Tell No Secrets

How much should author friends reveal to each other about contracts or other business dealings when they have business with the same publisher?

I think it is a huge mistake to reveal the amount of your advances to other authors. This is similar to finding out the salary of the co-worker in the office cubicle next to yours. When I was a retail store manager we had major problems when salaries were revealed, a near fist-fight between two people who had been friends.

Money is viewed as a measure of worth; i.e. a measure of the worthiness of your work. Consequently if you contract for a $5,000 advance with AlphaGammaDelta publisher and a month later, your best writing friend, who is at the same stage in her career as you are, contracts for a $8,000 advance with the same publisher for a similar project…what is your reaction? Sure, at first, it is excitement and joy for your friend. But later, in private, you will naturally begin to wonder about your publisher’s commitment to you. You think, “They must like Sally better than me!” Jealousy and bitterness can set in.

I’m not saying that this will happen to you, but I caution you with every ounce of my being, be very careful about ever revealing monetary details of a book contract with anyone. It can become a form of gossip that does no one any good. I know of an e-mail trail among authors that was very free with this kind of information and consequently there is tension towards a particular publisher for not paying everyone the same. This is unreasonable and unfair…and doesn’t help anyone.

In my years as an editor and now as an agent I’ve seen contracts land all over the board. The timing of a publisher’s economic situation and certain management directives can change quarterly (even weekly!). The relationship the author has with the publisher, the relationship the agent has with the publisher, the perception of value that the publisher has of a project…They all influence each situation uniquely.

But we tend to compare contracts as if all contracts are equal. Trust me, they are not.

Of course I’m speaking specifically about contracts here. There are professional people who can help you determine if your deal is a good one. Or you can simply trust your agent….!!!

8 Responses to Tell No Secrets

  1. Pam Hillman February 22, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    I totally agree. As a former personnel manager, I learned the importance of complete confidentiality when it comes to salaries, hourly wages, perks, and contracts between co-workers, friends, and extended family members even.

    A closed mouth about money speaks volumes.

  2. Sarah Joy Freese February 22, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. :)

  3. Erin Taylor Young February 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm #


    I’m appreciating your posts. Thanks for teaching…sharing…spewing wisdom. It’s all good.

  4. Kenneth Skinner February 22, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    Pearls of wisdom Steve! Contracts are something people should keep close to their chest. I believe this is covered by one of the your ten commandments for working with your agent.

  5. M.E. Anders February 23, 2011 at 5:26 am #

    Steve – your blog posts are pertinent to the problems associated with today’s authors. Contracts are private, and they should only be discussed with the parties involved.

  6. henya February 23, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Good information. Will keep it in mind when I get to that stage in my writing career.

  7. Christine Long February 23, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    This is great advice to those of us just starting out in the writing world. Thank you for taking the time to teach us!

  8. Edie March 24, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    Such wisdom – I think a lot of things are better left unsaid especially when it comes to comparing incomes. It takes the great out of being grateful. Nice.

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