The Business of Writing

Missing in Action

30 July 2016

From author Brian Keene via Cemetery Dance Online:

A decade ago, you could find my books in any bookstore. Indeed, most Borders and Barnes and Noble carried a few copies of each book in my backlist, thus creating a Brian Keene shelf, right next to Stephen King and Jack Ketchum. I can’t tell you how crucial this was to increasing my audience. If you’re a customer browsing the horror section (or even the alphabetical K section) your eyes are naturally going to be drawn to an entire row of books written by the same person, rather than a lone book by a lone author.

When myself, J.F. Gonzalez, Mary SanGiovanni, Bryan Smith, and others in our field killed Leisure/Dorchester to save the genre (and ourselves), those Brian Keene sections went away. Since then, readers have been unable to find my books in stores. That’s because many of the publishers I have since signed with—Deadite Press, Apex Book Company, Thunderstorm Books, etc.—don’t have distribution into those stores. And that’s okay. In truth, I make more money from Deadite than I ever made from Leisure (and I was one of Leisure’s top-paid authors) because of Deadite’s distribution. They sell directly to readers and through Amazon, which means I get paid every month, rather than waiting ninety days or more for the bookstore chains to pay them. And since they are selling their books to readers at full price, rather than at a discount for the bookstores, I get paid a much bigger cut of the cover price.

And that’s the way it has been for many years now, starting with the publication of my first post-Leisure novel, Entombed. I’ve released a dozen plus books since then, and none of them have been available in bookstores. Based on my sales and social media imprint, I had assumed all this time that my former bookstore readers had followed along with me, and were now buying those books via Amazon or on Kindle.

But I was wrong.

Yes, my post-Leisure sales stayed the same (and even increased, somewhat). But it wasn’t older readers following me into the brave new digital publishing landscape. It was newer, younger readers discovering me for the first time. Many older readers hadn’t followed me at all, because they were unaware I had continued writing and publishing.

. . . .

I saw the same dynamics in play the next night at The Poisoned Pen in Phoenix. A standing-room only crowd showed up to see Stephen Coonts, Ben Coes, Weston Ochse, and myself. Half the crowd were over the age of forty, and happy to see me apparently writing novels again. The other half were under thirty-five, and happy that I had never stopped writing novels.

Link to the rest at Cemetery Dance Online

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

PG says if typical bookstore customers are becoming older and older, there’s another nail in the coffin of the way things used to be.

In all the data PG has read about the publishing industry, he doesn’t remember seeing any reports comparing the average ages of bookstore and online book purchasers.

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Protecting Your Content and Your Name

29 July 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Back when I was writing a lot of tie-in novels for Pocket Books’ Star Trek division, a brand-new editor asked me to help him rescue a short story anthology. It seems that the main writer on the project had quite unexpectedly. The writer had outlined the story, and the outline had been approved by Paramount, which was a major hurdle. What the editor needed from me was an actual draft of the story.

In other words, none of the characters were mine. The plot, setting, and theme were not mine. The editor needed my style as a writer and my name on the cover. That was it.

I had never worked with this editor before. My usual Star Trek editor advised me to stay clear. But, I figured, it was just a short story. What could it hurt?

Well…it didn’t exactly hurt. But it was perplexing. I wrote the 6,000 word story as requested from a 2,000 word outline. Turned the story in on time. Got an acceptance, and the ridiculously high acceptance payment.

Then I got the copyedit.

Which wasn’t a copyedit. The editor himself had rewritten every single sentence of the story. Every single one. Sometimes adding passive voice. Sometimes making the meaning unclear. Always dumbing down the content and the voice and the point of each sentence, let alone each paragraph.

I looked at that, glanced at my contract, and realized that even though this short story was written as work made for hire, I could make a huge stink about this. I could pull my name or pull the story or cause all kinds of grief.

In the end, I decided to leave it alone. If you look up this short story now, you’ll see the most poorly written thing ever published under my name.

. . . .

That is the only time in my recollection that I can recall allowing an editor’s or copyeditor’s full rewrite of my work to get into print. I’ve had worse rewrites in my career, including a copyeditor who changed every single piece of punctuation in one of my romance novels, but I never let those go through under my name.

I cited contract terms, refusing to allow the changes. I pulled books from publishers because of shenanigans like this. I got copyeditors fired. Repeatedly.

I defend what I write. My writing in some story or novel or nonfiction article might be awful, but it’s mine. If I put my name on it, guaranteed—except for that one short story—every word in the piece is a word I wrote or approved. Every single one.

. . . .

I told you that most writers check their traditional book contracts for the advance, the payout, and the due dates. They don’t look at anything else. Writer after writer, and editor after editor, have told me this.

I always look toward the editing clauses first. Because if they’re ugly, the rest of the contract usually is as well.

This applies to all kinds of writing for traditional markets, especially for nonfiction and short fiction. I’ve seen terrible editing clauses in those contracts, and what’s ironic is that those clauses often seem to be the most innocuous.

What you want is complete control of the content of your work. In every single short fiction contract I sign, I change the publisher’s right to “edit the Work” to “copyedit the Work.” I always add a line that ensures I must approve any changes, including those copyedits, to the Work.

If I don’t like the copyedit, my version stands. If my version isn’t going to stand, then the story doesn’t get published. Period, end of story.

. . . .

The British publishing company has the right—if the publisher deems that right necessary—to completely rewrite my article. They could change everything. They could add stuff I find objectionable—political points of view, for example. They could libel someone through careless writing or even deliberately. They could take a piece in which I say I love something, and change it to say I hate it.

They can do all of that, because I would have signed that right away. Then I would have waived my right to remove my name as the author of the piece. So they could write all this stuff, and claim I meant it, because my name is on it.

. . . .

Oh, and one that drives me as batty as the editing clauses: they have the right to my name. Not just to use my name in publicity. I “empowered” them to use my name in any situation they “considered necessary.”

My name.

I see this clause a lot. Writers give up the right to their own names to a corporation for a few thousand dollars and the publication of a novel.

. . . .

She wrote back, refusing to change the editing clause, and then said this:

I’m afraid the moral rights clause is not one that I am able to make any alterations to. It is a standard clause across all of our contracts and our lawyers will not accept changes to it. As you say, this is a clause that relies somewhat on trust; I can only assure you that we will not act unreasonably, as it would not be in our interest to do so….

I kid you not. She wrote “Trust us. We won’t hurt you.”

. . . .

Make sure the editing clauses in your contracts—from short story contracts to article contracts to novel contracts—limit what the publisher can do to your work. You essentially should allow them to change some things to house style (like whether or not you put a capital after a colon). You should have the right to review a copyedit—and to have the final say on that copyedit.

You also need a clause that limits revisions. When there’s a clause in the contract that says that the finished book must be “accepted” by the Publisher, then you have to define what that means. If it means revisions, then those revisions should be limited to no more than two or three before the contract terminates.

I’ve known writers who rewrote their books for years before the books finally were tossed back as unacceptable by the publisher. One author I know rewrote her book every year for ten years for a textbook publishing house I worked for. When my boss left, and the next editor took his place, that editor saw this continual revision, and canceled the contract. the writer had to repay her entire advance.

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.

Regarding responses such as our lawyers will not accept changes [to a standard contract provision], PG says that the lawyers work for the publisher, not the other way around.

If a publisher tells its lawyer to modify a contract provision to reflect a request from an author, the lawyer will do so. The lawyer may advise the publisher not to make the change for this or that reason, but if the publisher instructs the lawyer to make the change anyway, the change will be made.

Other Evil Clauses

22 July 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Writers tend to go through their business life like Pokémon Go players, looking for something that isn’t there, hoping to score a magic number of points, and not seeing what is there.

It’s impossible to show you all the bad contract terms. I’ve delineated several that you need to watch out for. I’m going to go through some important ones quickly in this blog post, and then look at a few more major terms in the next few weeks before we go to agents and attorneys.

After that, folks, you’re on your own.

. . . .

Definitions: Make sure all of the important and dicey terms in your contract come with an attached definition. And make sure that definition is in your favor, extremely clear, and very narrow. The biggest and most important definition in modern contracts is the definition of the word “net.”

Most contracts leave out the definition of the word “net” altogether. Those contracts assume, apparently, that we all agree on what the word means.

Here’s the thing about contracts, folks. Contracts create their own language and their own definitions. So if the word “net” is undefined, it means whatever someone wants it to mean.

If the publisher does define the word “net,” the publisher often does so in a way that benefits them. (Horrors! They don’t do that in other things…oh, wait, never mind.)

Publishers have moved to “net” in royalty payments at the same time as the rise in ebooks. But that’s not why publishers did it. They did it for the same reason that they have discount clauses in the contract, such as the ones we discussed in last week’s blog, to make sure the writer gets almost no money for the books the publisher sells.

If the publishing contracts end up defining the word “net,” then the clause usually looks something like this:

As used herein, the term “Net Receipts” means monies received by the Publisher on the sale or license of the Work after all discounts, fees, and returned copies have been deducted, and before addition of freight charges and/or handling charges.

It’s all very, very loosy-goosy. Monies received by the Publisher. I suppose you can audit for that, but there’s lots of room for dispute in that language. And lots of room for abuse.

. . . .

Basket Accounting: speaking of screwing the writer, let’s look at this old favorite, that has existed since the 1970s. Basket accounting refers to the fact that the publisher throws all of the books in one contract into the same “basket” before paying out royalties.

So if you have a three-book contract, and book one sells 5 times its advance, but books two and three never earn out, you probably won’t see a dime in royalties.

If each book were accounted separately, then you’d receive royalties for book one, making you significantly more money.

The clause is not called the “basket accounting” clause. Every contract does it differently.

And I have to tell you: in this modern world, it’s a lot more probable that you’ll get a basket accounting deal if you have a multiple book deal with a publisher. That publisher will guarantee that you don’t see a dime in royalties by underpublishing at least one of those books.

The best way to avoid this?

Have a one-book contract. Never ever ever sign a multiple book deal, no matter how much they offer you.

Traditional publishers and agents will tell you it’s in your best interest to sign a multiple book deal. After all, you’ll get money for years, and you’ll know how much. But you won’t necessarily get actual money for years, especially if there’s an “acceptance” clause in your contract. (Meaning your book is not considered publishable until the publisher deems it “accepted.”) And there’s no guarantee, in this publishing environment, that your publisher will be around five years from now.

Besides, if you have a one-book contract, and your book is successful, then you have the opportunity to negotiate a better contract for book two. And with the rise of indie publishing, if you can’t get a contract for book two, who cares? You can publish it yourself.

. . . .

Time limit on publication.

This one is sneaky. It caught me on my very first novel. What you want here is for the clause to read in your favor. Something like:

If the Work is not published within two years of the date of this contract, the contract terminates, and all rights revert to the author.

Usually this clause isn’t quite so writer-friendly. But something like this clause is in most good publishing contracts.

The contracts that leave it out—well, the publisher never has to publish the book.

. . . .

Why have the audit clause? Because right now, you’re going on faith that the publisher will be honest with you. They have no reason to accurately calculate your royalties and payments. Publishers have never been accurate in their royalty calculations. Never. Why should they start now?

So, get an audit clause on your book. Be prepared to use that clause, especially if you have royalty clauses in your contract that are different from the norm. Because publishers might “accidentally” default to the old way of doing things, and only shape up if you prod them.

An audit clause prods them.

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 Length, Cliffhangers, and the Economics of Paper Publishing

27 June 2016

From M.C.A. Hogarth:

This issue comes up often enough that I think having a permanent post about it would be good. Here it is then: “Why does Jaguar write so many cliffhangers! It’s annoying!”

I feel your pain, my readers. I, too, dislike cliffhangers. (Actually, I hate them.) But as Business Manager Jaguar implies, this is an economic issue, not an artistic one… or rather, a place where art and practical reality collide, and art loses.

Physical books have a presence. We know this because when we rhapsodize about them, it’s what we talk about: their weight, their heft, their smell, the sight of them, the sound of the pages whispering as we ruffle them. But in particular, I want to talk about weight, because this is a primary point of interaction between the reader and the material. The weight of a book will influence how long you want to hold the book, how comfortable you are while reading it, and the ability of the book—the physical object—to disappear and the story to seem to form in your head without aid. If the book is too large or too heavy, you will get dragged out of the story when your wrists or arms start complaining. Likewise, if the book is too small, eyestrain will pull you away.

. . . .

Here, then, is the takeaway: If you write big stories, stories that take hundreds of pages to unravel, you will quickly run into the problem that they don’t fit into a comfortable-sized print book.

What do you do, then?

Some publishers handle this by decreasing the font size and the whitespace of the layout. You can squeeze a lot of text into a “four-hundred page” book if you mess with those variables. For a while, in fact, this is what I did in order to make my books more handy. But I had one reader tell me one day, “I really wish you would make the font bigger on your print books. I find them hard to read.”

. . . .

So here’s the rock and the hard place: my choice is to fit an entire story into a single package and have it be impossible to read and uncomfortable to hold, or to break up a story into bits that might not have satisfactory endings. If you’ve read commercial series fiction, you know the choice that publishers have historically made: they chop the books up. (Lord of the Rings is a famous example.) Despite hating cliffhangers with a passion, I too found myself making the same choice, and consoling myself that at least I wrote fast enough that my readers wouldn’t have to wait long for the conclusion of the story.

But wait! you say. E-books aren’t affected by length at all! Why don’t you break up the story into pieces for the print books, but have the e-book sold as a single story?

Would that I could! But unfortunately, when you post books for sale, they’re linked to their various editions. This is not just a computer/sales/data issue, but a reader issue. Say you’re a reader who read the (enormous uncut) e-book version of The Godkin Saga, a story that was cut into two volumes, Flight of the Godkin Griffin and The Godson’s Triumph. You enjoyed that book and want the print book because you’d like to see the illustrations on paper. You go to Amazon and there’s no print edition linked to the e-book edition that you bought. Confused, you search for ‘godkin hogarth’ and discover there are two other books with different names (Flight of the Godkin Griffin and The Godson’s Triumph) with print editions but no e-book editions. Are these sequels? If you buy Flight, does that include everything you remember from The Godkin Saga? Or do you need Triumph as well? You try buying one of them, receive it, and are extremely irritated to discover that it’s not the entire book. Now you feel Extremely Cheated.

Link to the rest at M.C.A. Hogarth

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

The Midlist Rules!

24 June 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Inspired by the Author Earnings Report, someone asked people on that forum to report in, if they were in the top 1% of indie published writers. Meaning, according to this forum, that these writers earned at least $100,000 per year on their indie published books. Not on one book. On all of their titles combined.

Overall income.

That’s an important point.

I spent an hour reading the self-selected responses. Of course, folks who didn’t earn that much responded as well, and frankly, those posts were just as interesting as the others.

What I found fascinating wasn’t the number of writers who earned $100,000 on their Amazon sales alone. It was the other numbers in their reports.

Unit sales.

My little brain was blown.

And it shouldn’t have been. It really shouldn’t have been.

. . . .

I have known for years now that all of us earn more money on a per sale basis when we self- or indie-publish a book than we do when we sell our traditionally published books.

. . . .

To make $100,000 in a year, the traditional writer would need to sell 113,636 ebooks that year [with a net royalty of] 88 cents each.

Got that?

For an indie writer to make the same money that year, the math is pretty simple.

The indie writer gets 70% of the $5.00, just like the traditional publisher does. So the indie writer gets $3.50.

To make $100,000 per year, the indie writer needs to sell 28,571 ebooks in a year.

. . . .

You see, in traditional publishing, how much writers earn cumulatively doesn’t matter. Traditional publishing is all about The Book. One book. Not a series of books. Not all books by author. One book.

Royalty statements are based on the contract. If the contract is a one-book contract, then the only thing counted on those royalty statements is that one book.

That thinking is deeply, deeply engrained for me. And what’s worse, I have two sets of traditional calculations in my head.

The first is how many books per year I needed to sell to a traditional publisher to earn $100,000 by advance only. Because the advance is the only thing a traditionally published writer can guarantee.

Since advances are never paid as one lump sum amount, a writer would have to do one of two things—sell a book to a traditional publisher for at least $300,000 or sell a lot of books to traditional publishers that same year so that the total paid out would equal $100,000.

First, the $300,000—divided into signing, acceptance, publication. $100,000 for each third. Book contracts are still structured like this, although often, these days, it’s divided by four or more.

. . . .

My very first novel, The White Mists of Power, came out in 1991 as a mass market paperback with a cover price of $4.99. I was a baby writer, with my first novel. So my royalty rate was 6% on that book. Which meant that for each copy sold, I made 30 cents.

To earn $100,000 on that one book, I would have had to sell 333,334 copies of that title at full price. (Getting the full price royalty was easier to do in those days, by the way.)

. . . .

For me—and people like me, people who “grew up” in traditional publishing—earning $100,000 on one book in one year meant you either had a great agent who managed to bump the advance on that book or your book sold at bestseller numbers. Pre-2010 bestseller numbers.

So…when I hear that a writer makes $100,000 per year, and is only doing so on a handful of books, I default to my training. Oh, I think, they’re selling hundreds of thousands of copies.

Nope. They’re selling tens of thousands of copies.

Most of my traditionally published novels—including the absolute failures, the ones that never earned back their advances—sold more copies in their first year of publication than the books that are making their indie writers $100,000 per year.

I am not saying this about my traditional books to say that traditional is better. It no longer is. In fact, if you look at the Author Earnings numbers, you’ll see that a traditionally published debut author will actually sell fewer copies than an indie published debut author. And not by a few hundred copies, but by thousands of copies.

I’m making this point because so many long-time traditionally published writers get stuck in the wrong number.

We look at copies sold rather than income earned.

. . . .

Back in the 1980s and 1990s when a lot of us started, we sold at least 30,000 copies of a single title in the first month of release.

Book sales figures went down rapidly in the years 2007-2010, yet most midlist books in the first month of release sold at least 10,000 copies . The sales would fall rapidly after that because the book would disappear from store shelves, but the initial sales were high.

Now, sales build. They start small and grow.

. . . .

You can make what I call bestseller money—$100,000 per year or more—without selling more than 5,000 copies per year of a single title. Look at the numbers above.

To earn $100,000 per year, the indie writer has to sell fewer than 50,000 books per year. If the indie writer has one series of five books that sells better than her other series, she could sell 10,000 copies of each book in the high selling series over the entire year, and make that $100,000 (at the $3 price point). If the other non-series titles are trucking along at a much slower pace, the writer could be selling, say 8,000 copies of her books in her series, and 10,000 copies of all her other books combined, and make more than $100,000 per year.

Those book sales figures are small by old traditional publishing standards.

. . . .

People who work in traditional publishing have been making the same mistake I continue to make. They weren’t thinking about the real numbers. I know better. But they apparently do not.

They’re buying, say, paperback rights to ebook series and expecting to get bestseller numbers out of those books. Or even midlist numbers.

Even those indie authors are extremely successful, their single titles are often not selling at the kinds of numbers that make an international conglomerate happy.

Which is why so many formerly indie writers—and their traditional publishing editors—end up confused and disillusioned. The indie writers who’ve gone traditional expect their numbers to increase, which is a reasonable expectation, given all the hype that traditional publishing shells out about its ability to market books.

The traditional editors expect the formerly indie writer with the proven title to sell at old-fashioned traditional numbers—30-50,000 copies out of the gate. That usually doesn’t happen any more, and rarely happens with the paper-only deals.

Everyone gets disillusioned. Of course, the traditional editors aren’t doing their due diligence because hey! that’s numbers, and they do numbers much less often than I do. They go with their gut.

Or they do something else entirely. Like this absolutely terrifyingly accurate piece from the May 6, 2016 Entertainment Weekly, titled “The Million Dollar Book Club.”

The article purports to explain why publishers are “betting big” on some debut authors. The amount of “gut sense” and ignorance of actual numbers in that article is so staggering, the reporter noticed it, and asked one of the publishers interviewed about it.

That lead to the article’s final paragraph, and it’s a doozy:

Given the amount of books a publisher needs to sell in order to make a profit, it’s possible that none of these novels will actually make money. But Random House publisher Susan Kamil believes that the honor of having a sparkling literary talent on your list can offset any financial loss. “We want to have the best writers in the world at Random House,” Kamil says. “Sometimes those writers come at a premium—and we have paid it.”

Think about that for a moment. This is someone who is charged with running a for-profit business, trying to make sales, and boosting a bottom line, and she’s saying, “The honor of having a sparkling literary talent…offsets any financial loss.”

Um, no, honey. It doesn’t.

That’s how authors with big advances and sparkling debuts end up getting dumped by their publishers.

. . . .

What I’ve been telling all of you for years is this: you can make more money indie-publishing than you can as a traditionally published writer. More money faster, and more money in the long term.

I’d been seeing it in my own income. However, I also saw the sales figures and good old-fashioned me felt odd about it. Because of those high velocity numbers my books used to have back in the day.

Right now, the new books in my various series (with all but one pen name) are selling annually at much higher numbers than they ever sold when published by New York. Not in that first month. But by the time the books would be off the shelf in the old model, the sales I have are greater than that first month of traditional publishing sales. And the numbers are cumulative, meaning next year and the year after those books will still have very good sales, growing sales.

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.

PG will observe that Kris is describing a textbook characteristic of disruptive innovation.

The industry incumbents don’t want to compete in the market where the small disruptive businesses are selling their products. Those markets simply don’t generate enough profit to support the cost structure and profit needs of the incumbents.

Good sales for indie authors – sales of all their books sufficient to generate $100K in annual royalties – won’t move the needle for big publishers.

Once the small businesses reach or exceed break-even, they can continue to operate, compete and expand. PG predicts the number of authors who earn $100K or more in annual royalties will continue to increase in future Author Earnings reports. And so will the number of authors who earn seven figures or more in annual royalties.

More and more of these authors will be those who, absent indie publishing, would have signed with a traditional publisher and made money for a traditional publisher. But no $100K indie author is going to be satisfied making $30K as a traditionally-published author. And no $1M author is going to be satisfied making $200K as a traditionally-published author.

Any indie author who is supporting him or herself with their writing and who looks past an attractive one-time advance to consider their future ten-year or twenty-year income from indie publishing is not going to be tempted to take the traditional route.

From the indie author’s perspective, the cost of doing business with a traditional publisher is so high that the publisher will have to sell a large multiple of the number of copies the author would sell as an indie and keep selling that large multiple year after year to beat what the author would earn from self-publishing the same books.

How to Become a Ghostwriter

23 June 2016

From author Roz Morris via Jane Friedman:

Could you become a ghostwriter?

Before I ever published anything with my own byline, I’d already sold 4 million books as a ghostwriter.

Book ghostwriting is much more widespread than you’d suspect. Many writers—even well-known names—also use their skills for hire. Sometimes they’re credited. Sometimes they’re completely incognito.

Why do they do it? Well, money—obviously. Established ghostwriters get paid at a rate that’s fair for the time they spend. That’s pretty remarkable at a time when book advances are dwindling and authors are struggling to earn a decent living from book sales. Journalists, too, are finding that ghostwriting is a good career move. While magazines and online publications cut their staff to the bone, the book trade needs reliable wordsmiths who can quickly produce manuscripts to a brief, or interview a notable person to write their life story. But the ghostwriting world is broader and deeper than memoirs and celebrities. The deeper you dig, the more opportunities you find.

Even fiction publishers use ghostwriters. Funnily enough, people are surprised to hear this. But if you’re a fiction writer, you already know you didn’t learn your craft overnight. Neither can many of the people whose names go on novels.

. . . .

Publishers might look for ghostwriters to help an author they’d like to publish. You might spruce up an existing manuscript or write the book from scratch. Ghostwriters are also needed by literary and entertainment agents. A client might have a book idea and need to get a writer on board to sell it to a publisher. Writing book proposals is a significant part of the ghostwriter’s work.

. . . .

You need to be good at interviewing and earning the trust of the subject. That’s lovely if you get on well with them. You have to be willing to respect their work, their achievements and their goals. But sometimes you have to use ingenious wiles to get enough good book material.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

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

The Grant of Rights Clause

26 May 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I am revising the Dealbreakers 2013 book. I had hoped to revise it every year, but I get so discouraged looking at the contracts as they exist now. I actually started to revise in the hopes of having the new book in this Storybundle, and then discovered I had so much new material that I didn’t have time to finish the book by mid-May.

Why is there new material? Because traditional publishing contracts have gotten ugly (or should I sayuglier?). And they’re not alone. Contracts for movie deals, gaming rights, comic books, and now works in translation are also getting more and more draconian.

Corporate entities have finally gotten a clue about the value of copyright and trademark. Now, those entities which own many of the companies you’ll deal with—even as an indie writer—want to own each piece of the copyright to any property they put their grubby little fingers on.

. . . .

As I’m revising the old Dealbreakers book, I am finding a lot of material that no longer applies. 2011-2013 was a transitional period in the ebook revolution. Traditional publishers didn’t know anything about ebooks, and writers had a lot more leeway in what they could do.

Now, things are so different that some of the contracts I’m touching feel toxic to me. I want to wash my hands after holding them.

. . . .

Let me show you an example of something you should never ever sign. This is from a real contract, offered to writers this year, which someone sent me a little over a month ago:

Effective immediately upon the execution of this Agreement, the Author hereby grants to the Publisher the following:

1) The sole and exclusive worldwide rights and license to print, publish, distribute, sell and sublicense, and generally exploit the Work, in all languages, whether in print, electronic, digital, audio, video, television, film, theatrical, or any other form or format now known or hereafter discovered or created, in all languages, including any and all editions and formats of the Work, in whole or in part and all revision of the Work and any edition thereof. As used herein, the term “editions” shall include worldwide rights: the term “formats” shall include all print, book club, and all electronic formats including download (whether over the Internet, through an “app” or otherwise), audio, disk, CD, or any other electronic or digital format known or to be invented, enhanced ebooks, mass market, large print, and any future formats/technologies for the duration of the contract term;

The Grant of Rights section goes on, with three more points that I’m not going to deal with here, because that clause all by itself is so squiggy that I shuddered as I typed it. Ugh.

. . . .

Any writer who signs this damn thing can’t even publish an author’s preferred edition with the text dramatically altered. Or compile an omnibus. Or publish half the book in Spanish, a quarter in Italian, and the rest in English. Signing this contract, with this one clause, gives the publisher rights to everything.

The contract goes on in terrible, awful, horrible ways. The noncompete is actually in a section calledAuthor Rights (!) and says that the author cannot “publish or permit to be published during the Term of this agreement any book or other writing based substantially on subject matter, material, characters or incidents in the Work without written consent of the Publisher.” And then there’s another non-compete later, and a third even deeper in the contract.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Fisking Porter Anderson

24 May 2016

From Joe Konrath:

Porter’s nonsense in italics, my common-sense replies in bold.

“The biggest issue is one that will be difficult for us to recover from…the degradation of our worth as creatives.”

Joe sez: Our worth as creatives is dependent upon reaching readers. This meme is damned old I wrote about it back in 2010, The Value of Ebooks.

In that blog post I use real numbers to discuss author earnings, and came to this inescapable conclusion:

The value of an ebook is determined by the overall amount of money it earns, not the list price.

Obvious, right? But let’s forge ahead through this…

That line is from a piece here at Writer Unboxed a year ago, in May 2015. Our colleague Heather Webb, in As Writers, What Are We Worth?, was anticipating a groan heard ’round the world.

Last month, when I led a round-table discussion at Berlin’s Publishers’ Forum, our topic was “Re-Thinking Ebook Sales and Understanding the Consumers.” But what drew the biggest response was book pricing.

We’re in a world now that thinks it can write just as well as you can. It doesn’t need your book. It can write its own. It can publish it. And it can lowball it on Amazon.

Joe sez: This nefarious scheme is called “capitalism” and is evidence of something called a “free market”. 

Once upon a time, publishing wasn’t a free market. Not everyone with a book had an equal chance to reach readers. Amazon, and other ebook retailers, have democratized the process. Which means consumers now have more choices than every before. And many of those choices are priced according to the market, rather than according to the publishing cartel that controlled pricing with their quasi-monopoly.

. . . .

In the UK in January, Penguin Random House CEO Tom Weldon told my Bookseller colleague Benedicte Page: “”One of the biggest challenges in 2016 will be e-book pricing: how do we maintain the value perception of our quality content and maximize revenues across all formats for both authors and publishers?”

Joe sez: Allow me to translate: “How do we get people to pay more for ebooks, because if we drop them too low then consumers will buy the ebook rather than the paper book, and paper books are where we have the distribution oligopoly.”

A year later, Webb can see clearly now. Here’s what’s happening on a daily basis to authors’ work in the marketplace:

Heather Webb ‎@msheatherwebb – It’s awesome when people brag about how cheaply they got your novel for. NOT. They forget we make our living this way. AKA starvation diet

Joe sez: I’ll fix that quote so it makes sense. “It’s awesome when people brag about how cheaply they got your novel, because others will then seek it out and buy a copy. I wish every fan bragged about my cheap books.”

Perhaps, for some odd reason, Heather would rather sell a $14.99 ebook and earn $2.32 in royalties from her publisher (after her agent’s cut) than sell four books at $5.99 and earn $3.64. 

Just saw a study done with Lemurs. Even Lemurs know $3.64 is more than $2.32.

. . . .

With both the trade and the self-publishing sectors in rampant over-production as they are today, you’re facing a sheer rock face of competition for every glance your book might get, let alone a read, let alone a sale. Your price is in free-fall.

Joe sez: Porter, have you ever been in a bookstore? Notice how it’s filled with thousands of books? Do you glance at every single one before making a selection?

There have ALWAYS been other books. But now, for the first time, the cost is coming down so it isn’t prohibitive. Rather than $30 hardcovers, which is a luxury price, readers can get new titles for $4.99. And the $4.99 book is just as good as the $30 book. 

Or do you enjoy paying more for comparable products? If so, I’ve got some $40 per roll toilet paper I’ll sell you. It does the same thing as the $1 per roll toilet paper, but if you buy that cheap stuff my dignity will be in jeopardy. You don’t want me on a starvation diet, do you?

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath

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

Writer Steve Hamilton’s Second Chance

20 May 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Thriller writer Steve Hamilton tends to reserve the high-stakes drama for the pages of his novels. For years, he stayed with the same agent and the same publisher. He lived in rural upstate New York, and wrote at night while working as a technical writer at IBM.

Then he went rogue. When his brand-new mystery was about to go to the printer last year, he blew up his book contract in an unusual dispute over marketing and publicity and went looking for a new publisher.

Today, that book, “The Second Life of Nick Mason,” comes out amid more fanfare than he’s ever experienced. With a new book deal and movies in the works, Mr. Hamilton is hoping to take his career to a new level.

The 55-year-old author grew up around Detroit devouring the hard-boiled likes of Elmore Leonard and James Crumley. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1983, he moved to upstate New York and went to work as a technical writer for IBM. He spent the next 32 years explaining the company’s products to customers.

He joined a writer’s group and in 2000 sold his debut novel, “A Cold Day in Paradise.”

. . . .

“I led a double life,” the author says. “When my co-workers were on vacation, I was on a book tour,” which usually meant driving to stores in Michigan and Illinois.

But after 12 books in 13 years, Mr. Hamilton, who is married with two children, hadn’t broken out nationally. “I was ‘that Michigan writer,’ ” he says. Like many authors, he blamed it on a lack of marketing and publicity support from his publisher, the Minotaur imprint of St. Martin’s Press.

. . . .

In 2013, as his New York literary agent prepared to retire, Mr. Hamilton signed up with Hollywood screenwriter and producer Shane Salerno, who sidelines as a literary agent. Mr. Salerno’s main book client is Don Winslow, who used to scribble novels while on stakeouts working as a private investigator.

Mr. Salerno urged Mr. Hamilton to launch a new series and quit his day job. “He needed to be a full-time writer,” Mr. Salerno says.

Mr. Hamilton felt loyal to his publisher and didn’t want to abandon his McKnight fans. With St. Martin’s, he signed up for four more books—two Nick Masons and two McKnights—in a deal reported to be “near seven figures.” IBM offered to match the money in his contract, Mr. Hamilton says, but after learning the amount, they said, “OK, good luck.”

As Mr. Hamilton turned to full-time writing, what mattered most to him was launching Nick Mason with broad media coverage and advertising as well as a bigger book tour.

. . . .

About two months before the publication date, Mr. Hamilton and his agent say they asked for a marketing and publicity plan. They were shocked. “It was a page of nothing,” Mr. Hamilton says, well short of what had been promised. Advance copies of the book for the media promised an initial print run of 75,000 as well as a national marketing campaign. Mr. Hamilton called that a “complete and total lie.” The two sides argued for a month but St. Martin’s didn’t satisfy the author and his agent. So they decided to yank the book and buy back the contract.

“I just couldn’t watch it die,” says Mr. Hamilton. He says St. Martin’s executives told him: “You’re making the biggest mistake of your life; you’re ending your career.”

Heading toward the rupture, “my wife and I were lying in bed just staring at the ceiling,” Mr. Hamilton says. “I was terrified.”

. . . .

Mr. Hamilton says he was deluged with emails from other writers. One wrote, “I feel like I’m in a jail cell, watching you go through a hole in the wall.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Ruth for the tip.

Long-Term Thinking: The Non-Compete Clause

20 May 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I probably should have called this post Short- and Long-term Thinking, or maybe just Thinking. Because no one should ever sign a non-compete clause.

Ever.

And yet, for the past several years, traditional publishers are trying to control everything about a writer, from the rights she sells to the amount of money she makes. They also want what they’re calling “a non-compete” clause.

In reality, it’s a “do-not-do-business-without-our-permission” clause.

I first wrote about this in 2011. Then I revised the piece for 2013. And now, well, things are much worse than they were five years ago for any writer who wants to become traditionally published.

I’m going to be as blunt as I can here.

If you sign any version of a non-compete clause, you will never be a full-time professional writer. Writing will not be your career. Something else will, and you will write on the side for the rest of your life.

Got that?

Can I be any clearer?

In the past five years, publishers have gotten draconian about the non-compete clause—and they’ve also gotten sneaky about it. Many writers have gotten wise to the non-compete clause, and refuse to sign it.

But most writers don’t realize that contracts are one long document that works as a whole, not a series of linked paragraphs. Just because you whacked one mole doesn’t mean you’ve gotten rid of the moles altogether.

. . . .

Around 2012, publishers started requiring non-compete clauses in almost all of their contracts, and are making those clauses a deal breaker from the publisher’s side. In other words, the publisher will cancel the deal if you do not sign a non-compete. The choice you are given is this: either you let the publisher control your entire career just because you sold that publisher one book for $5000 or you walk.

If that’s the choice you’re given, walk. Hell, run.

You have other options now. You can go to a different traditional publisher if you want. You can publish that work yourself.

You’re even better off putting that book in a drawer and not mailing to anyone than you are signing that clause.

Got it?

Because the moment you sign that clause, you give over your entire career to a corporation that cares nothing for you. Even if the clause does not hold up in court (and quite honestly, I don’t think the clause can hold up but I am not an attorney), you’d have to spend years not writing and litigating to prove me right.

. . . .

I know of at least two mystery writers who need their publisher’s permission to put up a blog post. I know of several more who have had to get a document granting them blanket permission from their fiction publisher to write nonfiction.

. . . .

Your current publisher might not enforce that clause; the publisher/business your current publisher sells out to might enforce the clause, and make you pay damages for anything you’ve previously published after you signed the contract (and ignored the clause).

Worst case, right? Yes, it is. But before you sign a contract—any contract—, you must imagine the worst-case scenario. The contract you negotiate should protect you from bad things, but you have to realize how bad those things can actually be.

. . . .

If your publisher refuses to remove language like this from your contract and you still sign it, you will have no one to blame but yourself for your tanking writing career. Because you put your signature on a legal document giving someone else control of your output.

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.

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