Monthly Archives: November 2011

To believe in youth is to look backward

26 November 2011

Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward we must believe in age.

Dorothy L. Sayers

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Your Agent Isn’t Your Mommy

26 November 2011

Continuing a Thanksgiving weekend reprise of the most popular earlier posts.

A comment at Courtney Milan’s blog caused Passive Guy to reflect on the extreme reactions of some authors to any criticisms of the business practices of agents. These reactions may also occur in response to reports or opinions that traditional publishing is in rapid decline, but are particularly intense when agents are criticized.

Some of these reactions don’t strike PG as the responses of mature business people discussing a business relationship.

Here are some examples from the comments section of the Bookends blog during the disastrous introduction of Bookends’ agent/publishing venture:

[Speaking of one of Bookends’ agents] My gut, my heart, my experience says to trust in her vision because I have faith in her inventiveness, faith in her intelligence, and unshakeable faith in her integrity.

I trust her implicitly to take care of my career…which in turn takes care of hers.

Jessica and I have spent many hours talking about my work and my career. I trust that she has my best interest at heart, and not just because my best interest is her best interest.

The idea that anyone is trying to exploit anyone else deeply saddens me. [After signing with an agent,] I would trust him/her with all my future endeavors. All. Even if they seemed, excuse the turn of phrase, sketchy as hell.

Quite simply, I trust them no matter how our business relationship shifts and changes to keep up with the industry.

To PG, these kinds of reactions seem weird and a little icky, but mostly adolescent, maybe even babyish.

They’re sound like a shy sophomore who has a giant crush on the high school quarterback and slips anonymous love notes into his locker. Bobby can do no wrong because he’s just so cute and wonderful and she knows he likes her because he said hi one time in the hall between classes.

Or (rolling away from sexism), they’re like Napoleon Dynamite after someone agreed to go to the dance with him.

This is a business relationship, not a girls and boys club. The class of trust that speaks to PG in quotes like these is a mommy trust or a clingy best friend trust, a deeply codependent and needy trust. If the agent terminates representation, it will feel like a breakup instead of like switching to a new doctor.

In discussions about the massive changes underway in publishing, some authors resolve all concerns by saying something like, “I asked my agent about this and she says it’s not really a problem.” This reminds PG of little kids who say, “Oh yeah, well my dad says . . . ”

Passive Guy doesn’t know if agents consciously encourage this sort of dependency, but it sure makes for cooperative clients.

How badly must such an agent perform before the author decides to terminate the relationship? If a plumber made a mistake that cost you money, that plumber would be gone. If a real estate agent assured you it would be a cinch to sell your house in 30 days, you’d fire her if it was still on the market six months later.

How can an author make sound independent decisions about his writing career if he “would trust [his agent] with all future endeavors. All. Even if they seemed sketchy as hell.”

When PG practiced law, he would have expected to be immediately terminated if he ever suggested something that struck his client as “sketchy as hell.” He was always happy to be thanked for his services, but would have been creeped out by the saccharine sentiments some authors slather all over the web about their agents.

Apparently, for some authors, love conquers all so long as they’re regularly rocked and reassured.

Feel free to tell Passive Guy he’s crazy about this. He promises he’ll leave your comment up even if you say you trust your agent implicitly.

Here’s a link to the 50 comments to the original post. Feel free to leave a comment here if you like.

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The eBook (r)evolution takes hold

26 November 2011

From IOL (Independent Online in South Africa):

“Disruptive” is a much abused buzzword at the moment. The biggest offenders are clueless corporate types trying to sound as if they’ve got a handle on the latest trends.

I hate to break it to you, but slapping a QR code on all your advertising will not make your company disruptive.

. . . .

Another oft cited disruptive technology was the Model T Ford, which did for the horse-drawn carriage what the iPod will eventually do for the CD.

But my favourite is hundreds of years older and even more ubiquitous than the automobile.

It’s the printed word. Before print pioneers like Gutenberg and Caxton, written knowledge was the preserve of the privileged few fortunate, or rich, enough to have access to the relatively tiny supply of laboriously hand-produced books.

Now, a new technology is threatening today’s gatekeepers of the written word, the press barons and publishing houses, with the fate of their mediaeval monastery predecessors.

It’s the e-book, an electronic version of the printed book, distributed over the internet and read on a range of devices from smartphones and tablet computers to dedicated e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle.

As an ardent bibliophile I’m chagrined to confess I’ve done my bit to hasten the rise of the e-book and decline of the physical version I revere so much.

. . . .

The killer advantage of the e-book was immediately apparent back then: its sheer convenience and portability. Don’t get me wrong. I love the feel and smell of a “real” book. But am I heretic for also loving the ability to carry literally hundreds of books around with me, to have a book recommended by a friend and be reading it less than five minutes later?

Today’s e-book readers, led by their undisputed king, the Kindle, offer an altogether slicker, more pleasing reading and purchasing experience. Instead of displaying the print on a back-lit, highly reflective LCD screen that can be hard on the eyes and virtually impossible to read in bright sunlight, the Kindle employs a technology Amazon has imaginatively called e-ink. I won’t try to explain how it works, but the result is a non-reflective screen you can read in the brightest sunlight. It’s uncannily like reading a real book, down to the need to use a bedside lamp, or after-market cover with a built-in book light, to read it at night.

. . . .

The good news is that prices of dedicated e-book readers have come down quite significantly recently, with Amazon recently releasing an entry-level Kindle costing just $79 (R644).

Be warned, however, that this is the ad-supported US version. The one Amazon ships internationally costs $109 which adds up to just over R1 200 including customs duty and courier delivery to your door. It’s backed by Amazon’s astonishingly generous no-questions-asked return and replace warranty.

If you’re still nervous about dealing with a company half way around the word, you may be prepared to pay R200 more to buy it from a local retailer.

. . . .

You can also buy and download e-books on your PC and laptop and transfer them to your Kindle via the supplied USB cable.

If your “buy local” philosophy extends to e-books as well as the devices you’ll read them on, Kalahari and Exclusive Books have fairly extensive e-book stores.

Do check their prices against Amazon’s before you buy, though.

Link to the rest at IOL

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Interested in Ebooks? Don’t Start With Buying an Ereader

25 November 2011

From Ebook Friendly:

Christmas is coming and lots of people are encouraged to buy ereaders.

Those devices dedicated to reading ebooks have now affordable prices. They are a hot product category. Today almost everywhere everyone it talking about them.

Well, it’s not the right order. If you’re interested in reading ebooks – start with reading about ebooks.

. . . .

1.Test ebookstores

There are many places on the web where you can buy ebooks. Why don’t you spend some time to check which ebookstore fits your needs, and most importantly, has books you are interested in. Ebookstores to test: Kindle Store,Barnes & NobleKoboGoogle eBookstore.

Device needed: computer

2. Test applications

Many ebookstores have their own applications for computers, tablets and mobile phones. How is it to read an electronic book today? Ebooks are not badly prepared .doc files you were trying to read in an office a few years back. Now ebooks can give you a lot of personalization options: fonts, background, you name it. You can also add bookmarks, notes and even share text passages to social media.

If you own a smartphone, go to an application store and find an ereading app. It takes a couple of moments and is a good start. Just keep in mind that eventually you target for a bigger device than your phone.

Device needed: computer, mobile phone

3. Compare prices

If you are sensitive to price, expect ebooks to be cheaper (how much cheaper?), you can check and compare prices of your favorite books using ebook price comparison sites like Luzme or Inkmesh. Or you can have a look at how prices of Kindle books differ across the world. Or you can find out how many Kindle ebooks cost $0.99 or less.

Device needed: computer 

Link to the rest at Ebook Friendly

One thing Passive Guy would add to Piotr’s suggestions is the same thing he says to anyone contemplating a technology purchase – be careful about buying hardware from a small company in a market dominated by giants.

The history of the personal computer is littered with really terrific hardware companies that used their own proprietary operating systems. Their problems arose when they were unable to attract software developers to write good software that ran on their computers. Even Steve Jobs was caught in this trap with his NeXT computer.

Basically, there are two ebook formats that matter today – Kindle’s .mobi or .prc and Epub. PG isn’t aware of any ebook readers that don’t read one of those two formats, but if such a device exists, be very careful about purchasing it.

PG will note that this advice is probably good for the US and the UK at the moment. For other countries and languages other than English, Epub is probably a good bet, but you’ll want to do the kind of checking Piotr recommends to see what prices and availability look like for you.

The other question, which Piotr mentions, is whether an ereader is closely tied to a single ebook store. If it’s Kindle, you can have a reasonable assurance that the large majority of ebooks will be available on Amazon. Ditto for Nook and the Barnes & Noble Nook store. (Again, this works for the US). For other ereaders, make sure there is an easy way of transferring an ebook file to the ereader other than purchasing it at a specific bookstore.

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The English language has a deceptive air of simplicity

25 November 2011
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The English language has a deceptive air of simplicity; so have some little frocks; but they are both not the kind of thing you can run up in half an hour with a machine.

Dorothy L. Sayers

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Strip Mining the Authors

25 November 2011

Continuing a Thanksgiving weekend reprise of the most popular earlier posts.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has written another important essay on the changing face of publishing. I’ll intersperse some excerpts with my comments, but this is one you’ll want to read in its entirety. There is, as always, a link at the bottom.

As will be abundantly clear from Kris’ examples, traditional publishers and the new agents-turned-publishers are making a brazen grab for as many rights from authors as possible while reducing the amount of money they will pay authors for their books. This is the new strip mining model for publishing.

Why are they doing this?

When the ship is sinking, some of the passengers start fighting over the lifeboats.

With each passing week, the handwriting on the wall becomes more and more distinct. What does the writing say?

Big Publishing, the agents who rely upon it and the traditional bookstores that provide its lifeblood are sinking. Just like the Titanic, they’re not disappearing in an instant. The band is still playing and fashionable people are doing business on the upper decks. The good ship Big Publishing will be bobbing in the waves for some time to come, but Amazon, ebooks and indie publishing have punched big holes in the hull. Those holes cannot be patched and the ship is going down.

Does this mean the end of publishing ships? No, but it means the demise of the grand ocean liners. The S.S. Amazon is an entirely different design, crafted for speed and efficiency and it doesn’t need many sailors schooled in the old ways.

While the band is playing and champagne flows, people make brave speeches about the timelessness of their trade. But, make no mistake, a battle is underway below-decks for spots on the lifeboats. If it’s necessary to toss authors over the side to make room, well, that’s just the nature of the business these days.

From Kris:

[A bestselling] writer, more than any other writer, is in danger of losing money and copyrights, of in fact going from making a lot of money to making little or no money at all. How can she lose money when she will probably maintain her bestseller status, her sales will probably go up, and her work will go into more markets than ever before?

Simple. Her contract terms will change and she might not even notice.

At some time hidden in the mists of time, an ancient rule of contracts was formulated: When a business partner is in financial trouble and wants a change in a long-standing agreement, watch your wallet. The more “routine” the change, the more dangerous it probably is.

Kris talks about e-rights:

Another clause to beware of in the e-rights clause of your new contract is this one:

“The Author hereby grants to the Publisher…the exclusive license to produce, publish, sell, distribute and further license any Electronic Version of the Work…. ‘Electronic Version’ means versions that include the Work…in a complete, condensed, adapted, or abridged version and in compilations for performance and display in any manner whether sequentially or non-sequentially and together with accompanying sounds and images, if any, transmissible by any electronic means, method or device (including but not limited to electronic and machine-readable media and online or satellite-based transmission or any other device or medium for electronic reproduction or transmission whether now or hereafter known or developed…)” [Emphasis mine.]

Yikes! Ick! No. Never, ever, ever, ever sign this clause. Think about this: movies are digitized—they are performance, and they are often distributed online. Not only does that clause allow someone to monkey with your work, abridging it, taking it out of order, adding things to it, making it into a performance piece, adding sound effects, but it also is a backwards way of granting television rights, video display rights, and any other performance right, so long as that performance can be distributed electronically.

And don’t believe that someone in your publishing house won’t use that clause down the road. The editor you trust may leave, the publishing company might change hands, and a clause that was designed for one thing will be used for something completely different.

Gold has been discovered in ebooks. Smart people are prospecting for more gold with enhanced ebooks. Video in ebooks is a definite possibility.

While a few people sprinkled in publishers’ management positions high and low may have seen a vision of what books could become and the effect that might have on publishers’ profits in their traditional lines a few years ago, nobody bothered to tell the gnomes who tended the standard-form contracts.

Kris has seen far more publishing contracts during her career than Passive Guy has, but the ones he’s examined that are more than a couple of years old are tight where paperbacks and hardcovers are concerned and they leak like a sieve everywhere else.

Back to Kris:

Watch out for your option clause. Try to avoid signing one at all. In the past, option clauses were like job security, but no longer. Option clauses have now become a way to tie a writer to a publishing house and to prevent her from working for anyone else. So strike your option clause if possible.

. . . .

Watch your warranty clause.  Now, many publishers are reverting to an old practice. They want writers to warrant that the writer will not write anything until this particular book under this particular contract is published.

This used to be a separate clause, and very easy to find.  It existed in a lot of contracts 20 years ago, then faded away.  Now it’s back with a vengeance.  It used to be that the writer guaranteed that the book she had just contracted for would be her next book and no other book would compete against it.

Now she’s guaranteeing that she will not write another book until this one is published.  And in many cases, the publisher enjoins her from writing anything.

This clause, which has been in every new book contract I have seen from traditional New York publishers in the past six months, is buried in the warranties.  Which are the boilerplate part of the contract, the part that includes bankruptcies and acts of God.  A lot of established writers stopped reading the legal gobbledygook in the boilerplate years ago, and have been snared by this clause.

Sometimes people fighting for lifeboats don’t act in rational ways. During the fight, the lifeboat may be damaged, supplies lost and passengers capable of providing valuable assistance to the survivors prevented from boarding.

When he read Kris’ description of these provisions, Passive Guy was reminded about one of the fundamental rules of making contracts with important long-term partners: Don’t screw your partner in the contract even if you have an opportunity to do so. When your partner realizes you screwed her as she inevitably will, she’ll spend all her time and energy working on ways to get out of the contract instead of doing whatever it was that you wanted her to do when you signed the contract.

What about the clause that hog-tied the author to the publisher? PG’s already thought of a half-dozen likely ways to evade the clause. He can’t help it, that’s just the way his mind works. However, he’ll keep those under his hat for the moment because he hasn’t seen the language in the contract.

Something else also came to mind, however. As described, the hog-tying clause potentially precludes a professional author from earning a living by writing for a competing publisher. When you think of it that way, it sounds a lot like a non-compete clause.

Non-compete agreements are common in the tech world. When you go to work for a tech company or become a contractor for a tech company, you’ll be required to sign a non-compete agreement that prevents you from taking everything you learned while you worked on the Apple ebook project and taking it with you when you’re hired for the Microsoft ebook project.

As with everything else, however, non-compete agreements were abused by some employers and today a dense combination of state laws and court decisions have placed substantial limits on how much a company can restrict the post-employment work of a former employee.

One of the fundamental limitations on non-compete agreements is a public policy that people should be free to work and support themselves in their chosen profession and should also be free to move from job to job. Limitations on that freedom included in non-compete agreements must be narrowly-tailored with time limitations to protect the vital interests of the company, not punish ex-employees or former contractors for quitting.

Back to the bigger picture for a moment, hiding material limitations on an author’s freedom in obscure warranty clauses as Kris describes is an unethical business practice.

Depending upon how it’s done and what extra-contractual representations are made to the author, we may be moving into fraud territory.

This practice exploits the great mismatch in resources and negotiating power between a large publisher and an individual author. Passive Guy has no problems with bare-knuckles contract drafting and negotiations when both sides have access to good-quality legal advice, but this is over the line. It demonstrates disrespect for an author and an intention to fleece the author for the financial advantage of the publisher.

This is antithetical to a relationship of mutual respect between professional colleagues. This is destructive exploitation – strip mining – of an author’s life work.

Such behavior by a publisher gives rise to an additional inevitable question. If the publisher is willing to engage in borderline fraudulent practices in its contract with an author, what additional types of fraudulent practices may it engage in? Even hidden clauses in a contract are far easier to discover than under-reporting of sales and underpayment of royalties.

So, how do we deal with hidden gotchas in a publishing contract?

Next week, Passive Guy will unveil yet another lovely contract provision for authors. Check back to learn about the Smoke ‘Em Out Clause.

And most definitely read the entire post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. This one can make or save you some big money.

Link to the 44 comments to the original post. Feel free to comment here if you like.

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Thank You

24 November 2011

Passive Guy would like to thank all those who have commented on and visited The Passive Voice.

He really appreciates your support.

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I always have a quotation

24 November 2011
Comments Off on I always have a quotation

I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking.

Dorothy L. Sayers

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How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day

24 November 2011

From fantasy author Rachel Aaron:

When I started writing The Spirit War (Eli novel #4), I had a bit of a problem. I had a brand new baby and my life (like every new mother’s life) was constantly on the verge of shambles. I paid for a sitter four times a week so I could get some writing time, and I guarded these hours like a mama bear guards her cubs – with ferocity and hiker-mauling violence. To keep my schedule and make my deadlines, I needed to write 4000 words during each of these carefully arranged sessions. I thought this would be simple. After all, before I quit my job to write full time I’d been writing 2k a day in the three hours before work. Surely with 6 hours of baby free writing time, 4k a day would be nothing

. . . .

But (of course), things didn’t work out like that. Every day I’d sit down to add 4000 words to my new manuscript. I was determined, I was experienced, I knew my world. There was no reason I couldn’t get 4k down. But every night when I hauled myself away, my word count had only increased by 2k, the same number of words I’d been getting before I quit my day job.

Needless to say, I felt like a failure. Here I was, a professional writer with three books about to come out, and I couldn’t even beat the writing I’d done before I went pro. At first I made excuses, this novel was the most complicated of all the Eli books I’d written, I was tired because my son thinks 4am is an awesome time to play, etc. etc. But the truth was there was no excuse. I had to find a way to boost my word count, and with months of 2k a day dragging me down, I had to do it fast. So I got scientific. I gathered data and tried experiments, and ultimately ended up boosting my word count to heights far beyond what I’d thought was possible, and I did it while making my writing better than ever before.

. . . .

Drastically increasing your words per day is actually pretty easy, all it takes is a shift in perspective and the ability to be honest with yourself (which is the hardest part). Because I’m a giant nerd, I ended up creating a metric, a triangle with three core requirements: Knowledge, Time, and Enthusiasm. Any one of these can noticeably boost your daily output, but all three together can turn you into a word machine. I never start writing these days unless I can hit all three.

Side 1: Knowledge, or Know What You’re Writing Before You Write It

The first big boost to my daily wordcount happened almost by accident. Used to be I would just pop open the laptop and start writing. Now, I wasn’t a total make-it-up-as-you-go writer. I had a general plot outline, but my scene notes were things like “Miranda and Banage argue” or “Eli steals the king.” Not very useful, but I knew generally what direction I was writing in, and I liked to let the characters decide how the scene would go. Unfortunately, this meant I wasted a lot of time rewriting and backtracking when the scene veered off course.

This was how I had always written, it felt natural to me. But then one day I got mired in a real mess. I had spent three days knee deep in the same horrible scene. I was drastically behind on my wordcount, and I was facing the real possibility of missing my deadline… again. It was the perfect storm of all my insecurities, the thought of letting people down mixed with the fear that I really didn’t know what I was doing, that I wasn’t a real writer at all, just an amateur pretending to be one. But as I got angrier and angrier with myself, I looked down at my novel and suddenly realized that I was being an absolute idiot. Here I was, desperate for time, floundering in a scene, and yet I was doing the hardest work of writing (figuring out exactly what needs to happen to move the scene forward in the most dramatic and exciting way) in the most time consuming way possible (ie, in the middle of the writing itself).

As soon as I realized this, I stopped. I closed my laptop and got out my pad of paper. Then, instead of trying to write the scene in the novel as I had been, I started scribbling a very short hand, truncated version the scene on the paper. I didn’t describe anything, I didn’t do transitions. I wasn’t writing, I was simply noting down what I would write when the time came. It took me about five minutes and three pages of notebook paper to untangle my seemingly unfixable scene, the one that had just eaten three days of my life before I tried this new approach. Better still, after I’d worked everything out in shorthand I was able to dive back into the scene and finish it in record time. The words flew onto the screen, and at the end of that session I’d written 3000 words rather than 2000, most of them in that last hour and a half.

. . . .

Every writing session after this realization, I dedicated five minutes (sometimes more, never less) and wrote out a quick description of what I was going to write. Sometimes it wasn’t even a paragraph, just a list of this happens then this then this. This simple change, these five stupid minutes, boosted my wordcount enormously. I went from writing 2k a day to writing 5k a day within a week without increasing my 5 hour writing block. Some days I even finished early.

Link to the rest at Pretentious Title

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Don’t Sign Dumb Contracts

24 November 2011

Since news in the book world slows down over Thanksgiving and Mrs. PG informs PG that he needs a break, we’re going to reprise some of the most popular posts on this blog. Many went up when The Passive Voice had far fewer visitors than it does now.

PG will probably have some new posts during this long weekend, but Greatest Hits posts will also appear.

Kristine Kathryn Rush is writing some important essays about the publishing world (“blog post” is too lightweight to adequately describe her analyses).

In her latest, Kris discusses contracts with publishers and agents, dirty tricks in some contracts and a worrisome trend of agents becoming more concerned with the interests of publishers than the welfare of the authors they represent.

Excerpts:

We used to recommend agents, but we slowly stopped doing that. Some of it was simple: we didn’t want to endorse any one we weren’t intimately familiar with. But it became more complex than that. Some of our agenting friends had left the business. Others had moved to companies that had rather unseemly business practices, and still others had morphed their agenting business into something unrecognizable.

Rather than walk through the thicket of ethics, friendships, business partnerships, and individual monetary policy, we just stopped recommending any particular agent. Over time, we stopped recommending agents at all.

During that same period of time, we saw a lot of publishing contracts that were…dicey…at best. We figured that because the contracts were for newer writers, the contract itself was a lower level of contract.

. . . .

I was noticing a few other things at the time, but not putting them together because my own career had hit a crisis point. My agent and I would negotiate a contract. Then we’d get the contract, and we’d have to remind the publisher that we had changed certain terms. The terms would get changed back.

Or we’d negotiate a contract, then sell a second book six months later on the same terms. Only when the contract arrived, it would be a completely different document. While the terms we had explicitly discussed would be the same as the ones we negotiated, the other terms, from the warranties to the deep discounts, would be extremely different.

. . . .

I was thinking of getting a new agent (yet again) and I asked him what his super-famous really big agency could do for me that a smaller agent couldn’t. Maybe because he’d had a few drinks, maybe because he is a very savvy man who has a finger on the pulse of publishing’s future, maybe because we were friends, he told me that he couldn’t do as much for his writers as he could have ten years before.

Clout counted for less and less in this business, he said. And since his business was all about clout, he was quite morose about it.

Then he told me stories about canceled contracts and misfired deals, stories like the ones I just told you, only these had happened to big name writers—writers with more clout than I ever had, more clout than that poor textbook writer could ever hope to have had. And the agent said he could do nothing about it.

Now, honestly, I’m not that shocked that publishers take advantage of writers. Writers and publishers enter into a business relationship, and business relationships can be adversarial. Personalities factor in, but so do the structure of companies. The smaller the company, the more likely it is to be on less solid ground financially, but the more likely it is to be a friendly place to work with.

Writers have always (usually?) been unarmed as they went into these business relationships with publishers. The writers would hire advocates to take care of them, to handle the adversarial part. Early on in my career, I hired an agent not just because I believed the agent knew more about publishing and publishing contracts than I did (and at the time, he did), but also to stand up for me when the time came, to fight for my needs and wants, to be my advocate.

Slowly, over time, agents stopped advocating for writers, and instead, started advocating for their agencies. Again, I noted the change, but believed it was only a few agencies, working on the Hollywood model. In fact, the agencies that pioneered this behavior came from Hollywood, and then branched into publishing as a side business.

I knew that many agents had forgotten who they worked for when the agent started refusing to mail books that “weren’t good enough” and refused to do things in their clients’ best interest because it “might hurt our other clients.” I always felt those were firing offenses, but a lot of writers put up with those things and more. And, it seemed, the behavior got worse, which I blamed mostly on the cutbacks in publishing. Those cutbacks forced a lot of laid-off editors into agenting, and editors didn’t know business nor did they know how to keep their hands off a perfectly fine manuscript.

But I was wrong.

I hadn’t realized until a few months ago that the adversarial relationship that sometimes existed between writer and publisher had moved into the agent/author relationship.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Passive Guy has previously admitted to being a recovering lawyer (“I didn’t file a lawsuit yesterday. I didn’t file a lawsuit the day before yesterday. It has been 12 years, 153 days, 7 hours and 13 minutes since I filed a lawsuit.”).

While he does not practice law any more, he occasionally looks at publishing and other contracts for family members, friends he has known more than ten years, etc. (Please don’t send PG contracts to look at. It isn’t a recreational pastime.)

So, what basic publisher and agent contract advice does PG have for you?

1. Read the contract, every word of it. This isn’t like a credit card agreement that is regulated up one side and down another. There are no consumer protection laws for publisher’s and agent’s contracts. What is on the paper is what you give. What is on the paper is what you get.

2. Every contract is negotiable, so negotiate what you don’t like. “This is our standard contract” is the oldest scam in the world. Standard contracts are for banks who print them by the million. Publishers and agents may want “standard contracts,” but they probably also want world peace. You don’t have to accept their standard contracts. If a publisher or agent is interested enough in your book to want a contract with you, they’ll be willing to change some things. Negotiation is the process by which each side to a potential contract discovers how much they want the contract.

Authors are in a terrible psychic spot in negotiating their first contract with an agent or publisher. They sent out a million queries before they got an agent. Ten publishers turned down their manuscript before one became interested. Authors are inclined to think, “I’ll sign anything. Just don’t tell me no again.” Don’t get into that mode. Your old buddy, Passive Guy, will guarantee that you’ll be in a worse psychic spot if you and your manuscript are treated like trash under the terms of a bad contract. You must be ready to walk away from a bad deal.

3. Make certain every contract ends at some time. In recent publishing contracts PG has examined (and some that Kris describes in her essay), the contract goes on forever. So long as a product page exists for your book on some online bookstore, the contract continues. If the publisher decides your book should sell for $5,000 per copy in ebook form and you last received a royalty check for $2.93 ten years ago, under the terms of some “standard contracts,” the contract continues forever.

Don’t fall for a “life of the copyright” clause. In the United States, the copyright for your book ends 70 years after you die. When you are finally free of your agent, he won’t have returned a phone call for more than 70 years.

With both publishers and agents, PG recommends a “minimum wage for authors” – a dollar (or Euro, etc.) amount that the author receives every six months or year for a book. If the author doesn’t receive that amount, all rights to the book revert to the author, free of any publisher’s or agent’s claim.

An example of a minimum wage clause would be if an author doesn’t receive at least $5,000 in royalties in any year for her magnum opus, Dogs and Cats Can Get Along Just Fine, she can send a letter to the publisher and/or agent notifying them that she is retrieving her rights and they don’t have a piece of the book any more. The publisher has a year to sell out any hard copies in stock, but can’t print any more.

Don’t go for “out of print” provisions, particularly those that will require someone to count how many books are in warehouses. “Out of print” is meaningless for an ebook listing on Amazon.

This is a business relationship, not a tree-house club. If the publisher isn’t producing dollars for the author, it’s over. If the agent isn’t producing dollars for the author, it’s over.

4. Don’t give either the publisher or agent any option on your future work unless you’re writing a series. In that case, give them an option for the rest of the books in the series, but nothing else. If you write a sequel to Dogs and Cats, it’s reasonable to allow the publisher and agent to have rights to it, perhaps on the same terms as the first book or perhaps not. However, they don’t have rights to your manuscript for War and Peace and Zombies.

If you’re happy with the way things are going with the publisher and/or agent, you will almost certainly want to give them first shot at W&P&Z, but if you’re not happy, you should be free to pursue other options. Is your publisher guaranteeing it will publish your Zombie book or whatever else you write in the future? Is your agent guaranteeing the same thing? If not, you’re just asking that obligations and freedom from obligations be be the same for you as they are for them.

Watch out for “rights of first refusal” in their many guises. PG never saw a ROFR that he couldn’t break, but you don’t want to have to hire a lawyer and sue somebody just to find the right home for your Zombie series.

There are other things to watch out for in publishers and agents contracts, but PG has rambled for way too long.

One overriding principle to remember whenever you read a contract is to don’t assume that everything will go just fine. If the relationship with your publisher and agent is filled with bliss, nobody will ever look at the contract after it’s signed. The contract is for when something goes wrong.

Everybody loves one another when the contract is signed, but, as a student of human behavior, Passive Guy will assure you that love sometimes fades and dies. Love can even turn to hate. As a useful exercise, read your publisher/agent contract with this question in your mind: “How does this work if I hate my publisher and my agent has stopped speaking to me?”

Because all things change, also read your contract with this question in your mind: “How does this work if my publisher gets purchased by a Chinese steel company and my agent is fired and replaced with somebody who is six months out of Wellesley and believes anime is the next big thing?”

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