Clarity: How to Love Your Contract

1 February 2016

From Publishing for Humans:

I’m just going to say it: I love contracts. But that’s not enough. I want you to love them too.

Contracts are not a dull, essential adjunct to our activity. They are the sure ground on which our business is built, the tracks along which the publishing train steams. All the creative, innovative work you do: you work to contract. All of your exciting collaborations: set out by contract. Why you aren’t an amateur: you have a contract. How you are protected: by your contract. Your friend in times of need: your contract. Your road to profit in good times: your contract. The most important thing you’ll ever write: your signature, at the bottom of your contract. If you love your contract – give it attention, understand it, read it carefully, talk about it, do your best to improve it – it will love you back. Don’t be frightened of your contract. Do you know what frightens me? How frequently fear stops authors from reading and understanding and querying their contracts with their agents and publishers. Don’t be scared, join my love-in.

. . . .

Badly drafted contracts are as distressing to me as badly written novels: just as I audibly tut and sigh when struggling impatiently through narcissistic prose, so can I be physically unsettled by the clouded meanings, lost intentions, clunky sentences and incomprehensible jargon of a badly written agreement. A good contract has a pleasing geometry to it. At DHA, we draft all our UK and translation rights contracts – as opposed to using publishers’ templates – and they are written in a style I have named DHA Simple – short, plain, minimal.

. . . .

Why should you love contracts? A good contract offers us a second beautiful thing: Stability. Even though author and publisher are interdependent, often sharing mutual interests, the balance of power between parties shifts constantly due to multiple factors: the success of the author’s last book, the strong advocacy of individuals within publishing houses, market appetite, luck, how long it is until the next book is due to be delivered, or published. The role of the contract is to ensure that, even as the wind changes direction on the landscape of publishing, the author and publisher do not move position – what was agreed, stands.

Why should you love contracts? Here is a third beautiful gift a contract can bring you: Protection. When I read contracts, I always ask myself: How will I like this contract in the worst case scenario?

Link to the rest at Publishing for Humans and thanks to Ashe for the tip.

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Indie Contracts

29 January 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Boy, I’ve been seeing a lot of crappy contracts lately, and not at all from the place I would have expected. I expect bad clauses in traditional publishing contracts. Too many writers don’t hire intellectual property attorneys to vet those contracts, relying instead on agents, and that leads to all kinds of terrible book contracts. If you want to see what some of those are, look up the contract posts here  or pick up a copy of Deal Breakers 2013 (or wait for the new version).

However, the bad contracts I’ve been seeing these last few months don’t come from traditional publishers—directly, anyway. They come from indie writers and brand-new small press publishers. And these contracts aren’t just bad, they’re often worse than traditional publishing contracts.

The motives behind the contracts are different. Traditional publishers are trying to see how much they can get from ignorant writers with complicit agents. Indie writers/small press publishers are just as ignorant as those traditionally published writers, but the indie writers/small press publishers believe they’re on the side of the angels.

They’re not because they’re making huge mistakes.

. . . .

The bump in the road [for Newbie Publishers and Newbie Editors that run them] that I hadn’t expected were the contracts. Most of the readers who support these new projects never see the contracts between the publisher and the writer. That’s one of those arcane little details that matter only to the publisher and writer.

Unfortunately, this is an area where Newbie Editor and his publisher violate their own ideals. Usually, Newbie Editor was (once upon a time) a traditionally published writer. The publishing company is often owned by Newbie Editor.

And Newbie Editor is just like any other traditional writer: he never hired an IP attorney to vet his book contracts. He let his agent do it. Newbie Editor never negotiated his own short story contracts either, so he has no idea what the good or bad clauses are. In fact, Newbie Editor knows nothing about copyright or contracts—and it shows.

. . . .

Newbie Editor sends a contract to Short Story Writer. Most short story writers are happy to make that sale. They sign the contract and send back without a second thought.

But people who read my blog and/or who have been my students know better than to do that. They actually read the contract.

And what they find is that the contract is a nightmare.

Most of the contracts I’m seeing from Newbie Editors and new online magazines make no sense. I mean it. They contradict themselves on every page. Sometimes they ask for things they don’t need while ignoring things they do.

The most egregious contract I saw was just a few weeks ago. Some idiot publisher/editor had changed the language in his very bad traditional book contract to be a short story contract. This ten-page short story contract (not kidding) including right of first refusal of the poor author’s next short story! And a non-compete. And all the other horrid things we’ve been discussing about traditional publishing contracts.

That contract at least made sense. I could see exactly what that idiot publisher/editor had done. She had modified an existing document by using a global search & replace, substituting the word “book” for the words “short story.” Apparently the idiot publisher/editor thought that was what she needed to buy a 3,000 word short story.


. . . .

But most of these newbie editor/publishers take clauses at random from every contract they’ve received in their publishing careers. The contract have boilerplate traditional publishing language that refers to other parts of a contract that aren’t there. It’ll ask for North American Rights and then say that the story will be on sale around the world in all languages. It’ll claim that the contract is for non-exclusive rights, but the writer can’t sell or publish the story without the publishers permission.

And on and on and on.

In other words, these newbie editors and publishers are too damn cheap to hire an IP Attorney to develop a valid publishing contract. Just like these people were probably too cheap to hire an IP attorney when they got their own book contracts.

I’ve received some of these cobbled-together contracts myself. I’ve worked with the editor/publisher to devise a fair contract for me, although in one or two instances, I just walked away. The handwriting was on the wall that the project was going to be a disaster, and lo and behold, it always ended up being one.

The flip side of the cobbled-together indie contract is the draconian one. Some of these new companies have hired some young, cheap attorney to develop the company’s contract. Often that attorney is the friend of a friend, and not an IP attorney at all.

Those contracts don’t just want the writer’s firstborn child, they want everything the writer owns in perpetuity. They’re terrifyingly nasty, the kind of contract that makes a traditional publishing contract seem nice and cuddly.

Writers are signing these contracts because writers are mostly ignorant about legal things. And as long as the original newbie editor/publisher is in place, the writer will probably be okay. After all, the contract was born in ignorance, so it will to live in ignorance. No one will notice how horrid the clauses are. No one will ever exercise them.

But should the project become a success, and should someone with half a brain decide to buy out the editor/publisher on the project, that new someone might actually enforce the contract clauses.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

PG says it always costs less in legal fees to fix a contract (or walk away) before you sign a contract than it is to deal with it afterwards.

Traditional Publishing, Non-Compete Clauses & Rights Grabs

27 January 2016

From author Kameron Hurley:

When you’re a new writer, you mostly talk to other new writers about craft. Once you publish a book or two, though, you’re increasingly talking to your peers about the business of writing and publishing. You talk about contracts and foreign rights deals and rights grabs and the benefits and drawbacks of self-publishing and being a hybrid author.

One of the big issues we’ve been dealing with the last 15 years or so as self-publishing has become more popular are the increasing rights grabs and non-compete clauses stuck into the boilerplate from big traditional publishers terrified to get cut out of the publishing equation. Worse, these clauses are becoming tougher and tougher to negotiate at all, let alone get them to go away.

. . . .

This reluctance to nurse mid-list careers is bad news for writers who want to go the traditional publishing route, especially as it’s happening at a time when many editors are overworked and marketing budgets continue to get slashed and advances continue to tumble. If you’re a new author in SFF, don’t be surprised to get a first offer of $5,000 that demands your first-born child and everything you and they will ever write, and if you sell just 3,000 copies, well, sorry, we’re done with you and maybe go back to the small houses or come back to us with some vampire erotica we can sell.

. . . .

Non-compete clauses ask a writer to take an advance of $10,000 or $20,000 or whatever and prevent them from having any other novel-length work come out for a full year (or more!) before and after the book is published by that house. Sometimes this is “only” six months before and after. Sometimes it’s “only” novels in a related genre or can be negotiated to “only” novels in the same world. But it’s always awful and you always have to yell hard about it to get it wittled down to something manageable.

. . . .

For authors who write four books, or eight books, or more a year, big houses adhering strictly to this clause while paying advances under $50,000 a book would mean preventing most authors from making a living wage as writers (remove agent’s cut, taxes, and health insurance from that number, and yes, friends, that is what I’d consider an actual living wage, not . . . $20,000.

. . . .

Also of importance is that this clause makes the sort of unreasonable demands on an author that can only be made of an actual employee. You know, someone who gets health insurance and other benefits. By asking authors not to compete against themselves, they’re skirting dangerously close to moving us into the “employee” category that they want to keep us out of.  I have a non-compete clause in my employment agreement at my day job that prevents me from taking on freelancing work that competes with my day job work, and those hold up (mostly) because I’m actually categorized as an employee.

So are we employees or contractors? I’m actually surprised no one has taken a non-compete clause to court, because I think a serious legal inquiry would be interesting.

. . . .

I have some great publishers, and editors who have gone to bat for me to make things work. I have great relationships with the vast majority of them. I know it’s a tough business. I know they struggle with it too

But their parent companies see us as widget-makers, and they make it tougher and tougher for editors to hold out the open palm instead of the fist. Goodwill with your editor, or “my editor is so nice!” does not always translate to the nitty-gritty of the contract. A lot of those things are determined by the parent company up high, and are negotiated not with the editor but with people in the contracts department. Having a super nice editor who wants the best for you is great, but it does not guarantee there will be nothing but roses in your contract.

See, the big corp parent companies prefer the fist. They’d like to legally tie you to them, condemning you to live in poverty or keep your day job throughout your contract. But what editors and writers would certainly prefer is that publishers provide you with more value that helps make you and the work a success. Publishers who do things that make you WANT to do business with them are going to win over those who make it tough.

But that takes time, and effort, and resources. And so many editors are so short on those that it’s criminal. The great ones have done a fabulous job of helping us along, but their parent companies don’t always make it easy.

Clearly the parent companies, like many businesses today, are choosing the cheaper solution first. It’s way easier to serve up awful contracts than it is to invest in more editorial and marketing support. Better to just contractually bind authors to you because they have no other choice and are desperate for a sale.

Link to the rest at Kameron Hurley and thanks to Dana for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kameron Hurley’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Kameron points out an interesting phenomenon in the dynamics of the author/editor relationship.

Authors, especially new authors, often regard editors as powerful deities who exercise life-or-death power over the author’s career. The editor is, of course, the gatekeeper controlling access to the publisher.

However, inside the publisher, except for all but a handful of senior editors, acquisition editors are pretty far down in the corporate hierarchy. Several levels of executives above the editor are the gatekeepers controlling the editor’s ongoing access to paychecks.

The lawyers responsible for a publisher’s contracts typically report through the general counsel up to the big bosses who are high above the editor in the corporate organization.

Life is much easier for the editor if she doesn’t rock the contract boat. While some authors can hire an attorney, who will talk directly to the publisher’s lawyer without going through the editor, new authors may be concerned about legal fees and being viewed as a troublemaker inside the publisher.

The power dynamics are completely screwed up for the new author unless he/she is determined to exert management control over his/her career.

A couple of notes on non-compete clauses that PG has mentioned before, but are worth repeating:

Non-compete agreements are creatures of state law and limitations on them can vary from state to state.

Virtually all Big Publishing contracts specify that New York law will govern the contract. PG is not a member of the New York bar, but his nonofficial opinion is that many of the non-compete clauses contained in publishing contracts would run into problems in New York courts. PG doesn’t believe that lifetime noncompete agreements (the life of the copyright is the length of most publishing contracts) in an author/publisher relationship would be enforceable under New York law, for example.

PG is a member of the California bar, however, and is able to state that California simply makes noncompete agreements unenforceable except for a couple of narrow exceptions that don’t apply to publishing contracts.

With respect to noncompete agreements that specify the law of another state will govern the contract, where a California resident is involved, California courts have, in the past, decided that California law will protect California residents from noncompete clauses regardless of what the contract says about choice of law and venue.

PG is not saying that all authors should move to California to get out of their noncompete publishing clauses. However, if an author is thinking a change of location might be a good idea (Malibu has never had two feet of snow), being able to write what the author wants to write without worrying about publishing contracts might be a factor to consider.


Poor Poor Pitiful Me Is Not A Business Model

22 January 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Last week, I wrote a blog about the Authors Guild letter of 2016. I explored a number of things about the letter, but avoided the one thing that annoys me the most.

The letter’s tone.

It begs. It whines. It pleads.

Don’t believe me? Read it.

For those of you too lazy to click on the link, here are three examples of what I mean from the letter itself:

•It is time for publishers to give authors the respect, compensation and fair play they deserve.

•And authors should be able to get a fair shake even if they don’t have powerful agents or lawyers…Why not do the right thing by all authors and eliminate those provisions for everyone?

•Without serious contract reform, the professional author will become an endangered species and publishers—as well as society at large—will be left with less and less quality content. Publishers need to treat their authors equitably so they can keep writing the kinds of books that have enabled the publishing industry to achieve the financial and cultural status it enjoys today.

Note the repetition of the word “fair” and “equitable.” Yeah, all well and good, folks. But the Authors Guild is writing a letter to large corporations begging those corporations to give up profit and advantage because it’s “the right thing” to do.

How nice, and sweet, and naïve of these people. In a perfect world, maybe, some Powerful Publisher will grant its Poor Little Writers a few more crumbs from the Big Kids table.

But a friend of mine, who started and ran a multimillion-dollar business (not publishing) for decades, has a saying. Whenever he hears or sees something like this, he gets an impish little grin, and says, “Fair is in August.”

For those of you outside of the United States, he’s referring to county and state fairs that show up every summer, with carnival rides and cotton candy and all sorts of circus-like entertainment.

. . . .

The tone of the Authors Guild letter reminds me of children begging their parents for one more piece of candy, one more movie, one more toy from the toy store. “It’s not fair!” the child whines. “Suzy gets one! Why can’t all the kids have the same toys?”

It’s not fair. Nothing in life is fair.

And no large for-profit business, which is answerable to shareholders, is ever going to lose a profitable advantage because it’s somehow fair.

Here’s the truth of publishing, folks. Those terms the Authors Guild is fighting for, the thing they want all authors to have? Some authors already get them. It’s not that the industry refuses to grant the terms to allauthors. It’s that the industry gives those who have some kind of clout in a negotiation more respect—and better terms—than someone who rolls over and whines.

That clout doesn’t have to be multimillion dollar book sales. That clout might simply be backbone. From my early days as a beginning writer, I asked for good contract terms. And because I asked, I often got them. It wasn’t like the publishers refused everyone, but they certainly aren’t going to give good terms to someone who is too dumb to ask for them.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Krist Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Authors Guild 2016 Letter

15 January 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

On January 5, 2016, the Authors Guild released an open letter to “U.S. publishers—namely those who are members of the Association of American Publishers.” The letter, based on the fair contracts initiative that the Authors Guild started last year, informs publishers that they need to improve the standard contract model between writers and publishers.

Dozens of other writers’ organizations have signed onto this letter, and the Guild requests that writers’ organizations outside of the United States follow suit with their publishers in their countries.

The point of the letter is “to start a conversation within the industry about antiquated and unfair clauses in ‘standard’ book contracts.”

. . . .

I believe writers should understand what they sign, and walk away from bad contracts. Simply knowing that publishers will negotiate many of these points will help writers in standing up for themselves—without agents, who make the problem worse, generally speaking.

(Agents, who are not lawyers, break the law when they practice law without a license. In some states, that’s a misdemeanor. In others, it’s a felony. But I digress.)

Writers can hire lawyers to negotiate for them, and believe me when I tell you that the lawyers will do a much better job for the writers who partner with them. Why do I use the word “partner”? Because I’ve seen some writers completely misunderstand what the lawyers tell them, and make matters worse. Writers need to understand that contracts are a unit, and changing one clause without changing another will sometimes not make a difference at all.

Most important of all, writers must understand that they are not selling their books to publishing companies. Writers are licensing pieces of the book’s copyright.

. . . .

I want to support what the Authors Guild is doing here. I really do. I believe this “conversation” needs to commence. Writers—particularly writers of the Take Care of Me school—need to understand that their publishers and their agents are not their friends. Those two entities are in business for themselves and will devise contract terms to benefit them.

Most agents are vested in keeping their relationships with publishers smooth. If forced to choose between one of their authors and a Big Five Publisher, the agent will choose the Big Five Publisher, because that publisher provides more income and opportunity than the single author will (unless that author is a mega-bestseller a la James Patterson).

The Authors Guild letter will go a long way in educating Take Care of Me writers, who absolutely need to hear what the Guild is saying about contracts. The contracts are unfair. They’re ridiculously one sided, and I would wager that if some bestselling author with a bad contract went to Equity Court, the court would consider canceling the contract altogether. (However, you can never entirely predict what a court will do, which is why I’m hedging my bets here.)

. . . .

I’m not unusual, however, in my lack of an Authors Guild membership. I personally know hundreds, maybe thousands, of writers who earn a full-time living at their writing—and judging from a quick scan of the Authors Guild membership, only about 20 of the writers I personally know who are making a full-time living are Authors Guild members.

So who are these Authors Guild members?

Well, once I eliminated the names of old-time NYT bestsellers and writers who live in NY, a lot of the names I recognized were agents. Agents, and agent assistants. Agents are allowed to become “members at large” which is a non-voting category of membership, but clearly (clearly!) influential.

When I shut off my “know personally” filter and searched the list of member names. I recognized the bylines of many writers (most nonfiction), but found only the handful of New York Times bestsellers on the list.

Frankly, the paucity of New York Times bestselling fiction writers on that list startled me. (Most of the Big Names were once-every-five-years, research-heavy nonfiction writers.)

Some of the biggest New York Times bestsellers are not on the list. Nora Roberts, George R.R. Martin, and Stephenie Meyers aren’t here. Nor are James Patterson and John Grisham. Debbie Macomber isn’t there. Those six authors sell a lot of books, and make hundreds of millions (if not a billion) for traditional publishers. (Realize, however, that public declaration of membership is something the author can choose not to do, so I don’t know for a fact that these people are not members.)

Bestsellers who aren’t in the “mega” category aren’t on the list either. Lee Child isn’t there. Neither is Robert Crais or John Scalzi or Neil Gaiman. So when the Authors Guild says it represents “the collective voice of American authors,” it’s just representing the collective voice of a small handful of American authors, influential and non-influential alike.

The Authors Guild says it will accept self-published writers, which surprised me, because I didn’t see the name of a single major indie writer, like Marie Force or Hugh Howey.

. . . .

I do know this: If you remove all hybrid, indie, and self-published authors from consideration (leaving only traditionally published authors), then writers’ income has declined in the past six years. I know for a fact that a lot of bestsellers are losing income because their sales have declined, but that decline won’t show up in most royalty statements until later this year. And a lot of the contracts of really big bestsellers don’t have the onerous contract terms that the Authors Guild lists.

But add the hybrid, indie, and self-published writers back into the mix, and I would wager that writers’ income has grown dramatically in the past six years. Author Earnings  provides more than enough information to allow me to make that statement with my wiggle-words attached. Why the wiggle-words? Because I don’t know how much traditionally published only writers’ incomes have declined. Enough to off-set many of the gains of the hybrid, indie, and self-published? I don’t know.

However, given the pool of writers that the Authors Guild represents, I absolutely believe that those writers have seen a drastic decline in income. Most of the writers in the visible list are mostly mainstream and literary, with very few genre names on board (except for a handful of mystery and children’s book writers that I saw). Almost all are traditionally published.

. . . .

If the Authors Guild letter had stated that the Authors Guild membership saw dramatic decreases, that letter would have been accurate. But the Authors Guild for some blind, ungodly reason, believes that it is “the collective voice of American authors” and doesn’t realize that it doesn’t even represent most of the successful authors in America.

I hate it when someone puts misleading information out into the public discussion. I hate it more when my colleagues in the journalism field accept those numbers without a thought or fact-check. All I did was a spot-check of the names on the members list and I knew immediately that the information was incomplete at best.

. . . .

[N]ot even that money paragraph (which got me going on my rant) is the paragraph that angered me.

This is:

The [Authors Guild Fair Contract] Initiative’s fresh look at standard book contracts has proven without doubt that provisions that would never be acceptable in other contexts have long been taken for granted in publishing agreements. Authors are now standing together to say “no.”

I left off the final sentence of that paragraph. I will deal with it, and the tone of the letter, shortly.

But let’s consider that paragraph, which is the letter’s second paragraph. A “fresh look” has shown that provisions “that would never be acceptable in other contexts” have “long been taken for granted in publishing agreements.”

I do love passive voice. Because the missing clause here is “by the Authors Guild.”

Remember the Authors Guild claims to be “the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization for writers.” On its website, it also states, “The Guild advocates for authors on issues of copyright, fair contracts, free speech and tax fairness, and has initiated lawsuits in defense of authors’ rights, where necessary.”

These “antiquated” contract terms, long taken for granted, have existed for at least fifty years in the publishing industry. I can tell you for a fact that I’ve seen these terms since the mid-1980s in contracts.

Where the hell has the Authors Guild been? What kind of advice has it been giving its writers? Why hasn’t it stood up against bad publishing contracts before now?

. . . .

And ten to fifteen years ago, as ebooks just started up, smart writers complained vociferously about the 25% of net clauses. Agents refused to negotiate those clauses, citing industry standard, and traditional publishing said they had no idea how to pay royalties on ebooks any other way.

In other words, no organization that I know of—not SFWA, not MWA, not RWA, and certainly not The Authors Guild —fought the implementation of 25% of net as ebook royalties. The publishers wanted 25% of net and the organizations rolled over, not understanding the problem.

My early contracts in those years treated ebooks as a subsidiary right. I got 50% of retail. Then as other authors, agents, and organizations caved, I had to fight to get 50% of gross.

Finally, I found myself facing 25% of net. That’s (fortunately) when I had the opportunity to indie-publish my books. And I took it. Because I knew that 25% of net will—by 2020—equal $0. There would never be a net income, just like there isn’t on big Hollywood movies. (It’s already going that way.)

The fact that the Authors Guild has done nothing for decades to help writers understand and negotiate their own contracts makes me furious. Particularly when the Guild, in a panic, has decided to beg publishers to be offer good terms.

Yeah, I said “beg.” Because this Authors Guild letter is one long whine.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

The Authors Guild: A Mouse Roaring

10 January 2016

From the Managing Director at a small publisher via

It is interesting to watch the Authors Guild take the next vital step in proving itself irrelevant.

“As part of its ongoing effort to raise writers’ income,” reports Publishers Weeklythis first week of January, 2016, “the Authors Guild is sending an open letter to members of the Association of American Publishers. The Guild will begin mailing the letters this week, with the first going to the largest publishing houses; in subsequent weeks the Guild expects to hit the remaining relevant AAP members, said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Guild … . The letter recaps the highlights of the Guild’s Fair Contract Initiative, which the association began at last year’s BookExpo America, and which sets forth the Guild’s contention that if authors are to be adequately compensated for their work, the standard publishing contract needs to be reworked.”

Among the demands of this initiative are 50% of NET proceeds from eBook sales, the return of rights to the author once a publisher stops “supporting” a book (support being vaguely defined), and the discontinuance of non-compete and options clauses which inhibit an author’s freedom to embark on further projects in a timely manner.

. . . .

 The Guild’s simplistic understanding of the publishing economics for eBooks — on which they base their demand for a 50% royalty on NET — has been debunked by more than one industry pundit, perhaps most clearly by my longtime friend and sometime editor Peter Ginna, former publisher and editorial director at Bloomsbury Press. I’ll not repeat what he has already said so eloquently. You’ll find his piece here. Simply stated, eBooks are not cash-cows.

As to the automatic return of rights once a publisher stops “supporting” a book, I’m guessing this might mean once a publisher puts its editions out of print. But here the Guild forgets that nearly all trade publishing contracts (at least those negotiated by agents who are not drunk at the time) have long included language obligating publishers to return rights for out-of-print books to authors upon demand — either that or republish the work. Here the Guild also forgets that in the new digital publishing environment, the eBook edition of a trade book usually never goes “out-of-print” — thus the demand seems moot.

Finally, the fact that non-compete and options clauses inhibit authors’ abilities to bolt off immediately from one publisher to another is completely true. This is the intent of those clauses, and always has been. These clauses protect publishers who don’t want a similar book by the same author competing directly with a front-list title for which they’ve paid a hefty advance. These clauses also protect publishers from having to bid on a follow-up project from an author before seeing what sales they have earned from that author’s current front-list title, and what benefit they’ve derived from not just their royalty guarantee investment in that author, but also their investments in editorial time, publicity, etc.

. . . .

 It must be noted that in terms of real dollars, most authors published by legacy houses wind up making far more than even today’s standard contractual royalty rates on a per-unit-sale basis. Why? Because any agent worth his or her salt negotiates the largest royalty advance possible, and the vast majority of books from legacy publishers never earn-out on those advances.

. . . .

 Get the picture? There’s a hell of a lot of talent out there, boys and girls. Realtalent. Excellent writers. All competing. And all tending to make it a buyer’s market for new and innovative content, save — of course — when it comes to blockbuster “name” authors, whether these be actual writers such as King or mere inarticulate celebrities such as (God help us all) Snooki.

One feels rather through-the-looking-glass as one watches the Authors Guild make demands from this powerless position.

Link to the rest at and thanks to SMH for the tip.

Perhaps it’s a good time for PG to remind everyone that he doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts on TPV.

As Writers’ Wages Wane In Digital Chapter, Authors Pen Demands

9 January 2016

From National Public Radio:

The Authors Guild has started the new year with a bang. First, the group, which represents the interests of writers, asked the Supreme Court to review an October appeals court ruling, which upheld Google’s right to digitize out-of-print books without an author’s permission. A few days later, the guild addressed a separate issue when it released a letter to publishers demanding better contract terms for authors.

Both moves come as many writers find it harder and harder to make a living from their writing. Since 2009, the mean income for writers has gone down 30 percent, says the guild’s executive director, Mary Rasenberger.

“It’s alarming. Incomes are now down to unsustainable levels, and that means that even longtime authors — authors who have been writing for decades — are now being forced to seek other work,” she says. “So, we are looking at this in a holistic way: Why this happening, and what can we do about it?”

Rasenberger says the Google Books case addresses the issue of copyright protection; the letter to the publishers takes on standard author contracts. Among other things, the guild says its writers should get a higher share of e-book income and authors should also be able to retain the rights to their own books. The standard contracts the guild is protesting have been part of the business for decades.

“These are the agreements that the unagented authors see — or those without powerful agents — where the terms tend to be much much worse,” Rasenberger says.

. . . .

Writers also are known for working in isolation. But social media is changing that, Anderson says.

“Not only are authors able to talk to each other continually in real time, but they’re also in touch with their readers. This is new.”

Anderson believes it’s significant that international writers organizations from Europe, Africa, Australia and Canada all signed on to the Authors Guild letter to publishers.

“If an international coalition can start communicating to readers all over the world: Look what your authors are going through — did you know this is the experience and the condition in which your favorite author is working? Something has changed. The publishers, then, are facing a new world in which a lot of questions can be asked in a lot of places in very loud voices,” Anderson says.

Link to the rest at NPR and thanks to Dana for the tip.

For those outside the United States, everyone in publishing who listens to radio listens to NPR.

Traditional Publishing: What’s It Good For?

8 January 2016

From Jane Friedman:

When I first started working in publishing, no one questioned the value of a publisher.

Now they do.

When I tell nonfiction writers they need to demonstrate to the agent/editor they have a big enough platform—enough visibility—to sell books without the help of a publisher, they’ll ask, “What’s the publisher for then?”

When I tell fiction writers that their work needs to be compelling, polished, and ready for publication before they query, they’ll ask, “What’s the publisher for then?”

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG suggests an additional question for authors, “How much is a publisher going to cost me?”

PG suggests that analysis of the true cost of a publisher must consider that the publisher will be costing the author money for the rest of the author’s life plus 70 years under typical tradpub contracts.

PG almost created a spreadsheet comparing costs of publishing vs. self-publishing, but decided that would lead down an OCD rabbit hole where he would spend way too much time. If anyone wants to build a spreadsheet and sends PG a link, he’ll probably do another post.

Professional writers set to become ‘an endangered species’

8 January 2016

From The Guardian:

His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman is heading a new charge from writers demanding to be rewarded fairly for their work, as the Society of Authors warns that unless “serious” changes are made by publishers, the professional author “will become an endangered species”.

In an open letter to Britain’s publishers, the Society of Authors points to a recent survey that found that the median income of a professional author is now just £11,000, with only 11.5% of UK writers making a living solely from writing. Pointing out that “authors remain the only essential part of the creation of a book and it is in everyone’s interests to ensure they can make a living”, it tells publishers that “unfair contract terms, including reduced royalty rates, are a major part of the problem”.

. . . .

“From our positions as individual creators, whether of fiction or non-fiction, we authors see a landscape occupied by several large interests, some of them gathering profits in the billions, some of them displaying a questionable attitude to paying tax, some of them colonising the internet with projects whose reach is limitless and whose attitude to creators’ rights is roughly that of the steamroller to the ant,” said Pullman.

“It’s a daunting landscape, far more savage and hostile to the author than any we’ve seen before. But one thing hasn’t changed, which is the ignored, unacknowledged, but complete dependence of those great interests on us and on our talents and on the work we do in the quiet of our solitude. They have enormous financial and political power, but no creative power whatsoever. Whether we’re poets, historians, writers of cookery books, novelists, travel writers, that comes from us alone. We originate the material they exploit.”

. . . .

Daniel Hahn, author, translator and chair of the society’s management committee, agreed. “I think we all understand that the book business isn’t easy for anybody right now – well, nearly anybody – and that plenty of good publishers are struggling, too. But we’ve reached a point today where the professional author is under serious threat, and that’s not a state of affairs that is good for any of us – not for publishers, not for writers, and certainly not for readers and the wider culture,” he said. “We mustn’t allow ourselves to drift into a situation where only the already-wealthy can afford to be writers, and so it’s time to rebalance the scales a little.”

. . . .

Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said this morning that while “publishers share the frustration of the author community that it is increasingly difficult for authors to make a decent living from their writing”, they “locate the principal source of this problem not in the contractual relations between publisher and author but in deeper market factors”.

“With margins being squeezed across the whole supply chain, books are facing increasingly stiff competition from other media and entertainment sectors for consumers’ time, and there simply being more writers … the reasons for the decline in average author income are wide and varied,” said Mollet. “We look forward to continuing our discussions on these policy issues with the SoA and other author representative groups.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to James for the tip.

When Publishers Completely Suck

6 January 2016

From Author Allison M. Dickson:

In the summer of 2014, I was invited by a (now former) editor from Ragnarok Publications to contribute a story to an anthology called Grimm Mistresses. You probably saw me talk about it here. At one point, I even had the cover of the book listed on the sidebar with a link to purchase it, but that has since been removed, and for good reason.

At the time, I’d known a few very respected authors who worked with Ragnarok, and they seemed like they were up and coming and putting out some decent work. The editor in question is also a friend of mine and I like her a lot, so I was happy to come up with a twisted take on a Grimm fairy tale for the book.

. . . .

During the early planning phase of GRIMM MISTRESSES, things were looking pretty great. They had the cover done already, and it was gorgeous. There was a limited edition hardcover release in the works as well, which was going to be pretty awesome, since I’d never had my work in a hardcover before.

But then I got the contract, and that was when I got my first whiff of something not being right. And please, everyone, use me and my misjudgment as an example of what NOT to do with a publishing contract. When a contract does not explicitly state a royalty payment schedule, you tear that f****r up and either say “give me a new contract” or you walk. No ifs, ands, or buts.

I did contact the publisher about this glaring omission and was assured that royalties were paid twice a year. I was still not completely satisfied with this, because I wanted it in writing. I’m generally a stickler and I know what to look for in publishing contracts, but at the time my thinking was, “Meh. It’s just a short story. I’ll have rights back in a year (at least that was explicitly stated, and if that part hadn’t been, I definitely would have walked). And the royalty split won’t be all that much anyway, so no biggie.”

In other words, I ignored my intuition, signed, and let the whole thing go. I knew I wasn’t going to get rich. I figured even if I made at most a few bucks, it would still be fun, and I’d release it myself once I got the rights back. It wouldn’t have been the first time I contributed to an anthology for that very reason.

. . . .

So anyway, the contract was signed. The end of February 2015 was the release date. Things seemed to be cutting it close, like end of January and into early Feb, and I still hadn’t seen any edited copy. That seemed weird, but I had enough going on at the time that I didn’t make a big stink about it. After we pestered and finally did get electronic proof copies, I was hugely displeased to find my story contained numerous errors, and actually had errors put INTO it by way of deletion of nearly every comma in the text. Again, red flags went up.

The other stories also contained a lot of typos and other proofing mistakes, and it became very clear that no one had actually done any copy editing or proofing on the book. Again, I was feeling a little uneasy, but we were assured that a clean book would be going to release and that we should just send them whatever errors we found to make sure they caught everything. That was mildly reassuring, but again, the vagueness of the communication was off-putting, and I was getting the sense that things were not going very well behind the scenes. And in case you’re wondering, the editor who invited me was not responsible for the editing issues. The publisher had used someone else to proof (very badly) and then told us he would handle the actual editing, and then he flaked out.

. . . .

So as you can imagine, a polished copy did not go to release. While it was improved from the version I initially received, as far as I could tell, the only corrections that were made were ones that we the authors scrambled to find at the 11th hour before publication, and I know there were numerous other ones we probably didn’t find. In other words, putting out clean work did not seem to be a priority for the publisher, and that put a really bad taste in my mouth. Was this a regular thing with them, or were we just an unfortunate exception?

. . . .

Then came the matter of the limited edition hardcovers. Months and months passed, and there was still no word of when they would be released, despite them initially saying late March of 2015. We kept getting one excuse or brush-off after another. People I know who had ordered hardcovers were coming to me asking where their books were. We’d also never received bookplates for the authors to sign so that the books would be signed as promised. These people had paid their thirty bucks months ago, and they had nothing to show for it. Finally, after considerable pressure put on the folks at Ragnarok to explain why there was no hardcover, they said they didn’t get enough orders and then refunded the money to people who had ordered. Which, you know, awesome, but if there was going to be a reneging on the hardcover, it should have happened back in the spring.

And finally, the royalties. As of January 4th, 2016, nearly a year after the release of GRIMM MISTRESSES, I have yet to receive a single dime for my story. The book has sold copies. I have no idea how many, because along with no payments, we have received no statements or communication on # of units sold. I do know that upon its release, it did sell some copies because the Amazon rankings were pretty indicative of that.

. . . .

Some say it’s unprofessional to drag a company’s name through the mud in public, and I will undoubtedly receive some flack for this. Neglected writers love coming to the defense of their abusers for some reason. Maybe it’s cognitive dissonance. No one wants to believe they misjudged a publisher’s character and signed the dotted line on a bad deal.

Link to the rest at Because Writing and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Here’s a link to Allison M. Dickson’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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