The Argument of Non-Compete Clauses in Publishing Contracts

The Argument of Non-Compete Clauses in Publishing Contracts

There is an interesting article that I found at the Passive Voice’s blog that I think you guys should check out. I recommend reading it in order to really understand this blog post. In short, it talks about the non-competitive clauses found in some publishing contracts that forbid the author from self-publishing on the side, considering it the author competing against his her own traditionally published book. The article arguing in favor of non-competitive clauses was from Rachelle Gardner, a literary agent I very much respect, but I think she left a lot of holes in her argument this go around because the landscape is very much changing.

A contract with a publisher is not like a contract with an employer. With an employer, you’re often assured either an hourly or salaried wage and receive benefits on the side, like health insurance. A contract with a publisher basically gives the publisher permission to publish your book and do everything to ensure the quality of the book as well as do whatever is necessary to make money off said book. When you sign that contract, you are not signing your writing career to them; you are simply signing your book to them.

Publishers should not be threatened by their clients self-publishing their own books on the side.

Your writing career is your career. Not anyone else’s.

I’m going to find two arguments I find interesting that Passive Voice points out. One is that publishers are afraid that the author will devote more marketing time to the self-published work than the traditionally published work. I suppose there is some legitimacy to this fear, as marketing is the only way a book can be discovered. But at the same time, where a book is distributed is probably 50% of the marketing pie–or more, or less: I don’t claim to be a marketer. Since B&N is a huge book distributor, that traditionally published book is already going to be seen by the thousands of eyes that walk by it. A self-published book, on the other hand, takes a lot more work to market because it is often only ever online or in the author’s local bookstores. So of course they’re going to have to work harder to market their self-published books because that traditionally published book is already being marketed by virtue of being in a chain bookstore. And print sells more than electronic, so it’s kind of  a ridiculous fear. Also, interest in the author’s self-published book will yield interest in the author’s traditionally published book–so in essence, these books are marketing for each other, and the author is receiving a boost in his/her career. And, while I’m at it, the author may not even need to devote so much time to marketing the self-published book because the traditionally published book can be doing the marketing for him/her!

I’m self-publishing those Sister Evelyn installation pieces to give a boost to When Stars Die. So far, my publisher is not threatened by that.

If publishers don’t want authors to publish their own books, then, as is argued, publishers shouldn’t publish other books so they can put all of their marketing efforts on to the author restricted by the non-compete clause. It’s an extreme argument, but it has a good point.

Publishers don’t control authors’ careers. Authors control their careers. A book contract is a book contract, not a contract that makes you an employee of the publisher. If I were an employee of my publisher, the individual books would not need to be contracted.

The next argument I find interesting is this:

The publisher is working hard to position you in the market a certain way, and to maintain a level of quality for which they want you (and themselves) to be known. If you self-publish, they lose their ability to have input into the quality of your work, or the branding. This  can not only reflect negatively on them, it can create confusion in the reader (who sees different kinds of books with your name on them) which can lead to lower sales.

Now I’m not going to be snarky. I very much respect Rachelle Gardner and snark, to me, would mess with that respect. But I will point out that readers do not care who publishes the books. Only writers and publishers and other publishing elites care. Readers are going to be ecstatic to see multiple books come out by an author. I highly doubt they are going to be confused. They might be confused about why they can’t find some of your books in stores, but they’re not going to really care because all your titles are going to be together under your author page. I’m not sure where Ms. Gardner gets the idea that this will lead to lower sales. It’s like saying that me publishing another book after When Stars Die can lower the sales of When Stars Die, so I shouldn’t publish another book for a very long, long time, or perhaps never again. Maybe that is a very poor simile, as the self-published book money goes only to the author and distributor but the traditionally published book money goes mostly to the publisher, distributor, whatever else, and a smidge to the author, but books can market each other!

If I love your self-published book and find your traditionally published book in stores, I am more apt to buy it. So I am speaking strictly as a consumer of books, not a marketing expert (again, I’m not one). If I love one of your books, I’m going to want to keep an eye out on you and see what else you release. Plain and simple.

I would take a gander at the comments too in the linked article. They are very interesting and prove many of my above points.