Yet Another Reason to Be an Indie

Who me? I would *never* do anything like that!
Who me? I would *never* do anything like that!

Do you secretly dream of being traditionally published?

When someone you know is offered a contract, do you experience a moment of intense envy? Do you smile, and say ‘congratulations’ while silently screaming ‘why not me’?

Don’t worry, your dirty little secret is safe because….yes, hand-on-heart, I too share your shame. Despite everything I have learned about the traditional publishing world in the last two years, I still haven’t completely quashed the romantic notions I used to hold about the Big Six. I guess it’s like the dream of finding Mr Right and living happily ever after, it never completely dies.

But to quote the Bard, “All that glitters is not gold…”

Every contract we sign, whether it be with Amazon, or one of the New York set, will contain a warranties and indemnities clause, and the language is remarkably similar. In effect, this clause absolves the ‘publisher’ from any blame or financial responsibility if the book breaks any laws. That is, if the poop hits the fan, the author is responsible for the clean-up.

Just small print, you say. How can a book break a law?

Well, let’s look at the case of author Wendy Doniger, professor of religions at the University of Chicago. Doniger, who is signed with Penguin Random House, wrote a book about Hinduism. The book was published in the US and India. A religious group in India objected to the book and initiated a lawsuit, claiming the content violated Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code.

Penguin Random House settled out of court, and withdrew all the books. But who paid for the legal fees, and the costs associated with taking all those books off the shelves and destroying them?

If Penguin Random House insists on the warranties and indemnities clause in the contract, the person responsible will be the author.

Now I have no inside information on whether Doniger was, in fact, forced to pay for the clean-up, but that is what lawyer and blogger, The Passive Guy, seems to be implying in his explanation of the warranties and indemnities clause found in most contracts.

He goes on to suggest that :

“…if legal warranties must be used, the author’s financial obligation for violating any but factual warranties [i.e. that the author owns the copyright to the book] should be capped, not unlimited. If a book violates the laws of India, the author is obligated to return the advance, not pay for legal expenses of US and Indian counsel and the cost of retrieving 20,000 books from 2,000 bookstores in India.”

Aren’t we lucky we’re Indies? Whilst we’re still bound by the same warranties and indemnities, the worst case scenario we face is the withdrawal of our books from Amazon. Devastating yes, end of the world, no.

Another privilege in our favour is that by being Indies, we choose where our books are published. Thus, if we are worried that the content may be controversial in a particular country, we can choose not to publish in that country. Authors bound to a publishing company have no such rights. The publisher decides where to publish, but if they get it wrong, the author cops the flak.

So the next time you start daydreaming about that lucrative publishing contract, think again. Those dollar signs could end up with a minus in front of them.

16 thoughts on “Yet Another Reason to Be an Indie”

  1. Great post, AC.

    Being indie gives you the opportunity to do so much with your book. You don’t get some of the help you might get with a traditional publisher but sounds like you also don’t have to be the scapegoat if there is a problem. You’re in control of how that problem is solved. You’re the ultimate person who is responsible, which is one of the nice things about indie publishing. Your success, as much as it can, rises and falls based on the things you do. We all know luck is involved in success too, but as an indie, you don’t have to worry about another person dropping the ball. You’ve got the ball and what happens with it is on you.

    Again, lovely post.

    1. You are so right, RJ. Not having that convenient safety net can be scary at times, but give me control of my life and work any day!

      Given how many mid-list, traditionally published authors are also going Indie, I’d say the message is starting to come through loud and clear.

  2. I would hope that Random Penguin (ahem…) did the stand-up thing and wrote off their costs, rather than charging them back to the author. But it’s scary that publishing contracts would make it even remotely possible for the author to be liable for this sort of thing. Yikes. Thanks for your post, Meeks.

  3. Unless you get in the top percentile of a big publishing house, nowadays contracts are nothing to be signed for by an Indie writer who does even just about decently.

    I refused a contract that gave me $2000 advance on 10% royalties, marketing supposedly to be on my shoulder apart the initial announcement of “new author signed PR” and blah blah on their website.

    $2000 advance means that to see any more royalties my book would have had to sell for over $20000 in one year. I’m not at that, for 2013 Amazon sent me above the double of that advance already, so I’m at least 50% ahead as Indie, money wise, as I would have been with the publishing house.

    One might say that I could have sold more books with the publisher? Yeah, right, with the same marketing I’m doing myself… Who believes in fairies?

    1. -grin- Leprechauns maybe, fairies? Never. 🙂 And you’re absolutely right, why leave ourselves open to such draconian contracts when we get so little in return?

      1. It is as if publishers don’t realize that a ‘decent’ book—am not even saying a good book—will find its readers with or without them. They still live in the “with them” only long gone past.

        1. Yes. And what is even more disturbing is that they have no idea how to market in this new world order – even if they wanted to.

  4. I used to dream of the trad contract. But that quickly changed after I realized how easy (and more lucrative) it is to be Indie. My only dream now is hoping someone would like to adapt one of my book(s) into a movie. I know there will be a mess of contracts there, but I’m willing to put up with that. As for trad publishing- they’d have to offer me 6 figures to sign with them. Otherwise, I’m quite happy Indie.

    1. -grin- A movie contract? Oh yes, that is a contract of a different colour, isn’t it? That’s definitely one dream I share with you!

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