Publishing Deals and Whack-A-Mole

When I signed my first publishing deal in 2012, I got a little sick to my stomach. My 16 year-old artist spirit went into existential crisis mode. Did I just sell my soul? 

But I was incredibly thankful, too. We had a baby on the way and I’d been serving coffee at Starbucks for $9/hour. The publishing advance saved us. 

Along with a paycheck it brought more opportunities and relationships. I also got the respect of being “published” which, believe or not, really raises eyebrows.

And, shhh, here’s a secret…most people don’t know what a publishing deal is. I mean, do you? I certainly didn’t before signing one. But it just sounds good, right? — “published songwriter” — like I could go to my high school reunion and keep my chin up. 

But here’s the thing about publishing deals and deals in general with creative people: Everything is a trade. Have you ever been to an arcade and played that game Whack-A-Mole? You take a mallet and, yes, whack a mole. But then another one pops up out of a different hole. So you hit that one down. You never win, you just keep trying to keep as many down as you can. 

For me, I whacked the “money problem mole” by getting a publishing deal. But the mole that popped up was an extra voice in my head while writing. Would my publisher like this line? Will they think this song is too fast, too slow?

But I have a theory that to actually win the game Whack-A-Mole, you do this: 

Hit every one down at least once and see which one bothers you the least. Leave that one up to stare at you. And as much as you want to pulverize that little booger, take a deep breath, stare back, make nice, and see if the two of you can’t get some work accomplished. 

For me, that was the projected voice of my publisher in my head. It’s a struggle that’s ongoing and I’ve made peace with that now. But honestly, we’ve accomplished a lot together!


P.S. Want to learn more about publishing deals? Start here.