Thursday, August 15, 2013

Business Basics for Today's Writer—Is There a Time you SHOULD Turn down a Book Contract?

I know that for a lot of us, getting a book contract is a dream come true. This is true for first-time authors  and just as true for those of us who are multi-published. So the thought of turning DOWN a contract may not have even seemed like an option.

So is there a time you SHOULD turn down a book contract?


Not only is it an option—it can sometimes be the BEST career decision you can make.

Today I want to share some good reasons to walk away from a book deal.

1. When a publisher claims to be a ‘traditional’ publisher, but requires ANY KIND of financial investment. This is a big red flag. Traditional publishing NEVER requires an author to participate financially in the publication of a book. This even includes a stipulation that the author must buy a certain number of books.

I’m not talking about a publisher charging you a discounted price to buy books. All publishers do that. I’m referring to a clause in the contract that stipulates the author must buy, in advance, a certain number of books. Essentially, the publisher is using this money as capital to cover at least part of the invest for publishing. Any time an author contributes financially to the publication of the book, it’s a version of self publishing

SPECIAL NOTE: I am not saying self-publishing is bad. Far from it! But why, if you’re going to invest financially in publishing your book, why would you be willing to give away the majority of the profits and settle for just royalties? Not to mention giving away the copyright to your material.

2. When the covers produced by the publisher are poor quality. A book cover doesn’t have to be stellar to increase sales, but it DOES have to be good. And beyond that, it should NOT look like a self-published book. Again, do your homework.

3. When the list price of your book is significantly higher than comparable titles. A publisher can set the price of your book at any price. BUT the price can affect your sales. This is especially true with ebooks and with buying books online. Some publishers will inflate the price of a book for a lot of different reasons—ranging from ignorance to trying to make more profit. Do your homework and investigate the list prices for books offered by a potential publisher.

4. When you haven’t even tried the bigger publishers. A BIG publisher is one who can get your books in bookstores, like Barnes and Noble, LifeWay, and others. Lots of independent publishers have good distribution channels, but the bookstores still have to ‘discover’ your book. These smaller publishers doesn’t have the sales and marketing force to get your book shipped to all the stores out there. Some of the big name publishers even have trouble with that.

5. When the contract takes you in a different direction than where you want to go. Okay, I have to admit I'm personally struggling with this one. I want, more than anything, to write fiction. But I'm also drawn to certain non-fiction subjects—specifically those relating to military families. With the fact that I have several non-fiction books, I've had other opportunities to write non-fiction books that aren't related to my passion. It's hard for me to turn these down. But the truth is, I have a finite amount of time. I need to focus on the direction God has for my writing, not just chase book contracts. 

This is where a good agent comes in. My agent, Jessica Kirkland, with the Blythe Daniel Agency has been a godsend. She helps me take a step back and evaluate the path before me.

Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t go with an independent press (I did and I LOVED my experience with Lighthouse Publishingof the Carolinas). But it requires a lot more work on marketing and connecting with your audience. If you’re not willing to put in the work, wait until you can get a contract with a bigger publisher.

I know that getting a book contract, especially that FIRST contract, seems like the most important step in an author's career. But truthfully, if the contract isn't a good one or even the right one for you, it may be the worst step you could take. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Would you ever turn down a contract? If so, when? 

Don't forget to join the conversation!


  1. I agree, Edie. After waiting for 10 years, I got a 2-book offer, which my agent and I turned down. You've named 2 of those reasons here. It's hard when you've waited so long, but I realized it wasn't God's best for me. I'm content to wait.

    1. Ane, thanks for the confirmation and sharing your own experience! Blessings, E

  2. Replies
    1. Dora, thanks so much for stopping by! Blessings, E

  3. As always, great points, Edie. Thanks!

    1. Ginger, thanks so much! Loved your blog post today on Five Minutes for Faith - Blessings, E

  4. I like your points, Edie, but I'm questioning the marketing aspect being more difficult with a smaller publisher. It seems that EVERY author, no matter the size of the publisher, is responsible for much of the marketing anymore. With over 8 million books on Amazon, it takes a lot of action to get your book noticed—and it's pretty time consuming for everyone. Just my thoughts. :)

    1. Elaine, you're right about the marketing, BUT at least it goes into the book stores! That's the problem I've had, is actually getting it into the stores. Thanks so much for sharing! Blessings, E

  5. I turned down a book contract not too long ago, as well, for several of the reasons mentioned above. Now the wait for a better offer is killing me but I will stay strong and continue to write and learn my craft. Thankfully, my agent helps me look forward instead of turning back. :)