Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Curt Flood, Free Agency, and Writers


Curt Flood was a major league player, a center fielder, whose name is not so much associated with his record on the field as with the legal ramifications of what he did. He challenged the way baseball contracts were written and enforced. In 1969, Curt Flood refused to accept a trade from his current team, the St. Louis Cardinals, to the Philadelphia Phillies. Until that time, under baseball’s “reserve clause,” players were bound to one team essentially for life. They could be traded by that club, but were not free to seek to play elsewhere after they satisfied the conditions of their contract. It was a one-way street, and Flood thought that was unfair. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court, and free agency in baseball resulted.

What does that have to do with authors? More than you might think. Before I started writing, I assumed that once an author signed with a publisher, he or she would be associated with that publishing house from that day forward. But I quickly learned that it wasn’t so.

Do you ever look at the spines of novels to see which publisher released them? Dollars to donuts you don’t. But if you do, you’ll find that many authors—including some of your favorites—will have two, three, or four novels published by one house, then another publisher will release their next several books. Why is this? It’s because publishing—like baseball—is, in the end, a for-profit business. And the traditional publishers don’t have a lifetime relationship with their authors. It's truly a case of "What have you done for me lately?" Just like a baseball club and players.

It was pointed out recently in one of the writing loops of which I’m a member that publishers are always looking for an author who can produce a bombshell, a bestseller, a true hit. They might sign an author to a two- or three-book contract, but if sales of those books don’t meet the metrics the publisher wants, the writer isn’t given another contract. Instead, the money earmarked for their advance goes to another writer, who then has their own chance to “earn out” the advance paid and exceed it.


Curt Flood may have contributed to free agency in baseball, but it’s always been there—for the publishers—in our industry. And self-publishing may turn out to be the writing equivalent of the Curt Flood case. The baseball owners didn’t like free agency, but they accepted it and adapted the way they do business. Publishers may likewise change what they do in response to the new wave of self-publication of books. We’ll see. Stay tuned.

Do you have an opinion on all this? Leave a comment. We'd love to know.

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PERSONAL NOTE: Today is Veteran's Day (what we formerly called Armistice Day). I'm proud to have served. I hope you'll fly your flag today. Thank a member of the military for their service. And pray for our country.

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