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Posts tagged ‘contracts’

Treat it like a business

As I was looking for potential topics for today’s post, I came across one of Kris Rusch’s posts and knew I had everything I needed right there. In fact, I considered e-mailing Kris and asking permission to simply repost the blog entry here. I consider what she said in Business Musings: Introductory Remarks (Dealbreakers/Contracts) to be mandatory reading for every writer out there, whether you are wanting to go the traditional route or indie or a mix of the two. My advice to every writer and wannabe writer is to read and then reread and bookmark the post. It is that important.

I’m not going to rehash what Kris had to say. However, I do want to build on it — at least in a way. To me, beyond being a warning about what to look for, the post comes down to a simple premise: treat your writing like a business. If you designed widgets and you spent time negotiating a contract with someone to manufacture and then distribute your widgets you would — I hope — get an attorney to look over the contract before you signed on the dotted line. As writers, we should do the same for any contracts we sign, be they with an agent or a publisher. We should keep in mind that we want our rights back and we certainly don’t want them tied up not only for the length of our lives but potentially our children’s lives as well. We want the best terms for us, not for the publisher or agent.

There’s another aspect to treating it like a business as well. If you have a “real” job — you know, one of those things jobs where you will be fired if you don’t show up or if you don’t produce — you have to go to work whether you feel like it or not. Sure, you have paid time off (hopefully) but those days are limited. After using it up, you are SOL. If you don’t perform up to standard, you are let go. That means, as most of us know, when those days come along when you would prefer to stay in bed — or go to the zoo or play video games or whatever — you can’t. You have to drag yourself out, mumbling and grumbling and go to work. No work, no pay.

Writing is a lot like that as well. It is that 9 to 5 job with more distractions and a greater need for self-discipline. It is very easy as you sit at your desk, staring at the computer screen and not having words come, to find cleaning the bathroom suddenly very attractive. If you are like the majority of writers, you have that 9 to 5 job, so you have to grab writing time where you can. I know how difficult it can be to force yourself to sit down at the end of day, once everyone else has gone to bed, to get in an hour or two of writing. As someone who is not a morning person, having to etch those hours out before the household gets up is even harder to do. But writers for years have done just that. They have done it because they know they have to treat writing just like they do their “real” job. They have to put but in chair and and just do it.

That also means you have to set yourself a schedule. I don’t mean you have to have specific hours — or a set number of words — you have to write each day/week/month. I guess what I’m trying to say is you have train yourself — and your family and friends who might not view writing as a “real” job — that when you go to your writing space, you are at work and nothing short of compound fractures, spurting blood or Girl Scout Cookies are cause for interruption. Yes, you have to tell yourself that you are going to write regularly and you have to follow through. If you allow distractions to take you away from writing, it soon becomes much easier to find excuses for doing anything but write.

It also means you keep track of your expenses, just as you would with any “real” business. How much have you spent on paper and printer ink/cartridges? Did you buy reference books this year for something you are working on? How about trips? Did you take any and use them, at least in part, for research? Do you belong to any professional writing organization that you pay dues to? Do you pay for web hosting and have a website/blog/whatever that is used to promote your work as a writer? Did you go to any cons or workshops that you paid for (or paid for travel)? Were you invited to speak at any cons or workshops and were your paid or have your travel paid for? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, do you know what — if any — of them can be used as tax deductions? What about income? Would any of it have to be declared as income and, if so, what sort of IRS form would you need to use?

In other words, along with a good IP attorney to vet any contract you might get from a publisher or agent, you need a good accountant to help you navigate the oddities of the Tax Code where writers are concerned.

To bring it all back to a simple point, writing is a business. You have to show up, just like you do to that job at the office or on the line. You might “work” three days a week or five or even seven. But you have to do it. If you don’t, you will be fired. This time it will be by your readers (or by your publisher if you are traditionally published). Even if you show up, if you aren’t producing, you will be “fired”.

You have to treat it like a business in that you have to pay your taxes — so you have to know what you must declare and what you can use as deductions. You have to make sure your contracts are at least as favorable to you as they are to your publisher or distributor or agent. You must have the proper people (IP attorney, accountant or tax expert) in place to help you navigate all these distractions so you can focus on writing.

So go put your butt in your chair and fire up your computer — or pull out pen and paper — and start work. If you don’t, no one is going to do it for you.

And, on that happy note, I’m off to work. There are books to write, others  to edit and money to be made.

*     *     *

Part of treating it like a business is also doing promotion. So here are three books for your consideration.

The first is Changeling’s Island (Baen) by Dave Freer.

Teenager Tim Ryan comes into his own as he faces danger on a remote Australia island where magic lurks in land and sea.

Tim Ryan can’t shake the feeling that he is different from other teens, and not in a good way.  For one thing, he seems to have his own personal poltergeist that causes fires and sets him up to be arrested for shoplifting.

As a result Tim has been sent to live on a rundown farm on a remote island off the coast of Australia with his crazy grandmother, a woman who seems to talk to the local spirits, and who refuses to cushion Tim from facing his difficulties. To make matters worse, Tim is expected to milk cows, chase sheep, and hunt fish with a spear.

But he’s been exiled to an island alive with ancient magic—land magic that Tim can feel in his bones, and sea magic that runs in his blood. If Tim can face down the danger from drug-runners, sea storms, and the deadly threat of a seal woman who wishes to steal him away for a lingering death in the land of Faery, he may be able to claim the mysterious changeling heritage that is his birthright, and take hold of a legacy of power beyond any he has ever imagined.

Officially out today, although I know it started shipping before now. 

Next up is Sword And Blood (Vampire Musketeers Book 1) by Sarah A. Hoyt.

The France of the Musketeers has changed. Decades ago, someone opened a tomb in Eastern Europe, and from that tomb crawled an ancient horror, who in turn woke others of its kind.

Now Paris is beset by vampires, the countryside barren and abandoned. The Cardinal has become a vampire, the church is banned, the king too cowed to fight.

Until now, the three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis have stood as a bulwark against the encroaching evil, their swords defending the innocent and helpless.

But last night, in a blood mass, Athos was turned into a Vampire. And a young vampire orphan has just arrived from Gascony: Monsieur D’Artagnan.

Things are about to get… complicated.

Today is the “official” release date.

Finally, Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) by yours truly, written under the pen name Sam Schall, is available for pre-order.

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

Release date for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is April 18th.

If it’s Tuesday . . .

I’ve been trying to come up with something for today’s blog for, well, the last couple of days. Every time I’ve sat down to write the post, I’ve wound up distracted. Part of it is I’m in the middle of the final edits for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). I’m really excited about the book and how the story arc is developing. I’m also scared because I see the end of the arc in the next book and I’m not sure I’m ready to let Ashlyn and company sail off into the night skies. But that’s just me. Letting a character go is, in a lot of ways, like seeing your kid off to college, knowing that life will never be the same again for either of you.

Of course, that hasn’t been the only distraction. Pat Patterson, who is one of my favorite reviewers because he not only gives honest reviews but fun ones as well, reviewed Slay Bells Ring and said the one thing any author loves to see. He recommended the book. Whee! But then he said something else, something that had me considering running away from my muse. He said he wanted another book with the same characters. Gulp! He wants a series. Worse, he’s not the first one to say so. Double gulp. The writer started whining, I already have three active series! Then I realized I had no choice. Whether there will be another book and a new series is up to Myrtle the Muse and she is an evil muse. (And she is laughing hysterically in the back of my mind right now. I think I should be scared.)

Adding to the distractions have been trying to get paper versions of several of my books prepped to come out. Then there’s been real life, including allergies that want to make breathing and seeing the computer screen problematic at best. There have been other distractions as well but, let’s face it, that’s life and I’m not complaining. I’d rather have the distractions than the alternative.

Fortunately, others haven’t had the problems finding things to blog about that I have.

The first post I highly recommend everyone here read comes from Kris Rusch. I’ll admit to considering simply reblogging the entire post. It is that good. It also is a perfect foil for a certain group of folks who have attacked us here at MGC because they view us as attacking authors who decide to go the traditional route. Those critics have obviously never really read what we’ve said here, nor have they taken time to understand our posts. Are we critical of much of traditional publishing? You bet. The Big 5 have been operating an antiquated business plan that has failed to take into account changing technologies and changing reading demands from their customers. Worse, they have, as Kris points out in this post, some horrible contract provisions when looked at with the best interest of the author in mind.

But, as Kris points out, traditional publishers aren’t the only problem facing authors. Agents can be a problem as well. Not all agents, just like not all publishers.

Here is a sample of what Kris has to say:

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.

There are teeth marks in my lips, deep ones. I try to be diplomatic. Honest I do. But 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.

She can’t even double-check her employee, to make sure that he’s handling the money properly. That’s Money Management 101. And she was flunking.

I walked away from that e-mail exchange and started a blog post with the title, “You Can Lead A Writer To Knowledge…” The rest of that saying is this:

You can lead a writer to knowledge but you can’t make her think.

Then there is this post from The Shatzkin Files. I’ll admit that I don’t always agree with Shatzkin. The same can be said about this post.

The good news for the publishers is that print sales erosion — at least for the moment — seems to have been stopped. (Print sales started to grow even before “new Agency”; when higher prices hit the ebook market, print was immediately assisted.) 

While he is, to the best of my knowledge, correct in saying that print sales have started increasing once again for traditional publishers, he doesn’t touch upon the possibility that this is because of their over-pricing of e-books until later in the article. He discusses at length the possibility of publishers moving to the wholesale model for e-books and how different sides of the argument respond to that possibility. What bothers me is that, the more I read, the more it seemed to be an article about how to fight Amazon. Perhaps that isn’t what Shatzkin meant but that is how I read it and I once again wondered why publishing insiders and those who champion traditional publishing continue to want to attack the main outlet for their work. Isn’t that kind of like cutting off your nose to spite your face?


I think The Passive Guy in his commentary on the post hits the nail squarely on the head.

On the other hand, PG wonders if anyone in Big Publishing understands a single thing about disruptive technological innovations and their impact on legacy products and legacy producers.

Trying to manipulate pricing and customers to preserve printed book sales is a fool’s errand. The future of books is digital just like the future of letters became digital when email was introduced and the future of news became digital when the web and streaming video entered the scene.

Stories are special. Printed books are not. Big Publishing is trying to preserve its landline business in a cellular world. The future of paper is in napkins and toilet tissue, not as a medium for communicating ideas.

What do you think?


An idle soul shall suffer hunger

It’s been said that volume, volume, volume is the key to success in publishing – both number of books and numbers of a book. The latter has been the publishing industry’s touchstone. If you’re a darling they put a lot copies on a lot retail shelves (a bit of bribery and arm-twisting goes on – on both sides, and this has little or nothing to do with readers liking or disliking the genre/book/author). However Traditional Publishing as often been actively restrictive in contracts to prevent authors selling to anyone else, or in the volume that they could produce – I am quite slow, but Sarah is very fast for example, and has I believe had restrictive contracts offered to her. It’s a sort of control freak thing, I can only think because as this author proves there really is no gain in it.

That seems a goal I could never reach, but I can see that that level of saturation can lead to success. So what is your take?

On another tack I was hearing several authors saying (very privately) ‘I love my publisher to bits but their boilerplate contract really is exploitative.’ And yes, almost universally (in fact I have yet to come across one that wasn’t. I’d be delighted to be wrong, so do point out if you think one exists. That’ll be the Publishing House that has a chance of surviving the 21st century)they are. Their reaction to the ability of authors to go Indy seems to have been a completely illogical and non-competitive one of ‘Oh, they’re leaving us because we’re not competitive… so let’s pay less and add a bunch of stupid rights grabs we have no intention of actively trying to sell, but can make a fast buck on if by pure hard work on their part or luck, we can snatch a profit on.’ It makes perfect sense, only eclipsed by the author who still loves them to bits. The logic employed by said authors is if you’re a name or have a powerful agent this won’t happen to you… yes, a real forward looking policy, on the same level of genius as not actually bothering to find out what people want to read.

So your turn -what would you like to see in a contract? What would make you choose a traditional publisher instead of Indy? And what is a reasonable volume to you, as a reader, and as a writer?

To dream or to do

Last night I was talking with Sarah via IM and asking what I ought to blog about today. Normally finding a something to blog about isn’t a problem. The problem is usually finding one that isn’t such a hot button topic that we’d be invaded by trolls and an epic flame war would erupt. But the last five weeks have been filled with family issues to deal with, illness and, finally, writing. Lots and lots of writing. My brain is wrapped up in plot twists and turns and thinking in bloggish isn’t what it wanted to do. So, I turned to mentor and friend and twin by another mother, Sarah.

We’d been discussing various magical creatures and whether or not we need a “bible” for the shared world some of us are going to be writing in. The unanimous response is that, yes, we do. Not a true story bible, but at least one with basic world rules in it and then some references to some of the creatures we’ll be using. That, of course, led to a discussion of contract terms. The long and the short of that is, once we agree on the contract, one of us will be posting it here as an example of what we see as a working and fair shared world contract between authors. Even now, we’ve agreed that copy right will rest in the individual author, just as it does with any other optioned novel that isn’t a work for hire. Rights will revert back to the individual author after a set time unless the parties agree to extend the contract, again for a set period of time. If a publisher approaches one of the authors wanting to bring out that book or another in the world by that author, there will be mechanisms in the contract that will allow for that. Reporting of royalties will be quarterly, possibly monthly. That hasn’t really be settled yet. There’s more, as you can imagine, but these will be our individual works, based in a world we share. I’m excited about it and scared because I know I’m the novice in the group. But, scared or not, I’m looking forward to this new project and hope I do the others proud.

When I told Sarah that, I could hear her chuckling even though we were on IM. Then there was the figurative finger snap and she suggested that I write on Writers and Dreaming. I’ll admit, I was non-plussed by what she meant at first. Was she talking about how some writers have their plots come to them in dreams? Or was she talking about how being a writer is a “dream job”? (Pardon me while I laugh hysterically at that. Sorry, but a dream job is one that doesn’t require this much WORK.) Maybe she was talking about dreaming about how your family will finally understand that writing is a job and not something that can be turned on and off just because someone needs a shirt ironed or a sandwich made.

Turns out it was all that and something more. Writers are dreamers. We dream up these wonderful stories in our heads and do our best to get them down on paper — or electrons. We have closets or drawers or thumb drives filled with stories and notes and images that help us visualize our stories as we write them. Most of all we dream of having other people read what we write and like it.

It is that last dream that is so enthralling and so frightening at the same time. Look at how long it takes for most writers to even admit they are — gasp — writers. Many of us still haven’t told family or friends. Why? There are any number of reasons, ranging from fear of someone you care about making fun of your chosen profession to fear of letting a parent or loved one down. Still, we write. We dream those wonderful plots and those intriguing and often times irritating characters become family in their own right.

As writers, we have to ask ourselves if we are writing for ourselves only — and there is nothing wrong with that. I have a lot of things I’ve written that will never see the light of day. Why? Because they are too close to me. They were written to help deal with things that are not meant to be public. Most of us have different coping mechanisms. Mine is to write. So those things are often destroyed after they have served their purpose. No, these aren’t what I call bonfire fodder. These are my coping mechanisms and mine alone. These are my personal demons or others’ and no one else’s. — or writing so others can read our work.

And this is where the ultimate dream for most writers happens. Most of us do want others to read our work. At least that’s what we say. But how many people do any of us know who say they want to write but they don’t know how? Or they sent something off to an agent or publisher and that person didn’t like it and now they won’t send anything else out ever again because it is obvious they aren’t good enough? Then there are those who want to write so others can read their work but they want to be published by a “legitimate” publisher so no way will they pollute their work by self-publishing it or sending it to a small press?

Then there are those writers who, for whatever reason, write but never finish anything. The writers who have reams and reams — or megs and megs — of work stored away, just waiting for the conclusion to be added. These are good stories, maybe even great stories, but incomplete. Why? Is the author just a victim of popcorn kittens or are they afraid of actually finishing something and sending their baby out into the cruel world?

The why doesn’t matter. What does is that we, as writers, have to understand that the publishing world has changed. That means we have so many new and viable avenues available to us, avenues to publication that were not there just a few years ago. Most readers don’t give a flying flip about who your publisher is. Heck, most readers couldn’t name their favorite authors’ publishers on a bet. They have loyalty to the author, not the house (okay, this is a generalization. I don’t want my fellow Baen barflies coming to “remind” me about them. I did say most readers.) Readers want a story that entertains or engages and is well edited and formatted. That’s it. They don’t, on the whole, demand that story come from Random Penguin or MacMillan or Harlequin.

So that means, my fellow writers, you have to decide what you are going to do. Are you going to continue to hang onto the old guard, crying that you won’t publish anything until it comes our from a “real” publisher or are you going to look at what your options really are? Are you going to quit dreaming about being a writer and actually do whatever it takes to bring a quality product to the reading public?

Suffering for your art is over-rated. I don’t know about you, but I like having three squares a day and being able to spend time with my family. I don’t like getting rejection letter after rejection letter because what I’ve just submitted doesn’t fit with what Publisher A is looking for right now or my novel, while well-written and entertaining, just didn’t “speak” to Agent B. I don’t appreciate spending hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours writing a novel and then editing it and only getting a small percentage of the sales price in return. Because I know the book wouldn’t exist but for me and for my work and dreams, I choose to find ways to bring it to the public that rewards me for my hard work, not someone else who may give me a token payment some time down the road.

But the whole point of this is simple: as writers we are dreamers. We have to be. But there comes a point where we have to ask ourselves if we want someone else to read our work and, hopefully, pay to read it. If that is our goal then we have to quit dreaming and take steps to make that dream a reality. We have to persevere, understanding that none of us will get rich overnight. Writing may be our dream but it is also our profession, our job. We have to treat it that way. So, sit butt in chair and write. Then send your work out to your alpha and beta readers. While they are reading it, start on your next project and, at the same time, decide what you are going to do with the finished work once you get it back from your readers. Then follow through. That is the most difficult thing for many of us. But, in order to make our dream come true, we have to.

Quit dreaming and start doing. My TBR stack is getting shorter. I need something else to read. In the meantime, here are some of my titles I’ve kicked out of the nest and sent into the big bad world. Check them out, buy them so my cat and dog will quit nibbling at my ankles 😉

N51t3Z2-LznL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-47,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_octurnal Origins

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

serenadecoverthumbNocturnal Serenade

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

nocturnal hauntsNocturnal Haunts

Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

Some thoughts on contracts

Over the last week or so, there’s been a lot of discussion over contract terms: what’s fair or not fair for the author and publisher. I’m not going to rehash what has been said, at least not right now. For one thing, I’m not looking to start a flame war. For another, well, I have friends who have been caught in the middle of the disagreement between the two sides and I don’t want to make them any more uncomfortable than they already are. Besides, I’m sitting here waiting for the mechanics to finish with my car and know that will be more than enough confrontation for the day.

So let’s talk contracts in general, starting with two very important things a writer needs to remember.

First is to understand what a contract is. In basic terms, it is an agreement between two persons or entities to do/not do something. In return for this, one party gives the other some form of consideration. In publishing terms, in return for delivery of the manuscript, the author will receive some form of payment from the publisher and will allow the publisher certain rights to his work for a certain period of time. (Note here, I am not an attorney, nor am I giving legal advice here.)

Second, money flows to the author and not from him, especially when you have signed with a publisher. The publisher is the one taking the risk and part of that is by paying for editing, copy editing, proofing, cover design, etc. That is their job. If you are asked to pay for any of that, or if the contract says the publisher will recover those fees through sales before paying out royalties, think long and hard about whether the end benefit of the contract is worth it to you.

So, when you are offered a contract, the first thing you need to do is make sure the terms you’ve discussed with the publisher are included in the contract and that nothing you don’t agree with have been included. If you are like many of us and your eyes glaze over when exposed to legalese, you need to get an attorney familiar with IP contracts to look it over. In fact, it’s a good thing to do even if you don’t glaze over.

I’m not going to list each and every thing that ought to go into a contract. What I am going to do is discuss a few points you need to be aware of. The first concerns what rights you are giving up to the publisher. Is the publisher only asking for print rights or digital or all rights, including to technologies not currently in existence? There are publishers out there that will try to grab up all rights, including audio and film as well as unspecified rights. Believe me, publishers want to hold as many rights as possible and will fight to keep you or your estate from trying to exercise rights that weren’t specifically granted to the publisher. All you have to do is look at how some of the major publishers have been fighting to hold onto digital rights to books they contracted for long before e-books were even thought of, books that have not yet gone out of print.

The next thing you need to look for is the term of the contract. You do not, in my opinion, ever want to give up your rights for the length of copyright. Yes, there are contracts that are trying to make you do just this. What constitutes “in print” should be clearly defined as should the mechanism for getting your rights back. It’s not enough that there is vague language there or that your editor says “Don’t worry. All you have to do is ask for your rights back and we’ll give them to you.” It needs to be in clear language as part of the contract.

Payment. This goes back to the “money flows to the writer” adage. Publishers have traditionally paid advances to authors as their consideration for the author assigning certain rights over to them. Then, after a book had “earned out”, the author would receive a royalty based on contractual terms. That still holds for most legacy publishers. However, in the age of digital publishing, there are publishers that don’t offer advances. To balance out the lack of an advance, these publishers usually offer much higher royalty rates than the legacy publishers.

Payment times. In other words, how often will your publisher report out sales and pay royalties (if any are due)? There is an increasing number of publishers, mainly e-publishers, that pay on a monthly basis. This is still a very small number, but it does appear to be growing. Most publishers, especially e-publishers, report on a quarterly basis. Some report semi-annually. I know of at least one publisher that reports only once a year. For me, that could be a huge sticking point. I want to know how my work is doing on a regular basis and I want payment more than once every 12 months — assuming payment is being made.

There are a number of other things you need to make sure are included in the contract, including but not limited to what happens if the publisher should go out of business. The key here is to remember that your work is your money maker. While it is great to be offered a contract, especially from a major publisher, you can’t let the glitter of success blind you to the business realities. You have to protect yourself.

So, what do you need to be on the look out for?

For me, it’s simple. You want to make sure that you maintain the rights to your work, your characters and settings, unless you are being paid damned well to give them up. If you are presented with a contract that states that you agree that the piece becomes the copyrighted property of the publisher, there should be a hefty payment up front. At least that’s my opinion. Why? Because what the publisher is actually doing is asking you to write for hire.

So what is write for hire? Here is a pretty clear explanation of it: When you write a work for hire, you are writing a piece for a company. They pay you (and should pay you quite well) – after which, the piece becomes theirs completely. You no longer own it. You can’t resell it or write a derivative piece from it. It’s not yours anymore.

Sarah has done write for hire. She can tell you more about it, but basically you agree to write something. You get paid a set fee for it. It now belongs to the publisher. No muss and no fuss.

You’ll see this done when there is a series and the publisher has several different authors working on it. There is a “house” name for an author and those hired to write the novels are not listed as authors. That credit goes to the house name. You’ll also see it in some series where there is a shared setting or “universe”. The key is that, if the author is not getting his rights to the story or novel back, he gets paid up front for his work.

Now, not all series or shared settings or “universes” do it this way. Some will pay an advance and royalty or strict royalty. However, most of those do not grab up all the rights to the story and do allow the story to revert back to the author at a later, set date. The copyright for the story rests with the author and both parties will, hopefully, benefit from the business relationship.

Also, be mindful of the royalty clause in any publishing contract. Do you earn royalties based on net or gross? Is it after “expenses” have been recovered? If it is either of the last two options, those terms should be defined in the contract. Frankly, if the contract says you, the author, won’t earn anything until the publisher has recovered its costs in putting out the book, you’d better have gotten a really good advance. Otherwise, you may as well accept you may never see a penny from the book.

Finally, the more attachments and exhibits to a contract, the more wary I become. A contract is a two-way street. It should benefit both parties, not just one. Writing is your business. You should treat it as such. As an accountant, you don’t agree to do a client’s books with payment coming only if you can get the IRS to give them a huge refund. As a mechanic you don’t agree to do a customer’s maintenance for free on the promise they will refer you to their friends. So don’t give away your hard work as a writer without fair compensation unless you think the benefit of doing so outweighs the negative of not getting paid.

Some nuts and bolts

Before you guys worry that some pod has taken over and I no longer have any thoughts about what’s going on in the publishing world, fear not. The pods came and tried but my black thumb killed them before they could take hold (I never could grow any sort of plant that required any sort of care). It’s just been awhile since I’ve done a nuts and bolts sort of post and some questions have been raised in the comments recently — as well as on one of the pages I follow — so I thought I’d take today to answer some of the questions.

Let’s start with Laura’s question last week about ISBN’s. If you are e-publishing your work through Amazon or Barnes & Noble you don’t need an ISBN. Both will assign a unique identifier even if you have an ISBN. However, some digital retailers such is iTunes and, iirc, Sony, require an ISBN to be listed in their category. Apple even requires that the ISBN for your EPUB edition to be different from the MOBI edition (I’ll admit here that there is a split in opinion as to whether you need a different ISBN on each different digital format). The benefit of having an ISBN is that it gets your title listed in Books in Print.

So, where do you get your ISBNs? The safest albeit more expensive way is to go through This is the Bowker site that sells ISBNs direct to authors and small presses. You can buy them individually or in bulk. Like almost anything else, the more you buy, the bigger the discount.

You can also get your ISBNs through services like Smashwords. These third party sites will place your work with other retailers. Since I’m more familiar with Smashwords and the question was aimed specifically at them, I’ll address their ISBN program.

If you check the ISBN manager page from your Smashwords dashboard, you’ll see that there are three ways to do ISBNs with them. The first is to provide your own ISBN. The second, and what they call the “best” option, is to have Smashwords provide the ISBN for free. To do this, your work must be entered and accepted into their premium catalog. But, before you run off and use this option, note one important factor: it will list Smashwords as the publisher and you as the author. In other words, if you have set up a DBA that DBA won’t be listed.

Now, Smashwords says this is the best way to get an ISBN but it has a very big downside for you as an author: it immediately identifies your work as self-published. Now, before you start saying that I’m being hypocritical here because I have said the onus against self-publishing isn’t as bad as it once way, I’ll remind you there are still a number of readers who will not buy something if they think it is a self-pubbed e-book.  It doesn’t matter that Smashwords might not think of themselves as the “publisher”. What matters is that the reader will see Smashwords as the publisher and know this means the book is self-published.

Since I’m for doing whatever it takes to make money, I’m against going the free ISBN route because of the potential for lost sales.

There used to be another method to get an ISBN through Smashwords, their “premium ISBN”, but it appears that this option is no longer available.

So, the question comes down to what venues do you want to sell your e-books through? If you are mainly interested in Amazon and BN, you don’t need an ISBN. If you want to go into iTunes, use Smashwords and get their free ISBN, just remember that for that “edition”, S/W will be listed as the publisher. Or you can go through any of the other repackagers that offer ISBNs as part of their packages. Just read the fine print very carefully and make sure you aren’t going to wind up paying more for the “package” than you would if you were to buy the ISBN on your own.

Another question that’s come up recently — and it’s not a new question, but one that’s been around since Amazon opened the KDP program — is about editing a work after it has already been published. This is sort of a sore point with me for several reasons. The first is that no author, at least none I know and respect, is ever completely satisfied with their work. There is always that little detail that could be tweaked or the comma fault that could be fixed. Then there are the comments from fans — you know the ones I mean. Those “oh so helpful” comments about spelling or grammar or punctuation that aren’t always right. With e-books it is so easy simply edit the digital file and upload the new version.

If, and this is a big IF, there is a major problem with the book or you are getting more than one or two comments about spelling or formatting, etc., then you do need to at least consider what the complaint is. However, if you are getting it only from one person, unless there is a ring of truth in the comment/concern, don’t go rushing out to see if there’s an issue with the e-book. For one thing, you’ll drive yourself crazy doing it and, for another, that is time best spent writing your next book or short story.

Now, I’m not saying to completely ignore input from others. But remember this: every time you update your e-book, an email is sent out to those who have already bought it saying a new version is available for download. Personally, it gets annoying when I get those notices, especially when I get more than one for something I’ve already purchased. It is a clear indicator that the person doing it is an amateur. Sure, the occasional issue arises that means a new version needs to be updated. But that should be the exception and not the rule and no writer — NO writer — should allow themselves to rely on the fact that they can always go and change something because it’s easy.

Folks, this is what beta readers are for. Make sure you have at least one beta reader who reads for content and one who is a grammar/spelling/punctuation Nazi. As for formatting, check every page of the file once converted before accepting it. Every page. Don’t rely on the emulators. Accept the actual MOBI or ADZ file that Amazon allows you to download and then check it on your kindle/tablet/smartphone or desktop app. See how it looks in a native program. If there is a problem, fix it then. Believe me, you will save yourself a lot of time and headaches if you do.

Finally, read your contracts before you sign them. Never, ever give up rights forever. There should be a set period, clearly defined with a renewal provision — if all parties agree. If you write in a shared universe, there had better be a pretty damned good reason for your editor/publisher grabbing all rights to your story. But if they are trying to grab rights to the setting — unless it is so unique that it could never be used in another story without it being clear you’d just ripped it from that shared universe — or characters/character names, run from that contract as quickly as possible. You shouldn’t be forbidden from naming a character “Seth the Farmer” just because you had a farmer named Seth in some other work at some point in the past, nor should you be forbidden from writing a story set in Cleveland — or anywhere else — just because you set a story there for some anthology. If your publisher says their contracts are based on the contracts from another industry — run. You aren’t working for another industry. You are a writer. Your contracts deal with publishing, nothing else.

Any questions, comments or requests for other topics?



Contractual Issues

Contractual Issues

This wasn’t what I was going to blog about this week, but something came up that deserves a bit of air-time.

The history is that a few weeks back I got an email inviting me to contribute to an anthology in a fairly well-known author’s universe. The sample contract for the anthology stank worse than week-old shrimp in midsummer, but on the flip side of this was the prospect of fresh readers from said author’s fanbase (which is substantially bigger than mine, what with my writing career being in its infancy).

So I figured okay, I can write a throwaway piece and all is good.

Except… I blocked. Hard. Writing this piece was like pulling teeth. It did not want to be written, even though I could see chunks of the action in my mind.

So I finally finished it this weekend and sent to my trusted first readers to tell me how badly it stank and how much surgery it was going to need. Only to be bowled over by three sets of “It’s great” and “It’s the start of a novel”.

Enter dreadful contract, now costumed as the Grim Reaper. I still don’t see the ‘great’ part, but I trust my first readers implicitly (that’s why they’re my first readers). If they say the story is that good, it is that good. Except, dear Grim Contract Reaper means that if I sell the piece to this anthology I not only lose it, I lose anything remotely related to that setting for the length of the copyright period. Since the story in question could be its own universe without any changes (the anthology universe is moderately generic, and none of the author’s characters are so much as referenced in my piece), and there is more there, I have a problem.

The best I can say is that I have not signed anything, because while this is an invitation thing, the final piece still has to be approved by the universe author. I’m now in the unenviable position of deciding what in the heck to do now.

I can’t throw together something else on the same general line in the short time that’s left before the story is due. Not while working full-time at the Job That Eats Lives. I don’t want to lock my story and its setting away for all eternity, either. Even a polite apology runs the risk of being shit-canned – and I’m not inclined to make the shit-can a certainty by saying the contract stinks, which means a certain amount of not-quite-grovelling in the form of “ermagawd my job ate my life and my life went to hell and back and and and and and…” (Phrased a little more carefully, of course. And not written in any form of LOLCat – into which, for my sins – I lapse when stressed and overtired).

Decisions, decisions… I hate making decisions. I suck at decisions.

Bloody subconscious knew this and refused to tell me why it was balking. Bloody subconscious is a stone bitch. If you’re ever wondering where my inner bitch comes from, wonder no more. She lives in my subconscious and amuses herself torturing me.

Okay. That’s enough whining for one post. Now I need to go and make a decision I didn’t want to have to make.