Tag Archives: publisher

The surreal world of accounting in the music biz and the missing £500,000+

(A version of this piece was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

Bobby Valentino, when he was Young at Heart

Bobby Valentino, forever Young at Heart

Last night, Searching For Sugar Man quite rightly won the Oscar for Best Documentary.

It is partly about the search for missing royalty payments due to the Detroit-based recording artist Rodriguez, who sold zilch in the US but who was selling shedloads of albums (“bigger than the Rolling Stones”) in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s… and, indeed, in the 1990s and 2000s…

Coincidentally, in the UK, musician Bobby Valentino has just issued a press release about the surreal lack of royalties he received on the worldwide hit song Young at Heart.

I have touched on this before – in July last year – in a blog headlined Surely not a £500,000+ music biz rip-off? How a hit record made “no money” which was about the surprising lack of royalties Bobby (did not) receive from PRS (the Performing Right Society) but Bobby provides more details in his latest press release. Last year, Bobby told me: “On average, the figures are about 5% of what you’d expect them to be.”

Now Bobby says: “By careful investigation it has been discovered that there was a change of sub-publisher on or about 4th March 1993. What is peculiar is that the royalties disclosed by PRS for the whole of 1993 are taken as those for the period 1st January until 4th  March 1993. In other words, about two months’ royalties were offered as representing the royalties for the whole year. So where did the royalties go? Quite simply to the new sub-publisher.”

The next bit takes a bit of careful reading but, says Bobby:

“The royalty information was supplied by PRS. Unfortunately they supplied the incorrect information in 2003 and since then have denied that they did so. Inconveniently for PRS there are a number of indicators that they did supply incorrect information.

“Some of this is complex but we can first focus on one key issue: On 4th March 1993 PRS recorded a change in the registration of Young at Heart. This change is shown as the (incorrect) noting of a German version of Young at Heart known as the Baerenstark version.

“In fact the existence of the Baerenstark version was not registered with PRS, as shown in their main records, until 5th February 2007. In other words whoever made the change on 4th March 1993 had supernatural powers of foresight.

“A less fantastic explanation is that the original entry on 4th March 1993 noted the change of sub-publisher and that when this became an inconvenient truth the entry was changed to a noting of the Baerenstark version.”

There is a second, related, indication of psychic gifts by someone at PRS, says Bobby, and it involved sheet music.

“Sheet music royalties,” he says, “are shown as paid to the new sub-publisher for July to September 1993. This is a further recognition of the supernatural influence of Young at Heart. Given that PRS claim the change of publisher occurred at the end of 1993 how can the new publisher receive payment for sheet music for July 1993? Someone or something is revealingly and inconveniently ahead of itself.”

Bobby Valentino says he wants PRS to treat him and fellow writers fairly and in his case to acknowledge the surreal accounting so that he can recover what is due to him.

Seems reasonable to me.

But, then, reason and moral accounting seems to be something alien to the record business and, indeed (I can tell you from personal experience) the film distribution business.

The rule of thumb is that, if they can screw you, they will.

With Bobby Valentino, though, they may have bitten off more than they can chew and gone several accountancy twists too far.

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How to get a book published…

A Dodo: like which books are as dead

1638 picture of a Dodo: print books are as dead

I had  no subject for my blog this morning. Like Mr Micawber, I waited for something to turn up. And it did.

A British comedian of my acquaintance, who is quite well-known, sent me an e-mail:

I am 174 pages (57,177 words) into my first novel. Have you any ideas as to what I should do with it? Even as I write this, I can see I am asking for it…

I replied:

If you have an agent you trust, get them to submit to mainstream publishers a one-page synopsis, a two-paragraph biog of you and around 20 pages of A4 text which gives ’em a feel of what the book will be like.

All publishers are running scared at the moment so you may get rejected by 10, 30 or, indeed, all traditional publishers. This is nothing to do with the quality of your book. Also, many publishers are second rate people – otherwise they would be in a better-paid job.

People who can, write. People who can’t, publish.

You should simultaneously look into print-on-demand with someone like lulu.com – remember that, with a traditional print publisher, the author gets only 7.5% on a paperback sale. With print-on-demand you get a much higher percentage, though without a mainstream publisher’s publicity and access to shelf space… but remember, too, that Amazon and Apple will also screw you for a large percentage when you sell through them at a normal price.

Print books are dead, so be aware you are also writing for eBooks.

In your case, you want some print books to sell at gigs and eBooks online as well as print books online.

Traditional print publishers tend to want 90,000-120,000 words, but the cost of production is in the number of pages not in the wordage. They can adjust the typeface size, gaps around text etc to fit the number of pages which they decide is economical.

The advantage of a traditional print publisher is they will pay you an Advance… though it is paid one third on signing the contract, one third on delivery of an acceptable manuscript and one third on publication. So, if you get a £9 advance, you actually only get £3 in advance of writing the book.

A traditional publisher may take 18 months to get your book published and available for purchase. Print-on-demand is instant, once you sort it out, which may take you a few weeks.

We live in interesting times.

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Surely not a £500,000+ music biz rip-off? How a hit record made “no money”

(A version of this piece was also published by Indian news site We Speak News)

Bobby Valentino – when Young at Heart

This morning, Bob Diamond of Barclays Bank resigned because of the interest rate fixing scandal, which most ordinary people might consider fraud. Apparently it was not legally fraud and, of course, I would not dream of implying that anything illegal was done by anyone. Clearly, in the case of Barclays Bank, everything which was done was done in a perfectly legal way – even if, to ordinary people, it was amoral and arguably immoral.

Amorality and lateral thinking where money is concerned, of course, is not limited to the banking industry. The movie industry and the music business are notorious for creative thinking where money is concerned.

Last week, I was chatting to the superb violinist Bobby Valentino in London.

I think I first saw Bobby perform when he was part of the Hank Wangford band in the mid 1980s. He is arguably most famous for his violin intro to The Bluebells’ 1993 release of their song Young at Heart.

This resulted in a 2002 court case in which Bobby claimed he had composed the very distinctive violin intro and that it made a significant enough difference to the song to be considered an original contribution. He won the case and won 25% of the writer’s royalties, backdated to 1993.

You might think that would have made him a lot of money.

Last week, though, he told me it had not.

“How much do you reckon you are owed?” I asked.

“Maybe between half a million and three quarters of a million pounds,” he replied.

“But you won the court case,” I said.

“You like surreal comedy,” he said, “so you’ll like this.”

“Mmmmm….” I said.

“I won the court case,” he told me. “The publishers were ordered to disclose their statements and PRS (the Performing Right Society) volunteered their statements. But they are, to be charitable, surreal. Young at Heart seems to have been the only pop song in history that didn’t earn anywhere near the expected royalties. On average, the figures are about 5% of what you’d expect them to be.”

“How do people calculate the expected royalties on a song?” I asked.

“By comparing it with other songs which sold similar amounts and had roughly the same amount of radio and TV play,” he replied. Bobby studied Mathematics at York University.

“There was a very high-profile TV ad for VW,” he explained, “which should have made about £80,000 for the song on just one run, from 14th February to 31st March 1993. The PRS statement for that first run shows less than £2,000 to the writer. And there was a second run of the same ad from 5th October to 4th December 1993. That should have made another £70,000.

“So how much did that second run make?” I asked.

“There are no royalties shown for that at all,” said Bobby. “None.”

“They claim there were zero royalties from the transmission run of a high-profile VW ad over two months?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Bobby. “And zero royalties for the song from America. It wasn’t a hit in America. It was only a ‘college hit’, so there would not have been a lot due. But there should have been something. Plus there were a load of British TV shows which used the song and which played in America – Midsomer Murders, all that sort of stuff. But there’s absolutely not one penny from America on the publisher’s statements or the PRS statements.”

“But Young at Heart is like Blur’s Song 2,”  I interrupted. “The sort of song where TV shows and promo & ad makers use the opening and not the song itself. Song 2 has the Wooo-Hoooooo! opening bit and Young at Heart has your violin intro.”

“Yeah,” agreed Bobby. “The number of times they use the Young at Heart opening – Diddle-diddle diddle-diddle diddle-yup-de-yup – in You’ve Been Framed!… When people are falling over, they use the violin’s Diddle-diddle diddle-diddle diddle-yup-de-yup.

“People have said to me,” Bobby laughed. “Surely there must be something dodgy with the figures that are being provided? and I tell them: Well, YOU may say that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

“PRS’s excuse is that every UK radio station failed to report to them correctly, every UK TV station failed to report to them correctly and every overseas rights society failed to report to them correctly.”

“Who’s saying this?” I asked.

“PRS.”

“What’s the explanation?”

“Well,” said Bobby. “Someone suggested to me that the upper management at PRS has no idea what the lower echelons are doing. But that can’t be true, can it? I’m sure PRS are honourable guys. But the lower guys have come up with these statements of literally 5% of what you’d expect. You can only laugh.

“I get a bit of money. But what I should have got was the money backdated to 1993 and these statements are surreal: 5% of what you’d expect.

“In fact, I’ve got paperwork that contradicts the PRS figures, but apparently that paperwork is ‘in error’.”

“Where’s the paperwork from?” I asked.

EMI Publishing,” Bobby replied.

“PRS is saying the EMI paperwork is in error?” I asked, incredulous.

“Yeah. And they claim the whole song made £25,000 in the first year. In that first year, it should have made about a third of a million pounds. And it would have made £2 million over ten years.”

“It’s PRS who are due to pay you the money?” I asked.

“No,” said Bobby, “it’s the publishers and the main writer who are due to pay me the money. The publishers did not disclose their performance statements. You get statements for Mechanicals (which is sales), for Synch (when something is part of a TV ad) and for Performance. Hit records usually earn considerably more in Performance royalties than they do in Mechanical royalties. And the publishers did not disclose their own Performance statements.

“So they (Clive Banks Music, Anxious Music (Dave Stewart’s publishing company) and Universal Music) relied on the PRS statements. They said The PRS statements are good enough, because PRS is supposed to be Blue Chip. But, like I say, the figures read like they are from some obscure surreal comedy.

Young at Heart was a hit in Denmark. You’d expect maybe £25,000 in writer royalties for a hit in Denmark but the writer supposedly only earned £185.

“It was a hit in Portugal. The writer supposedly earned £141 – and the VW TV ad was also shown in Portugal which made the song No1 in the air-play and sales charts!

“It was a big hit in Italy. PRS claimed the writer was only due £31. There was a friend of mine in a bar in Italy and he asked about the song and the whole bar just started singing it – in English.

“When you average out all the amounts that are missing, it works out I got about 5% of what you’d expect.”

“And you reckon you might be down maybe £500,000 to £750,000 on it?”

“Yes,” said Bobby, “Of course, there are always cock-ups. It didn’t help that the publisher changed on 4th March 1993. Maybe, in that year, what might have happened is that we got shown the statements for money due before 4th March instead of for the whole year, but the odd thing is that PRS have matched the publisher’s statements to the penny. And that is weird. Statements never match each other to the penny. They might up a fiver; they might be down a fiver; it all evens out. But, in the real world, they never ever match to the penny.

Bobby Valentino smiles at surreal figures last week

“PRS claim that the sub-publisher changed from MCA to EMI on 31st Dec 1993 but I have a statement from EMI Music which shows them collecting royalties in July 1993 because, in fact, the change happened on 4th March 1993.

“This thing where the figures match exactly despite all those complications is just plain weird.

“I’ve done calculations on lots of other songs in the past and they’re never quite right. They can be a fiver or a tenner out each time. It’s up and down – swings and roundabouts – but these ones match to the penny. That never happens normally. If you don’t know the system, you might think the fact that they match seems reasonable: Well, they’re supposed to match, you would think.

“But not in the real world. For them to match to the penny is bizarre.”

I certainly have to admire Bobby’s ability to face the bizarre and the surreal.

What is even more bizarre is that I know someone else in the music business who tells me that there was a meeting of the Music Publishers’ Association shortly after that 2002 court case in which the judge (who was musically-trained) awarded Bob 25% of the royalties on Young at Heart.

“They were up in arms,” my friend told me. “They were going: We can’t have musicians getting royalties as writers! The world will fall apart if musicians get royalties as writers! And their whole vibe was: The judge got it wrong. So maybe someone decided to ‘put it right’.

“Someone told me PRS really stands for the Publisher’s Rip-off Society and not the Performing Right Society.”

But surely she must be wrong.

I believe that, like the movie distribution business, the music publishing business is an honourable world filled with honourable people.

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The Sex Life of a Comedian is to be revealed by Lulu in print-on-demand

A week ago, I wrote a blog blatantly plugging the fact that Sit-Down Comedy, the 2003 anthology written by 19 comedians which I edited with the late Malcolm Hardee, is now available as an iBook from iTunes and in a Kindle edition.

I said two of the Sit-Down Comedy contributors were considering publishing print-on-demand books. Now a third tells me he, too, is doing the same thing. He is currently checking the proofs.

Dave Thompson co-wrote a very quirky short story for Sit-Down Comedy with Jim Tavare and tells me:  “I am about to publish my novel The Sex Life of a Comedian via Lulu.com after having fallen out with a ‘proper’ publisher.”

Dave explains: “It was what I witnessed at the London book launch of another comedian’s book that made me realise what a shambles I’d got involved with. And then I bought a copy of a book by another comedian I knew and it was bursting with errors. There were so many mistakes, it looked like it hadn’t been proof read…

“From what I hear from other people who get involved in publishing books, publishers rival comedy promoters for incompetence and greed.”

Dave is highly-original. He has written for Ben Elton (they have been friends since schooldays); ITV’s BAFTA Award winning series The Sketch Show with Jim Tavare; Harry Hill’s TV Burp; and, uncredited, for many other Big Name comics. He has even amazingly written for the newly-enobled (as-of today) Sir Bruce ForsythTime Out called Dave “one of the finest joke writers in the country”. But, to the public, he is mostly known for the Tinky Winky incident in 1997.

He played Tinky Winky (the purple one) in the world-famous children’s television show Teletubbies but was equally famously fired after American fundamentalist tele-evangelist Jerry Falwell warned parents that handbag-carrying Tinky Winky could be a hidden homosexual symbol, because “he is purple, the gay pride colour, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle: the gay pride symbol”. Ragdoll, the show’s British production company, decided that Dave’s “interpretation of the role was inappropriate” and sacked him.

In Kazakhstan, the Teletubbies are still banned by order of the president who considers Tinky Winky to be a pervert.

The Sex Life of a Comedian is about a stand-up comedian on the UK circuit who gets a job wearing a blue furry costume in a world-famous television show but then gets fired. The story involves drug-fuelled celebrity sex romps, the Mafia and wild parties aboard luxury yachts.

Well, at least no-one in the television or comedy worlds has to worry about it being autobiographical, then.

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British comedians seem to be turning to electronic book publishing – maybe

I have blogged before about the galloping-blindly-towards-an-unknown-destination changes in book publishing.

In 2003, the late Malcolm Hardee and I put together Sit-Down Comedy for Random House. It was an anthology of original writing (some of it very dark) by comedians Ed Byrne, John Dowie, Jenny Eclair, Stephen Frost, Boothby Graffoe, Ricky Grover, Malcolm Hardee, Hattie Hayridge, John Hegley, Dominic Holland, Jeff Innocent, Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery, Owen O’Neill, Arthur Smith, Linda Smith, Jim Tavare, Dave Thompson and Tim Vine.

Sit-Down Comedy has just been issued in both iBook (for iPads) and Kindle downloadable electronic editions.

Apparently, in the US market, electronic books now account for 20% of total book sales. In the UK, it is still only 5%, but it is expected to double in the next year.

In the last week, two of the contributors to Sit-Down Comedy have mentioned to me that they are thinking of publishing electronic books, probably via lulu.com, the same print-on-demand (not to be confused with self-publishing) company which comedy writer Mark Kelly has used to publish his books Pleased as Punch, This Is Why We Are Going to Die and (free to download) Every Get The Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? Comic Shelley Cooper told me she is also looking into print-on-demand publishing.

A highly relevant factor is that print-on-demand publishers may take 20% of your book’s earnings to arrange print and electronic versions… while conventional print publishers doing the same thing normally give the author royalties of only 7.5% of paperback sales. With print-on-demand  you have to market the book yourself, but you also have to factor in that significant difference between getting 80% or getting the conventional 7.5%.

I have blogged before that am thinking of re-publishing Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (probably revised back to its original version) as an e-book… but that is only if I can actually pull my finger out – always a major factor in the production of any book.

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The black man fails to show up but the god-like comic Simon Munnery shines

Last night, comedy club Pull The Other One’s second monthly show in Herne Hill was packed, so word-of-mouth must have spread about last month’s bizarre events which I blogged about here.

During last month’s show, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and a doctor’s stethoscope round his neck sat in a gold costume alone at a table right in front of the stage occasionally re-arranging half-glimpsed works of art on the surface in front of him. In any other show, he would have been a disruptive distraction but, given Pull The Other One’s unique mix of surreality, alternative variety and downright bizarreness, he actually fitted right in with the show. It turned it into a two-ring circus.

I went to the Half Moon venue in Herne Hill again last night half-hoping the black man and his half-glimpsed mysterious works of art would make a comeback. Alas he wasn’t there. But Charmian Hughes, who had been one of four comperes last month and was one of three comperes last night  (look – it works, it adds to the oddness, so don’t ask) told me:

“That man with the stethoscope gave me a picture of a face which is half pharaoh and half enslaved black man. It’s actually really effective and I’ve hung it up. The title is Was my ancestor illegally detained?’’

Charmian had done a sand dance during last month’s show (again, don’t ask).

“He must,” Charmian continued, “have found it quite a strange coincidence that he went to a show on his night off from Egyptology or whatever he’s into and someone started talking about Egypt and the pharaohs and did a sand dance on stage.”

“Well,” I thought, “It wasn’t just him who found it strange.”

Last night, in an unusual move for Pull The Other One, they actually had three straight(-ish) stand-up comics in among real magic from David Don’t, Sam Fletcher’s fake magic, Charmian’s explanation of the Abelard & Heloise story using pandas, Holly Burn’s… well… indescribably odd performances… and the equally odd Nick Sun’s audience-baiting.

Towards the end of his set, Nick Sun persuaded the audience to show their appreciation (and they were very enthusiastically appreciative of his odd act throughout) to boo him and heckle him and he refused to leave the stage except in silence. He took any clapping as inappropriate and refused to leave except to complete silence. A good bit of memorable schtick.

The three stand-ups included the extremely good Maureen Younger, who shamed me. I was then and still am ashamed because I had never seen her perform before and I am amazed I had not seen someone that good. An absolutely top-notch and clearly highly experienced professional. My only excuse is that she seems to have worked abroad a lot. And that’s not much of an excuse. Woe is me. The shame. The shame.

Steve Jameson’s Borscht Belt character act Sol Bernstein – much admired by many – leaves me a bit cold because I have some general problem with watching live character comedy, which brings me on to Simon Munnery, who is on stunningly good form at the moment.

He was introduced as “a legend” which he certainly is, even though his existence is not in question and has been independently authenticated. He has always been extremely good but I have now seen him twice in two weeks and I am very surprised.

It’s rare for a comic to keep getting better. After a lot of experience, a good comic usually reaches a plateau of excellence. You don’t expect him or her to get better and he or she doesn’t have to. They have reached a plateau of excellence. Simon Munnery reached that plateau ages ago but now seems to be getting even better. It’s not that he wasn’t excellent before, but he is even better now.

As I said, I have a blank and difficult-to-explain spot about character comedy and I was never much impressed (though everyone else was) with Simon’s very early character Alan Parker: Urban Warrior.

I’ve always liked Simon as a person but it wasn’t until I saw Cluub Zarathustra at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1994 that I really started to appreciate his act. I thought the subsequent 2001 TV series Attention Scum! slightly watered-down the amazingly admirable nastiness of Cluub Zarathustra.

Simon’s original character which was OTT with audience-despising Nietzschean superiority and contempt for the audience in Cluub Zarathustra had (it seemed to me) been watered-down into the less-though-still-effective League Against Tedium.

The Attention Scum! TV series (directed by Stewart Lee) was highly original and, legend has it, much disliked by BBC TV executives until it was nominated for the prestigious Golden Rose of Montreux in 2001, at which point they had to feign enthusiastic support despite having already decided not to produce a second series.

Perhaps it was too interesting for them.

Simon’s League Against Tedium and Buckethead character shows were always interesting but sometimes variable – you can see that a man with an orange bucket over his head spouting poetry might partially alienate a more mainstream audience.

I think the less Simon hid behind a character and the more he started to perform as himself (well, as much as any comic does) the better and better and better he became.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the Random House anthology of original writing which Malcolm Hardee and I commissioned and edited to which 19 stand-up comedians contributed short pieces. (Now newly available for download in Apple iBooks for iPad and in a Kindle edition.)

Simon at first submitted Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind – basically a print version of his 2002 Edinburgh Fringe show which I thought was fascinating. It took me aback that the printed version was even better than the performed version. I think I had seen the hour-long show twice yet, when I read it on the page, I realised I had missed some of the verbal and mental cleverness.

He eventually supplied The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes, a wonderfully original story. When I read it, it was one of only three times in my life that I have ever laughed out loud while reading a piece of writing (the other two occasions were both Terry Southern books – Blue Movie and one tiny section of The Magic Christian)

Simon wrote The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes after the publishers of Sit-Down Comedy thought Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind was too complicatedly experimental. Well, I think they thought it was too original and too intellectual; that’s often a problem with publishers.

And it has always been Simon’s semi-problem. Arguably too clever. Too original.

Until now, quite a lot of his acts – with sections often tending towards performance art – have been slightly hit-and-miss and I think sometimes too dense with intellectual, mental and linguistic cleverness to fully succeed with an only-half-paying-attention mainstream comedy audience. That’s not a criticism of audiences as dim; but sometimes audiences who had not seen Simon perform before were not expecting what they got. You had to pay very close attention.

Last night, there was a gag involving Sisyphus and Icarus which was wonderfully explained, became part of a cluster of linked, overlapping gags and even managed to bring in modern-day, up-to-the-minute economics.

Simon used to be intellectual and much-loved by the Guardian-reading chattering classes of Islington – and he still is. But now he seems to have pulled off the neat trick of losing none of his intellectual content but performing a highly intelligent act which is populist and maintains a uniformity of laughter-making for all audiences.

In other words, he’s bloody funny from beginning to end and has an astonishing act of overlapping, densely-packed gags and observations which in no way dumbs down yet is totally accessible to a mainstream audience.

How he has done it I don’t know, but he has.

I once tried to persuade Simon that we should follow in L.Ron Hubbard’s footsteps and write a book about philosophy which many in the UK would see as a joke but which many in California might read without irony and blindly believe in as a new religion. That way, we could make money now, have a laugh and statues of him might be worshipped in 2,000 years as a God-like figure.

He wasn’t impressed.

Maybe because today many already worship him as a godlike figure in British comedy.

Quite right too.

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Advice on how to get a book published…

Someone asked me yesterday how to get a book published by a reputable publisher in the UK.

My answer was to get a ghost writer – me – and pay me £156,000 + 98% of the royalties plus all the chocolate I can eat.

Sadly my offer was turned down, so my edited advice was this…

The conventional wisdom is that, to get a publishing deal, you need to have a literary agent but, to get a literary agent, you need to have a publishing deal.

In fact, you don’t.

It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction.

Fiction sells better than non-fiction, but it is even more difficult to get published. Almost bloody impossible, in fact.

Either way, the best thing to do is this…

You need to write a one or two page outline synopsis of what will be in the book – beginning to end – so the publisher knows what he/she is actually going to get.

And write perhaps a 20-page extract. This does not have to be the first 20 pages, but it might as well be. The reason for providing this extract is twofold. It shows the publisher that you can write. And it shows them the style your book will be written in – the same facts can be written a million different ways. An extract gives them a feel for the suggested book’s style.

Plus you need to include a biography of yourself – maybe half a page.

You are a good prospect if you are young (ie under 30), attractive and already have some track record in some creative area. And it helps massively if you can speak fluently. Being dead is not a good selling point if you are trying to get a publishing deal unless you are Jane Austen or George Orwell.

I know someone who was a ‘reader’ for Penguin Books. He was given a translation of a Japanese novel which Penguin had been offered. After reading it with growing excitement, his report to Penguin said that it was the most brilliant novel he had ever read and they would be mad not to publish it.

They told him: “We are not going to publish it.”

The author had, unwisely, just died and would be unable to do any publicity for the book.

Publishers want someone, preferably attractive and certainly alive, who can do publicity interviews for the book and who is ideally young enough to provide them with maybe 40 more years of books. They seldom want a one-off wonder unless you have an absolutely cracking story like being held as a sex slave for 14 years by Prince Philip in a secret cellar under Buckingham Palace or cutting off your own leg with a fish knife while being held hostage by Saddam Hussein in a Paris brothel.

When you have your idea, outline, biography and extract together, you should then go to a bookshop and see which publishers are selling the type of book you want to write and approach them one by one, having looked in a copy of the annual Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook which gives contact names, addresses and publishing requirements.

One thing you do not do is this…

You do NOT write the book first and then approach a publisher.

You want to screw an Advance out of them.

That way, even if the thing sells no copies, you have earned something for your talent, time and heartache.

If you approach a publisher with a completed book you cannot, by definition, get any Advance from them to tide you over while you write the book. You would have worked for perhaps two years for no money and you may have written what publishers don’t want.

Also, publishers like to feel they are controlling the creative process. Most publishers I have encountered are wannabe writers who cannot actually write creatively themselves, so they want to write and/or re-write through you while getting cultural kudos with their friends at dinner parties in Islington.

Never believe that publishers know anything about creative writing. If they did, they would be writing books themselves.

Those who can, do.

Those who can’t, publish…

…and try to interfere with your writing to give themselves a creative hard-on.

The thing to remember is that, up to the point of signing the contract, they can cast you aside and they have all the power. But, after signing the contract, you have most of the power. Under a standard publishing contract, they control the cover, but they cannot change a single comma of the text without your permission and it is unlikely (unless your book is utter shit) that they will throw away the Advance they have paid you. So listen to their advice but stick to your creative guns if you disagree.

If (just to use round numbers) you get a £9,000 advance, you would normally be paid £3,000 on signing the contract. You then have to write the entire book with no more money coming in. You then get £3,000 on delivery of an acceptable final manuscript. And you then have to wait for 6-9 months and get £3,000 on publication. So any ‘Advance’ tends to mean you only get one third up-front in advance of writing the book.

The thing to remember is that it highly unlikely you will make any significant money from your book. Literally hundreds of books are spewing into existence every month to try to find space on the same limited shelves. It is like playing the Edinburgh Fringe. You are unlikely to get noticed and it is like standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. In the case of writing a book, these are the £50 notes you could have earned by stacking shelves in a supermarket rather than starving in a small room earning no money while you toil away at your creative keyboard.

If your book is a paperback, you are likely to get a royalty of only 7.5% of the cover price. So, if your book sells for £10, you get 75p per copy sold. Roughly.

I believe most books sell well under 10,000 copies in the British Isles and fail to make a profit. Publishers live on their rare big buck-earners.

When approaching a publisher nowadays, you also have to take into consideration the new phenomenon of eBooks. Random House recently signed a big deal with Apple to put their back catalogue and future publications onto iBooks.

My 2002 contract with Random House for the anthology Sit-Down Comedy specified a 50% royalty on any future e-book version. A fortnight ago, they sent me a letter saying they want to only pay 25% instead of 50% on any eBook version because the contracted 50% royalty rate “was arrived at before the UK eBook market had begun to develop and before the extent of our digital investment was known. Since this royalty was agreed, the eBook market has moved on greatly but, in the process, we have found that 50% of net revenues is no longer viable”.

Well, lovies, my tendency is to say, “Tough shit, life’s a bitch and a gamble, ain’t it? Don’t come whining to me if you mis-calculated your own business.”

But, with Sit-Down Comedy, in fact, it doesn’t much matter because, although the contract was with the late Malcolm Hardee and me as editors of the book, we agreed to split the royalties between ourselves and the 19 contributors to the anthology. So we are talking miniscule sums even if it sold loads.

However, I know another author whose book has been in print for quite a few  years. It may soon go out of print. Under a standard contract, if a book is out of print for two years, all rights return to the author. So, for example, Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was out of print for two years and now 100% of all rights have reverted to me and to the estate of the late Malcolm.

However, if this other chum of mine’s book becomes an eBook, my understanding is that it will, in theory, never go out of print – the file will still be available for download from the Apple/Amazon/publisher’s computer – and so the publisher will retain the rights until 70 years after the author’s death.

If my chum, on the other hand, refuses to accept a royalty cut from 50% to 25%, then it will presumably not become an eBook, the paperback will go out of print and, two years later, 100% of all rights will revert to my chum. And there would then be the possibility of negotiating a new publishing deal or publishing via some print-on-demand operation like lulu.com

We live in interesting times and that, of course, is the ancient Chinese curse.

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