The Business of Writing

Wills are uncanny and electric documents

30 April 2016

Wills are uncanny and electric documents. They lie dormant for years and then spring to life when their author dies, as if death were rain. Their effect on those they enrich is never negligible, and sometimes unexpectedly charged. They thrust living and dead into a final fierce clasp of love or hatred. But they are not written in stone—for all their granite legal language—and they can be bent to subvert the wishes of the writer.

Janet Malcolm

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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.

The guru on how to get your book published

28 April 2016

From NUVO:

You may know Jane Friedman if you have ever browsed through The Great Courses. Hers are some of the highest rated, with titles like How to Get Your Book Publishedand Publishing 101. A Hoosier, Friedman has been writing and having her work steadily published since college. In 2006 she wrote her first non-fiction work that was a guide to writing. We spoke with her about some of the dos and don’ts when weeding through the press world.

NUVO: What are the biggest mistakes you see authors make starting out?

Jane Friedman: I would say the biggest mistake by far is a lack of patience with the process. They send out maybe one query, and they haven’t even researched who that query should go to. Maybe the query isn’t even written that well in the first place, and they get frustrated really quickly and give up. And I would say, as of today, most people decide to self-publish and then they figure out that wasn’t the right choice much later. There is usually a lack of patience with not just the publishing process like I just described. They will be frustrated with having to market their work and pitch their work, but some people pitch too soon. They haven’t allowed themselves time as a writer to develop their craft.

NUVO: How have you seen book marketing change?

Friedman: Well I think there has always been a responsibility for the author to be a promoter of their work. Today, because of digital media, digital marketing and promotion, there are a lot of things that are incumbent on the author to do that in fact wouldn’t even be appropriate for the publisher to do on their behalf. The publisher doesn’t want to pretend to be you on Twitter or on Facebook. They don’t want to be, in those cases, the owner of your website. These are brand properties that belong to the author and it’s up to the author to cultivate them. These are things that span over … an author’s career. They are not specific to a single book … So the author needs to be thinking abut developing those … Not just for one book but very long term. Years really.

NUVO: How would you categorize the current state of publishing?

Friedman: Eh, schizophrenic. (Laughs.) Because there are so many more ways to publish a book than there ever was. It used to be that the path to getting published was pretty narrow, pretty fine, and you weren’t going to work outside those boundaries. A few people could do it and a few exceptional case studies. But by and large the only way to be a successful published author was to go to a traditional publisher or find an agent and take as long as it might have taken for that book to find its readership. Today, self-publishing is generally conceived as just as legitimate a way, but I don’t think it’s any easier. I don’t think it’s the easier path than traditional publishing. I think you find about the same success rate on either side of the equation.

Link to the rest at NUVO

Becoming An Artist Without Going Broke

27 April 2016

From Co.Create:

It’s probably for the best that Sara Benincasa makes her living as a writer and comedian now, because she was a truly crappy janitor.

“I was terrible at it,” she says. “Very, very bad maintenance worker.”

. . . .

She also later spent some time working at a law firm that specialized in immigration for fashion models, helping to import Bulgarian teenagers for a life of catwalk-traipsing. (She lasted about six weeks.) But even though Benincasa didn’t have any books bearing her name or any appearances on TV shows behind her yet, she wasn’t harboring dreams of becoming an artist back then.

Because she already was an artist.

“You are an artist regardless of what you put down on your income tax form in April,” Benincasa says. “You are an artist no matter what, as long as you do your art. If you don’t do your art, you’re not an artist. It’s pretty simple.”

. . . .

“It’s really important to know that every successful person in this world has had to put in work, has had to put in time, and has had to do some things that they didn’t love along the way,” Benincasa says. “Real artists have day jobs. Many artistic legends have had jobs that had nothing to do with art. I mean briefly Maya Angelou was a cable car conductor. Sandra Cisneros, the author of The House on Mango Street, was an administrative assistant. J.K. Rowling was a secretary. There are so many great artists throughout history who have done other things because they didn’t have a patron, or if they did have a patron, that patron couldn’t cover all their expenses so they had to work. And some of them, it would seem, found a great deal of meaning in that work as well as in their artistic endeavors.”

. . . .

“I ask friends who are writers and have kids how they make the time to write, they say, ‘I just have to produce. I get a half hour while the kid is asleep and I sit down and I write—that’s what happens.’ And they just do it. There is very little romanticism about it. Being an artist of any kind generally isn’t romantic. It’s not a fairy tale. You have to do the work. If you don’t do your art, you’re not an artist: You’re a dabbler. And dabbling is fine. If you’re a dabbler, be a dabbler. I dabble in cooking. I’m terrible at it. I am not a chef.”

Link to the rest at Co.Create

Prince’s Sister Says He Had No Will, So Gets His Millions?

27 April 2016

From The Daily Beast:

Prince’s sister said Tyka Nelson said in a court filing on Tuesday that he had no known will and asked Minnesota to “appoint a special administrator to oversee his estate,” according to the Associated Press. The news opens up the possibility of a drawn-out battle over his fortune, estimated at anything from $150 million to $800 million.

Prince, who reportedly worked 154 hours straight in the days leading up to his death, had eight brothers and sisters, and under Minnesota law, the six of them who are still alive, as his closest living relatives, would automatically share equally in his estate.

Only sister Tyka was a full sibling, and it had been assumed that she would take control of the empire; however, half-siblings have equal rights to the estate.

. . . .

TMZ sources say “various professionals raised the issue of a will with Prince but he never had an interest in drafting one.”

. . . .

Prince kept in his possession a treasure trove of unpublished music—approximately 26 albums worth of material—that he kept hidden in a vault in the basement of his Paisley Park mansion. “I’ve vaulted so much stuff, going way back to the ’80s, because I didn’t want people to hear it—it wasn’t ready,” he told the New York Post back in 2015.

The question of how much Prince’s estate will actually be valued at will be a fascinating case study for tax professionals, as his estate must now place a value both on his catalog of work and his “right of publicity’’—which is to say the future estimated earning power of his name and image.

. . . .

Writing on this morning, tax expert David J. Herzig of Valparaiso University Law School draws a parallel between the Prince and Michael Jackson estates on this matter.

In its federal estate tax return, he writes, “Jackson’s estate valued the right of publicity at just $2,105,” arguing that because Jackson’s image was so tarnished by allegations of child molestation his reputation was basically worthless.

The IRS asserted in response that the right of Jackson’s likeness was worth $434 million.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Patrice for the tip.

Prince’s Entire Estate, Including IP Rights at Stake Following his Death

25 April 2016

From The Fashion Law:

Late music icon Prince was known in life as fiercely determined to protect his intellectual property, but how well others might profit from his legacy hinges on how astute he was about arranging for control of his music after death. Prince, 57, who died on Thursday at his home and studio compound in Minnesota, is one of relatively few recording artists believed to have possessed ownership of his master recordings and much of his own music publishing.

“Ownership of his catalog will follow his estate,” veteran Los Angeles-based entertainment lawyer Jay Cooper said on Thursday. “Ownership of the masters will go to whoever inherits it from his estate.” At stake is music featured on more than 30 albums that have sold over 36 million copies in the United State alone since 1978, plus hundreds of songs that are reported to remain unreleased in his vaults.

The key unanswered question about the fate of Prince’s intellectual property is whether the recording artist had a valid will or estate plan in place at the time of his death, lawyers said. Twice divorced with no surviving children, he apparently lacked any immediately identifiable heirs.

“I hope for his sake that he had an estate plan, especially with no heirs,” attorney Lee Phillips, who represented Prince during the singer’s 20s when he made his first blockbuster album, “Purple Rain,” was quoted as telling The Hollywood Reporter.

. . . .

Prince was almost as well known for an unyielding defense of his artistic rights as he was for his music. So assertive was he in maintaining creative control that during a bitter contract battle with Warner Bros. in the 1990s, he famously changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and scrawled the word “slave” on his forehead in performances.

The dispute centered at least in part on Prince’s desire to release his music more frequently than the label was willing. Prince found it “abhorrent” that he would “use that type of intellectual creativity and pour everything into it and give to people only to have somebody else own it at the end of the day,” said Owen Husney, the star’s first manager, told Reuters TV in an interview.

Link to the rest at The Fashion Law

Accounting for Indie Authors

18 April 2016

Regular TPV visitor Maggie asks the following question of the denizens of TPVville:

The spreadsheet I’ve been using to run my writing/art business is no longer up to the task of helping me with my accounting. I’d love to hear from people who are using accounting software/services they’re happy with (within the US). Things I’d love to have include the ability to make your own expense/income categories (as well as using the IRS’s), integration with bank/Paypal, and an ability to scan/upload receipts. Oh, and the ability to track contractors!

Any recommendations people might have would be welcome!

Drop your thoughts/suggestions/what you use in the comments.

An indie author/artist is a small business and the proprietor needs to pay attention to the numbers side of the business.


Helping Writers With a Windfall Avoid a Downfall

9 April 2016

From The New York Times:

“I might be close to solvent,” the poet and essayist Brian Blanchfield said, “but I still think like a deeply insolvent person.”

Mr. Blanchfield, 42, was in a conference room near Times Square recently as part of an unusual group: 10 sometimes-struggling writers suddenly in possession of $50,000 each. Winners of the 2016 Whiting Awards, given annually to up-and-coming authors of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama, they were learning how to handle not just the unexpected payouts but also the complicated emotions that money can inspire: ignorance, confusion, shame, panic, the occasional bout of inchoate elation.

“For years I have had nothing, like zero,” one participant said. A second asked: “When you deposit a check to your bank account for $50,000, does that affect your credit score?” (No, was the answer. In fact, the money is being handed out over two years, in two tranches of $25,000, to dilute the tax burden.)

It’s great to receive a big wad of cash, of course, especially when you’re a writer with an erratic income trying to cobble together a living from part-time day jobs, intermittent advances, peripatetic teaching gigs and the occasional one-time grant. But unexpected sums bring unexpected burdens, both practical (What does this mean for my tax situation?) and psychological (Am I a fraud who does not deserve this money?)

“For a lot of artists who are not financially secure, a sudden windfall can be amazing,” said Amy Smith, who was leading the workshop. “But it can also bring new anxiety about how to manage it and plan for it.” Ms. Smith, a director of a dance theater company in Philadelphia and an accountant who prepares taxes for people in the arts, told the writers to educate themselves. “Financial worry,” she said, shouldn’t be “the center of your life.”

. . . .

The Whiting began offering its seminars three years ago. “I suddenly had awful visions of our writers being on the hook for taxes at the end of a year that was supposed to offer them freedom,” said Courtney Hodell, the foundation’s director of writers’ programs. “The idea was to set up a space where creative people could ask questions of a professional who understands how writers live and work, talk frankly with one another about their issues and experiences around money, and generally neutralize the taboo that can keep people from making informed decisions.”

Around the table, conversation was open, candid — part useful instruction, part pep talk, part encounter group. The writers spoke of confusion and angst surrounding many of the topics Ms. Smith covered, including student loans, mortgages, retirement, credit cards, poorly paying adjunct professorships and the dreaded I.R.S. Schedule C that self-employed people have to fill out.

“When I was a poet living under the stairs in Brooklyn, I tried to be self-employed on my taxes,” Mr. Blanchfield said. (Like Harry Potter’s room at the Dursleys’ house, his studio apartment was, in fact, under the stairs.) One year, he said, he made something like $250 from his poetry but reported $4,500 in writing-related expenses, triggering a warning letter from the I.R.S. about a possible audit. “It made me really scared,” he said. (“There are a lot of ways to show that you are a legitimate professional writer,” Ms. Smith counseled. “Don’t let fear prevent you from deducting for expenses.”)

After the session, several of the writers elaborated on their situations.

“There’s a temptation to use magical money for magical purposes, to say, I should just throw the money up in the air and quit my job for a year and write my book,” said Alice Sola Kim, 32, who supports herself in part from her job as the executive assistant to a Columbia professor, writes short fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications and is working on a novel. “But this has taught me there’s another way, too, that I can be prudent about the future.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

Publishing ain’t what it used to be – an article of thoughts, articles of faith

31 March 2016

From author A J Dalton:

So, we’ve seen libraries and book shops close across the UK – apparently because people didn’t want hard copies anymore and e-books were cheaper. We’ve seen the undignified bun fight between Amazon and the main publishers – because book prices had been forced so low that publishers could no longer justify taking such a big cut from the pittance that authors were making. And we’ve seen an era of mega-mergers between publishers – as they sought to realise economies of scale and thereby continue to survive.

It was looking apocalyptically bad for publishing. But was the view of things described above the whole picture? Not really. The main problem has been the behaviour of the publishers – they have been victims of themselves in large part. Where other industries have survived changing markets (via innovation and changing themselves), publishing has only made an already bad situation worse. Let’s look at a few behaviours as examples…

  1. Publishers are more reluctant to ‘take a punt’ on authors these days. They don’t want new authors who have no established fan base. Seems sensible? It’s not. How can a genre evolve and remain relevant unless it’s through new blood? If a publisher publishes the same old names over and over, it will soon begin to see a decline. Look what’s happened to the book sales of scifi and horror. Dead. Why? Because no one would take on Necromancer’s Gambitby the young A J Dalton, a book that he was forced to self-publish, a book which proved to be the UK’s first new wave zombie book and which became the best-selling self-published title in the UK. The book was rejected by publishers as not being ‘squarely within the genre’ – the fact it was fresh and different was seen as a weakness!

. . . .

5. Publishers over-extend series. If a series does emerge as relatively successful, publishers then insist the series-author writes more and more titles in that series – it doesn’t matter how good the book is, it’ll sell anyway. Yes, in the short term it will, but in the longer term it’ll die a death. Look at the Joe Abercrombie Gollancz series (ending with The Red Country). Or the True Blood series, which ended up with 12 or 13 titles. At the same time, the publisher puts all its marketing resource, time and effort behind that one series, ignoring all the other authors, meaning that other stuff starts to fail, no matter how good it is.

6. Publishers aren’t even offering book advances anymore! Even established authors (like myself and Tom Lloyd) are being told that no advance on their next book will be paid (that or a derisory amount will be offered). Seems sensible of the publishers? Not really. If the author isn’t paid any money to live on while they write the next book, how can they actually write the book? They’re too busy doing other work, work that pays and therefore buys food. Many authors have given up. Some authors manage to keep writing, but it takes them far longer to write a book. And by the time they deliver the book, things have moved on and the book is no longer the game-changer that is required. The book gets rejected. Dead.

Link to the rest at Metaphysical Fantasy and thanks to Mike for the tip.

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

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.

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