More Bad Behaviour From Agents, Publishers & VS Naipaul

It’s the hottest day of the year here in Stockholm, so I thought I would give you a quick weekend round-up before heading out to carbonize my skin work on my manuscript.

There are some legal issues discussed below. I should point out that I am not a lawyer and anything below should not be considered legal advice. These are my opinions only. If you are affected by any of this issues, I strongly urge you to seek independent legal advice from an IP lawyer with experience in such matters.

Publishers Underreporting Ebook Sales?

Kris Rusch made waves a few weeks back when she announced that publishers were underreporting e-book sales. Some arch-defenders of trade publishing dismissed her speculation as unreliable. However, now top agent Kristine Nelson has backed up her claims.

On her hugely popular blog, she stated baldly: “Publishers are under-reporting electronic book sales in any given period on the royalty statements we are seeing. That’s a fact.”

Obviously, this is a huge issue, and we could see audits and legal action against the (unnamed) publishers in the near future. You can read Kris Rusch’s original article on the subject here, her update here, and a lawyer’s take here.

Publishers Forcing Dodgy Contract Amendments?

If that wasn’t enough to worry any writer that is traditionally published or those pursuing a trade deal, there has been a lot of talk about addendums that trade published writers are being strong-armed into signing.

They are particularly specious, but hidden in the language is a clear rights grab. If you have been sent one of these amendments (or any amendment), you should seek independent legal advice, i.e. not from your agent.

For all the gruesome details, check out the always-excellent blog The Passive Voice (written by a trained lawyer, experienced in publishing contracts).

And remember, you don’t have to sign anything.

Agents Pushing Dodgy Agency Contracts?

And just to complete the bad news troika, there are some awful agency contracts doing the rounds from previously respected agents and agencies.

The devil, as always, is in the detail, and writers may be signing away huge portions of their future income without realising it.

A standard agency contract usually gave the agent 15% of the earnings of your book for the lifetime of the publishing contract the agent negotiated. What these new contracts do is assign that 15% for the lifetime of the copyright.

Under the old system, if you signed one of these contracts and parted ways with your agent, they would still be entitled to 15% of that deal, until the deal ran out, i.e. the book went out of print. That’s fair, they negotiated it.

However, under this new system that agent’s cut lives on past the end of the deal. This means that under any future deal you sign for that book with you new agent (or by yourself) you still have to pay 15% to the old agent!

This means that you could end up paying two agents 15% each on the next deal you sign for that book.

This is unacceptable, and writers need to fight hard against this. If it means walking from the offer of representation, you must do it. If it is your existing agent that is asking you to sign an updated agency agreement that contains this clause, you should refuse.

If it means you have to part ways with your agent, that’s a hell of a lot better than signing one of these contracts.

Full details on all that nonsense, here.

Nobel Prize-winning Misogyny

VS Naipaul, the Trinidadian writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2001, was at the centre of a controversy this week for a series of sexist comments he made about female writers.

Aside from the laughable claim that no female writer was his equal, he also had a go at his former editor, calling her own work “sentimental tosh”.  He also said that he can tell if a piece has been written by a woman because within two paragraphs she will display her “narrow view of the world”.

I won’t tell you what I think of Mr. Naipaul, but suffice to say I’m delighted he has given me an excuse not to finish reading A Bend In The River. I’ve been struggling with it for two months. Turgid pompous crap.

Instead, I will leave that honour to his former friend Paul Theroux. He said that Naipaul was “an excellent candidate for anger management classes, sensitivity training, psychotherapy, marriage guidance, grief counselling and driving lessons – none of which he pursued”.


Interview with Simon Royle

I gave an extensive interview to Simon Royle, author of TAG. It goes into some detail about my writing process, where I get my ideas from, and my approach to publishing. If you are interested, you should check it out

Next Week

I will be posting the final two posts in my continuing series INDIE PUBLISHING FOR INTERNATIONAL WRITERS. On top of that, there will be more stops on The Never Ending Blog Tour. I’ll post all the details when available.

Have a nice weekend!

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time he spends outside. He writes fiction under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

12 Replies to “More Bad Behaviour From Agents, Publishers & VS Naipaul”

  1. In addition to not trying to be traditionally published, or never reading Naipaul’s work, this excellent blog post bought home the best conclusion – I need to follow your blog. Done. Try to enjoy the outdoors.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for your kind comments. It should be pointed out that there are still good agents out there, they have just become a little harder to find. I don’t think anyone should close any doors with regard to agents or publishers, but you need to be very, very careful when dealing with them. Make sure you have a really good lawyer and that they always go over every clause in every contract with a fine-tooth comb. The traditional business model is crumbling, and certain actors are behaving badly, but we shouldn’t tar everyone in the business with the same brush.

      But yes, it’s another huge factor to consider when deciding whether to self-publish your work or not. I for one am glad that I don’t have to deal with any of this nonsense right now.


  2. I’m kind of impressed that Kristin Nelson was willing to step up to say what she did, though her blog had the writing on the wall with several posts about how close an eye she had to keep on royalty statements. If I ever decide to go trad (in addition to self-publishing), I’d feel comfortable at least approaching Kristin’s agency. It helps that hers is one of the agencies that wanted to look at my WIP before I decided to go self pub. (I ended up never sending anything to her.) Hmm. Self-publish the short stories and go trad with the novels? I dunno. Finish the book first, kid.

    1. I was impressed too. While people might (wrongly) dismiss Kris Rusch as a crank, it’s a little harder to dismiss Kristin Nelson.

      I was also impressed that she encouraged her client (Courtney Milan) to self-publish. And, I’m looking forward to her planned article on agents becoming publishers. I have a suspicion about which side she’s going come down on, and I hope I’m right.

      A lot of agents seem to be forgetting their primary role as advocates for and defenders of their writers. Kristin Nelson has always struck me as a great agent to have in your corner.

  3. More and more, I’m realizing my self-pub decision was the right one, even though I know it’s going to take me years to build up any sort of decent readership.

    1. Well at least you are being realistic about. Some people give up after a month or two because they only sold 10 or 20 copies, not realising that even the runaway success stories started slow too. The whole sales curve is dramatically different from trade publishing, and a slow, careful build at the start is just fine.

      1. Yeah, in 2007 when I started getting serious about my writing, I decided to give myself 20 years to build up a career. Being an impatient sort, this was the only way to not freak out at how slow things move.

        1. The beauty of self-publishing is that everyone can work at their own pace. The readers will still be their tomorrow while you figure it all out.

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