Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Selflessness, Charity, and Masochism

I am getting ready to sign a contract for a children's nf book with a small advance that will be used, per the publisher's unnegotiable demand, almost entirely to find and purchase photographs to illustrate the book. How depressing is that? Still, according to the publisher's statistics, books similar to mine do earn substantially after several years. My co-author and I are calling our upcoming year of basically no pay and a whole lot of work "an investment" in the future, but I can't help feel a bit downtrodden.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I hear you on the nonfiction stuff. Another writer told me that if I sold my nonfiction book that I should use the advance to pay for a trip to do more research. Cripes, I need the advance to pay for a trip to the grocery store.
Good luck with your project!

How true this is. As someone who has worked on a couple of books just like this, I can say even I didn't understand why the author agreed to this sort of deal. Don't get me wrong—I was offering her the very most I could without sending the book into negative profit. Some books truly shave much closer to the bone than others. If she hadn't agreed to that deal, we would have had to abandon the book—that was simply the most we could offer. But still.

13 comments:

nw said...

Do the big publishers normally expect authors of nonfiction books to find and pay for their own photos?

Anonymous said...

Oh, man. So the bookseller (if there is one) makes a profit margin from the first book; the distributor makes a profit margin from the first book; the printer and the UPS guy and all other associated services make a profit from the first book; the publisher makes a profit from... I don't know if a profit margin or general overhead is built into net calculations or not, but worst case, the publisher makes a profit starting as soon as the production expenses are covered, which logically would be no later than selling out of the first printing.

And the author doesn't start making any money at all -- not just "profit," but simple revenue, because how many of us mentally reduce the amounts of our advances by the cost of computers and postage and research and paper? -- until AFTER the book has earned out, 5,000 or 10,000 copies later, if all of the advance goes to photography (or whatever) -- which SHOULD logically be a production expense addressed in the P&L calculations, not excluded from them.

There is something wrong with this, folks. Industry pundits often say too many books are being published. This is a good place to start weeding. Writers need to stop signing contracts that REQUIRE them to spend their advances like this. (Promotional spending is at least optional.) The book doesn't get published? Fine. We'll all be better off. (Including the publishers, overall.)

I'll start with a NF ms. that I have envisioned as using photography, rather than illos. No need to send it to the agent, clearly.

aqeldroma said...

What's typically required is that the author clears "permissions," usually up to a set $$ amount. And that requires photo research, etc.

ae said...

An agent I have stuff with asked me if the photos I would use as reference for illos are public domain. As they are already published in other books I could safely say yes.

Anonymous said...

Um . . . photos being published in other books doesn't mean they're public domain. How old are they? Did you check for photo credits?

ae said...

Really OLD. Pre Civil War. Yes, I checked.

Agent seemed to think it okay. And creating illustrations from photos is technically a manipulation. I actually asked this question to a lawyer who said there should be not problem. But if I am wrong (sometimes I am) tell me why. Please. I'd love to know.

Anonymous said...

I'm an author of YA nonfiction. Yes, photo research is generally up to you. You may or may not be able to negotiate a photo budget in your contract, and if you get one you'll have to spend it carefully because it'll probably be bare-bones. When you have to use your own money, you are indeed, in effect, plowing the advance back into the book even if your bookkeeping doesn't treat it that way. In general, libraries, historical societies, museums, tourism or chambers-of-commerce offices, and public relations offices of various companies are much cheaper sources of photos than places like the Bettman Archives. And oh yes, this photo research generally requires at least some travel (but less now that we have the Internet) because the libraries, historical societies et. al. will not locate images FOR you. They will only supply what you yourself have found in their collection, if you follow their permissions procedures (paperwork and fees). BTW, age of the image has nothing to do with any of this. You find it in their collection, you need permission, from them AND possibly the original photographer, but some do get around this by having an artist create illos from photos. Whenever possible, the nonfiction author should take his or her own photos. A low-end film SLR camera or a 6-pixel digital and some basic knowledge of composition will do the job. Photo research can be a bear, but also really educational.

Anonymous said...

All of this is why most writers have day jobs. It's that simple. Only when you have a personal backlist of numerous titles that are still selling well and providing you with regular royalties long after your expenses have been covered can you approach the status of "making a living." Writing nonfiction is the likeliest way of getting there -- unless, of course, it's true that nonfiction is taking a downturn because kids use the Internet for research. This statement was made at a recent SCBWI conference. EA, do you have any comments about this?

Anonymous said...

I have written trade nonfiction for large publishers. I would never sign a contract that required me to use my advance for photos. A photo budget should be negotiated up front and the editor should include said budget on P/L. (Now of course, it's often hard to estimate what that budget should be . . . and if you go over it, then it does come out of your pocket.) It is ridiculous that any author would go along with such nonesense. Unfortunatley, I think too many talented writers want to be published so badly, they will do whatever it takes . . . even if it is grossly unfair.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't even realize that trade publishers asked nonfiction publishers to do their own photo research, never mind pay for it!

Anonymous said...

Maybe that's why Seymour Simon uses all those stock photos for his books!

Anonymous said...

As I was the one who started this all, you all will be happy to know that my co-author and I have requested a photo budget for our project. See, we're not that desperate! Fingers crossed, everyone!

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