Then And Now

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Recently, Dean told me about a conversation he was having on Facebook with a group of writers who, in the 1990s, shared the table of contents in an anthology featuring stories about the X-Men. Apparently, that anthology has just gotten an audio edition, and one of the authors in the anthology was thrilled about that.

Then Dean threw some cold water on the excitement. Who’s getting the royalties? he asked. No one knew.

Yes, the project was work for hire, but the writers weren’t paid a flat fee. They were paid an advance against royalties, for all forms of the book.

Dean hadn’t heard about the audio edition ahead of time. Nor had the other authors. I’m pretty sure the writer who announced it just stumbled on it. And once Dean asked the question, the others began wondering as well.

This project—twenty years old—has a somewhat tortured history. It was packaged by a packager so notorious that when he died unexpectedly, the people who had worked with him weren’t upset about his death at all. In fact, when a certain sf convention tried to hold a memorial for him, they couldn’t get anyone to speak at it.

This packager had lied and cheated and abused his writers so badly that they had nothing kind to say about him, even if they were the type of people who would have been inclined to make nice after a death. He stole and embezzled and sold his companies—to himself, sometimes—and managed to always come out smelling…okay, I guess.

When he died, his financial affairs were such a tangled mess that I heard about the troubles the estate had untangling them. I’m not sure how that ended up.

But here’s the thing. X-men is part of Marvel which is part of Disney. Someone still believed they had the rights to that anthology, and could license it in audio. That audio money probably went straight into licensor’s pocket, not realizing that the authors had contracts that stipulated royalties and not a flat fee.

With the arrival of the audiobook came the realization that the book is still in print, which meant it’s still earning money. I’ll wager, although I haven’t checked, that it has an ebook edition (which it didn’t originally have). All of this means it’s been earning royalties steadily for twenty years, which, at least in our household, have not been paid in (ahem) twenty years.

Does that mean Dean and the other writers are owed millions? Naw. Probably not even thousands. Maybe a few hundred each maximum. But that’s nothing to sneeze at.

And therein lies a dilemma for writers. Do they pursue those few hundred dollars? Do they hire an attorney to figure out who actually is exercising the rights? Or do they just shrug and say, Them’s the breaks, and move on to other things.

. . . .

A few weeks before this debacle surfaced, I wrote a sticky note for my pile of possible blog topics. It says, succinctly:

Old system = make $$ for others. Pittance for you.

New system = make $$$$$$$ for you, and some for others.

I’ve been thinking about that in the connection with licensing for writers. If we maintain our own intellectual property, and if we publish the work ourselves, we own every part of that copyright. We license it to various companies which then make some money off the derivative product they produce.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Over his long and varied business life, PG has been exposed to a wide variety of industries and companies large, medium and small operating in those industries.

PG has helped clients who had problems because they dealt with shady characters. As a general proposition, even when the client was able to win in court, even with a generous award of damages, the client was never made whole. The whole episode became a dark and disturbing period in the client’s life that was difficult to put behind her/him. In that respect, dealing with a bad business associate had some parallels with marrying the wrong person.

PG will state that, as a whole, traditional publishing is a weird business. There are some nice and sane people in the business, but there are some very strange and maladjusted people as well, not the kind of people one would expect to find in most well-managed business organizations.

As just one example, practically every other business on the planet pays its contractors on a monthly basis if not more often. PG cannot think of any other major business segment that pays its bills to outside materials/service providers every six months. Undoubtedly there are some, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Of course, Amazon manages to pay self-published authors every month. Ditto for paying Random House, etc. However, Random House, etc., is somehow unable to remit royalties to authors more often than every six months, even royalties for sales made on Amazon for which the publisher is paid monthly.

One of the reasons authors sometimes lose track of the non-payment of royalties is that payments appear at such widely-spaced intervals. If an author were paid royalties earned on a monthly basis, he/she would be more likely to note the omission of an expected payment.

PG was about to begin a rant about the problems caused for authors by unskilled and unschooled literary agents who are yet another intermediary between an author and the author’s royalty payments, but he’s running out of time.

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.

1 thought on “Then And Now”

  1. An interesting Q re: other businesses paying contractors. How often do musicians or TV actors receive royalties for their past work?

    Paul

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