How much promotion does a co-author have to do for a book?
February 5, 2017 10:00 AM   Subscribe

A memoir I've been working on for years with a musician is coming out in March. I'm the co-author, not the person whose name is in big letters on the cover -- my name comes after the "with." I've got a "not sure how much I owe these people" question.

It's a small publisher, and the main guy I've been working with there told me a while back that I would be expected to take on some promotional duties. I agreed then because I was excited about the project, and it was before some things went wrong. Long story short, the publisher turns out to be unethical. A few months ago they tried to have my name removed from the book, citing a bunch of off-the-cuff reasons that made no sense. This was also done in the worst possible way -- the change was made to the cover image of the book on the Amazon pre-order page, which I happened to spot. They apparently weren't even going to tell me about this.

I contacted an intellectual property rights lawyer and told the publisher I was ready to go to court to get my name restored. They backed down and agreed, but only verbally, to continue to "let" me be credited on this book I've been working on for the past six years. Nothing in my contract was changed.

I'll be talking with the publisher in a few days to discuss promotion and marketing. I've already been through the mill with these people. They pressured me into doing an extensive index for them, and I came through on that but I'm apparently not going to get extra compensation for it. Now it sounds like they're going to strong-arm me into doing a bunch of promotional footwork for them as well.

Since my co-author the musician is on the east coast, and has her own marketing firm working on this stuff with the publisher's in-house promotional guy, I'm not sure why they need me -- unless it's to do some pounding the pavement on the west coast where I live.

I've already sent them a long list of media contacts and places to send their press releases. I'm not sure what they're going to ask me to do -- drive around with copies of the book in my car and try to place them with book stores, record stores, gift shops maybe? -- but I thought I'd ask the hive mind what y'all think.

How much more do I owe these people? I'll double-check, but I don't recall anything about doing promotional work for them being in my author contract.

Is it normal for authors with smaller publishers to take this stuff on? What might be an example of their crossing the line with me around this kind of thing?

It could be I'm blowing this out of proportion, but I don't trust this publisher, and the thought of giving them any more free work leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I would appreciate any advice you may have!
posted by cartoonella to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
cartoonella: "I'll double-check, but I don't recall anything about doing promotional work for them being in my author contract. "

I mean, this question isn't really answerable without knowing what's in the contract. It sounds like your relationship with the publisher is already poisoned, so I don't see why you would do anything that's not in your contract.
posted by crazy with stars at 10:13 AM on February 5, 2017 [15 favorites]

It's strange that you'd type all that out, rather than simply check your contract. What we say doesn't matter. It's the contract that matters. That's all that matters.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:24 AM on February 5, 2017 [12 favorites]

They pressured me into doing an extensive index for them, and I came through on that but I'm apparently not going to get extra compensation for it.

I'd check your contract because even though this is irritating, it is often pretty normal (author handled index and does not get paid extra). When I published with a small publisher they would have loved me to do a ton of extra shit for them, but I felt okay drawing pretty clear boundaries about all of that.

That said you seem to be talking about pressure vs legal obligation. From a pressure perspective, I think you just need to get your "Fuck these guys" hat on and keep it on and just say no over and over. UNLESS your contract says specifically what you are supposed to do for them. My experience is that the publisher would LOVE to have you do a lot of work for them but realistically this is not required. That said, sometimes it can help sales. So some of this has to do with what you are looking for out of this relationship. More work on your part might lead to increased sales which might be useful for you.

I mean, they suck, sure. But this was a job, and I presume you've been paid and/or gotten an advance and/or you have a royalties arrangement. So as far as what you owe them the technical answer is "Whatever you legally agreed to and whatever else you think might be in your own interests" and otherwise just watch this video over and over again and stop returning their calls.
posted by jessamyn at 10:37 AM on February 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Agree with others.

Considering the trouble this publisher has put you through, I would rephrase your question to 'what do they owe you?'.

Have the lawyer walk you back through the contract line-by-line. Get future agreements amended to the contract.

It goes without saying, this publisher has undoubtedly plenty of experience strong-arming other folks in your position.
posted by mountainblue at 10:42 AM on February 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the great responses so far. Just checked my contract - this is the language under PROMOTION:

"Author agrees to supply to Publisher a photograph of Author of quality acceptable to Publisher which has been cleared to use on the cover and jacket, and generally in connection with the publication of the Work. Publisher may use, or permit others to use, such photograph and Author’s name and likeness, the title of the Work, and selections from the Work in advertising, promotion and publicity related to the publication and/or licensing of the Work. Author agrees to use Author’s best efforts in reasonably cooperating with Publisher in promoting the Work."

The last sentence is a bit vague. What is "reasonable cooperation" in this case? That's what I'm trying to get some perspective on, as a first-time author, from anyone who's had experience of this.
posted by cartoonella at 10:45 AM on February 5, 2017

Are you getting a fee for the book or royalties? Have you been paid your contractual amount yet? If so, I would do as little or as much as you think appropriate and reasonable. It would be your definition not theirs. If you haven't been paid yet, go with their definition.
posted by AugustWest at 11:13 AM on February 5, 2017

I have done marketing work for a number of publishers (ranging from small to Big Five) and I would NEVER expect (or even ask) an author to try to sell books into bookstores or other retail spaces. That is the publisher's job. Seriously, in today's world, distribution is almost the only thing a publisher can do that a self-published author can't.

I expect a list of media contacts if the author has some. I expect a link from the author's website and social media platforms, if they exist. I appreciate a willingness to do interviews and/or write op-ed and blog posts, and a local booksigning or reading or two. Only my top #1 NYT bestselling authors were ever expected to do more than 10 events.

From unknown coauthors I expect nothing.

If what they ask doesn't put you to much trouble (an evening book reading), I'd consider it. If you have an online presence, I'd use it to promote when it's natural. But if you think their requests are unreasonable (and driving a trunk full of books around trying to sell them in is unreasonable in my mind), fall back on Miss Manners: that just won't be possible.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:20 AM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

AugustWest, yes, I got 50 percent of my advance at the signing date. Should get the remainder here before publication (five weeks from now), but we haven't received the galley proofs yet. I'll get clarification tomorrow.
posted by cartoonella at 11:24 AM on February 5, 2017

This might be one of those times where paying $300 for a few minutes of an entertainment/author-rep lawyer's attention is worth thousands more in free work you don't have to do.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:37 PM on February 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

"I'm confused. A few months ago you removed my name from the cover and now you want me to be the face of the book in [contexts]?"
posted by rhizome at 12:39 PM on February 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Author agrees to use Author’s best efforts in reasonably cooperating with Publisher in promoting the Work.

Hey, sometimes your "best efforts" are not going to look like much to other, pushy people (especially after those same people try to take your name off the project a few weeks before they want you to perform unpaid labour). Oh well.

Seriously, I would make nice noises until you get your money, and then do the low-effort things others have mentioned, like linking and mentioning the project on social media. There might be other things that are in your interests, e.g. appearing at events for professional writers or other occasions when you could shop your talents as a ghost-writer.

But aside from that, just stop taking their calls or answering their e-mails. You are busybusybusy and sometimes don't get their messages until it's too late. It sounds like you don't want to work with them again anyway for good reasons, so just drop the rope.
posted by rpfields at 1:16 PM on February 5, 2017

I've worked on the marketing efforts of a book that sounds similar, if lower profile, than the one you're describing. The co-author was expected to be available for interviews with print media, to represent the book and the musician-subject well. Make time for any radio interviews. There was a signing event where the musician and the co-author did a Q&A in front of an audience and then took questions. Obviously, the co-author was more of an appendage at those things, but still valuable to have there. Promote any media attention that the book gets on her social media feed.

I wouldn't have expected co-author to do events on her own or even pitch stories about it. Just be available and say interesting things when/if contacted.
posted by gladly at 1:30 PM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Once you let slip at an interview how you think this is a great book, despite the efforts of the publisher to remove your name, they won't insist you do more publicity.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:44 PM on February 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

I am not a lawyer and I can't give you legal advice about your contract. But I have had four books published with a medium-sized publisher, so just to give you one author's personal opinion about what is reasonable for an author to do, I would break it into three categories:

1. Ways They Should Reasonably Expect You To Help Them
• Make a good faith effort to participate in any publicity they set up for you. For example, if they put you in touch with a reporter who wants to write about the book, you should do your reasonable best to talk to the reporter.
• Mention the book positively on any social media you're involved with.
• Speak directly to the owners of any specific bookstores you have a genuine personal relationship with. (EG if there's a local independent bookstore you patronize frequently.)
• Speak respectfully of your musician co-author and refrain from minimizing their contribution to the book.
• If you arrange any publicity yourself, give your co-author a reasonable opportunity to be involved in it.

2. Things No Reasonable Publisher Would Ask You To Do And You Should Say "No" If Asked
• Drive around with a trunk full of books, attempting to get stores to carry them.
• Write fake Amazon reviews that praise your book or trash your competitors.
• Deny your own role in the book.
• Give any money to the publishers to pay for marketing costs (unless your contract somehow obligates you to, which would be highly unusual).
• Do anything that feels unethical to you on a gut level.

3. Ways You Should Help Yourself
If you do the category 1 stuff, and avoid the category 2 stuff, my totally uninformed non-lawyer opinion is that you will have discharged your obligation to the publisher. But you still have an obligation to yourself! You are totally 100% justified in being angry at your publisher -- but if would suck if that totally understandable anger interferes with your pride at having written a book, or your clear-headed pursuit of your own self interest. After all, assuming you are happy with how the book turned out, it's in your interest to help it reach as wide an audience as possible. So the following are things you don't have to do, but that you might choose to do if you feel you'd get some personal benefit out of them:

• Contact media outlets directly to arrange interviews. (Keep in mind that the publisher has already shown a desire to erase you from the picture -- if you start the ball rolling with a reporter yourself, you'll make sure that the reporter knows you exist.)
• Write personal notes to bloggers and podcasters that you like, telling them why you think your book is something they specifically would be interested in.
• Research awards your book might qualify for and submit it for consideration. These might be content based (like an award for books on music) or regional (an award from your local art council) or identity based (an award for authors of your cultural heritage.)
• Increase your social media profile by posting lots of high quality posts and interacting positively with other posters.
• Speak directly with the musician co-author and brainstorm publicity ideas.
• Carry a pile of one-page fliers about your book wherever you go. Whenever you're in a bookstore, introduce yourself to the people who work there, talk up your book, and give them a flier. (Make sure the flier has the contact info to buy wholesale copies of the book.)
posted by yankeefog at 3:58 AM on February 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

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