Friday, August 15, 2008

Some You Do, Some You Don't

The sports news is dominated with the results from the Summer Olympics in China. I have a slim writing connection to those events through the Running On Ice book which I wrote for Vonetta Flowers, the first African American to win a Gold Medal in the Winter Olympics (the 2002 Games in Salt Lake). Vonetta was a much decorated collegiate track and field athlete.

Several years ago, my phone rang and I met a two-time Olympian in the track and field area who had read Running On Ice. She loved the Vonetta's book and wanted me to write her book. I often explore these writing opportunities with people. From hard earned experience, I've learned there is a certain amount of education which I can do about the dynamics and competition in the world of book publishing. After I give this information, each party has to make a decision about whether they want to work together or not. Sometimes I move ahead and work with the person and other times I don't.

In this case, I explained to this track and field star that I write some books but that 80 to 90% of nonfiction books are contracted on the basis of a nonfiction book proposal and a sample chapter (or two). Publishers read book proposals and not book manuscripts.

This athlete said the 2008 games in China would be her last Olympics. We were discussing this possibility in a timeframe where the book proposal and sample chapter would have to be created in a short time period then sent to various publishers so the book could be released before the Summer Games. It's hard for people to understand the short window of sales opportunity to market this specific type of book.

I write the book proposal and sample chapter for a negotiated fee. Another part of the negotiation is my role as the writer or ghostwriter for the book when a publisher contracts for the book. Despite my experience and explanations about book publishing, this athlete balked at my fees for the project.

At that point in the process, I could have caved in and lowered my fees and probably gotten the work. Whenever I have taken that step, I usually regret the results. Hard-earned experience again told me to give the financial arrangements and if they worked, they worked. And if not, then I was not the right writer for this particular project.

Ultimately with this athlete, I wished her well with her book project and ended our back and forth communication. Several months ago, I receive an email from her which announced her new book. I have no idea if she wrote it herself or found another writer. Ironically the book was self-published through Publish America. It takes about two minutes on Google to understand why Publish America has one of the worst reputations in the publishing marketplace. They have no presence in the bookstores.

With the arrival of the Summer Olympic Games in China, I wondered about this athlete and if she made it on the Olympic team. If she had, I wanted to cheer for her next week when the track and field events begin. She did not make the 2008 Olympic team. My search affirmed that my decision not to write this book was a good one and would have been full of challenges. I've learned to go with my instincts about certain projects and if the door opens, I walk through it. If there are communications challenges from the beginning (as with this project over the financials), then it's best to press on.

With the various opportunities that come your direction for writing, you make the best possible decision at the time with the information that you have, then move ahead. It's the way I have been operating for years. The book publishing world is complex and there are many ways a simple wrong decision can lead you down the wrong path wasting much valuable time and energy. The challenge for each writer is to look at the decisions, get good experienced wisdom then try and make the best possible decision. It is not easy for anyone.

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2 Comment:

At 5:09 PM, Blogger Krista Phillips Left a note...

Very good and timely advice. I think the making wise choices regarding our work is important in all aspects of business, not just writing. It's important to know your *worth* and be a smart negotiator.

In the world of employees, we have rough guidelines from salary.com and other sources that help us determine what we are worth and also what an employee is worth to us as a company. (another indicator is a quick look on monster.com to see what other companies are offering...) Are there any guidelines somewhere to find out the *going rate* for a writer? Or is this just something an agent or someone in the business would be privy to?

At 6:56 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


There is no rate chart for such things--well, you could get a general idea from the guidelines in a current Writer's Market on different editorial work--but it has a lot to do with experience, what you've been paid in the past, what the market will bear and other factors. It's negotiated in each situation. I've had a lot of experience with it and try to make good decisions each time. Each party has to want a particular deal for the deal to go through.

I know that's not a specific answer but it hopefully gives you some ideas.



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