This posting may explain why more and more authors, especially those with marketing abilities, are going the self-publishing route.
Low-Balling Royalty Percentages—This is often done to inexperienced, unrepresented authors. It is so difficult to get a publisher to accept one’s work that new authors are very reluctant to rock the boat. The publishers know this and really screw the authors on the percentages they offer.
Cooking the Books—playing devious number games with the sales reporting figures. Never ever agree to base your royalties on net results. This is a common practice in the movie industry and is often used to leave the writer penniless.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy—New writers rarely have a large following initially, so the publisher spends little if any on marketing; therefore, the books don’t sell well. And, the publisher says “See, we told you so.”
Print Runs—This is related to the last item and is especially egregious. It has been done time after time to Piers Anthony and was recently done to talk show host Michael Savage. The publisher announces plans for a large print run to raise the hype level, then only prints half or less than that. The book takes off and runs out of inventory within a couple of weeks. By the time the publisher can get more printed, the buying public has moved on to the next hot item and the book is forgotten.
As you can see, some practices happen because of ethical problems and some happen out of sheer stupidity. There are several others of that ilk, especially when it will make an editor or upper level publisher management look bad. Blame for doing something wrong is rarely admitted because of the egos involved.
Bottom Line—If you’re going to work with major publishers, use a competent, reputable agent. You pay him a percentage to watch out for deals like this. One of the best things that can happen is a bidding war. If a publisher has to put out a major investment to get a work and its author, he will back it with hype, marketing, and decent-sized print runs.
There’s nothing personal about all this. It’s just business as usual.