ad agencies and tech startups. I poured hours over phrases that sold umbrella insurance, only to have to (1) deliver it on spec — meaning working for free — and (2) have super needy clients change it to a lesser campaign anyways.

For what?

To make money writing.

I told you: I was desperate. Warren Buffett said, “I chose early on to only work for people I respect and the only person I respect is me.” I had something of that attitude in me early on, but I’ve gotten rid of it — there are several people I’d happily work for or alongside these days. I’m no longer desperate. And because I’m no longer desperate, I’m doing a lot better work, quicker, and for much higher returns.

And it’s all my own work. Work I care about. I’m not selling my birthright for a bowl of soup.

In this city, everyone’s something else. My business partner Kyle Welch said, “New York is a city of underachieving geniuses. L.A. is a city of overachieving morons.” I know what he means. In L.A., you meet guys that made millions off of cat posters so that they can surf all day long. In New York, you’ll be grinding it out as an extra on the set of some Netflix TV series alongside a guy who just wrote the next great American opera, a guy who has no connections and no hope and is just struggling along. “Starving artist” is used as a term of insult in America but Mother Theresa often starved that the lepers she loved might eat. Perhaps the artist has an eye for more than the next ten years. Perhaps the artist, like Fred Danback, has his eye on his great-great-great grandchildren.

Here, people will also make millions in finance or advertising or real estate because it’s the closest thing they could get to the thing they love and they went from survival to survival of the fittest quicker than a cheetah kill. Think about that. Is that you? Did you go from survival mode to survival of the fittest mode?

Did you go from being a starving artist to the kind of person who profits off of making artists starve?

Shame on you.

Shame on me.

Shame on all of us for accepting this as normal. It’s not normal. It’s distinctly American, but not everything distinctly American is distinctly good — like Japanese internment camps and African slavery and legalized usury that results in political bribery. It’s unacceptable that we convert our brightest minds and best hope for tomorrow into people who exploit those with the brightest minds and best hopes. I reject my shadow careers and embrace my real, my true, my überself — the man I was made to be.

You too.

Become you-i-er. Today. Right now.

Stop making money off of that shadow career. I’d rather you work in a field completely unrelated to your writing (or art), a field that can give you space to write or create than for you to compromise your vision and passion, sacrificing it all to that golden calf on Wall.

Okay?

It’s going to be okay, I promise. Hang with me.

Oh and by the way, that golden calf on Wall? It was originally an installation made by an artist to critique American greed and celebrate the strength and power of the American people. It took guts, a vision for the future, and passion to convey such a message in the heart of such a place. That Wall Street embraced the golden calf as their go-to mascot tells you everything you need to know.

And that’s coming from a Taurus.


Don’t have time for the whole series?

That’s okay, I made you a…

CHEAT SHEET TO BOOK BUSINESS

Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:

  1. Intro
  2. The Gateway Drug: Poetry
  3. Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
  4. Where and How to Sell What You Write
  5. From Daydreams to Written Dreams
  6. Rejection Slips
  7. Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
  8. Regular Writing Assignments
  9. Making Good Money… in a shadow career
  10. Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
  11. Draconian Contracts
  12. Author Earnings
  13. Succeeding for Others
  14. Blaze a Trail All Your Own

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image from U.S. Geological Survey

Regular Writing Assignments — The Dark and The Light

Chapter eight in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


Once the rejections slow down and you’ve found a bit of success (or, possibly, a bit of success has found you), something even more dangerous can set in and throw off your internal compass, reneging scores on your internal scorecard.

It’s the danger of regular work, regular writing assignments.

Work you can count on.

Over the years, a several different publications and businesses have given me assignments that came in quarterly or monthly. It was steady work, the kind of regular contract any businessman should seek. Long-term buy-and-hold investors often look for undervalued dividend-paying stocks. This is the literary equivalent of the quarterly dividend. But there’s a deeper layer to the metaphor:

Sometimes a stock is being artificially propped up by share repurchases and by giving out a larger and larger share of their earnings to shareholders as dividends. The executive board is doing this because they’re lost. They don’t know how to reinvest earnings into their own company to exponentially increase their future return and thus enrich shareholders. A quarterly assignment can do this to the author.

You get to where you count on that paycheck. You get to where you expect it. You get to where you don’t write another short story because this one, this one, is guaranteed to give you another writing credit and challenge you to produce regularly.

But is regularity enough at this stage in the game?

Surely by this stage in the game, you’ve taught yourself good habits and are writing daily. So regular assignments won’t help you that much in that department. Which means you need to be evaluating this assignment based on (1) how it stretches you to grow creatively and in terms of honing your craft as well as (2) the momentum of reinvesting the earnings you make from these sales. I was noticing, for instance, that I had gone from making a habit of being way early on one of my quarterly assignments to making a habit of being way late delivering on deadline.

Why?

What had changed?

The money certainly hadn’t changed: I’d been reinvesting my profits in a couple of productivity tools and platform building resources. When those tools ran out, I was saving up to reinvest in marketing, an assistant, and a bulk buy of some shares of stock that related to the literary business. Rule #1 is always reinvest your profits to compound the effect your money has and make it work as hard as possible for you. The money, in other words, generates as much momentum as time or mass if allowed to compound.

But that wasn’t enough. I felt, in my bones, that my time could be spent making more money doing bigger projects over the long hall. I was still delivering late. What else was wrong?

Here’s what was wrong:

The assignment no longer challenged me. I had gotten to the point where I would spend a half hour on a draft and email it immediately. It would go to publication with minor blue pencil adjustments, published almost as-is. An artist who has worked himself beyond criticism isn’t an artist anymore because art is always a dialog between the maker and the spectator, the giver and the receiver. You and I? We’re not God. That means we’re not perfect or good through-and-through. We’re flawed.

We need reform, regular changes of mind, adaptation, evolution.

And when we’re a member of a broader society — civil, literary, or otherwise?

Revolution.

That can’t happen if you’ve worked yourself into a very clean, very safe, very well-preserved museum exhibit. Art thrives when it looks a bit lived-in — the billionaire grandma who never allows her grandkids to write on her white walls is missing an essential part of what it means to be a grandma. And, as a matter of fact, what it means to raise up the next generation of writers.

So I quit.

And the editor, who has worked with me for years, wished me a ton of luck and understood completely — she’d been feeling it too, I’m sure. If there’s one thing an editor hates, it’s late writers.

To review: the benefit of a quarterly assignment is steady income that you can consistently reinvest as if it were a DRIP (dividend re-investment program) for a utility stock.

The downside is malaise: never get comfortable in your writing. Never get to where you’re writing fiction free from critique and the reformation of rejection. I want you to succeed, but not that easily: if it comes between your success and your greatness, choose the latter. The path of least resistance is not the path of the high and noble, the way of the knight. Choose renown over fame, investiture over fortune, meekness over power, long suffering over instant gratification, and faithfulness in your craft over get rich quick schemes.

Steady work, in short, is great.

But you must be the initiator of that steady work. Otherwise you’re only doing it because someone else is nagging. And writing because someone’s nagging is worse than doing the dishes because someone’s nagging. At least with the dishes someone has to do it. No one has to write. To put yourself in a position where you feel that way is ludicrous.

Regular writing assignments may count as your regular, willful work, but often they can get in the way.

But not always, so:

 

  1. Work daily at will.
  2. And then reinvest the profits that come from your regular, willful work.

Don’t have time for the whole series?

That’s okay, I made you a…

CHEAT SHEET TO BOOK BUSINESS

Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:

  1. Intro
  2. The Gateway Drug: Poetry
  3. Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
  4. Where and How to Sell What You Write
  5. From Daydreams to Written Dreams
  6. Rejection Slips
  7. Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
  8. Regular Writing Assignments
  9. Making Good Money… in a shadow career
  10. Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
  11. Draconian Contracts
  12. Author Earnings
  13. Succeeding for Others
  14. Blaze a Trail All Your Own

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image from Chris Devers

From Daydreams to Written Dreams

Chapter five in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


I have a hard time with conversations.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time with me likely got the first impression that I was aloof or arrogant, cold or only concerned with what I have to say. Sometimes that’s true, but generally what happens is conversation breaks down in my mind.

In high school, I would get latched onto a word and see the best direction for the conversation to go and would insist on bringing something up that people stopped talking about thirty minutes prior. It’s kind of an aspie or autistic trait — I’ve had to learn to fake conversation. And then learn to fake listening. And over time, I’ve at least learned — through actually listening — to care about some things that aren’t my own interests. But truly, I’d be lying if I didn’t say most conversation bores me because the nature of conversation is to sprawl. Conversation almost never comes around to things that matter unless you either hijack the conversation or unless you’re talking with someone you trust, someone whose soul matches the resonant frequency of your own. A kindred spirit. I have a few and my conversations with these people often last hours and go places others cannot go.

So in conversations these days, I’ll often stay silent and someone will think I’m ignoring them or not listening. The truth is, I’m listening a little too hard. I’ve latched onto some word or phrase — yesterday it was “diabetes black market” — and wonder about some world, some story, some what-if in my alternate universe.

I daydream.

Hard. I daydream probably worse than just about anyone I know. Disclaimer: I haven’t talked about this with fellow writers. Those who don’t know what this is like, who have never experienced day terrors or true rapture where you’re caught up in something like Paul’s third heaven (though I’ve never been caught up in the third heaven, I have been caught up in a place that looks oddly like a pool hall and includes a couple of fat guys with cigars and a couple of ladies with pistols), imagine being in a factory line and suddenly finding yourself in Narnia. And you go  on some grand adventure, at the end of which you return to the factory line and your boss is yelling at you to pick up the pace because you’ve created a bottleneck at your station. That’s me. I’m convinced that half of the “laziness” of many creatives is simply scheming the next major project. It’s brewing, marinating, stewing just under the surface.

Of course, many creatives also lean into this as some sort of excuse and really are just plain lazy. But that’s another thing I’ve covered pretty extensively elsewhere.

My 9-World Universe that I’ve slowly built up over the years began in Terry Bowland’s freshman class when he was talking about lewd fellows of the baser sort. It was a good lecture, but somewhere in there he mentioned the word “coast” as in “the coast of Macedonia” or something to that effect. Immediately, I took out a white sheet of paper and sketched an island with a river down the middle.

I didn’t realize until later that growing up in Southern Illinois was really growing up in a distillation of a riverland. Eight rivers pierce my homestate. In the lowest section, they converge to make some of the most fertile soil in the world — or at least they do right now, who knows what the changing climate will do to the land in years to come.

The Mississippi tears through that landscape mirroring the great testosterone-wrought divide in the mind of every man, the one separating the hemispheres of the brain. Missouri and Illinois. I’ve convinced myself over the years that 90% of the most important American culture found its inception within 300 miles of the Mississippi — from Hemingway and Twain to jazz and sweetcorn.

In any case, I’m wandering here. River-like.

The point is that I drew this river and coastland on the page and went back to my room and starting writing what will eventually be a good chunk of Book 8 of A.R.C., naming the world “Gergia” from a small and otherwise lost 300-word seed written by a good friend named Seth Caddel (Seth gave up on the project almost ten years ago — it had taken on a life of its own like nearly everything I touch and he moved on to other fiction and nonfiction — we still keep in touch).

That semester, at the bottom of the midnight hour, I finished my first novel. I immediately wrote THE END (cause that’s what a real writer does, right?) and went screaming down the hallway, “I finished my first novel! I finished my first novel!”

I believe it was Old Man Spiel who responded first, who wasn’t actually old but acted every night at bedtime like a geriatric senior bowed double. Old Man Spiel came busting out of his room, hunched over, “Lance! Quiet hours!”

I shut up.

But by that time half of the guys had come out of the doors to jump around with me.

They say nothing will ever come close to your first high.

Perhaps that’s also true if you’re talking about the adrenaline of a first novel — I almost missed my 7am Greek class due to lack of sleep and an abundance of tea.

There is something deep and troubling about finishing a creative project on that scale, like spotting a dark mass moving in the waters.

written dreams daydreams intruder andrew wyeth painting something stirs in the waters cthulu watcher in the water leviathan lance schaubert

There is something high and moving like the dawn of God’s return in it. I say this because whatever else we’re doing here, the point is that magic. The point is the daydreaming and writing down of those dreams. We are John. Each novel is our Revelation.

That’s the point of it.

Not awards. Not money. Not the elusive praise from that Biology teacher who called you a turd-flinging monkey after you mis-dissected a pig fetus in your sophomore year of highschool.

The point is dreaming.

And recording the dreams.

Novels are written dreams.

 

So write your dreams. And then move on to the next one. That’s the rapture. That’s why we do it.

Anything getting in the way of that is obviously an enemy to the cause. Keep that in mind once we start talking both about rejection and contracts.


Don’t have time for the whole series?

That’s okay, I made you a…

CHEAT SHEET TO BOOK BUSINESS

Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:

  1. Intro
  2. The Gateway Drug: Poetry
  3. Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
  4. Where and How to Sell What You Write
  5. From Daydreams to Written Dreams
  6. Rejection Slips
  7. Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
  8. Quarterly Assignments
  9. Making Good Money… in a shadow career
  10. Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
  11. Draconian Contracts
  12. Author Earnings
  13. Succeeding for Others
  14. Blaze a Trail All Your Own

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image by Nick Kenrick

 

Where and How to Sell What You Write

Chapter four in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


When I went to college, I found myself loaded down with logic and rhetoric and grammar classes at a school that didn’t teach math or science.

 

They wore their lack of the sciences as a badge of honor. The curriculum did appeal to the rebel in me, but it completely turned off almost all of my redeeming sides that delighted in both math and science.

Ironically, it was the perfect environ for the literary part of me to flourish: most of my talents in math felt rerouted in every class but Koine Greek — the language of logic (think: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle). Through a very skilled and very sassy and very old Greek grammarian, I finally came to understand English grammar and began that first semester writing a novel I would finish by the end of my freshman summer. Soon afterwards, I began researching how to get published like the T.H. Whites and Walt Whitmans and J.K. Rowlings of the world.

I wanted to know then what you want to know now: where and how to sell what you write.

Here’s how:

Continue reading Where and How to Sell What You Write

Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club

Chapter three in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101. 


Before I discovered poetry on my own, I had told stories to friends and family, but the power of oral storytelling had yet to connect to the literary part of my brain.

In my elementary days, the name they called me more than anything was “liar.” Lying Lance.

 

Now on occasion I deserved it, particularly several instances in which I smooth-talked my way out of detention — a golden tongue like a golden sword can get you into as many troubling situations as it can rewarding ones — but it took college for me to realize that fiction and exaggeration isn’t lying at all but a way of conveying the truth of both emotion and theme through a trick of light.

But don’t take it from me.

If you want to know if fiction lies, ask Tolkien:

Continue reading Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club