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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You say sold, I say seld.

I confess I do not know as much as I should about e-publishing, but I have always assumed when an e-publisher wants to acquire someone’s book that said author could finally say they had made a sell. And of course, now the author could pop open the champagne, go out to dinner, call or e-mail everyone they know and tell them their train had finally come a chugging into the station of legitimization. They had made it. They had reached for the golden pen and grasped it. No longer was this person a struggling writer, they were an author.

Two days ago, an interesting e-mail popped up on one of the writer’s loops of which I’m a member. In this e-mail the writer was, very nicely, debating whether someone who is with an e-publisher can actually say they sold or not. Her point being that if you do not get an advance, which you don’t with most e-publishers as far as I know, then you cannot say you have "sold” because to say this means that someone has paid you for the rights to publish your work. She feels that e-published writers should say “contracted with” until their first book is actually bought by someone.

I get that argument, and I agree with the definition, but my agreement left me in flux.

Another author, with an e-publisher, responded to the e-mail and stated that as an e-published author she says she "sold" her first book. Her point was that even though she didn’t get an advance, she will get a greater percentage of the royalties and earn just about the same thing, in the end, as she would with her advance. To her, the cash flow may come to you differently, but if it’s coming, then you have "sold".

Gee, I get this point as well. Of course, I guess there’s a slim chance you will not sell a single book, but this is doubtful since we all know at least our mothers will buy our books.

I think if I ever decide to go the e-route and I’m lucky enough that an e-publisher wants my book, then I will probably say I "sold" my first book. I see it like this: they want my book, and they certainly plan to sell it, and I will get money for it when it does sell, so the contract itself is a sell. This is my opinion.

I would love to hear yours. 

Happy writing,
Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem 


  1. Great post, Julie! I think some people are missing the boat here...even if you don't get an advance, you've still "sold" the rights to your book. I'm with a small publisher who doesn't give advances, but we do get a greater percentage of royalties, as your other friend pointed out. Still, the point is that my publisher owns the stories now. I can't publish them anywhere else, therefore, I have "Sold" my rights to the books.

  2. Heh - I'm a member of that loop too. Interesting discussion indeed. I keep out of it, but, like you I see both sides of it. I'll probably say sold when I sign the first contract I accept.

  3. I consider myself a sold author, even though I didn't get paid an advance for my biography, "Lucky Stars." I do get royalties, though they are slim. To me, the legitimization came because a publisher was ready to front the money to publish my book and get it in stores.

    Remember, too, what Mickey Spillane said. "Writers get paid. Authors don't." LOL I am TOTALLY an author by that account.

  4. Interesting debate,Julie. I honestly never thought about it. But I'm guessing for most authors, it's a very short period of time between handing over the rights and selling that first book.

  5. I'm with Jerrica. If you've contracted with a publisher, then they own the rights to publish your book. Therefore, you have "sold" the rights. You may have sold them for a lot, for a little, or even for nothing up front--but they are no longer yours.

  6. Jerrica,
    You really clarified the arguement for me. Thanks! Now, I'm completley in the "sold" camp.

    Great point!

    Also a great point. If you have sold it then it is "sold" no matter what you were paid for it.

  7. I agree that it's "sold" when you've given another entity the rights to distribute your book, in exchange for some kind of financial remuneration--whether that's an advance, or royalties in the future.

    (I used to be an attorney, and sometimes that language gets back into the vocabulary--sorry!)

    There does seem to be a sense of "tangible" vs. "intangible" in this discussion, which I find intriguing too. So many new things to get used to in the world of e-books!


  8. As everyone has pointed out, you do sell your rights when you enter into a contract with an epublisher, so I'm not sure I understand the first argument.

    Advances are great, especially when you begin to get large advances. This is the way full time authors are able to make a living from writing.

    Whether your book is in print, electronic media or both, the real test is how well you sell to readers, and your first couple of books may be the deciding factor on whether or not you get another contract. Not that I'm an expert by any means.


    I'm published with electronic publishers and have 'sold' 23 books. Yes, I consider myself 'sold'. lol It doesn't matter that I didn't get advances (well, I did on four of my books...) because my books were still bringing in money for the company. Therefore - I am sold. Advances are a good thing, but only if you know your story will be a big hit. But in reality, the epublishing world is not a money maker, unless you are with the big publishers. I'm not. So it was actually better that I didn't get advances on most of my books because then I was assured a bigger royalty check.

    Anyway, I lean toward the word 'sold', because epublishers do pay royalties, which means books are indeed selling!


  10. I tend to use 'contracted' when referring to my ebooks and 'sold' when referring to my print books. I use 'sold' more out of habit because it's the jargon most print authors use. But technically, I think contracted is correct for both. Equate it to a car -when a dealership sells you a car, is yours forever. With a lease, you contract with the car company to use the car for a set period of time, per the terms of the contract. An advance is an advance on future royalties. If you pay it out, a pub still owes you royalties on any additional sales.

    If a pub pays you an advance, that does not mean they own the right to the book forever. Any decent contract has out of print clause that give min sales levels else the rights revert back to the author. Epub contracts tend to be for a set numver of yrs vs based on the pub selling a min qty of your books.

    To me, it doesn't matter if a pub gives me an advance on future royalties or if I earn my first dollar on a book after a reader has purchased the book. In both cases I'm entering into a contract with a pub where they pay me to have the rights to pub the book. The way they pay me and the duration of their rights all depend on the terms of the contract.

    I just don't get the big deal between using the phrases 'sold' vs 'contracted'. If someone says they sold a book or contracted with a pub, fellow authors know what they are talking about - the author entered into a contract with a pub where the author grants the pub the rights to pub the book and pub pays the author in some fashion for those rights.