Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Prince, Estates, and The Future

29 April 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Last week, the death of Prince hit me hard. I was in the middle of teaching the Romance Workshop, here on the Oregon Coast, and working my tail off. A satellite radio station that I always listen to had breaking news—something they never do (which is why I listen to them)—that I could barely hear. I heard “prince” and “died” and “young” so I’m wondering Prince Harry? Prince William? I pick up my iPad across the kitchen to look up the news, and that’s when I see it.

. . . .

I was thinking maybe it was the exhaustion from the workshop, but no. I realized it was because Prince had a huge influence on the way I go about handling business. Doing my work. Taking control of my contracts, my royalties, my art.

I immediately planned an entire blog post on Prince and business.

. . . .

I was still on the fence about how I was going to approach the blog—Prince, control, business, or thinking long-term and contracts—until late yesterday, when I saw on the news that Prince did not have a will.

I sighed. I was afraid of that.

. . . .

Why would someone as smart as Prince about business make this kind of mistake? A million reasons, some of them psychological. None of us believe we’re going to die, not really. And Prince had no children to leave things to. He was famously private, and putting together a will that would handle an estate of that size, with all of its future earnings potential, means that lawyers, financial advisors, and estate planners would have been combing through every aspect of his life, trying to figure out what would happen past his death.

. . . .

Like so many of us, Prince handled his own business. He hired help, of course. Otherwise continuing to be creative would have been impossible. Sometimes he partnered with a record label, sometimes he did not. But he had his fingers in everything.

He had his hands full. Estate planning was probably something he figured he could do later. Of course, later never came.

I’m sure that a lot of projects died with him. A lot has been written just this week about all the music he kept in a temperature-controlled vault at his Paisley Park estate. Speculation about what’s in that vault is rife, but Prince was clear about it. He believed the music in that vault was raw, not ready to be released, for whatever reason. He made conflicting statements about what he wanted done with that music—burned upon his death or eventually released, once it was ready.

It’s not ever going to be ready now, not the way that Prince envisioned, anyway. It’ll be up to whoever ends up managing the estate.

. . . .

I know how much work it will be to manage my estate. A friend of mine, with maybe 20 or so novels to his name, wrote an eight-page single-spaced sheet of instructions to the person who will inherit under his will, explaining terms (like intellectual property) and where the heir can look for more information on things like copyright.

In the middle of this document, which he said I can crib from when I get back to my estate posts, he writes that he has attached a spreadsheet which is a master file to all of his work, including the name of every work published, the ISBN of the print publications, date of publication, what channels the work has been published in, and whether or not the work has been registered with the copyright office. He added a separate file of all his passwords, and then a map on how to find the files (and their backups) for everything he’s ever written.

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 that, while there is lots of material about self-publishing, marketing, promoting, pricing, getting an agent, getting a publisher, etc., etc., Kris is the only writer he knows who has shared thoughts about what can/should happen when an author dies.

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Know Your Rights

23 April 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I recently got an email that sent a chill through me. It was a newsletter from a traditional publishing organization. This organization is geared toward publishers and editors, not toward writers.

The newsletter was essentially an ad for an upcoming seminar that will teach publishers to understand intellectual property and expand their rights business.

Why did this send a chill through me? Because the one thing that has protected writers who signed bad contracts is the fact that their traditional publishers have no idea how to exploit the rights they licensed.

. . . .

[I]n short, most publishers ask for more than they have ever used in the past. Publishers have been very short sighted in how they published books.

. . . .

Ten years ago, it was relatively easy to get the rights reverted on a book like that. Essentially both parties agreed that the terms of the contract had been met, that the parties no longer had need of the relationship, and so they severed their business relationship.

It wasn’t easy-peasy, but it wasn’t hard either. It usually took a letter or two.

By 2005, however, most agents refused to write that letter which severed the contract. The reason was simple from the agent’s perspective. Many, many, many agents used a combination of their agency agreement and a clause in the writer’s book contract to define their relationship with the writer, and determine who controlled the marketing and finances of that book.

It wasn’t in the agent’s best interest to cancel the contract. In fact, the longer the contract existed, the better it was for the agent.

Writers with agents would have to write those letters themselves—and then, publishers would often contact the agent to find out why the agent was “letting” the writer do this.

. . . .

In the last year or so, I’ve been hearing from writers who say it’s almost impossible to get their rights reverted. The publishers want to hold onto those rights as long as possible.

The main reason for this has nothing to do with reprinting the book or keeping the book in the marketplace. It has to do with the changes in accounting that have occurred in the big traditional publishing companies.

The Big 5 (4? 3? Whatever. Jeez.) are now part of international conglomerates. Those conglomerates understand that intellectual property has as much value or more value than the buildings and land that the conglomerates use to house their businesses.

Those conglomerates put all of the intellectual property on their account books as an asset. So your novel—even if it’s more or less out of print (or has a $19.99 ebook like my novel Fantasy Life)—has a value assigned to it that reflects not only its earnings right now, but its potential earnings in the future.

The command came down from on high that publishers should retain the assets as best as possible. (I’m pretty sure some of these publishing companies were purchased for their intellectual property assets, not because of their bottom lines. I have no interest in proving that, though.)

So, publishers have kept the assets, doing the minimum to retain the rights to them. But they really haven’t maximized their profits.

. . . .

In practice, publishers have started to claim rights they never had. They’re interpreting the contract terms for something negotiated in 1997 by 2016 standards, and finding ways not to pay for those uses.

Big corporations are all about profit for the corporation. The best way to maximize profit is to lower expenses.

That’s why, after these big companies merge, you see layoffs a year or so later. That gives the new company time to define itself, find employees with overlapping duties, and streamline production.

Once the layoffs are over, once the agreements with the subcontractors (like printers and distributors) end or get renegotiated, the corporations look around for other ways to cut expenses.

The easiest way is to cut the payments to the suppliers—the writers.

. . . .

Just be aware that publishers often cut payments, and they use the contract as their guide. Not necessarily the contract negotiated in good faith with a corporate entity long merged into five other corporate entities, but the corporate entity that exists now.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

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.

As usual, Kris does an excellent job of talking about the business/legal aspects of being a successful professional writer.

PG would like to talk a bit about authors making a decision to sign a publishing contract with a particular publisher or editor.

Isn’t that a huge reason why most authors sign a publishing contract? RomancesRUs is the hottest publisher around and some of their authors are New York Times Bestsellers. And Leticia is the best romance editor who ever walked the earth plus she is so nice on the phone. (ditto for SciFiRUs, etc.)

The idea that no one will remember RomancesRUs in ten years and Leticia will be fired in six months doesn’t enter most authors’ calculations.

It is the nature of declining businesses to attempt to consolidate their way to survival. That’s what’s been happening in big and small publishing for awhile and what will continue to happen.

Many authors sign with a publisher because of that publisher’s reputation for quality books and successful authors. Some authors will sign because they’ll be working with an editor with a great reputation for excellence and success, the kind of editor that bestselling writers mention in interviews.

Similar thinking goes into an author’s decision to sign with a star agent, one with many happy authors who say nice things about the agent’s work.

These would be good business reasons to sign a contract that lasted for five years.

However, current reputations and past successes are a terrible reason to sign a contract that will tie up rights to an author’s books for the full term of the copyright. As a reminder, in the US, copyrights last for as long as the author lives plus 70 years.

In a successful business, management can last for a long time and often the original management hires new managers with similar business acumen and passes down the business principles that lead to that success through the hierarchy. Such businesses can work their way into long-term success.

When a business is declining, especially when it is part of a declining industry, management turnover and ownership changes become near-constants. Yesterday’s management practices are no longer today’s management practices. Some investors make a lot of money by acquiring problem businesses, cutting costs to the bone, then harvesting profits (pulling cash out the business) or finding someone else to buy the business because its financial statements now look better.

Traditional publishing is in decline. How long the decline might last is speculative. However, the words of Ernest Hemingway are instructive. “How did you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission requires mutual funds to warn their investors that “Past performance is not a predictor of future results.”

Of course, an investor who bought into a mutual fund can sell his/her shares and have nothing further to do with that fund and its managers. A hedge fund that purchased a publisher can sell the publisher and be done with it. Since no US state permits life-time employment contracts, a publishing executive or editor can either quit immediately or wait a couple of years, then bail out on a failing publisher.

Only the authors who signed contracts that last for the full term of the copyright are tied to whatever corporate entity once called itself a publisher, but now is a hedge fund asset, for the rest of their lives plus 70 years.

(PG will note that a provision in US Copyright Law permits the creator of a copyrighted work or his/her heirs to terminate a contract 35 years after publication or 40 years after the contract was signed, but it doesn’t happen automatically and 35/40 years is also way too long. PG won’t get into the technicalities of this part of the law.)

“But it’s a contract for only one book,” an author might say. PG won’t take more space to discuss unfair non-compete clauses, option clauses, etc., can undercut the excuse that it’s only one book. Such clauses can affect a whole bunch of books.

Under current contract practices, the author is the only person who has to think in the long term while everyone else in the publishing business is focused on the short term.

Publishing contracts need to include provisions that end the contracts after a few years so the author can have the same flexibility as everyone else involved with the author’s books.

Fair, Compromise, Clout, and Balls

15 April 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Right now, traditional publishers are just beginning to realize that they can (and often do) control everything about a work of art. This should frighten you traditionally published writers, because publishers are going to exploit your works as never before. We’ll deal with that a bit next week, in a blog on copyright and permissions.

. . . .

We all know that you can’t control everything in life. That rule also applies to contracts. Some large entities do not allow negotiation on their contracts.

. . . .

Whenever you deal with contracts, you don’t negotiate the contract for the nice reasonable person sitting across from you. You negotiate the contract with the idea that the nice reasonable person will be fired and replaced with a demon from hell who will enforce every part of that contract to his own benefit.

. . . .

The best contracts are fair to both sides—at the time the contract is negotiated. However, contracts that were negotiated in 1980 are still being interpreted today, and the world had definitely changed. What might have seemed “fair” then isn’t necessarily “fair” now.

. . . .

So…you don’t have clout to negotiate a contract. You’re not James Patterson or Nora Roberts. You aren’t already a multimillionaire. You aren’t a successful businessperson. So, most people think you should slink into the background and wait for the success pixie to sprinkle you with magic dust. Once that occurs, thenand only then can you negotiate a contract.

Seriously? Please excuse me while I sigh and shake my head.

How do you think people become successful? They become successful by controlling their own interests and standing up for themselves. They become successful by learning their business. They become successful by taking risks.

One of the major risks you take in any business is that you will hear the word “no.” A lot.

What’s the worst thing that could happen in a negotiation when you ask for something you want (but may fear you don’t deserve yet)? Well, the person on the other side could say “no.”

Oh, waaaaah.…

But that person could say yes. Or they could say, I can’t do what you ask, but I can do something else that might benefit us both.

You don’t know until you ask.

And here’s the thing, people. Anyone who knows contracts, who knows business, expects you to ask. So ask.

What’s important to you might not be important to them at all, and so a yes on your most important thing might be easy to them.

It’s not all up to them, by the way. Because it’s a negotiation, which is a dialogue.

You might say, I want X.

And they might respond, I can’t do X. Sorry, no.

Then you might say, I see you want Q. But I can’t do Q if I don’t receive X.

If Q is important to them, they might cave on X. And so on.

You don’t know if you don’t try.

. . . .

[I]n traditional publishing, representatives negotiate with representatives, and the principals do not talk to each other.

What do I mean? I mean that agents negotiate with editors. Agents theoretically represent the writer and editors represent the publishing company.

Even then, the negotiation is uneven. In theory, the agent has no power to make or sign an agreement. In reality, the agent shouldn’t even be negotiating a legal document. Savvy writers use attorneys to negotiate a contract. We’ll get to all of this down the road.

Here’s the upshot: the writer’s representative should not be able to sign the documentation to make the deal. The writer’s representative is not (or was not) a principal. (Many agents are in the process of subverting this these days, which gives me the willies.)

Editors also cannot sign an agreement, and have only limited power to act within certain parameters, as the company’s representative. The editor has an offer and some wiggle room, but must get approval for almost everything.

Writers who drop their agents or handle things with their lawyers in the background often forget that the editor can be a representative. Suddenly, the writer is taking terms on the phone with an editor, and it might be a binding negotiation, not a casual discussion.

. . . .

Use a representative when you’re not certain you’ll be making a final deal or you need someone to be tougher than you can be. Let the representative put distance between you and that nice person you like a lot on the other side of the table.

. . . .

I do not let a publisher grab everything. If that’s a deal breaker for the publisher, then it’s also a deal breaker for me. I don’t want to work with someone who wants to own my intellectual property outright. I really don’t want to work with someone who wants to own my intellectual property and who tries to gain that property through subterfuge, as many new traditional publishing contracts do.

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 that in a typical first-offer business contract, there are almost always quite a number of terms that can change.

In some cases, when PG drafts such a contract, he’ll put in a few things that will be like bait for opposing counsel to change. That way, opposing counsel and the other side feel like they got some mileage out of their negotiating work and brought PG’s client around to their way of thinking.

In some cases, when the other side asks for a change in an important clause and a change in a bait clause, PG can move the deal forward by saying (always reluctantly) that the best he can do is split the difference and give in on the bait clause on the condition that the other side concedes on the important clause.

By his nature, PG is the kind of person who prefers to get down to business and get a deal done (or not) in a very efficient way. However, in the world of lawyers and clients, there are people who think they won’t get a good deal unless they go through an intense negotiation.

If you give them a contract with only important clauses, your best offer, they’ll assume that you’re willing to negotiate some of those away. So, in the interest of getting to a deal on terms that will be beneficial for your client, you set up the contract so you can do the negotiation the way the other side wants to negotiate and concede a few items.

Contract Basics (Contracts/Dealbreakers)

8 April 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I need to discuss the importance of contracts.

I know to some of you that sounds silly. Traditionally published writers expect to get a contract from their publisher. Hybrid writers expect the same thing, when they have a publisher other than themselves.

Indie writers often have no idea what contracts are or why they’re necessary.

In fact, all three groups rarely think about contracts at all.

. . . .

Over the years, I have become fascinated with writers’ attitudes towards contracts. Writers are so very cavalier about them. More than fifteen years ago, a former editor of mine (for a major traditional publishing house that has since vanished) told me that most writers she worked with looked at their 25-page traditional publishing contract like this:

The writer closely examined the lines covering the advance, and the advance’s payout schedule. The writer eyeballed the royalty rates, and the writer glanced at the deadlines.

That was it. Out of 25 pages, the writer looked at very little else.

I did not believe my editor. I really believed most writers were not that stupid.

I’m here to tell you now: she was right. Most writers are that stupid. Most writers pay no attention to their publishing contracts at all until some term bites them in the ass. Then the writer tries to figure out how to get out of it, not realizing that they got themselves into it by signing the contract without examining it.

. . . .

Writers in general—traditional, hybrid, and indie—do not respect their contracts. Writers don’t understand contracts, and rather than learning what a contract is and why it exists, writers let “their people” handle the contracts.

For generations now, “their people” are usually their agent and the employees of their agent, which, as you will see in future posts, is a truly terrible idea.

. . . .

Most writers expect someone else to generate a contract. Most writers want their traditional publisher or their agent or their service provider or their mortgage broker or whomever they’re in business with to provide them with a contract. Most writers have no clue that they can generate their own contracts.

Yes, you, traditional writers! You can go to your publisher with your own contract in hand. I personally know several writers who do this. That puts the contract negotiation phase on equal footing. The writer has their 10-page contract; the publisher has their 25-page contract.

The document the two end up with is neither of those contracts. It’s something unique to that particular negotiation, and probably won’t be replicated in the writer’s next negotiation with a different publisher.

There, traditional writers, did I just blow your minds? Because it certainly blew mine when I started editing over 25 years ago and some writers provided me with their standard contracts for short fiction. I didn’t know that was possible, because, at the time, I did not understand contracts or contract law.

. . . .

Contracts are extremely important. They define the relationship between the parties. Written contracts are the best, because each party can examine the terms, think them over, and decide whether or not those terms are acceptable.

You and I might discuss a proposed business plan over the phone. I might think we decided to have you do all the publishing work, from designing the covers of a book to writing cover copy, and you might think we decided that you would write the book and I would publish it. A simple misunderstanding that could happen in conversation would be solved if we had a written agreement.

With a written document, you can examine the terms and see if they’re feasible. But you must examine those terms before you accept the offer. Once you’ve accepted, the contract becomes binding.

It’s easier to take legal action over a broken contract if that contract is in writing. Taking legal action does not mean you have to go to court. You can have an attorney contact the other party, and let them know they are in breach of the contract. That’s very easy to do when the terms are spelled out.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken part of a publishing contract and used that section to show the publisher that they were in breach of the contract.

Once someone is in breach, by the way, they usually have the right to cure. Meaning, if they do something wrong, they have the right to fix that problem within a reasonable amount of time.

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.

Dealbreakers/Contracts

1 April 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In 2012 and 2013, I published a series of blogs on contract deal breakers for traditionally published writers. I’ve been promising to update it for years now, but I’ll be honest: The very topic discourages me.

. . . .

I mentioned above that the topic of contracts discourages me. That’s one reason I’ve put the revision of deal breakers off for so very long.

I had hoped that contracts would improve. They haven’t. They’ve gotten worse. What has happened is that predictions long-time writers, like my husband Dean Wesley Smith, made have come true: Writers are starting to split into camps. Dean predicted two camps—those who published their books traditionally, and those who published indie.

Unfortunately, we’ve divided into three camps: those who publish traditionally, those who publish indie, and those who publish through their agents.

That last clause “through their agents” is so wrong, I have trouble typing it. The agents who still represent the writer as an agent are breaking the law when they publish a writer’s books. The agents are then becoming publishers, which makes them violate all kinds of agency law. Not literary agency law, which, anyone will tell you, does not exist in most states. Agency law, which governs anyone who calls themselves an agent—from real estate agents to insurance agents to literary agents.

. . . .

Most literary agents have no idea agency law even exists—at least, I hope they have no idea, because if they do, then they are flagrantly violating the law, instead of ignorantly violating the law. Me, I prefer the ignorant to the flagrant.

. . . .

Since huge conglomerates have taken over the big traditional publishers, no one even pretends at gentility any more. Smaller publishers which were often a dice-roll (some were great for writers; some were horrible for writers) are now as bad, or worse, than the Big Five. Much of this is economic—the economics of traditional publishing, done the old-fashioned way, isn’t working as well as it once did, so traditional publishers (large and small alike) are squeezing their writers like never before.

Most writers who publish traditionally can no longer make a living at writing. If those writers only write one novel per year, they definitely can no longer make a living at writing.

Most midlist writers are lucky to get an advance of $5000. Those advances are paid in three installments—signing, acceptance, and publication. Even being charitable and assuming that the advance is paid in the traditional two installments ($2500 each) or let’s be even more charitable, all at once, a writer can’t live on that kind of money.

The writer has to be able to write something else.

But most traditional publishing contracts —negotiated by agents —have some version of this clause:

The Work [the novel] shall be the Author’s next book-length work. The Author represents that there is no outstanding commitment for publication for the first time of another book-length work written or co-written by the Author to a third party and the Author will not offer rights to another book-length work written or co-written by the Author, or accept an offer for such a work, until acceptance of the Work by the Publishers and until the Author has complied with the option in Clause 3(a)

The option clause in most contracts is another problem, which options the author’s next work, and allows the publisher to take their own sweet time in deciding if they’ll buy the next work.

But note how pernicious this clause is. I took it from an existing contract that a writer sent me over a year ago. The only thing I changed was adding [the novel] for the sake of clarity. The rest is from the contract verbatim.

The contract is for a novel, yet this clause restricts book-length works. That includes nonfiction, short story collections, novellas, anything at book-length, which is not defined at all in the contract. So that means book-length could be anything the publishing company deems it to be.

. . . .

Usually, though, there is another clause, buried in the warranty, that says the author warrants he will not publish any other book-length work that will compete with this book. And who determines that competition? The publisher, of course. Certainly not the author.

So…for a measly $5000 (minus agent fees, which actually will make this $4250), the author signed away his right to make a living. In the early 1990s, I sold eight novels before my first one was published. I also sold an anthology that I edited, and I was editing a series of hardcover anthologies that we chose to call magazines.

If my first novel contract had had that clause, I could not have done any of those things. So, instead of earning tens of thousands of dollars in those early years, I would have been left with a check for $2125—and some crappy day job.

. . . .

For years now, Publishers Marketplace has tracked publishing deals on its website. Agents, in particular, love to report their really big coups to Publishers Marketplace. Publishers Marketplace divides the deals it reports into five categories, all by the amount of the advance.

PM defines “major deal” category—the largest advance category—as $500,000 and up. In the not-so-distant past, the major deal category was often for one book. If the agent secured a three-book deal that was $500,000 per book, the agent didn’t call that a major deal, because that wasn’t impressive. Someone might misinterpret and believe the agent got “only” $500,000 for all three books.

Instead, the agents would report a 3-book deal for $500,000 per book as a 1.5 million dollar deal.

I searched major deals this afternoon, and found quite a few. But when I looked at them, they were all for mid-six figures for a lot of books—usually a three-book deal, although I did see quite a few for five books, and one “major deal” for 11 books.

Believe me, if that 11-book deal had gone to seven figures, the agent on the deal would have said “In a deal worth one million dollars…” Didn’t happen.

In the past year, searching for fiction only, I found three deals listed as million-dollar deals. They include John Scalzi’s 10-year, 13-book, $3.4 million dollar deal (which comes to roughly $225,000 per book when you subtract agent fees). Only one of the three deals was for a single book, which sold for 1.25 million. The remaining deal was for over a million per book, and that was a $7 million 5-book deal (which comes to $1.4 million per book before agent) for a self-published writer whose books sold 1.2 million all on their own.

Three million-dollar fiction deals in 2015. Only three. And none yet in 2016. There were nine in 2014, and at least one per month in 2013. In 2012, there were at least two per month.

Why is this important? Because that home-run is less possible for everyone in traditional publishing, and they’re looking for other ways to make money. One of the ways they make money is squeezing writers. Another way is to own the copyright—or at least, control the copyright.

. . . .

And here’s the really scary part: Old contract terms, some written in the 20th century before ebooks existed, are being redefined and employed as a justification for publisher behavior. These traditional publishers—particularly those that have been subsumed into a major conglomerate—are not asking permission to change the definition of the terms. They’re just doing it.

Things that were pretty innocuous in 1985 are now weapons that are being used against authors.

You’d think that agents, who are supposed to work for the writers who hire them, would prevent this whole-sale change of meaning of old contracts. But a handful of agents are complicit in this, preferring to maintain their working relationship with a big publisher than rocking the boat for a small client.

Even more agents are just plain ignorant of what the changes in the clauses mean.

Those who run the agencies, though, do understand that their income is going down, so literary agencies have become pretty draconian in their own contracts. Those agencies make agreements with their authors, usually requiring the author to give them 15% of the earnings of a particular book if the agent sold the book. That’s bad enough, especially if the agent has been fired—as two of mine have (the two who still are entitled to 15% of certain projects).

But the agency agreements are moving into a whole new, and even uglier, place in relation to their writers. Agents are demanding a piece of their writers’ copyrights as well. Some agents are blatant about it, stating in the agency agreement that they make writers sign before the writer becomes a client, that the agent will own 15% of the copyright of any book the agent sells for the writer—or in the case of one agency, 15% of the copyright of any book the agent markets for the writer.

Other agency agreements are less blatant. You have to read them in conjunction with the contracts the agent has negotiated for the writer, to see that the agent has actually slipped his hand into the writer’s pocket and legally stolen copyright. Most writers trust their agents blindly, and never believe it would happen to them—until it happens to them.

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 problems Kris mentions are, unfortunately, not new and will be familiar to longtime visitors to TPV.

Some authors (or their lawyers) have had those clauses removed or defanged, but authors still sign “standard contracts” in the naive belief that if a contract is “standard” most other authors must have signed the same thing. Unfortunately, they can find the writing career they envisioned substantially constrained.

PG says if you want to be a professional author, act like a professional and make certain you understand the contracts you sign.

It’s Up To You

26 March 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Normally when I have blog with this title, I’m discussing the choices writers make in this new world of publishing. But this blog is different. This blog is about consumer choice.

I’m still reading Ripped by Greg Kot. This book, published in 2009, focuses on the changes in the music industry in the last fifteen years, changes that mirror the changes in the publishing industry. I’m reading slowly, taking notes, because I suspect I’ll be exploring many of the ideas he’s examined, only from a publishing perspective.

However, if you want to see where we’re headed, and what the thinking is behind some of the decisions that have already been made, take a look at Ripped. Sometimes the similarities are so self-explanatory that they’re breathtaking.

The penultimate chapter in the book focuses on Radiohead’s 2007 experiment with the In Rainbowsalbum. For those of you who don’t remember or really don’t pay attention to music, here’s what happened.

Radiohead announced on September 30, 2007 that it would release the digital version of its In Rainbowsalbum on its website. Fans could preorder, starting October 1, and pay any price they wanted.

The way Radiohead implemented this was simple: fans would use a checkout system that had a question mark where the price would normally be. When the fan clicked on the question mark, they got this message:

It’s Up To You

When the fan clicked again, the screen refreshed with this message:

No, Really, It’s Up To You.

Then fans could enter how much they wanted to pay—anything from 0 to $99 (because, apparently, the system wasn’t set up to accept any 3-figure numbers). The band also let their fans know that the music would be released in two other formats: as an $81 premium boxed set, and as a regular CD at, apparently, regular CD prices. (I have no idea, and am not looking that all up.)

Of course, this caused major consternation in the press and all kinds of gloom and doom about the future of music, the future of artists, and the future of the music industry.

From the perspective of 2016, it’s all pretty tame stuff. Bands have done this and more in the meantime. There have been all kinds of other promotions. Writers are now using similar methods on some of their projects.

. . . .

Writers do all kinds of promotions. The consumers are getting used to these things now, and are reveling in their choices. Traditional publishers, initially resistant, are starting to experiment with these sorts of things as well, but with a twist—they modify their contracts and their royalty reporting so not a penny of earnings from the discount-priced merchandise make it the writer’s pocket. (Not kidding and yes, future blog post.)

But here’s the thing that we all forget, the thing never mentioned in all the price arguments, the experimental deals, the weird promotions, the thing that Greg Kot’s initial chapter on Radiohead reminded me:

You have always gotten to decide.

Consumers have been in the driver’s seat from day one. Before the internet, before indie publishing, before all the various changes, the consumer’s decisions were sometimes very easy:

Do I buy the $20 hardcover? Do I wait for the $7 paperback? Do I buy the book used? Do I get the book (essentially free) from the library? Or do I not get that book at all?

The difference for consumers came before the product ever hit the market. The gatekeepers strangled everything except the books/movies/music that appealed to a mass audience—as that mass audience was perceived by the gatekeepers.

It has become clearer and clearer that the gatekeepers didn’t base their assumptions on anything except their own prejudices. I use the word prejudices on purpose. The controversy surrounding the Academy Awards this year is just one example of the failure of the gatekeepers to recognize anything outside of their narrow worldview.

. . . .

Traditional publishing—traditional anything in the arts—has always been about limitation. Traditional publishers make a book available in hardcover until the paperback gets released. Then the paperback supplants the hardcover. Shelf space is at a premium, so a hardcover book only stays on the rack for a month, maybe two or three if the book actually has legs.

Music—even music lucky enough to get radio airtime—only plays in rotation for weeks or maybe months (or, in the case of the Eagles’ Hotel California, for-freakin’-ever. Or maybe that was just my perception).

I’ve often blogged about the scarcity model in traditional publishing, and how traditional publishing used scarcity to get readers to buy a book immediately. (Buy it now! You might never see it again!)

. . . .

As I mentioned in a piece earlier this year, it’s not just about the number of eyeballs any more, it’s about the fan base. When an artist makes 70% of the income off a project instead of 1% or 2% or even 10%, the artist can take risks. The artist has to sell fewer copies of something to make an actual living. And that allows the artist to experiment.

Fans can choose to follow the experimentation or they can choose to only buy certain items, or not buy anything at all, but still enjoy an artist’s work for free. I’m sure there are a lot of readers who come to this blog who have never donated any money or paid cash for any of my books. Yet these readers have read my short fiction and my nonfiction, and, I hope, have enjoyed it. Then there are the folks who donate a great deal to the blog or buy every book I write.

I don’t quiz my readers. I have no idea if the people who are reading for free are doing so because they can’t afford to buy books or because they don’t want to invest their hard-earned money into one of my books. And honestly, why they only read for free is none of my business. I make the works available so that they can.

I also don’t quiz the folks who buy everything. I don’t know if purchasing my work limits their purchases of other writers’ works or if these readers have money to burn. I also don’t ask if they read everything they buy. Again, that’s none of my business. I just try to make sure that I have the work in a format that will appeal to as many readers as possible.

The freedom of format, the increased choice, is what makes this modern world so good for artists of all stripes—if only the artists take advantage of their own choice.

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 Copyedit from Heck

12 March 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In late February, I was scrambling to clear the decks for last week’s anthology workshop , I got an email from an editor who had kindly bought one of my stories for a major traditionally published anthology that will appear in November. Attached to the email was the copyedited story, along with a deadline of this week.

No problem. All I had to do was move that copyedit into the proper file on my writing computer so I could work on the manuscript when the workshop was over. However, I have learned that the first thing to do with any file that includes track changes is open the file and make sure the track changes are visible on both my e-mail computer and my writing computer.

I did just that—and hit the ceiling.

Two hours and a lot of invective later, I had completed the copyedit and returned it to the editor at the traditional publishing house, while copying the anthology editor (as per instructions). I wrote the editor at the trad pub house a polite letter that I have written a version of a lot in my career.

Dear Editor,

I have enclosed the copyedit for my story. The copyeditor took the voice out of the story. I have stetted almost all of her changes. I do apologize for the tone of my comments in track changes as I got deeper into the manuscript. It became clear to me that the copyeditor had no concept of a writer’s personal style.

I have run two separate publishing companies, won awards for my editing, and have trained copyeditors over my thirty-year career. I am hoping that this particular copyeditor saw my opening three lines and decided that I did not know how to punctuate dialogue. Because if the copyeditor treated the other manuscripts in this stellar anthology the way that mine was treated, you have a problem.

I’m stunned that this copyeditor was chosen for an urban fantasy anthology. Urban fantasy is voice- and style-heavy, and should be copyedited with a light hand.

I do hope that you will ensure that my corrections make it into the final volume. …

I received a kind letter in reply from the editor, who works for Random Penguin. She said she forwarded my letter to the managing editor who hired the copyeditor, and promised to make sure the changes were in the volume.

The letter came before last week’s bloodbath at Random Penguin, where most of the mass market division NAL/Berkley is being “repurposed.” Last week, according to Publisher’s Marketplace:

Other outlets and Twitter conversations indicate at least four editors and other support staff have been let go, and that title cuts at the Ace and Roc science fiction and fantasy imprints are on the way.

Note that it says “title cuts.” That means books already purchased will be cut and the contracts canceled.

. . . .

I have no idea if the editor I dealt with still has a job. I have no idea if the managing editor still has a job. I’m assuming the copyeditor from heck isn’t employed with that company, since most traditional publishers’ copyeditors these days are freelancers.

I do know that the volume will appear in November as promised, since the book is available for preorder. I am now braced for a voiceless version of my story to hit print, since I doubt there’s anyone remaining at the company to oversee this volume.

Such is life. In a few months or years after publication (whatever my contract says), I will publish the author’s preferred edition. I do so love the modern era.

I know many of the writers in that volume and was exchanging emails with them on another project. I found out that several of them had had a harsh copyedit too. Some didn’t care (I never read copyedits,one told me), but some got as angry as I did. Of the ones who got angry, only one other writer (that I know of) actually restored the original version. The others told me that the copyeditor knew better.

Nope. No. Not at all. The copyeditor knew the style manual better. The writer knew how to tell a story with an authentic voice better than that copyeditor ever would.

. . . .

I’ve had copyedits from traditional publishers that are much worse than this one, including one young copyeditor who rewrote every sentence of my 100,000 word novel. I’m not the only writer this has happened to. A traditionally published friend of mine just dealt with the same thing last year on one of his novels.

. . . .

I wasn’t kidding when I told the editor at Random Penguin that I used to train copyeditors. I still train them sometimes, although less often now. When I had published my novels traditionally, every single company I worked for used my manuscripts as a litmus test for their copyeditors.

My manuscripts were exceptionally clean. The editors would tell me (one or two novels in) that they were sending my manuscript to a new copyeditor, with a recommendation for a light copyedit. If the manuscript came back with hundreds of changes in the first chapter, that copyeditor never worked again.

The copyedit was sometimes tossed away, and we would let the proofreader catch the typos. It was easier than doing repair.

. . . .

The best way to learn how to tell a story properly is to read for enjoyment. NOT critically. If you read for enjoyment, you’re getting the same effect that the readers are. When you’re done with that story or novel, figure out if you enjoyed the story. If you liked the voice, or the story startled you somewhere, go back and figure out why.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Buggy Whips, Pollsters, Collisions, and Us

29 February 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve been very frustrated in the last several weeks because some of my preconceptions got blown out of the water. I’ve been dealing directly with some traditionally published writers for various projects, and some of the things I’ve encountered have been head-shaking. I’ll be blogging about a few of those things in the future, with the names changed to protect the—innocent? Ignorant?—I’m not sure which label to use.

Suffice to say some of the things I’ve run into are simply and completely unbelievable to me, in 2016.

At the same time, I’m being approached by a number of traditionally published writers who believe they will never get another book deal, and their careers are ruined forever. Ruined! They’re lowering themselves to consider self-publishing, and are wondering if I can tell them how to do it, step by step. They get peeved when I show them entire books on the subject, not just mine and Dean’s, but several other books.

And then there are the writers who are giving up their writing careers entirely, because they can’t sell another book traditionally, and they have been told by the agent who helped them self-publish their books that the books aren’t selling because of piracy.

. . . .

I got so frustrated with one writer recently that I had to walk away from my computer. The writer’s career was hurt by theft, but the theft wasn’t the pirating site she had found: it was her agent.

But I’m not going to say that in e-mail, although I did point her to several blogs I wrote about agents and agent agreements and how easy it is for a middleman to embezzle and/or not send royalties she doesn’t know she’s entitled to, particularly when she signed documents letting the agent get all the paperwork.

. . . .

One writer actually said that they believed there was no way Dean or I could have been telling the truth about the terrible contracts, the bad royalty statements, and which companies/agents to avoid. So that writer decided to test all of that out themselves. And then ran to us when that writer’s career imploded a second time, all because they had done the opposite of what we said.

. . . .

If writers want to earn a long-term living in fiction these days, the best way—and I’m beginning to think the only way—is to go indie.

. . . .

This week, the all of the realizations that came to me were about how difficult it is to dismantle a worldview even if it’s in someone’s best interest to do so. Even when the evidence is so overwhelming that it should be (note I said “should be”) impossible to ignore.

. . . .

Most people don’t seem to have the ability to step back, see change, and extrapolate what that change means. They are able to see the change. They might even know it’s massive. But they can’t figure out how that change will impact them even as it is impacting them.

. . . .

Writers who came of age after ebooks surged already have a different perspective on the publishing world than those of us raised in a monolithic publishing environment, where the path to publishing was so set that Dean and I could teach it in role-playing game form and be relatively certain our game mimicked the world exactly.

. . . .

We hurried to the new technology and struggled to understand it. Most of the writers in the world ignored it completely, letting their traditional publishers and agents tell them how the system “actually” worked.

That perspective was filtered through the ancient infrastructure by people who wanted to lasso sunlight. I keep thinking of it this way: It’s as if these people are hitting their Model A automobiles with a buggy whip in order to make the cars go faster.

. . . .

Does that mean I believe paper books will go away? Heavens, no. I think they’re a good technology, unlike, say, CDs. Paper books will be around for a very very long time—which is why some of this stuff I’m reading about the music industry does not apply.

But traditional publishers? Their portion of the industry will depend entirely on how quickly they can dump that lasso-the-sunlight model they have in their heads and can actually work within the world as it exists now.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Book-Shaming

19 February 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Laura Anne Gilman [mentions book-shaming].  . . . [S]he defines book-shaming better than I could. She writes about discovering books science fiction and fantasy books as a teenager, and the response she got from the adults around her:

I didn’t want Martian princess or philosophical musings under an alien sky, Le Guin’s elegant questioning, Donaldson’s cynicism, or Tolkien’s gorgeous language.  I didn’t even want dragons, per se.  I wanted books that weren’t afraid – or ashamed – to lead with their emotion.

But trying to explain this to people, especially as a female teenager… even from the most well-meaning people, I got a significant amount of book-shaming, as though an emotion-led book somehow wasn’t as acceptable, that it was lowbrow, downmarket, teenaged female.

Oh, I remember those days. I read everything I could find, much to my parents’ chagrin. (And they were big readers.) They wouldn’t tell me not to read a book—although my dad’s remaining three hairs stood on end when he found me reading his Harold Robbins novel—but my folks would often look down their noses at me and say things like, “You’ll understand that better when you’re an adult.”

Which was like a red flag in front of a bull, let me tell you. In those days, I was a lot more polite than I am now, but just as stubborn. So I would often take the books offered instead of what I was reading, read those as well and continue reading what I want. I remember reading All The President’s Men in my junior high school English class, my parents’ hardcover volume tucked inside my English literature text. My teacher caught me, and told me I wouldn’t understand that book.

. . . .

Book-shaming. I’ll be so happy if that term disappears because we no longer need it.

Right now, however, I think it has moved to another part of the industry. Writers are suffering a lot of book-shaming right now. Or should I say publishing-shaming.

Once upon a time in a land far far away, there was only one method to publish books and have those books read by more than five people. We now call that method traditional publishing. Back in those dark days, there were dozens of traditional publishing houses (instead of the Big 5 and a few hangers-on we have now), so writers had some choice there.

A handful of daring writers would self-publish a book. Mostly, those writers were also advertising executives or salesmen in their daily lives, and knew how to move product.

. . . .

Dean and I learned the arcane practice of book distribution when we started Pulphouse Publishing nearly 30 years ago. Because we learned that practice in the bad old days, when publishing was hard and distribution required climbing mountain peaks in a blizzard just to consult with some damn oracle who might deign to take your book and pay you pennies on the dollar to distribute it (with returns, of course), we were not afraid to take on indie publishing in the early days. Indie publishing seemed—and it turned out to be—a lot easier.

However, when you’re dealing with a closed system like traditional publishing used to be, it’s exponentially more difficult to operate outside of that system. The system becomes Important in and of itself. Writers use all kinds of words to describe the system—from gatekeepers to traditional publishers to…well, let’s not go there. The fact remains, however, that a closed system forces anyone who wants to work inside it to do a special dance just to make sure they can come to the party.

. . . .

The thing is, in an entrenched system like music was, and like traditional publishing was, these people, who were essentially untalented business owners or employees of corporations, took on great importance. And then they came to believe they were important.

Once upon a time in a land far far away, these power brokers actually had a modicum of power. And they used it or abused it with startling regularity. When the power brokers said, “This type of book is no good,” then the people who bought books for libraries or who stocked major bookstores or who bought for The Book of the Month Club (once an important institution) listened to them, and wouldn’t acquire that book.

Once upon a time, my friends, this snobbery was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Oh, sure, there were a lot of us who read other books. Many people didn’t admit it to their friends. I did, if asked. But mostly I kept quiet about what I read. So did most of the sf readers I knew and the romance readers I knew. The fact that the snobs hated those kinds of books built both the sf community and the romance community as havens from book-shaming.

But now these power brokers no longer have real power. They’re losing their grip on taste-making. Not because they have lost their positions of power, but their positions have lost that power.

. . . .

These days, people who self-publish or who run indie companies to publish their books, make more money and have more fans than new writers coming up the traditional way—even with all the backing of traditional publishers. Books with tons of push, shoved into the old taste-maker system, no longer become the books discussed in every living room and coffee shop. Book clubs discuss indie books these days as well as traditionally published books. Libraries buy indie books for the shelves. So do bookstores.

But the shaming has moved to new heights. People in those old positions of power worry that most of the indie published books are crap. They believe that readers have no taste and must be led to good books. These power brokers are afraid of word of mouth, unless the words come from their mouths.

So they’re shaming writers. These former power brokers, many of whom have lost their jobs in traditional publishing, are telling writers that they need development editors to make sure their finished book is “good.”

(Why can’t readers tell them that—by buying the book? Or maybe, if the writer’s really nervous, a few trusted first readers who are not writers and won’t tamper with the manuscript?)

Over and over again, writers hear that they shouldn’t self publish. They’re not “ready.” Or they wouldn’t know how to write “quality.” Or they don’t want that “stigma.”

The fear of the stigma of self-publishing sends many new writers to equally new small presses. Many of these presses are worse than their traditional publishing counterparts. These presses don’t know what they’re doing, they have no idea how to design or publish a book, and they don’t understand contracts. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the worst contracts I’ve seen lately have come through indie published writers and the indie small presses. And that’s a crime.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Rhonda and others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Money Talks

12 February 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Want to know the future of publishing? You’ll find it in TV.

I know, I know, a bunch of you just went, “Huh?” But seriously, the entertainment industry is the entertainment industry is the entertainment industry, and those of us who write and publish have a small corner of it.

I often use examples from the music industry on this blog, especially as I look a decade or more out, but the shorter term model for the future can be found in television.

Like the traditional publishing industry, network television had a lock on the content that consumers received. Sure, there was the occasional small publication and the occasional vanity press (note the derogatory term) published book. But if you wanted to be relevant, if you wanted to be important, if you wanted to be the center of the culture, you had to be published through traditional publishing companies.

In television, it was the same thing. If you wanted anyone to watch what you did on a national level, then you had to sell your content to the Big 3 Networks and PBS. (Yes, I’ll be dealing with U.S. TV since it’s what I know.)

. . . .

The gatekeeper system in TV was harsher than the gatekeeper system in publishing back in the day. Before the massive consolidation started in publishing in the late 1970s, there were hundreds of national publishing companies. By the late 1990s, the consolidation had brought the national companies down to a maybe a hundred. And now, as we know, there are the Big 5 companies—and a whole bunch of medium-sized companies that managed to get their books into the national bookstore chains or the national distributors.

In the 1980s, the rise of cable TV was a shock to the network TV execs, but they coped. Cable boomed in the 1990s, along with cable access stations, and a lot of national original scripted programming started on a regional or local level. The networks weren’t worried, though. They could hire the talent away from those shows—and often did—because at that time, nothing paid as well as the networks.

One TV producer that I worked with a lot during that period of time kept repeating to me that we’d take cable on this deal we were working, but if we really wanted eyeballs, we needed a network.

. . . .

And it stayed that way, until Netflix decided to stream an entire season of its original programming on one day so that consumers could binge if they wanted or parse out the episodes if that worked better for them.

We all know what happened with House of Cards, and how it changed the way consumers watch their original content. Or rather, the way that Netflix figured out (from its algorithms) that consumers prefer to binge on original content.

. . . .

In December, the folks at FX complained publically that there was too much TV, too much competition. The network calculated that there were 409 dramas, comedies and limited series, not counting unscripted shows and TV movies.

. . . .

While all of the consumers are happily consuming their own personal segment of those 5,000 hours of television—and sharing information about those shows via word of mouth—Landgraf was talking about a different problem altogether.

He was trying to deal with something that made his brain hurt. Remember the eyeballs comment? The number of eyeballs per scripted series has gone down, and what that used to mean in the past was that the shows with the fewest eyeballs paid the least.

Now, the limited shows pay as well as or better than the networks—and—bonus!—give the show runners creative freedom.

. . . .

In the January 8, 2016 paper edition of the magazine, an article by Lynette Rice titled “Is Network Television Stuck in a Talent Drought?” had these revealing (if unattributed) quotes:

“All the broadcast nets struggle with being the low man on the totem pole,” laments an exec at one of the Big Four. “Scripts go to Showtime, then to AMC, then they show up at the networks. We’re left with what’s left over.” Adds a high-powered TV agent: “It’s thin out there. It’s hard to motivate someone to write an NCIS.”

. . . .

So if, after the umpteenth discussion of The Walking Dead, I finally decide to see what all the fuss is about, I don’t have to start with this week’s or this month’s or this year’s episodes. I can start at the very beginning at the moment I decide to watch it. I don’t even have to wait for a DVD to arrive in my mailbox.

I don’t think anyone in the executive suites at the major TV networks ever expected this. The goal was always eyeballs. Eyeballs equaled advertising revenue. Advertising revenue was the way that everyone got paid.

Now, streaming services get paid monthly, whether the consumer watches anything or not. Some consumers pay per episode, which is yet another revenue stream. And older content often gets consumed as often as new content.

. . . .

Data Guy and Hugh have shown definitively that the book sales for traditional publishers are on a steep decline. Book sales for small and medium publishers as well as indie writers are climbing quickly.

Some of what Data Guy and Hugh have discovered this go-around is not a surprise. The fact that ebook sales have declined for traditional publishers once they returned the ebook prices to astronomical levels isn’t a surprise.

The surprise in the data is something else: the high ebook prices have sent buyers back to print books, just like the traditional publishers planned. They wanted to shore up the brick-and-mortar stores by making sure consumers bought print books.

However, according to this report, consumers simply made a second click on their screen and ordered the print book from Amazon.

I’d been talking about this for a while now. I had noticed that hardcovers on Amazon were often deeply discounted, so that a consumer could get the latest release by their favorite traditionally published author for several dollars cheaper than the ebook edition.

. . . .

As far as consumers are concerned, books are books are books. They can get great paper books or great ebooks, and consumers really don’t care who published them. Just like consumers don’t care who produced the TV show they’re watching. If the show is good, the consumer will enjoy it and recommend it. If the book is good, the consumer will enjoy it and recommend it. Word of mouth will build. Readers will come to the book over time.

. . . .

It took time, but eventually, the creators of television shows realized that they were better off with fewer eyeballs (at the beginning), more money, and creative control. Now, it’s really hard for network executives to find someone willing to lose money and control just for the “honor” of working with the long-established TV networks.

That’s what will happen with traditional publishing. It’s already happening. Blog after blog after blog appears at nearly the rate of one per week by writers who started indie and who went to traditional and who are now returning to indie for the control. Even more blogs appear from traditional writers who have become fed up with their treatment from their traditional publishing “partners” and are moving to indie.

Within the next five years, or maybe ten, as the word gets out (writers are slow on the uptake), traditional publishing will find itself in the same position as the Big 4 TV networks. The Big 5 traditional publishers will get the clueless and the one-shot wonders.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Jessica and others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

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