1. You owe your publisher the courtesy of timely information. This means if you’re going to be late delivering a book, you try to give as much notice as you can. Which means giving updates to an editor about where you are in the revision process.
2. You owe your publisher your own efforts at self-promotion. This means if a publisher asks you to go to a local event and present there, you do it if at all possible. This does not mean that you have to pay for plane tickets and hotel to an event out of town your publisher wants you to do out of pocket. If you can do it, though, it would be nice.
3. You owe your publisher feedback. If you think the cover stinks, say so. If you’re having a problem with the copyeditor or with your main editor, say so. Be polite about it, and accept that it may not change because of you, but feedback is important on both sides. You need to be heard.
4. You owe your publisher what is written in your contract, such as a book 2 or a sequel. But if they reject it, you don’t owe them every book you write from now until eternity until they get one they like.
5. You owe your publisher an attempt at being a non-asshole in social situations. If you think you might have a problem with this, you might try asking your publicist and then humbly seeing if there is anything you can do about it. Like, um, practicing not saying whatever crosses your mind at the moment that you think it.
6. You owe your publisher some patience. This means don’t constantly harass your publisher about book sales or information about money. You can ask if you’d like and they may tell you or not.
7. You owe your publisher keeping silent about secret information if they ask you to keep silent about it. Then again, if you don’t, your publisher will simply stop sharing secret information with you, which also works.
8. You owe your publisher to give them the time frame in the contract to publish the book. You do not owe them more than that.
9. You owe your publisher talking to someone from another publisher about translation issues or about audiobook issues. Briefly and succinctly.
10. You owe your publisher your best work. That doesn’t mean that you owe your publisher your first born child, your health, or your marriage. That means the best work that you can do, under the circumstances. If you need more time, look at #1.
Other things you don’t owe your publisher:
1. The return of an advance if your book doesn’t sell out. In case you didn’t know this.
2. Apologies if your book didn’t sell out or didn’t do as well as expected. (In fact, it’s entirely possible that the publisher owes you an apology for this, but don’t expect that, either.)
3. Apologies if there are bad reviews. Trust me, there are always bad reviews.
4. A guarantee that you will continue to write for them on the same basic contract as always. You sold them one book on that contract. You do not have to sell them others if you choose not to. Make a decision based on all the factors (not just on advance $ offered) and then move forward with what is best for you. You are allowed to be self-interested to a certain level. This is a business.
5. The promise that you will continue to write in this series forever, or that you will write in the same genre forever. Some writers want to do this, and there are reasons it is beneficial to a career to do so. But you don’t have to. If you are the kind of writer who is always inspired by weird things and is interested in writing in just about every genre, you may simply not be suited to a career writing the same series or genre and that’s OK.
6. Your life, liberty or pursuit of happiness. If you need time off, your publisher may have to wait. Writers sometimes need time off for weird creative reasons that don’t make sense to noncreative types, but we are what we are. I’m not saying be a special snowflake here, but I AM saying that you shouldn’t go crazy trying to do what your publisher wants you to do.
7. Exhausting yourself or damaging your mental health. This has to do with offering your publisher information that matters, but if you simply can’t do certain events, if you suffer from massive social anxiety or you have a physical illness that means travel is nearly impossible, talk about this and make sure your publisher knows to use your time sparingly if at all.
8. Being on a social media platform because you think the publisher wants you to be on a social media platform. Honestly, it’s a nice thing, but it’s not a make it or break it thing. If you’re not comfortable there or it’s interfering with your writing schedule, don’t do it.
9. Taking crap from rude people, even if they are people from the publisher. But especially if they are other people, even if they are people who could help your book promotion efforts.
10. Your friendship. If you want to be friends with your publisher, great. If you don’t, that is also fine. I honestly do not think that this affects anything about your book. Your publisher’s job is to sell the book no matter what your personal relationship is.
11. A loan. If your publisher is struggling financially and asks for more time to pay your well-earned royalties, call your agent or a lawyer. It may not get you your money (which is probably gone by now), but make it clear you don’t consider this fair.
12. Undying loyalty. I’ve said it before. This is a business. If the publisher has changed or your editor has left, you are not obligated to stay if you are not happy with the new situation.
13. Information about your private life if you want to keep it hidden. This includes details about a divorce or a diagnosis. You may feel you should share this information at some point, but take your time. It’s all right if you need to process. But do warn people about not meeting deadlines even if you don’t explain why.
14. Not discussing your deal with other people negotiating with them. Unless you’ve signed something to that effect.