Why I Turned Down A $200k Publishing Offer

In this episode, I talk about the time a publisher tried to buy my book The Pathless Path.

shared a thread that seemed to get a lot of attention about turning down a $200k book deal. On the surface, this seems like a HUGE deal but the deal structure made it easy to say no. They offered $70k for ALL lifetime rights to The Pathless Path (a book that has generated ~$40k net profit for me in the last four months) and $135k for a 2nd book deal.

As someone who really enjoyed the self-publishing process and declared my book a complete and total success at 1k copies sold, the prospect of selling my book to a publisher didn’t excite me that much, but I was intrigued. Maybe they had a bold plan to take my book to the next level.

What I found instead was something different. Instead of a plan, they really just pitched me on the fact that other good authors are working with them and the fact that self-publishing is hard (not my experience so far). They also pointed out that I shouldn’t only focus on trying to make money from a book and that other authors make money from speaking gigs and courses. Given that I’ve made about $45k from my book in the last four months, this didn’t feel right for me.

I’ve tried to avoid doing X to get Y to get Z on this path. That’s the career game. Instead, I want to just do Z and enjoy it because I like it. After seeing the high royalty rates from self-publishing and knowing how the costs of running a business are going to decline, I think it’s actually a mistake to think that books need to be a loss leader for other more profitable work.

David Senra was recently expressing a similar confusion, arguing about writers, “You’re not a writer, you’re an entrepreneur and your product just happens to be a book.”

I love that and it aligns with my perspective that the options for people like me to build businesses and capture value are only going to increase over time and I’m not sure I want to partner with a company that doesn’t share that same view of the future.

Advances can be misleading too, especially for future books. For example, here is how a $130k deal pays out: “Payout: $32,500 on signing; $32,500 on delivery and acceptance; $32,500 on pub; $32,500 12 months post-publication.” So an ideal timeline could look something like this:

  • May 2023: $32,500
  • May 2024: $32,500 (they have to accept it)
  • Feb 2025: $32,500 (published 9 months later)
  • Feb 2026: $32,500 (final payment)

Laid out like this over three years it doesn’t seem as big, does it?

I ended up telling them that I was not interested in writing a 2nd book, mostly because I’m not feeling called to that right now but that I was open to an offer for The Pathless Path that was higher than $70k. I probably should have just said no and walked away at that point but some degree of greed probably led me to a second call, where the vibes were definitely off and confirmed my hunch that this was not the right fit.

Again they told me the same talking points from the first couple of calls. Self-publishing is hard. We have good authors. We have connections. But there was still no plan. It would have been cool if they were like, “we think this book can sell 500k copies, here’s how we would do it.” It was pretty frustrating.

They asked me what I might accept for The Pathless Path and I gave them a very big number. They weren’t too happy with that and asked how I got the valuation. Looking back it’s a bit weird that they felt like I should be selling them. They were the ones who reached out to me after they noticed my book had accelerating sales in the 2nd year. I’m not sure what I told them but the bottom line for me is that since I’m already on a path I love doing work that matters to me and making enough, the price is going to be really high for me to want to change course.

And I totally understand where they are coming from. I used to work in a company and I understand it’s just business. But I left that world because I didn’t want life to be just business.

And luckily I’ve found many other people that feel the same and want to play a different game. This is the upside of the creator economy. It is a space to play and to show up in a mode of life that is not purely transactional and not purely about money.

Which is beautiful.

Ali Abdaal is a great example of this. He’s read my book, was inspired by it, and has decided over and over again to share it. He’s done this for many others too. I’ve literally never asked him to share my book once. It’s raw generosity and I feel immensely grateful.

He ended up publishing a full review of my book which was totally unexpected.

This is the energy that will win.

They e-mailed me a few days later and told me they would not make an offer which was probably best for everyone. I don’t know what I would have done if they had made me a more significant offer. It would have been harder to say no to something like $300k for The Pathless Path but ultimately, I am more excited than ever to see what is possible with my book.

It made me reflect on something I’ve told other people too: no one will save you. The way I’ve set up my path is perhaps a little more independent and “solo” than most but I think this is the way for me to really do work that matters to me, fully owning all the ups and downs of writing and creating in today’s world. Plus I’m having a ton of fun doing it.

I’m not totally naive and I realize there probably are interesting opportunities worth pursuing with external partners. Because of the thread, I’m now in 3-4 conversations with people who are open to coming up with new ways to work with authors in creator-friendly ways. So I am thankful for them reaching out. It’s inspired me to get creative and pave new paths forward once again. I’ll keep you posted.