Authors are not employees. They are freelancers who aren’t tied to any particular business and who can be contracted to several – or more – at the same time.
I was reminded of this a few days ago when I got an email from my publishers that opened with ‘nice to be working with you again.’ As far as I was concerned I’d never stopped working with them. It also raises the possibility that, at some point, my work had simply dropped into a canyon of disinterest; that, once my novel wasn’t new anymore, they had no interest in either it or me.
This is both true and not true. Of course any publisher will prioritise new books and bestsellers; it’s the way of the industry, and they can’t keep trying to flog every old potboiler that just happened to slip through the quality-control net. There is a point where one is just throwing good money after bad. Or, to be less cynical about it, to take what slender earnings they received and move on.
But publishers still want to sell their back catalogue and so, once a relationship is forged, it never simply disappears. As long as a book is available – not remaindered, if such a thing has any meaning in this world of ebooks and print-on-demand – then both author and publisher want to sell it. They just don’t want to spend any money so doing.
So the relationship between author and publisher is always a bit confused. An author might want to promote a book that’s been out a year, but they’re not employees – and the industry has moved on. A publisher won’t simply forget an author but, ultimately, they have no responsibility to look after them once the terms of the contract have been honoured.
The agent-author relationship is even more complicated. Technically the author employs the agent but it can often feel like it’s the other way round. The agent deigns to accept a writer as a client; a writer doesn’t have hordes of agents clamouring to be selected. The agent critiques and edits the work and often has great creative say in what’s eventually put out.
But the money flows from writer to agent, and that’s ultimately what it comes down to. The writer hires the agent. Don’t forget that.
It’s all terribly confusing. But, if you’re looking for advice, allow me to present you to with a few quick bullet-points:
- Maintain good relationships. Try not to piss people off; you might only be working with them for a limited time but you might always publish more than one book with the same people. That’s surely the aim. Don’t get a bad reputation.
- Remember that, beyond the terms of your contract, you are beholden to no-one and no-one is beholden to you. Do a good job. Thank people who have helped you. But don’t be fooled into thinking you work for them. Be free!
- If you’re lucky enough to sign with an agent, don’t think you have to slavishly follow their every command. If it’s not working – for any reason – you have the power to make changes. No relationship is better than a bad relationship
- Keep writing. It’s ever so tricky, sometimes, to remember what you originally were: there’s so much publicity to do, so much business to clear. But you must keep on producing material because every new work is a new slice of freedom. Unless you’re tied in to a multi-book contract – in which case I doubt you’re reading this – each story is a new deal. And you can take that deal anywhere.
- Keep track of what you’ve sent where. All this freedom can all get terribly, terribly complicated – especially if you’re working on short stories, poems, or other things where you might be sending out multiple things to many places at the same time. Try and develop a system – even if it’s only the simplest of spreadsheets – so you don’t feel like you’re drowning