In theory, everything is “negotiable” but when it comes to publishing that’s just not true. There is a well-established “industry standard” that all the publishers walk lock-step on, so there are some tings carved in stone and don’t change. For instance, I make the same royalty %'s as Stephen King, which sounds crazy right? The difference. Steven King’s royalty rates mean nothing because the advance he gets is so high, he’s not expected to “earn out.” In other words he and his publishers basically estimate the sales of the book over its lifetime and then set the advance such that he gets some % of that. Not sure if it’s 50/50 or 80/20 - but bottom line his contract royalty rates are meaningless. Now, for someone like me, who does earn out, the royalty rates are important and can’t be changed.
Personally, I don’t think the contracts are “fair.” But they are what they are. Some terrible aspects of the contract (like the non-compete clause) I’ve “defanged” so I could sign them, and others, well I just have to accept as is – and the trade off was worth it or I wouldn’t have signed. So, the contract will always be weighted toward the publisher, but even with that the trade-offs can (and for me have) made them worth what I gave up.
I’m also a hybrid author (many people are but I think there will be more going forward). I have…
- 1 book with a small press
- 8 books with the big-five
- 3 books that are self-published
- 4 books written that will be self-published when they come out.
Publishers can’t stop you from self-publishing. You DO have to watch your non-compete clause – to make sure you’ve not hamstrung yourself. But there are all kinds of hybrid authors that do both.
Publishers don’t generally “come to you.” (I know of only once case where this happened). With me, I had a series that was doing relatively well in self-publishing (one which had been turned down by the traditional houses) and before I released the last book of the series, my wife (and our agent) decided to give New York another try. They put together a “packet” about the series and it’s sales, and I got about 50% of the editors who saw it interested. Orbit (an imprint of big-five Hachette Book Group) made a pre-emptive six-figure offer and we took it.
Well, first it was 2009, which is a MUCH different time as now. I certainly didn’t make a big splash. But each month saw more and more sales and with each book I started getting more of a following. 3 was (and is) a “magic number” and once I hit that, I had enough sales to pay for the utilities and what not. By the time book #5 and Christmas hit I was earning really well (about $45,000 a month). In early 2010 I signed with Orbit and everything shifted to traditional at that point. My “next” self-published fantasy came out in 2015. And it did very well - I think it’s up to around $350,000 in sales since then.