There is no greater joy for a writer than holding one’s published book. It is like visiting for the first time, as a child, the amusement park or the zoo or an excursion to the airport to see the airplanes. It is as exhilarating as tasting a woman’s lips for the first time in your life. But as profound as this joy is, and as enthusiastic as writers might be in having their books published, writers should not jump hastily into signing book contracts that may not secure for them, long lasting happiness.

In 2013, I began conversations with a UK publisher to publish my conspiracy crime thriller Satans and Shaitans. I was lucky and fortunate to be guided throughout the process by experienced mentors; Mukoma Wa Ngugi and the Nigerian award winning author of On Black Sisters Street, Chika Unigwe. That is why I was able to negotiate and state what I wanted and how I wanted my book to come out. My publisher was able to shift ground when necessary, and I the same.

Then a month or two ago, I was contacted by yet another publishing firm in the UK, stating that they had read my short erotic Holy Sex series on Brittle Paper, and wanted to know if I had something similar that they could collate and publish. We initiated a phone conversation and agreed that for a start they could publish Bedfellows – a collection of ten erotic short stories.

They sent their contract agreement for my perusal and then as expected the disagreement set in.

First off, this publisher had, before they contacted me, set out their terms and offer as ‘final’ without room for the prospective writer to make any demands.  The publisher wanted to publish an eBook first and if the eBook did well in the market, then they would produce print copies. I agreed. They wanted to pay a certain percentage on royalties, I asked for a 5-10% increment. They declined. They said they would not offer an advance against royalty. I declined, asking for an advance no matter how small. They declined to pay at all, not even £5. They said they could only pay advance for other works of mine they would publish if Bedfellows met ‘a set marketing targets’. I asked what those targets were, they couldn’t give convincing explanation. But then what if I didn’t want them to publish subsequent works of mine? What if I submit other works in the future and they decline to publish them?

So as expected we both said goodbyes.

I have been a director for an organization for quite some time, and sometimes in the peak of a project when we need to make negotiations, I create room for the clients to bargain. I think publishers should do same whenever they negotiate with writers. I wonder why someone would set up a publishing firm and before contacting prospective clients, set out all their terms as ‘non-negotiable’; what we call in Nigeria as ‘No-Go-Area’ clauses, without considering the demands the clients may want to make.

In as much as we are writers, we should also be businessmen

Why would a publisher want the author to agree to their terms in its entirety without considering even a single proposition from the author? I think that is bad business from the word go. Just the other day, a writer friend of mine received a contract from a Nigerian publisher of children literature. We read the contract together and noticed that the publisher had put in one of the clauses an ‘optional’ statement that is not at all optional. They stated that if they publish the current work under review, the author MUST first submit ALL other of his subsequent works to them, and if they are not interested, he could then proceed to submit the works to other publishers, and if he fails to, he has breached the agreement and there would be legal implications. ALL meaning works in crime fiction, erotic fiction, women commercial fiction, fantasy etc. And this is coming from a publisher of children literature. My friend and I agreed to challenge this in the memo he was to send to them.

To writers I say;

While you are eager to get published, do not take shit. Writers do not have to be poor to be good writers. Do not allow any damn publisher to fuck you over and leave you empty-handed. Make your own demands. If a publisher sends you a contract, read carefully and send back a detailed memo outlining areas of interest and clauses that you do not find favourable – state  what you want, and the rights you want to give and those you want to retain. Insist mostly on an advance, no matter how small. It is this advance that would help you to buy gas for your power generator to work on the story for them, to power your computer, effect the edits they make on the manuscript, and type other works. It is this advance that would help you fuel your car, buy your girlfriend a weave before she denies you sex, and to take her to Silverbird Cinema else she would leave you for that young man who works at the Ministry and receives a monthly salary.

What if you agree not to get an advance and this publisher couldn’t promote and market your book and no sales were made, and you receive no royalty? What if you agree on a pittance as royalty payment because oh yea, you are excited over the prospect of having a published work and this book is sold for a pittance per copy, and you receive like N30, 000 for over 10, 000 copies sold? (laughs!).

In as much as we are writers, we should as well be businessmen. Publishers should be ready to invest their resources and time on a writer if they find his works interesting, instead of declining to offer an advance, declining to increase the offer on royalty percentages, afraid that the books might not do well. Writers shouldn’t be like Nigerian teachers who work like donkeys and receive peanuts, believing in the saying by the government that their wages are reserved for them in heaven.

About Author

Writer and Democracy Activist. 2012 African International Achiever. National Top12 Award winner. Author of 'Satans & Shaitans' (Pub. Nov. 2014).

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