Reward Or Punishment? I Can’t Decide.

The dream of being traditionally published … we all started with it.  It was the place where we saw ourselves, our work … a place on the shelf at Barnes & Nobel, a write-up in a big-time heavy hitting magazine like Publishers Weekly.  An advance, some royalties, maybe a multi-book deal. An agent who adores you, an editor who understands you.  The ability to slough off the workday grind for a slower paces of life, 9-5 spent in your pajamas instead of a suit.  A full-time job telling stories and then talking about those stories.  We, as authors in the prenatal stages of publishing, romance the ideals and rewards of being “traditionally published”.

Don’t think … for one minute … the Big Six and all their minions don’t realize that, even in the face of this digital publishing revolution.  Sure, some Indies become wildly successful … they are the ones we romanticized after the traditional publishing well has dried to nil, they become deities and are idolized for their unconventional, screw-em’ success.  But, even those Indies after selling millions tend to agent up and go trade … not all, but some.

All of this sums up the reason there is an ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award).  It’s the reason why Amazon, the hub for many self-published, hosts a contest through their CreateSpace imprint each year.  10,000 entries whittled down to 2 winners through various milestones, ending with a grand prize of $15,000 (by way of an ‘advance’) and a nonnegotiable contract with Penguin.  Yea … ish.

The Passive Voice, a highly legal-eagle minded blog, broke down the downfalls of this contest in a series of “gotcha moments”, which you can read all about: here

The bottom line, the Achilles heel, of the ABNA is in the prize … leading me wonder, is it a reward or a punishment for writing a good book?

No author should ever be asked or, worse yet, required to sign a stock contract.  Agents will tell you that as gospel all day long, a good agent will fight the terms to land you a much more lucrative, long-term deal.  The first draft of a contract to publish is never, ever favorable to the writer.  Actually, that’s why there this little thing called negotiation. But, if you win, you’re bound to sign on to what terms are handed forth.  There is zero wiggle room … and what that means to the writer… no one knows.  Penguin has not made a sample contract of terms available, so what you agree too by signing up for the contest is cloaked under nondisclosure.  And that could mean is any number of things.  You may not be able to publish another book, either self or otherwise, for years.  You may end up with a nominal royalty rate that will never outsell your advance, essentially capping the potential of your book by terms you can’t control and ending the dream of making a livable wage off of it.  Worst case scenario: Penguin has control of not only over your book … but you as well.  They’re effectively stepping up and into the spot light as your boss.

Let’s address the whole nondisclosure thing for a moment.  It’s not uncommon when you’re working on a deal to have a nondisclosure cap put on the proceedings.  Penguin has stepped this up by saying that … if the author makes it further into the contest, they must remain hush-hush about their advancement.  Why?  The Passive Voice speculates it’s because Penguin doesn’t want to draw attention to the novel or the novelist.  But, WHY? Because, even if you don’t win the contest per say, Penguin reserves the right to acquire your book anyway.  They actually grab FIRST and LAST right to bid on your novel.  If you win the whole, you’re automatically on board … if you don’t, but they liked it anyway, they can approach you and try to woo you independent of ABNA.  But, imagine for a moment that you’re in the acquiring department of Harpers & Collins or Little, Brown … there is this book … and it’s a serious contender for a big award … you’d be stupid to let the chance of a best seller slip through your fingers.  Penguin wants to stunt them where they stand … if they don’t know about you because you’re not talking and Penguin’s not talking and nothing is being broadcast … get where I’m going with this?  It’s another form of holding a writer hostage.

Signing up for ABNA without the proper awareness is a dangerous, slippery slope.  I’m not saying don’t … I’m saying do if it works for you and you have all the pros and cons hammered out.

So … with that said … whose jumping on the ABNA train bound for publication?




2 thoughts on “Reward Or Punishment? I Can’t Decide.

  1. Wow. I had never actually heard of this contest on Amazon (ABNA) and the possible down side that could befall the inexperienced newbie writer (those like myself) that aren’t quite up to par on all sides of the publishing game. Thanks for posting this piece. I will definitely have to read all of the “fine print” before deciding whether or not to jump aboard the ABNA train.

  2. That’s the rub … and it’s really unfortunate. There is a strong prey mentality in the publishing world … the strong kill the weak with double talk and stealth. Not everything that glitters is gold, and it’s in the research (or the lack there of) that can decide the fate of the author. On the surface ABNA looks like the opportunity of a lifetime … but the fine print is so convoluted that without knowing exactly what this and that means, and the ramifications, you could sign away your career so easily.

    I’ve also wondered why Amazon, with their huge Thomas & Mercer imprint, is outsourcing this grand prize? T&M, to my knowledge, has been extremely fair with the authors who have been approached by them for publishing. One million dollar advances and all … Thomas & Mercer is a heavy hitter. So … why Penguin?

    And … I can’t figure it out. At first, I thought perhaps it was the whole “monopoly” that seems to be brewing … but if Amazon is doing a contest, then Amazon can decide what house gets the rights to the book with backlash. Other publishers do it all the time.

    My gut says ABNA is smoke in mirrors. And that’s what scares me for authors who don’t know enough to understand the repercussions.

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