I often get asked questions about what we publish, how our editing process works, how I decide what to contract, and a myrid of questions so colourful they could rival the Northern Lights. So, I decided I’d tackle some of those questions here today.
- Catholic Characters: Will you publish Catholic-themed stories or stories that feature Catholic characters?
- Advances: Do you offer advances?
- Contracts: Is your contract term really for ten years? Can I see a sample of your contract?
Answer: Absolutely. I’ve heard about and recognize the aversion some publishers of Christian fiction have towards including Catholicism on any level within the text of their titles. It is true that there are many Christians who believe the Catholic Church is not a Christian denomination, and so to publish a Catholic-themed story is to risk alienating a certain percentage of potential readers. Alienation is not something any of us want to prosper, so I do understand a natural hesitation on the part of publishers that are looking at the bottom line.
I do not ascribe to the belief that Catholicsm is not a Christian denomination. I’ve studied extensively the history and offficial teachings of the Catholic Church and know that Catholicsm is as Christian in its official doctrine as Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist…and so many other Trinitarian-based denominations are. (That said, I don’t want to get into a theological ping-pong match, so if you disagree, let’s just agree to disagree. Theology isn’t the point to this post.) The point is: since I know the Catholic Church is Christian, I will never exclude Catholic themes or characters from Pelican titles. I don’t want to alienate readers, either, but I won’t pass up a well-written story that has a fantastic and uplifting message based on “possible” denominational prejudices.
What I will pass on is a well-written story that contains flawed theology–regardless of the denominational background of the author, characters or theme. I pray daily to publish only those stories that glorify God and which He wants me to publish. I don’t care if the author is known, unknown, had a first book that flopped, had a multitude of NY Times bestsellers (OK, let’s face it, I don’t see authors who’ve had a multitude of NY Times bestsellers [yet], but, I’m just saying…) What matters is the message. If that message, even subtly, conveys something about the Trinitarian God that is either faulty or misleading, I won’t publish it. That said, the majority of our titles are “generic” in that the Christian themes are universal in their Christianity and don’t refer to denomination–and that’s OK, too. Again, it’s about the message.
Answer: Yes. We do offer advances, but not as a general rule, and when we do, they are nominal (as in, you are not going to be able to pay your mortgage with it, but you might could go out to dinner). The reason for this is two-fold: We are a small company, so I prefer to use capital to produce and market our titles. And, I want to work with authors who aren’t “all about the money.” Before you get offended by that last statement, let me explain. First, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money. Let me repeat that: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money. But, there’s something to keep in mind when it comes to an advance: an advance isn’t “extra” money, it’s royalties paid in advance of sales. If a title sells, the author will earn royalties. Whether royalties are paid in advance or after the sale, the earnings are the same (get a thousand dollar advance, you don’t see any more cash until sales have exceeded a thousand dollars in royalty payout. Get $0 advance, you see royalties accrued/paid immediately). Now, that said, and before I get hog-tied and flogged, I understand how much an author has put into writing a manuscript, and I believe authors deserve to get paid for their talent and time; I don’t dispute that at all. I actually want that, but the question becomes, should the money be given before or in arrears of sales? The answer to that question will vary, and sometimes may be indicative of an underlying attitude/belief/fear. (AUTHOR: if I don’t get an advance, I may never get any money out of this. If I get an advance, the pubisher will be forced to market my book. If I don’t get an advance my peers will look down on me. If I don’t get an advance, I’m cheapening the value of my work… PUBLISHER: if I invest this money, will I see a good ROI. If I invest this money, will the author help promote…)
Here’s something to consider as an author: Are you willing to put your efforts into marketing? (something publishers large and small will desire) Do you believe your book will sell? (if it does, you’ll earn money, whether in advance or after sale) Are you willing to work with a publisher to ensure your book’s success? (I hope so, if you sign with us. From edits through the entire life of the contract, we want to work with our authors, nurture careers.) Now, let’s take a look at it from perspectives: As an author, you want your publisher to promote your book after publication, right? You don’t want your publisher to put the book out there and then do nothing, right? You want your publisher to seek reviews, to advertise your book, to promote your book via sales promos and giveaways and ad campaigns, etc., right? (to put time and money into it) You don’t want your publisher to say, “I’m a book publisher; I’ve published your book. It’s available on Amazon, so my job is done,” right? Exactly! So understand, a publisher (or at least this publisher) doesn’t want authors to say, “I’m an author. I’ve written the book, I’ve done my edits, so give me my advance; my job is done.” Publishers want authors who understand that the success of a title rests on teamwork between publisher and author–and oftentimes, the availability of more than one title. Publishers want authors who are willing to peddle their wares, so to speak (and I don’t mean spend a lot of money, necessarily, but rather to be present, willing and able to participate in venues and co-ops). Publishers want authors who believe in their own message and talent. (I’m getting ready to make a generalization here, so don’t beat me up if you don’t fit the bill. I’m not trying to make a statement about anyone who doesn’t fit the following description), but in my experience, the authors who are the most successful are the ones who don’t care about up-front money–or money at all, for that matter–who have four or more titles available, who are regularly FB’ing, tweeting, blogging about their books and their fellow-authors’ books, who are publicly joyous (as in not flinging negativity about anything). Those are the happy authors, the successful authors both commercially and spirtually. They relish in the fact their messages are out there, that readers write to them to offer positive feedback, and an advance can’t procure any of that. But teamwork can. Those are the authors who receive decent royalty cheques. (Ack! I know this answer ended up being more in scope with earnings in general rather than just advances.)
Answer: Yes. No. Our initial contract term is, as of this writing, ten years. Contrary to what some would say, this is not “against industry standard.” The fact is, contract terms vary anywhere from one year to the life of the copyright (which is basically forever, right?). The reason our contract term is ten years is two-fold. One of the reasons is good, one of them, I consider sad. The good reason is because we actively seek the sale of subsidiary rights such as audio, large print, foreign language, etc. Oftentimes, this requires us to allow someone else the right to produce said subsidary product for a term of five, seven years or longer. If we don’t have those rights, we can’t give those rights, so to have an initial term less than ten years, hinders our ability to properly market the work.
- The second–and sad–reason is one that we haven’t personally experienced (as far as I know), praise the Lord, but one other publishers are seeing. With the increase in self-publishing, some authors seem to be signing with a publisher for a year or two, pulling their now-popular, marketed, freely and professionally edited title, (regardless of sales numbers or repute of publisher) and then self-publishing it–sometimes before the publisher has recouped their investment in the project, or while a subsequent book in the series is still under contract. While I hope this is not a growing trend, but rather an exception; and while I hope we never see this happen with PBG or in any other Christian arena, I felt it was best to avoid such eventuality. (We put time, effort and money into our projects, and while this supposed trend by some authors may not be illegal, it’s certainly a detriment–especially in the instance of a series–not only to that one particular authors’ works, but to all authors within a house if this negatively affects the publisher).
- Ten years accommodated both issues I’ve mentioned. As many will probably agree, ten years goes by pretty quickly. (I still feel as if it’s 1999 🙂 ), so I don’t feel it’s an exhorbitant length of time; but it does mean that both author and publisher will be committed to a project (which is a good thing, by the way. I figure if author and publisher are both reputable, then “being joined at the hip” for ten years isn’t going to be so bad.) and it means PBG is free to peddle those subsidiary rights without a time-hindrance, and hopefully can create additional earnings for both author and publisher. (In case you’re wondering, we do employ a foreign rights agent; and we do have several audiobooks productions with more on the way).
- As far as us posting a sample of our contract; it won’t happen. I don’t beleive a contract is for public consumption, and while in general I do not negotiate the terms of our contract, it may change per deal, so there’s no reason to put out a sample because said sample mightn’t be accurate to the any particular project offer, anyway. I will say this, though: I’ve done everything I can to make our contract as lurcrative and protective of both author and publisher as I can, and I’ve received positive comments from more than one literary agent on the quality of our contract, so I think we’ve done a pretty good job of being fair and clear and on par.
- Lastly, I think it’s important to say this about contracts. As an author, you have to be comfortable with whatever contract you’re signing, whether it be with a large company or small. Don’t sign a sketchy contract just because there’s a huge advance attached and a prestige behind being pubbed with So-and-So. Don’t sign a small-pub contract that gives you pause, just because you want that “I’m published” in the win column. If I offer a contract, it’s because I believe in the marketability of the title. It (usually) means more than one PBG has put time into evaluating the project. Since we like the project and we don’t like wasting time, I’d like that contract offer to be accepted. BUT, I don’t want any author at PBG to be unhappy or uncomfortable or here for the wrong reason. So, if we offer you a contract and you don’t like the terms–whether it be the length of time, royalty rates (non-negotiable, btw), payout schedule or possibly requested edits that are “deal-breakers,” don’t sign the contract. Just decline and seek publication elsewhere. It’s OK. It’s your work. You have the right to say no, just as we have the right to require manuscripts to fall under certain guidelines before we’ll publish.
- Money talks: Do your authors make money?
- Content:Do you adhere to CBA guidelines?
Answer: Some do; some don’t. (rather some make a significant amount, some make less) I’ve written royalty cheques for twenty-five dollars and for hundreds and thousands of dollars (and on those larger numbers, I don’t mean an isolated once or twice). The fact is, some books sell; some don’t. The only rule I’ve noticed is in regards to promo (which I mentioned earlier, so won’t repeat) and in the number of titles an author has available. An author with one short story–or sometimes, even one novel–might not (probably won’t) make a whole lot of money. An author with five short stories will make more money (per title, not solely cumulative) –and that’s even if every one of the titles in question are marketed and funded exactly the same. That said, even that “rule” isn’t really a rule because I’ve seen a one-title author sell like hotcakes and a multi-title author flounder. I believe that’s the reality of small-indy publishing. The key is really promo promo. promo. Now, when we’re as large as some other publishers, and we have a book club or some such that produces tens of thousands of “automatic” sales, then my answer to this question will be different. (Notice I said, when, not if. — and I’m hopeful that all PBG authors will prayerfully agree me on that so the Lord will see to it in His good and perfect time.)
Answer: Yes, and no. I would say that most of our titles do fall under CBA guidelines, but we don’t live by a “rule” that every PBG title has to adhere to CBA guidelines. We live by a rule, as I stated earlier, that every title has to be true to mainline Christian doctrine. I take very seriously our responsibility not to lead readers astray or to drag them into some place they shouldn’t necessarily be. We will take “edgy” stories. But that’s thematically edgy, not content-edgy. There will not be foul language or open-door sex in our titles, for example. While these things are life’s reality, I don’t want to be responsible for putting in someone’s head images that shouldn’t be there. Words are powerful; creating a vivid love scene, even using mild terminology, could border on voyeurism. (Let’s face it: A married couple making love is morally OK, for example, but who wants to walk down the street and watch that couple going at it in the park? Just because the marriage act is moral within the confines of that bond, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for others to watch it happening, right?) Littering a title with foul language could help to desensitze someone to the nasty verbiage and contribute to their subsequent use of such words. (Think about it: When one hangs around people who cuss, the cuss words eventually just start popping out, unbidden, don’t they? At least that’s been my observation.) I know some will disagree with me on these things, and that’s OK; we can agree to disagree.
- Pelican will consider stories that tackle, temptations of the flesh, suicide, abortion, and other hard/edgy topics or sinfulness (not condoned, if sinful, but tackled). If those stories are told in adherence to CBA guidelines, then they are; if those stories stretch the confines of CBA guidelines, but are still told without condoning things contrary to God’s commands or leading someone astray, then so be it.I know it’s kind of trite to say, but if you want to know what we publish, the best way to find out is to read some of our titles–and read our guidelines.
I hope that sufficiently answers these questions. In a later post, I’ll answer more questions–and I’ll try to be more brief in doing so, also! For now, happy writing, everyone. I pray God blesses you abundantly for your faithfulness to Him. And to all you PBG authors, thank you! Your presence and your stories make such a difference in the lives of PBG staff and our readers.