16.02: Publishers Are Not Your Friends

Your Hosts: Dan, Mary Robinette, Howard, and Brandon

It sounds like a mean thing to say, but it’s not a wrong thing to say. A publisher is a corporation, and a corporation doesn’t have friends. It has contractual relationships. We can make friends with people who work for publishers, but those are not the same thing.

Liner Notes: here is an archived copy of Dave Brady’s essay about “company loyalty”

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, and mastered by Alex Jackson



Business research! Make a list of publishers who are releasing new books by new authors in your space. Watch for editor and author names.

Active Memory, by Dan Wells

9 thoughts on “16.02: Publishers Are Not Your Friends”

  1. Moral of the story: Publishers are money hungry, economically short-sighted, and generally think their consumers are too dimwitted to make intelligent purchasing decisions without being herded in the right direction like cattle.

    Not that different from most corporations really.

  2. This was really helpful to hear, thank you all. Your experience examples helped tie it in better for me- and the idea of how Mary Robinette had these awards from e.g. competitions that helped, in that instance, was something to consider if I do ever make a mistake. So thank you again, hope you all keep well!

  3. The core quartet, Dan, Mary Robinette, Howard, and Brandon, took another crack at Brandon’s intensive course on career planning, focusing on your relationships with your publishers. Business partners, yes, friends, no. You may have friends who are editors, but the company is not your friend. At times, what the company, publisher or agent, sees as incentives may not be what you see as incentives, and you need to push for your own goals. Plenty of good examples, available in the transcript now in the archives.

  4. I really hope this series does a deep dive into how to maximize the value of your own IP, including negotiating tactics, expected profit, how to best leverage ownership of the rights you retain (such as foreign markets, visual, gaming), when to retain your own attorney (the only professional who ethically must act in your best interests, unlike an agent), and how to support marketing efforts. I’d also like to hear why all the risk is still put on the shoulders of the creative. Publishers are in the best position to understand their risk and return on investment. So why does the creative have to foot the bill for all of the publisher’s mistakes with a fixed share of the revenue, even after the publisher has recouped its investment? Someone as successful as Brandon should receive an increased share of the profit as the publisher recoups its investment. I just don’t understand why after the break even point the publisher does not share the profit at least 50-50 with the creative.

  5. Hi all
    A couple of things for me:
    1. Thank you all for this fantastic podcast. I listen to loads, and I adore how practical and hands-on your approach is. Every episode I listen to has some useful, practical tool or piece of advice that I can note down and employ in my writing
    2. Brandon: I loved how you talked about the $500 that can make a difference for writers. I loved the fact that I felt you really knew what it meant, that you have been there in some way, like us and with us. You kept it as real as it gets. It shows that notwithstanding you’re incredible career, you haven’t lost the connection with your readers and the writing community. You’re an example of how good things can still happen to good people, and this gives me hope. Thank you!

  6. I hope this episode will save a whole lot of aspiring folks trouble. On a related note, here’s a tough question that falls in with this one that I hope you folks can answer:

    What do you do when someone screws you over, even by accident? How do you talk about it without ruining your own reputation?

    I was going to have an industry debut at a con some years ago after winning a contest. The publisher, who had been at the convention every year prior with a respectable product, bailed three days before my flight. Trying to salvage my debut (the con was focused on a single company, so anyone I could care to impress would be there) I convinced the publisher to let me represent the contest in his stead. Upon arriving at the convention center I was informed the publisher had cancelled the table that had been reserved, and there was no possible way to get another set-up.

    I went on to have some fun at the con, but that setback sits bitterly in my heart to this day.

  7. “Let’s imagine that you are pretty good at writing fantasy novels.”
    I’d like to, but… well, that’s why I’m listening to Writing Excuses: to get better! ^^

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