Tuesday 28 December 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for Amends

Making amends is what we do when we've done something wrong, such as forget a partner's birthday, throw away our child's favourite broken object or sulk all through a dinner date. Making amends to a book is the same - you screwed up first time round, now you fix it. Amends is publisher-speak for amendments, which we usually think of as corrections. The connotations of 'making amends', though, gives the short form considerable emotional potency. Luckily, the phrase is usually 'doing amends'. You may see them called 'author corrections', too.

Amends are not the same as edits. They are generally a non-fiction phenomenon, for in non-fiction things can actually be wrong. In fiction, there are inconsistencies, implausible bits, lapses in continuity, but it's hard actually to be wrong as it's all a bunch of lies anyway. Non-fiction is not supposed to be a bunch of lies. Strangely, the term is extended to mean other editorial matters besies correcting errors of fact. Amends can included restructuring chapters, cutting material the editor doesn't like or adding material the editor would like if it were there. Making amends is your penance for being a less-than-perfect writer. Don't argue, just do it.

Friday 10 December 2010

It doesn't start with A... a plea for the EMA

This is not very publishingy, and it's entirely a UK-oriented post. Sorry! Back to authorly strops soon ;-)

There has - rightly - been a lot of fuss about the increase in student fees. But there has been a lot less about the abolition of the EMA - Education Maintenance Allowance. This pays £30 a week to students from poor backgrounds who want to stay on at sixth form. If you live in a city, where the sixth form college is within striking distance from your home, this might seem (as some have called it) bribing kids to stay in education. It's not. It's an essential life-line for kids who otherwise couldn't afford to stay on. For a student who lives in a more rural area, where there isn't a sixth form within cycling distance, the EMA is a passport to A levels and perhaps (if they still dare go) to university. It pays the bus fare or the train fare without which the student couldn't get to college (there is no free transport after year 11, and no half fares).

My younger daughter will be starting sixth form in September. She has friends who are already in sixth form who depend on the EMA. She has a friend who is in her year, who lives out in the fens, who won't be able to afford the £25 a week it will cost her to get into the city to attend sixth form. So no A levels, then. Because she's poor. My daughter won't get/need EMA but even here, in a relatively wealthy area, she can name people who will be forced to leave education just because they are poor. And what? Live on benefit? How is that an improvement, even for the bean-counters?

These kids are our readers. They are the same kids who depend on libraries because they can't buy many books. They are the generation we have devoted our working lives to and for all the inspiration and passion we have tried to encourage in them, their future is to be snatched away. They won't need to worry about whether the university fees cap is £6000 or £9000 because they're not even going to get near the application form for university.

When the figures for university applications from students from poorer backgrounds come out in a few years, you can be pretty sure they will be shown as a percentage of kids from poorer backgrounds in sixth forms. So guess what? The figures won't look too bad, the ConDems will be vindicated in their claim that it didn't put off poorer students from applying. But it will be because poorer students don't have A levels. Please spread the word, write to your MP, make sure people are aware that our very poorest children are being excluded from university one step back, with A levels (or diplomas, or the IB).

And here is a post that explains why the figures don't add up and EMA is more effective than the alternatives.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for Apps

If you are not very tekkie, talk of apps, Kindle, e-books and enhanced e-books may have you quaking in your sophisticated writerly boots (or Uggs, depending on your style). We'll get to the others eventually but they don't start with A so be patient. Don't worry - it's not that scary.

An app is not an e-book. If your publisher brings out a Kindle edition of your book, that is not an app. If your publisher produces a pdf of your book, that is not an app (and it's probably not a publisher either - pdfs are for pirate copies and to give to printers, they are not for public consumption these days. How 1990s.)

App is short for application. If you have a sophisticated phone (a 'smart phone') like an iPhone or an Android phone (the Google phone software that competes with Apple), you can use apps on it. If you have an iPad you will use apps on it - you have to, it doesn't do anything else! From now on I'm going to call these iThings and mean all of them. You might have apps to help you find your way when you get lost, apps to play games, apps to make stupid noises... I even have an app to turn my iPad into a spirit level because I couldn't find the real spirit level when I was putting up a towel rail. It's not much use day to day, except perhaps as a sobreity test.

Now, you can get book apps and you can get apps to read books. These are not the same thing. An example of an app to read books is the Kindle software which you can install on your iThing . You can then get books from the Kindle store on Amazon and they will be electronically schlurped into the Kindle app so that you can read them on your iThing. These books look rather like a printed book, and are effectively a printed book that is just read on a screen. There are a few things you can't do with a printed book, such as change the size of the print, and a lot of things you can't do with a Kindle book that you can do with a real book, such as squash wasps. But the model is 'let's make a book you can read on an iThing' and that's all. Nothing extra. Oh, and you can install the Kindle reader on your computer if you don't have an iThing.

Now we get to the point. An app that is a book is free-standing. You don't open it in Kindle or any other bit of software as it is itself a bit of software. So you can think of a Kindle book as being like a Word document and you need Word (or in this case the Kindle reader) to open it. But a proper book app runs on its own. It's like playing Minesweeper or Halo III or Solitaire - it doesn't need any other software. Some other analogies: a Kindle book is like a virus (has to exist in a living cell); an app is like a bacterium (can survive on its own). A Kindle book is like an airline passenger (not going anywhere without a plane); an app is like a pedestrian (self-propelling). A Kindle book is a tapeworm; an app is an earthworm. Got it?

While a Kindle book emulates a real book, an app is something altogether different. It can and should provide a lot more than just some text. There may be pictures, video, sound, animation, and interactivity of various types. ('Interactivty' means you can do things, like drag stuff around the screen or tap on it to make things happen.) The books that work best as apps are generally picture books and illustrated non-fiction. The flashy add-ons help to engage a small child and draw them in to explore the book and develop their reading, or to add extra information of types that can't be put across on the printed page. You want to see how a spider scuttles, hear the noise of the space shuttle taking off or watch a schematic animation of the movement of a piston? An app can do that, but the printed page can't. A lift the flap book is delightful - but if the monster scuttles from under the stone and hides somewhere else when you 'lift' the stone, the game can go on. In marketing speak, apps add to the reading experience. This can be valuable - or it can be insulting and a pain, but no-one made you buy the app.

Apps of novels are a different matter. The joy of reading a novel is using your own imagination to create the parts the author has left out. Yes, it might be useful to hear the piece of music described, or to see the historic monument visited. But I don't want to see someone else's idea of what the characters look like or to hear their voices (ie an actor's voice) or see the inside of the rooms or the path they walk down. Those are my contribution to the novel, they occupy the space the writer has left for my creativity and I don't want them invaded by someone else's ideas. It's like seeing a film of a novel - it's very hard to get the new interpretation out of your head. So I won't be buying apps of any novels in the near future. But that's a personal choice.

As a writer, why should you care about apps? Well, you need to be careful which rights you sell and what they mean. Most publishers want electronic rights to your books when you sign a contract these days. These can be limited in various ways - eg the publisher has the rights for two years and if publisher doesn't exploit them they revert to you. Electronic rights do not automatically cover apps rights, which should be a subsidiary right (like TV, merchandising and film rights). You should endeavour to get apps rights specifically excluded from the deal, as most publishers are not doing anything at all with these rights in most books. You don't want, really, to tie your rights to a heavy stone and chuck them in the canal.

If your book is to come out as an app (and you didn't write it with that in mind), there will be a lot of extra work for you to do. Or there should be. There should be consultation on images and sound, a request for extra material from you, and so on. You will need to negotiate payment for this, and the royalty you expect from the app. Here you are in uncharted territory, or at least the lawless wild west of publishing. Many writers feel they should get a higher royalty for e-books than paper books (in reality this depends on the format, and whether the book already exists in paper format, in which case conversion is cheap). Apps are different. A good app costs more to produce than a paper book. But a bad app is cheap to produce. If all the app does is read out the story and show some static pictures or very simple animations, it doesn't cost any more to produce than a full-colour paper book. If it has lots of interactivity, animation, sound, multi-threading (ie you can use the 'pages' in different orders) and other bells and whistles, it will cost a lot to produce. It's open season - negotiate strenuously.

But be aware that if you get an all-singing, all-dancing app, the publisher will have a lot of costs to recoup.
Another problem for publishers is that apps are platform-specific. This means that if an app has been made for Apple i-Things it won't run on Android i-Things. An app made for Android iThings won't run on Apple iThings and it won't even run on most Android iThings as there is little consistency between the devices. You could think of it as being like different language versions - if your book is printed in English, it's not going to be much use to someone who only speaks Arabic. But it's a bit more complex and the app has to be rebuilt to run on different platforms, then tested all over again... it's a costly process.

This means that for all the shouting about apps, they're not actually making anyone very much money yet. Publishers think they have to do it, but most publishers have little experience of software development and don't have a clue just how many worms are in the can they're opening. There will be casualties...
One problem, especially for small publishers who are having to depend on freelance app designers, is that software people don't live by the same rules as publishers. They are hard to manage. They are likely to take a dislike to a publisher or project or become bored and dump them. Which they can - they finish the current app and go off to Africa for six months because it's more fun to see elephants than to animate imaginary elephants. It's not going to be an easy ride.

To see some apps in action, if you don't have an iThing, look on YouTube for reviews and demos.
Here's a (rather frantic) demo of the famous Alice app, which was the first really to exploit the (Apple) platform but is actually designed to show off what can be done rather than add anything for target-age readers. And here is a review of Dr Seuss's Cat in the Hat. This is an underspecified app - it does pretty much nothing except read the text aloud and annotate the pictures with some useful words. And here is one that does as it really should and makes creative use of the technology in a way appropriate and enhancing for the readers: Oliver Jeffers' The Heart and the Bottle. The picture at the top of the page is from Feridun Oral's Red Apple published by Winged Chariot. Their apps offer the text in a range of languages - that's a good (if obvious) use of the technology.

Monday 15 November 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for Acquisitions

It's not usually enough to persuade an editor that your book is the best thing (s)he has ever seen - the editor generally has to sell the book in-house. You don't get a contract unless the editor can persuade those who hold the purse-strings that your book is pretty damn good, and one of the best of those they have to choose from. This happens (you hope) first at an editorial team meeting and then at the acquisitions meeting. (There are exceptions; in a few publishing houses, editors have the authority to sign a book for their list without negotiating with other departments. This is how things used to be in the Good Old Days, but it's increasingly rare. These editors often wear tweed jackets with leather elbow patches. Check your editor's wardrobe to see if this is likely to happen in your case.)

If your editor likes your book or proposal she (it's usually she) will probably discuss it with other editors at a team or editorial meeting, or maybe just informally with one or two colleagues. She does this largely to get feedback and suggestions, to test her championing of your book and make sure she's not going to make a total fool of herself (for example, championing something that everyone else turned down from the slush pile if you have stupidly submitted to more than one editor at the same publishing house). Not all books go through this stage. If she still likes it, she will book a slot to present your book at an acquisitions meeting.

Publishers hold regular acquisitions meetings, but how regularly varies from one publisher to another - it may be as often as weekly, or as infrequently as every two months. At the meeting, your book will be discussed not just by editorial staff, but by representatives of sales and marketing and design, and by the publisher or associate publisher. Your editor is your book's champion at this meeting. Your book is competing with other books for the available publishing slots and budgets.

Your editor will prepare an acquisition proposal that outlines her vision for your book, why she loves it, why it will sell, a description of it (content, style, genre and also physical aspects such as page extent, dimensions, binding, illustrations, etc), and a profit and loss account or detailed budget proposal for it. She will also give an account of you, the author (and any proposed illustrator). This will cover your biography, credentials as a writer, any notable points that will help sell the book (you are very young, beautiful and photogenic, very famous, very traumatised, exceptionally ugly with freak-photo value, or press-worthy in some other regard), previous sales history (your Nielsen BookScan record comes in here) and perhaps reviews of your previous books. She will outline the terms she intends to offer you (which may well be standard) and any other relevant aspects of the contract, such as subsidiary rights, say when she wants to publish and how many copies will make up the first print run. And, of course, your manuscript or proposal will be sent round for everyone to read. Knowing all this will go on should feed into your next proposal and what you tell your editor about yourself. Sell insidiously, start early. Don't ever tell your editor you are too lazy to do X or your first book bombed (they'll probably find out the latter, but maybe not).

At some acquisitions meetings, most books are approved. At others, only a few are approved. It will depend on how many gaps there are in the list, how much money is available, and how good the other proposals or manuscripts are. But even in straitened times, publishers have to acquire some books or they will have nothing to publish. Then they cease to be publishers.

There are three possible outcomes from an acquisitions meeting: they take your book (hooray!); they reject your book; they send the editor off to do more work on the book/proposal before deciding one way or the other. Obviously, your favoured outcome is the first. The second means you can go off and sell your book to someone else (let's put a positive spin on this!). The third means you may have to do some more work with the editor.

The need for a book proposal to go to an acquisitions meeting explains some of the delay between you sending your manuscript and getting a contract. Your editor will have to wait until there is an acquisitions meeting with a slot for her to present your book and draft the proposal. Meetings can be cancelled, or run out of time, and then your book may have to wait until the next meeting. It may be bounced back for more work and have to wait for another slot. It's a business, not a personal put-down machine. Don't worry about it. Write something else while you wait.

Wednesday 10 November 2010


Sorry to be silent for so long, folks. I went to visit Big Bint 10 days ago and caught a horrible bug. And I'm STILL ill. Being ill when you're self-employed is pretty disastrous. No-one pays for days you take off, and the work still has to be done by the agreed deadline, so it's all piling up and getting worse and worse :-(

Tuesday 2 November 2010

NaNoEdMo, anyone?

Unless you've been living in a bag, you can't have failed to notice that it's NaNoWriMo time (the new name for November). I don't do NaNoWriMo - I once tried a spring equivalent, and gave up after 10 days as it just doesn't suit the way I write. Not even that particular project, which had a very experimental structure and premise and could in theory have been written in any order. And if I can't make it work with that, I'm not going to be able to make it work at all, I reckon.

However, inspired by the comments (esp sheilamcperry) on the Crabbit One's blog on why she doesn't do NaNoWriMo, I'm going to try to NaNoEdMo - edit the novel I should have delivered at the end of the summer, in the course of November. Luckily, I've made a start already, so I don't have to sort out quite all 70,000 words during the month. But it is a complex novel with a lot of historical research to check and a lot of emotional baggage weighing it down. So would anyone like to NaNoEdMo with me? It would be nice to have that solidarity and encouragement to keep me on track that the NaNoWriMo'ers have.

(Of course, the only reason it's difficult to edit this novel in a month is that I'm supposed to be doing other things. Such as the last 30,000 words of The Story of Physics, my RLF fellowship at the University of Essex, running BookJam, and getting today's Thrale's event off the ground. And sending an app outline to a publisher, and doing editorial changes to the book on Turing, and waiting to hear from the acquisitions meeting about a picture book, and writing several book reviews and guest blog posts, and doing last month's invoicing and, and.... living. Oh yes, that's the thing writers never have time for. Maybe NaNoLiveMo would be more appropriate.)


Wednesday 27 October 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for Author

That's you. Don't look around for the real author, you're the real author if you have a contract with a publisher who's paying for your book. Now you have to behave like one, because if you don't believe you're a real author, you can be sure as hell no one else will. Act professionally and you will be treated like a professional. Do a 'what, poor little me?' act and you'll shoot your authorial career in the foot before you've left the starting block.

Acting professionally means not being precious about your work; not keeping important information from your publisher or agent; not making excuses for failing to write, or failing to write the right thing; not missing deadlines, writing over the agreed length, or deviating wildly from the agreed synopsis. Oh, that's all very negative. Let's reprhase: being professional means remaining open to suggestions and criticism that might improve your work (no, it's not perfect, whatever you think); sharing any important information with your publisher and agent; writing what you have promised to write by the agreed deadline and in the agreed or standard format. There - that's not so hard, is it?

'Oh, but I can't,' you wail. 'I have a cold, I need to take my son/daughter to swimming lessons, I'm depressed because I'm getting a divorce, I can't work out how to change the margins in Word, I got distracted into reading a blog about how to be a writer....' You know what? It doesn't matter. Anything that would not prevent you going to a paid employment should not prevent you fulfilling your contractual obligations to your publisher. This is your job now - that's why they're paying you. Of these excuses, only one counts - 'I'm depressed because I'm getting a divorce'. And that is covered under keeping your publisher or agent informed of vital information.

If there is a real catastrophe that prevents you meeting your deadline, say so. Apologise, explain, tell them what you are doing to remedy the situation, and suggest a solution. Even if the solution is 'tear up the contract'. If you come clean, and don't screw up their schedules, they will respect your professionalism and sign you again in the future. If you keep quiet and don't deliver - acting unprofessionally - they will, quite rightly, stop respecting you and be wary of working with you in the future. If you have an agent, you can be slightly more emotional and let him/her smooth things diplomatically with your publisher. But remember your agent can also dump you if you turn out to be more trouble than you're worth. Your agent is not your friend (remember?), so you should act professionally with him/her, too.

As an author, you might think your job is to write things. Sadly, it's not that straightforward. To be a successful author you will also need - almost certainly - to do at least some of the following: book signings, school visits, conferences, festivals, interviews, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, radio, TV, reviewing... general profile-raising stuff. You don't have to do all of them. I don't do school visits (which is quite a big one for a children's author) or radio. I've never been asked to do TV, but I wouldn't be keen to do that either. This stuff all takes a lot of time and much of it doesn't earn any immediate money. But many publishers take a dim view of authors who won't do any of this. Some demand their authors have a website and a promotional Facebook page (not the same as your personal Facebook page - we'll come to that in F.)

If you hate all this stuff, pick the bits you hate least. I've always had a good excuse not to do school visits - my own children and single-parenthood means I have to be back home by the time school ends, not halfway across the country trying to get home. But all the electronic bits can be done from the snug comfort of my own writing room, so I do those. And I like them because I'm a geek. If you're a natural performer, you might hugely prefer school visits to perfecting your website - fine; go for it!

And, lastly - don't beat yourself up about not writing while you are doing these other things. They ARE part of your work as a writer. Within reason - spending all day on twitter and Facebook is beyond the demands of publicity management and if your internal Alistair Campbell is encouraging you to do that, fire him.


Wednesday 20 October 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for ARC

And ARC is for Advance Reading Copy (also advance copy). This is essentially a bound proof - a copy of the book that is not in its final form and may still contain errors. It may have a different or unfinished cover. Advance reading copies are sent out to groups of people who might have some useful input to the book, and to people whom the publisher hopes will provide a nice comment that can be printed on the jacket or back cover (a 'puff'). It may be used in marketing the book (eg showing it to potential foreign distributors or film scouts), or it may be given to lawyers preparing to defend the book against defamation cases, or to the person doing the book's website so that they know a bit about the book and don't produce total tosh (if they can be persuaded to read it, of course).

If you are sent an ARC of someone else's book, it's probably so that you can provide a puff (unless you are a film scout, web designer or lawyer). If you don't like the book, don't feel obliged to provide anything. A note to the editor politely saying that you've read the book but don't feel able to provide a quote is fine, or send it back saying you don't currently have time to read it. You don't need to give a reason. In the interests of protecting the author's feelings - especially if it's someone you already know, but you can never tell when you might come to know another author - don't say the book is shite. Authors are sensitive souls. Then again, my favourite response from someone sent a copy of my book for comment is 'unfortunately, this work is completely useless'. The publishers didn't put it on the jacket, though I have a sneaking suspicion that it might have been quite a selling point if they had.

ARCs of your own books give you something to gloat over and show off to your friends a few months before real copies arrive. They're not the same as review copies, which are usually the same as the copies that will go on sale, just delivered early. For a 'big' book, though, ARCs may be sent out to reviewers to whip up some pre-publication frenzy.

Some book collectors consider ARCs the 'real' books and like to keep them. If you live somewhere infested with writers and reviewers, you'll find lots of ARCs in charity and secondhand bookshops.
There is some cachet attached to having advance reading copies of certain books, usually literary novels. But for a big-name author's new title up to 5,000 ARCs may be printed (yes, I know - more copies than the real print run of some books!)

If you want to produce something that might be of value to your descendants - if you're lucky enough to become famous and stay famous after your death - you can annotate an ARC of your book with insightful (or rude) commentary and corrections, then put it away carefully to accrue value and spiders.


Tuesday 19 October 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for Agent

Health warning: this is not about how to find an agent. If you want to know how to find an agent, go elsewhere. You could do worse than start with the crabbit old bat's blog. If you want to know whether you should look for an agent, look here. This is about what an agent is, or should be, and how your relationship with your agent should work.

An agent is your representative in the publishing world. They will help you to sell your work for the best - or most appropriate - deal and will speak up for you and your work at opportune moments. At inopportune moments, they will stay discreetly silent.

Your agent is not your best friend and not your life-partner (usually). Your agent is neither your servant nor your boss, but your business partner. You and your agent should work in symbiosis. Yet many writers live in terror of their agent, fearing their agent will leave them, or will not give them the attention they need and deserve, will spend too long with other authors, will like other authors' work better, will go off them, will no longer love their work.... Remember, it is a one-to-one relationship for you, but a one-to-many relationship for your agent - just like your relationship with your doctor, hairdresser, child's teacher, or the mosquito that just bit you.

What the agent should bring to the relationship is a detailed knowledge of the market for the type of book you are writing or want to write. So if you want to write young adult fantasy, an agent who specialises in romance novels or non-fiction is not going to be much help. Your agent should know which editors are in the market for your type of book, which lists they are running at the moment, and what they are likely to be buying. Your agent should know if an editor has just signed a very public deal for a book too like yours for it to be worth approaching them with yours - and should know who will want a title to compete with that blockbuster. Having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent as they will send your book to inappropriate editors and give you a bad name while not actually getting you any money. Worse, they'll sell your book short, getting a poorer deal than another agent could have secured.

A good agent knows the publishing world and what can and can't be done in it. Your agent may handle foreign rights for you, or have an arrangement with another agency that will do this. Your agent will check your contracts and argue about anything that should be argued about. Your agent will invoice your publishers, and chase the publisher's accounts department when they don't pay the invoice. Your agent should promote you as and when appropriate, give editorial guidance on your work, and have an overview of your career and how to manage it. An agent will rarely be interested in representing someone they consider a one-book wonder, unless that book is truly wonderful and likely to make a lot of money.

An agent will give you honest advice: if your book is unsaleable, they will tell you. If the book is redeemable, they may be able to tell you how to fix it. If it's just a duff book, they should tell you that, too. If your agent thinks book after book is irredeemable, you might like to get a second opinion - maybe you have a duff agent, or maybe your style has changed and no longer suits your agent. Or maybe you just can't write and need to try a different career.

You should be able to trust your agent's judgment - their judgment of your book and its place in the market, their judgment of whether you are being offered a good and realistic deal and their judgment of what is best for your long-term career. But if you think your agent is wrong, you must speak out. Don't make assumptions that they don't value you, don't harbour resentments - ask them to explain what they are doing. And if you still don't like it, it's time to move on. You haven't committed to your agent for life, for better or worse, richer or poorer. There is a termination clause in your contract, remember? You can give notice - probably three months - that you no longer want them to represent you. The books they already represent are likely to stay with them, but it's up to you what you do with future books once you have terminated the contract. It's wise, though, to end your relationship amicably. Don't hurl abuse at them and list their shortcomings. Remember that agents talk to one another and if you abuse one, another is less likely to take you on.

Trust is a two-way street, and your agent needs to be able to trust you, too. You need to meet deadlines, deliver what you have promised and be honest. Don't let your agent line up lots of events or work for you when you know you won't be able to deliver. You need to tell your agent when you are too miserable to write, when you are bereaved, sick, injured, moving house, getting divorced or preoccupied with your day job. They know you are human and will respect your professionalism - but if you don't tell them, you will erode their trust and damage your working relationship.

Don't expect too much. Remember that your agent, though he or she loves books, is in the business to make a living, not because they have blind faith in you (though they should have faith in you) or is incensed that books like yours are not 'given a chance'. Your agent has other clients, other demands on their time and possibly cannot dedicate as much time to you as you would like. Don't be like a needy husband/wife who expects every waking moment of their partner's time - you're going to be disappointed.

Remember that your agent makes 15% of your income. If you can't live on your income from writing, your agent certainly can't. Think about it. If you make £50,000 before tax and expenses from writing, your agent makes £7,500 from you (if all your work goes through your agent). Your agent will need, say, eight or ten writers earning as much as you in order to survive. So that means you can have perhaps half a day of your agent's time each week. But then the agent also needs to read their slush pile, go to book fairs, read the trade press, meet publishers and other agents, go to launch parties, keep up with digital developments, read books.... and that has to be shared amongst everyone's time. You're down to a couple of hours a week. If your writing earns less than £7,500 for your agent, you're going to get proportionally less time. If your agent doesn't stick roughly to this pattern, they're going to go bust. They'll make an exception for something they think is a guaranteed bestseller, but that's a very rare beast, and of course they're looking at your long-term prospects so will make some investment in you, but being an agent is a business, it's not an act of benevolence.

What a real agent absolutely will not do is charge you any money to read your work, make editorial suggestions or meet with you. If an agent tries to do this, they're not an agent, they're a cowboy. Walk away. Don't hand over any money. An agent's income is the percentage of your earnings that they keep. Some agents say they will charge you for photocopying or buying copies of your books for promotional purposes, but these are out-of-pocket expenses connected with promoting you. This doesn't make them a cowboy. More often, there's a clause to this effect in the contract, but the agent never actually does charge you anything for photocopies or promotional copies.

There are big agents and small agents. Your agent may be one of many in a large agency, and this can be useful as they are likely to have expert departments to deal with things such as foreign rights, TV and film rights, and so on. They also have a lot of clout in the publishing world. The downside is that they will have much bigger fish than you in their pond and you might feel neglected. A small agent may be a one-(wo)man band, or one of two or three agents in a quaint, dusty, book-lined office in Soho (that's my agent's dusty Soho office in the photo). They may have less detailed knowledge, may not handle foreign rights themselves, and have fewer fingers to have in pies, but at the same time you'll be a larger fish in their pond and get more of their time and attention.

Having an agent is not absolutely compulsory and there are some types of writer who rarely have agents. Many poets don't have an agent, and most writers of children's non-fiction don't have agents, for instance. Academic writers don't usually have agents. These types of writing don't earn much per title and so an agent won't be interested in representing them. Nor should you be interested in giving away 15% of very little when an agent won't get you a better deal. Children's non-fiction is often written for a flat fee and, indeed, having an agent can put some editors off signing you - they don't want the aggro of dealing with someone who will try to argue about what is a standard deal; it's simpler just to employ another, unagented, writer.

For many other types of writer, though, an agent opens doors and secures better deals and is a great source of support and advice. But still the wrong agent is worse than no agent, so choose carefully. You must like them, as well as them liking you. Don't just sign up because you are pitifully grateful that anyone likes your work. If your work is genuinely good, someone else will like it, too.

Sunday 17 October 2010

A is for accident

which is why there hasn't been a post since Monday. Sorry! Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible with A is for Agent.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

How to speak publisher - A is for Advance

'We have proofs of the blads for Frankfurt, but the bleed's wrong.'

Publishing is a foreign country. They say things differently there.

You can get by in PublisherLand by speaking English very loudly and slowly. But if you want to get off the beaten track and explore the hinterland, make friends with the natives and be treated as more than a tourist, it's worth learning the language. By the end of this (occasional, sporadic) series, you'll be able to negotiate the gutter and confront blads and bleeds without believing you need garlic, a crucifix and a sharpened stake.

A is for Advance

The advance is the money the publishers pays you - guess when? - in advance: before you have completed the book, or at least before it's published. An advance is a payment against the royalties your book is expected to earn. Some authors/celebrities command large advances and this makes the press jump up and down shouting about greedy millionaire authors, but they are a tiny minority. Usually, the advance is calculated to be approximately equal to the royalties the publisher would expect you to make from the first printing (or hardback and subsequent paperback printing) of the book. This isn't as straightforward as it sounds. If your book sells for £14 and you get 7.5% royalty, and there is a print-run of 2,000 copies, that doesn't mean you will earn £2,100. Some copies will be sold at a large discount, and your income may well be calculated on nett receipts rather than cover price.

The advance is often paid in two or three stages. Typical points of payment are on signing the contract, on delivering the manuscript of the book, and on publication (or sometimes on passing of page proofs). The advance may be for more than one book. So if you are lucky or well established you might get £50,000 for two books. It sounds a lot, but it isn't. Each book may take you a year to write. There will be research expenses as well as living expenses. If you have an agent, he or she will take 15% + VAT of that £50,000 (= £8,812.50). That leaves you a little under £42,000 before tax to pay for your expenses and living, or around £20,000 a year pre-tax income - well below the national average wage. Don't forget to set aside the tax you will have to pay - the tax people won't be sympathetic if you spend all the advance and can't pay the tax. Not many authors get an advance of £50,000 straight off. You're more likely to get something like £2,000 or even less. It all depends on how much the publisher expects your book to earn. If you have written an academic book, you are unlikely to get any advance at all, and you quite possibly won't even get any royalty on the first print run. But if you're written an academic book, you probably have a paid academic job and need the publication for your CV so it's a slightly different case.

If the book earns out the advance, that means that you have earned back in royalties all the money the publisher has paid you in advance. After this point, you will start to get royalty payments. Hurray!

You don't have to repay the advance if it's not earned out. You only have to repay the advance if you don't deliver the book, or if the book you deliver is so bad, or so far from the agreed synopsis, that the publisher feels it's not publishable.

Some authors and agents are very keen to negotiate as large an advance as possible. There are two main reasons: one is that it's nice to have lots of money; the other is that if the publisher has invested a lot in the book, it should be keen to recoup the investment and so will, the thinking goes, be more likely to try very hard to sell your book, give it a large marketing budget and push it. There is a big drawback, though. If your book doesn't earn out the advance, especially if it falls well short of it, your next book is blighted. If you're lucky, you'll get a smaller advance. If you're unlucky, you won't sell it at all. No-one wants to throw good money after bad.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Over there

Blogging over on Awfully Big Blog Adventure today, on how UK libraries are in danger of eroding goodwill amongst writers.


Thursday 30 September 2010

How to read a publishing contract (27)

And so we come to the last clause of the contract:

27. English law

This Agreement shall be deemed to be a contract made in England and shall be construed and applied in all respects in accordance with English law and the parties hereto submit and agree to the jurisdiction of the English courts.

Obviously you only get this clause if you're in England. Or not so obviously.... I've had it in a contract with a publisher based in India and one in Scotland. If you and the publisher really are in England, you can't argue with this clause - you just are subject to English jurisdiction. And they have bigger sticks than you do.

OK, so now you understand everything, and you've argued about anything you don't like or didn't agree with. You might have argued about some extra things, just for practice - that's fine, I approve. If it has gone well, the editor/legal department will have removed clauses you don't like (such as waiving your moral rights) and will have reworded clauses as necessary (such as limiting the rights you are selling or licensing). If you have difficulty getting the publishers to change the contract, send the contract to the Society of Authors (if you are in the UK). If you're a member, their contract advice is free; if you're not a member, there is a small charge.

And if you're happy with it? Or at least willing to accept it? Take your favourite pen, sign it (initial every page if they want you to, have someone witness your signature if they specify that) and send it back.

Now you can open the champagne - congratulations!
Oh - and don't forget you have to write the book. I'm not here to tell you how to do that. Go and see that crabbit bat Nicola Morgan or someone.


Monday 27 September 2010


This week (25th September - 2nd October) is Banned Books Week, organised by the American Civil Liberties Union to raise awareness of the banning of largely innocent books by belt-thumping Americans who (on the whole) live in Texas. I am particularly aware of it this year, partly because I've been writing about censorship and children's books for The New Humanist, and partly because I'm one of the 17 writers to have had a book banned this year. The full list is here. Oh, and the whole of Time-Life Magazine. I'm rather pleased with my 'banned' status as I like being the polar opposite of a bunch of ignorant, anti-intellectual, fundamentalist fools (and wasn't the Bible full of violence last time I looked?) - but at the same time, I don't approve of book bans.

The reasons given for banning this most recent set of books include sexual content or nudity, political objections and 'violence or horror'. My book was banned for 'violence or horror', which came as something of a surprise - perhaps they didn't get beyond the cover. Let's take a look inside. It's called Zombies on the Loose, and it's a simple book for reluctant readers. It shows what lies behind the zombies seen in movies, revealing the history of belief in the undead and the science behind the real people who have been zombified and used as slave labour. It's a light-hearted educational book that uses teenagers' enthusiasm for zombie movies as a way in to teaching something about a different culture. I'm not sure which bit the banners object to. Perhaps it's the first spread, that gives a typical account of a movie zombie. Or maybe it's the true story of a woman thought to be a zombie in Haiti. Or the true account of a man who was enslaved by a bokor, a witch-doctor believed capable or turning people into zombies. Or the instructions for turning someone into a 'zombie' (entranced slave) and keeping them in that state (not detailed enough for a reader to do it).

I'm in illustrious company. Previously and currently banned authors include Shakespeare, Harper Lee, J.D.Salinger, J.K.Rowling, Roald Dahl, and Judy Blume. Step outside the classroom, and we can add James Joyce, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Golding, John Steinbeck, Arthur Miller and Chaucer to the list - with plenty of others.

It goes without saying that only fear motivates book bans. After all if the views held by the censors were self-evident truths, no-one would be swayed by reading something that showed a different view, would they?

Take a stand against censorship by supporting Banned Books Week, perhaps by borrowing and reading one of the banned books that will be featured in library displays this week. Here are some useful links:

The books banned this year

The reasons those books were banned

A longer list of banned books, over the years

Some ridiculous reasons given for banning books

An eloquent argument against banning books on sensitive subjects
, and a brave personal testament from children's author Lucy Coats.

Sunday 26 September 2010

How to read a publishing contract (26)

Only two clauses to go, and they're about being stroppy, so perhaps we'll do them both at once. W00t- stroppy-fest!

26. Arbitration

If any differences shall arise between the Author and the Publishers touching the meaning of this Agreement or the rights and liabilities of the parties thereto, the same shall be referred to the arbitration of two persons (one to be named by each party) or their mutually agreed umpire, in accordance with the provisions of the Arbitration Act 1950, or any amending or substitute statute for the time being in force.

This means if you disagree about agreeing you have to agree on how to stop disagreeing. That's no better, is it? It means your understanding of the contract is not the same as theirs, and you discover this because you argue about something, can each pick someone to argue for you - like a court case but cheaper. Don't pick your partner/neighbour/best friend. Pick someone who knows what they're talking about. (Of course, if your partner/neighbour/best friend is a lawyer specialising in publishing law, use them anyway.) You could ask the Society of Authors to represent you in the fight. Note that it will not be a physical fight, so someone big, strong, fat as sumo wrestler or trained in martial arts is not necessarily the best choice - unless things go badly wrong, or they also happen to know about publishing law. In which case, please send me their email address.

I'm not sure who might be a 'mutually agreed umpire', but I suppose depending on the nature of the dispute you might agree on a lawyer who is not representing either side. But lawyers are expensive - make sure you don't stand to lose more than you could gain if you follow the legal route. If it's a small and naive publisher you might get the to agree to go to the Society of Authors as umpire, but that word 'Authors' in the name might alert them to the possibility that the Society might take your part.

What to disagree about (if you're looking for a chance to use this clause)? It suggests the meaning of the contract, the rights and liabilities. Rights are the most likely cause of dispute as new rights emerge from nowhere without warning, rather like the discredited spontaneous generation of worms from mud. If you signed a contract in 1995, app rights were not even a glimmer in your publisher's eye so you might now argue about those. In 2020, are you going to be arguing about holographic rights? The best way to avoid this is to withhold all non-specified and future rights from the agreement, or at the very least put a time limit on them - if additional rights are not exploited in a year they revert, for example. You don't want the publisher holding on to rights they are not going to use when you could exploit them. But now we're going back through the contract to the rights clauses, so perhaps you should take another look at those to make sure you won't need this arbitration clause.


Monday 20 September 2010

How to read a publishing contract (25)

This contract is begging to go back in the contracts file. It really hasn't enjoyed its excoriation, it clearly thought it could hide all its secrets. Well, it can't. Mwahhaha. I'm not sure there are any secrets left.

25. Notices may be sent by pre-paid post addressed to the address of the party to be served stated herein or last known to the party serving the notice, and, if so sent, shall be deemed to have arrived in due course of post.

WTF? I hear you think. Quite - this is as arsy a bit of legal gobbledegook as you're likely to come across. It means you and the publisher can write to each other using the postal service and the normal assumption will be that the letters will arrive at their destination fairly promptly. So - you may use the last address you have for the publisher, and they may use the last address they have for you. It's easy to check a publisher's address as it will be online. It's less easy for the publisher to check your address because you aren't stupid enough to have your address online, are you? This means it's important to keep your publisher informed of any and all changes of address. All your publishers, that is. If the publisher(s) deal with your agent, this isn't quite as important, but it is still good practice to do so. What if your agent retires or dies, or you part company? Yes, they should inform your publisher (not of their own death, obviously) but you don't really want to rely on them to do so.

in due course of post = next day or so for first class letters, a bit longer for second class letters at the moment. But this can change in certain circumstances - such as during a postal strike, or at some point in the future when the postal service is routinely worse than it is now. The clause means the normal state of the post prevailing at the time you send the letter.

Of course, we don't really send letters to our publishers using the postal service. Apart from sending back contracts, I don't think I've sent an envelope to a publisher for years. It is important to keep your publisher informed of your email address, as that is the usual method of communication. The best solution is never to change your email address - I feel a post about email addresses coming on. If you use the email address given to you by your ISP, you'll lose it when you change ISP. It's much better to register your own domain. Yes, we'll do a post on email addresses and domain names. (Some people use the phone - if you do that, make sure your publisher knows your phone number. I spend half my time trying to get publishers to forget my phone number as I hate phone calls.)

That's it for notices. There are two clauses left, and they are not very interesting. Not selling this, am I? At least they're short.


Thursday 16 September 2010

How to read a publishing contract (24)

The end is nigh - think I'll put that on a board and walk up and down Oxford Street. Oh, it's been done already. Today's clause is about ends - the end of the contract. And we're near the end of the contract series, too. Phew.

24. Termination of Contract

Should the Publishers (save with the Author's consent) at anytime by themselves or anyone acting on their behalf wilfully fail to fulfil or comply with any of the provisions of this Agreement within 1 (one) month after written notice from the Author to rectify such failure, or should the Publishers go into liquidation, other than voluntary liquidation for purposes of reconstruction, this Agreement shall thereupon determine and the Author shall be free to license any other person to print and publish the Work, without prejudice to the rights of the Publishers and any third party in respect of any agreement properly entered into by the Publishers hereunder with any such party.

OK, this looks hard, but don't panic.

Should the Publishers ... wilfully fail to fulfil or comply with any of the provisions of this Agreement - essentially, this means 'if we don't publish your book'. The key word is wilfully. If they just can't be arsed to publish the book, if they prevaricate and faff about and publish other books that they think might sell better, you can give them notice (ie tell the to stop faffing about and publish it). If they don't do something about it within a month you can terminate the agreement. Don't expect printed books in a month, but a scheduled publication date, perhaps even some PDFs to check might be realistic. If the failure is not wilful - if they have no money, if they have been closed down by a flu pandemic, if the printer has screwed up, if the editorial assistant has absconded with the files - you have to let them get their house in order. What are the chances of a publisher admitting it has wilfully failed to publish your book? Quite.

If the publisher goes into liquidation the contract is over. That's good. But it can't be voluntary liquidation. That's not so good, as there are (some, small) publishers that make a habit of going into voluntary liquidation every so often to clear out all those pesky debts and dodgy commissions. They seem to treat it as a kind of colonic irrigation, to be repeated every couple of years when they can feel all those bad debts and dud books beginning to clog up their corporate gut. You won't be able to fish your book out of the nasty slurry that comes out of this exercise. Yuk. You probably don't want to touch it anyway.

determine = terminate. No, I don't know why they don't just say 'end' or 'terminate'. Maybe someone else knows?

So if they go bust or fuck up on purpose you get the book back and you can sell it to someone else. Yippee!

This clause is rather brief. You will often also find here a reference to the work going out of print and the rights reverting (returning) to you in that case. Usually, if the publisher doesn't produce or plan a reprint within a certain specified interval you can tell them to produce one. If they don't, you get the book back and can publish it with someone else, or self-publish it, or put it on a website, or whatever you like. This is called reversion of rights - all rights in the work return to you, like homing pigeons. (This is not generally the case with flat-fee books which were considered work for hire. You've sold all the rights, not licensed them, so you don't get them back.) Even so, it's not easy to re-sell a book that has been previously published and gone out of print; don't hold your breath. You might just want to stick the pigeons back in their loft and leave them there.


Thursday 9 September 2010

How to read a publishing contract (23)

Today's clause is a miserable one to be contemplating when your book is new and shiny - indeed, is still a twinkle in the publisher's eye. It's like taking out a pension plan for your newborn, or even planning its place in the family crypt, or adding it to the family tree with its birth date and an ominous hyphen which the death date will one day follow. This clause is about remainders - the remains of your book after its demise.

23: Remainders

The Publishers may sell part or the whole of the residue of any edition at a reduced price or as a remainder at the best prices such remainder stock will fetch, the Author having first been given the option of purchasing some or all of such copies at the remainder price, such option to be exercised within 14 (fourteen) days of notice being given to the Author at their latest known address of the Publisher's intention to remainder the work.

Remainders are copies of the book which the publisher cannot sell. Originally, a book was remaindered when bookshops no longer ordered it to keep in stock. Now, of course, a book may sell through Amazon or the publisher's website in a steady trickle, or even occasional drips, and there is no clear point at which the book is no longer selling.

In the best possible case, your book will never go out of print, and will continue to sell even after your death. More realistically, your book will sell for a while and then it will drop from public view, or be superseded by a more up-to-date book. If you are lucky, the print run will sell out and there won't be piles of unsold stock to worry about. These days, a publisher may move your title to POD (print on demand) if the print run sells out but there is still a very small demand for the book. (Whether you should accept a POD edition as in print is a moot point, and one we will deal with on another day.) In the worst case, sales will drop off while the publisher still has a substantial stock of the books. Then they will try to recoup some of the money tied up in the stock, and being wasted on storage, by remaindering the book. This means they will sell it to anyone who will take it at a knock-down price. This clause says they must first offer the remainders to you, at the same price as someone else is prepared to pay. Whether you should take them is a separate issue, and not one for today. Pride (hurt) will tempt you to buy them, but think about what you might do with them first.

Now, the publisher will give you 14 days in which to recover from the shock of being remaindered and then say how many you want to buy. If you are in the habit of going away for more than 13 days at a time, you might miss your chance. I'd suggest that you ask for the publisher either to give you a bit more time, or to contact you at your last know real address AND last known email address. We would hope, of course, that the publisher knows where you live as they are sending you royalty cheques. If you have an agent, ask them to contact your agent, too. I know it's not nice to do this now, and might feel like negotiating a pre-nuptial agreement, but it's only a few moments of pain and may save you substantial disappointment later.

Once you have the remaindered copies, it's up to you what you do with them. You can sell them yourself if you can be bothered. If you do school visits or readings, this might be a very real possibility.

And finally.... being remaindered is not the worst thing that can happen to your book. I remember hearing the following conversation between two authors a few years ago. No names, I'll call them A and B:

A: Hello, B, how are you?
B: A bit glum. My book is remaindered in Galloway and Porter [a now-defunct bookshop in Cambridge].
A: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. [pause] I wish mine had been remaindered.
B: Why?
A: It was pulped.

Yes, if the publisher thinks they can't shift your book however low the price, they will have it pulped - literally, turned into paper pulp. They have to pay for this, so they only do it if your book is so unsuccessful they can't even give it away and have to pay someone to take it away. You could ask that the publisher adds a clause to say they will give you the remainders if they are planning to pulp them - but that might suggest you lack confidence in your book, so I'd suggest you leave that request until they offer you the remainders for money.


Monday 6 September 2010

How to read a publishing contract (22)

OK, I'm only doing this clause because I'm supposed to be writing a book. A book for which I have a contract, have signed the contract and have spent half the advance. Ho hum. I have written precisely 385 words of this book and am already falling prey to displacement activities.

Today's clause applies to a book that is well and truly written and has been out there for a while and is likely to carry on selling. Not the current book, then.

21. Revision of the Work

The Author agrees to revise the Work for each new edition when requested in writing by the Publishers to do so and from time to time to supply any new matter that may be needful to keep the Work up to date, and such revisions, editions or changes shall be deemed as being part of the original Work. In the event of the Author neglecting or being unable to revise the Work or supply new matter where needful, the Publishers may procure some other person to revise the Work or supply new matter.

This is a sneaky clause. It means you have to make changes to your book, with no mention of extra money, whenever the publisher tells you to do so. Some non-fiction books need constant updating to remain current - others might occasionally need an unexpected change. (You wrote about the solar system when Pluto was a planet? Unlucky - take out all that stuff about Pluto and fill the pages with something else.)

If you're writing a work of fiction, this clause probably won't apply to you and may not be present (but I have copied it from a fiction contract, so don't assume it won't be there). I can see cases in which it might conceivably affect a work of fiction. Suppose you'd written a nice picture book in 1938 about a kind little boy called Adolf Hitler. Sales might drop off after a while, and the publisher might like to reissue it with the character differently named.

If you are writing the book for a flat fee, you must get this clause changed to say that you will make changes for a fee to be agreed at the time. It is completely unreasonable for the publishers to expect you to make changes forever under the terms of the original contract with no more money. And it's not in your interests. If you don't make the changes, the book goes out of print. So what? You weren't getting any more money from it anyway. Now you can write the replacement book for more money.

This version of the clause doesn't make any mention of money, so you might want to clarify what will happen if you think it will affect your book. If they employ someone else to do the changes, will your royalty be reduced? Will they try to recoup the cost from you? Will the other person's name be on the title page as well as yours? (You will have to share the PLR in that case.) I'd do this in addition to adding the bit about making the changes for an agreed fee. After all, you don' t know when they will turn up and ask for changes. It could be immediately after a family tragedy, or it could be the morning you sign a 25-book deal and won't have a spare moment for nine years. Though, of course, you can always get spare moments by skiving the task you are supposed to be doing...


Saturday 4 September 2010

How to read a publishing contract (21)

Copyright keeps cropping in this contract - it's a bit of an obsession with publishers, rather like food is with chefs. This one is about other people infringing your copyright.

20. Infringement of Copyright

If at any time during the continuance of this Agreement the copyright of the Work in the reasonable opinion of the Publishers be infringed, and the Author after receiving written notice of such infringement from the Publishers refuses or neglects to take proceedings in respect of the infringement, the Publishers shall be entitled to take proceedings in the joint names of the Publishers and the Author upon giving the Author sufficient and reasonable security to indemnify the Author against any liability for costs, and in this event any sum received by way of damages shall belong to the Publishers. If the Author is willing to take proceedings and the Publishers desire to be joined with the Author as a party thereto and agree to share the costs, then if any sum is recovered by way of damages and costs such sum shall be applied in payment of the cost incurred and the balance shall be divided equally between the Author and the Publishers. The provisions of this clause are intended to apply only in the case of an infringement of the copyright in the Work affecting the interest in the same granted to the Publishers under this Agreement.

Let's untangle this. In plain English it means:

  • if the publisher spots copyright infringement, they will suggest you take legal action to stop it
  • if you don't want to, the publisher will take action - you won't have to pay anything, but neither will you get any of the money the publisher may get from the case
  • if you and the publisher act together against a copyright infringement (and win), first costs will be covered and then any money left over will be split between you.
The very last bit of the clause means the publisher is only interested in anything that affects their interest in the book. So if someone translates the book into Spanish and sells it, but your publisher doesn't have foreign rights, they don't care. It's then up to you to pursue the Spanish pirate on your own.

the Author after receiving written notice of such infringement from the Publishers - In my experience, I'm the one who spots copyright infringement - usually in the form of pirate digital versions of the book - and tells the publisher, so the first bit of this clause rather misrepresents the publisher as a vigilant guardian of rights when in fact they are either blithely unaware of what is happening or turning a blind eye because they can't be arsed to pursue it. That's not a criticism - I fall into the category of 'can't be arsed to pursue it', too.

If the Author is willing to take proceedings and the Publishers desire to be joined with the Author as a party thereto and agree to share the costs - the publisher will only want to act with you against copyright infringement if they think there is a good chance of winning enough money for it to be worthwhile. If the publisher doesn't want to join in, think carefully about whether you want to pursue it. I would say 'get very good legal advice' but that will cost you (perhaps more than you stand to gain). The Society of Authors might be your best port of call.

If the infringement is in the form of an illegal download of your book, which is by far the most likely form, you can issue a take-down notice. This involves telling the pirate that they are infringing your copyright and you want the material removed within 24 hours. We'll look at take-down notices another day. It is not, in my view, worth spending any money on trying to enforce this. If the download is popular it will spring up in dozens of other places within days or even hours. Give in gracefully and be glad your book is popular.

If you are Dan Brown and someone has ripped off your book to make either a more dire book or a moderately good book, you probably will want to pursue the infringer. But if you're Dan Brown, you can afford to. Remember, too, that a high-profile law suit will give publicity to your book (good) to the infringing book (bad) and to your litiginous nature (bad).

If you are suing JKRowling for stealing your idea about wizards, you are a loser in all regards. Give up now. The only possible reason for doing this is to get a bit of publicity and then drop the case before it costs anything. You might get a few sales from the curious, but it's scant recompense for looking a total plonker in the publishing world.

One you might like to look out for if you are minded to pursue copyright infringers, and you've written a non-fiction book that is essentially a collection of facts, is other books, websites or applications that use your collection. The copyright in a collection of facts does not depend on the words used to express the facts, so if someone has copied your book of 1001 boring facts about cars and made a website of it, you can sue them (if you like - I'd prefer to ask for a link to the book on Amazon). I think we'll have a post on copyright in facts at some future point as it's a strange case.

Should you argue with this clause? Personally, I wouldn't bother UNLESS you don't keep copyright in the book anyway. If you have sold copyright (as you might in a licensed character book or some children's non-fiction, for instance) then infringement of copyright is of no interest to you and you don't want to waste your time on it. You won't get any money back, no matter what, so why even read the email from the publisher telling you PiratesRUs of Uzbekistan has copied your book?

Thursday 2 September 2010

This book is disgusting (competition!)

Time for a competition - hurrah! My lovely editor at Barrington Stoke has sent me extra copies of Grim, Gross and Grisly to give away to my very tolerant blog-readers and twits. Be sure you want to win before you enter... the book is disgusting. The strap is 'Disgusting facts about people' and it contains horrible details about humans, what they've done to their bodies and things that happen to them. I would like to say it came with a free sick-bag, but budgets are tight and the publishers wouldn't do that, so bring your own bucket.

So how do you win this horrible tome? You need to prove you can stomach it by sending me your own disgusting fact. I'll extend it a bit and say it can be about humans OR animals. Either put your disgusting fact in the comments here, or stick it on twitter with the hash tag #grimgrossgrisly and my name (@annerooney) so I can find it easily, or put them on my Facebook author page. Most horrible facts win! The number of prizes depends on how many facts you all send in, so start trawling for grossery now.

Judging is entirely subjective, and facts taken from any of my previous books do NOT qualify.


Sunday 29 August 2010

I did my Facebook page

At last. In fact, I did it more than a year ago, but didn't finish it so I didn't publish it. But today the need to find an excuse not to get on with work was so extreme I did that instead. Now there's no excuse, and I'll really have to do some work....

Oh, if you want to see it, it's here. Please Like it (if you do like it) as I need enough Likers before I can claim a name for it.


Friday 27 August 2010

How not to do it - worst query letter ever?

Just because you've written a good-enough submission to a publisher once (or more) doesn't mean you'll get it right every time, and doesn't mean it's easy the next time.

For great advice on writing a query letter (US term), read this
post by Ann Crispin of Writer Beware. But if you want an example of what not to do, look below.

The following was reported to me last night by a friend, publishing director of a very large publishing company which, you need to know, does not publish any fiction. The letter, with typos corrected, said:

To whom it may concern

I can't write very well but I thought I'd like to write a novel. I've decided to make my novel about pirates, but I don't know anything about pirates. Could you please send me some information about pirates, their lifestyle, what they do, so I can write my novel?


How to read a publishing contract (20)

Stroppy Author's stroppy tour is over. After stropping at the health authorities in CrowAshire, and then at the NHS, I believe my Big Bint will be OK and we can all settle down and get back to normal (though I've forgotten what normal is, and whether it's desirable). At least we can get back to work. Thank you for those who sent good wishes or gave more tangible help during the summer crisis - I'll book you a ringside seat for the autumn crisis, as crises seem to be coming with seasonal regularity.

Now back to the publishing contract. It's a clause from la-la land (which I think has been rebranded TellyTubbyTopia and have an R in a circle after it) - this is never going to happen!

20. Overpayment [yes, that's right]

Any overpayments made by the Publishers to the Author in respect of the Work or any other of the Author's works may be deducted from any sums due to the Author from the Publishers in respect of the Work or any other Work, but an unearned advance shall not be deemed an overpayment unless the Author has failed to deliver the complete Work.

This means that if the publishers send you too much money [pause for hollow laugh] they can claim it back from other money they owe you either for the same book or for another book. It's not worth stopping to say 'what if I've spent it? it was your error' because it's so unlikelyt that a publisher will ever pay you too much. And as long as the clause does, like this, say they will claw it back from other money they owe you, it's not going to be too hard. You don't want them demanding you send it back directly, though. If you have to argue about this last issue, you can point out that it is entirely within their power not to overpay you.

Perhaps the most likely type of overpayment is wrongly calculated royalties. Unless it's an error in the maths (unlikely, as they are calculated by computer), that's very hard for you to check. But I've never been overpaid by a publisher and I've had around 130 publishing contracts. Slightly fewer, I suppose, as series are often covered by one contract. But most contracts cover many payments, so that evens out.

It is important that they do not count a too-optimistic advance to be an overpayment. The advance is based on their judgment of likely sales. You shouldn't have to pay for their poor judgment. In fact, there are authors - and agents - who seem to think the whole point of publishing is to trick publishers into making bad judgments about the likely sale of a book and so securing an implausibly large advance and laughing all the way to the bank. It's nice to have a large advance, but it backfires if the publisher realises you are not even as good as sliced bread and makes it your last advance.


Friday 20 August 2010

Grim, Gross and Grisly

Grim, Gross and Grisly is published today and there will be a competition to win copies.

I'll post a gross, grim or grisly fact each day on twitter (follow @annerooney to see them) and then there will be a contest for the most yukky human fact posted as a comment here or with the tag #grimgrossgrisly on twitter. Not sure how many prizes yet - depends how many I can prise (ho ho) out of the lovely publishers. If you can't wait that long, it's £6.99 from Barrington Stoke (or Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, of course).

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Story of Maths in Korean

Doesn't this look great?
Story of Maths
in Korean :-)

Off on holiday in CrowAshire, so no contractual clauses for a while....

Friday 30 July 2010

Mythic interview

I'm playing away today, doing the Mythic Interview over at Lucy Coats' Scribble City Central. So if you want to know why I painted one of Big Bint's friends green or have a soft spot for the naughty Biblical raven who couldn't be arsed, come and join us.


Tuesday 27 July 2010

How to read a publishing contract (19)

You've done well if you've stuck it out this long - there are only 27 clauses so the end is in sight! This is a dreary one, and not really required since the point is already covered by UK law:

19. Value Added Tax

The Publishers require details of the Author's Value Added Tax registration number where applicable. Where the Author fails to provide a Value Added Tax registration number the Publishers cannot pay Value Added Tax on any sums under the terms of this Agreement.

Well, durrr. If you are VAT registered, you already know you have to provide a proper VAT invoice, stating your VAT number, date and tax point, bla bla.

Don't panic about whether you are or should be VAT registered. If you are, you already know. It's not like Income Tax that just sneaks up on you as soon as you have any money. You have to jump through hoops to get VAT registered. You only need to register for VAT if your turnover (not income) goes above £70,000 in a year. You can choose to register with a lower turnover, but if your turnover is very far below Customs and Excise might not want you to. (There used to be a quarterly limit, too, but that is no longer the case.) You can deregister if your turnover drops below £68,000 but there is not point in constantly registering and deregistering if you are hovering around the threshold. We'll do benefits and disadvantages of VAT registration another day - for now, you just need to know if you are VAT registered.

There is nothing to strop about in this clause as UK law already insists you provide your VAT number, so just accept this one and move on...


Sunday 25 July 2010

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible

But for now I am in a data desert. After four days at Goddard's in Surrey last week, I've come back to find Virgin very reluctant to deliver any electrons to my house, or take away the electrons I have used. This puny update comes to you via the free wifi in Starbucks - or free in exchange for buying lunch.


Monday 19 July 2010

How to read a publishing contract (18)

This is about checking up on your publisher. Does anyone ever do this? I've no idea. But just in case you want to...

18. Examination of Publishers' [sic] Records

The Author or the Author's authorised representative shall have the right upon written request to examine the records of account of the Publishers insofar as they relate to the sales and receipts in respect of the Work, which examination shall be at the cost of the Author unless errors exceeding £10 (ten pounds) to the Author's disadvantage shall be found, in which case the cost shall be paid by the Publishers.

This means that if you think they are fiddling your royalties, or are incompetent, you can look at their records relating to your book for £10. If you are right, and they owe you more than £10, you don't have to pay the money. This clause doesn't actually say they will pay what they owe you, I but I assume they will. Now, if the publisher *is* fiddling the royalties, they are hardly going to leave a paper trail you can pick up so this won't do you any good. Perhaps I am being naive, but I think worrying that the publisher is withholding royalties ranks along with the 'will they steal my idea?' terror that besets unpublished writers. It must cost more to fiddle the accounts than to pay the royalties due, surely? If they have got them wrong because they are incompetent - well, checking the records might do you some good. It might at least show you it's time to find another publisher.

Incompetence is the more likely reason for the royalty statement being wrong. Usually, if you query a royalty payment and ask them to check, they will do so. It's not really necessary to go this £10 route. I think this is a rather boring clause (unless you are totally paranoid) that gives little potential for a fight.

Notice that it is specifically for 'the Work' - ie the current book. If you publish a lot with the same publisher, I'd argue you want to be able to look at the records for all your books for the same £10.

The Society of Authors does random spot checks on royalties and I suspect that keeps publishers on their toes anyway. Personally, I'd rather write another book than bother with faffing around in someone else's accounts. It's bad enough faffing around in my own accounts. I suppose now I've said that, all my publishers will start fiddling my royalties with impunity, confident that I am never going to check...

Friday 16 July 2010

How to read a publishing contract (17)

Now we have a clause you can't really argue with, at least not without looking like a tyrant. It's a bit out of date, though...

17. Recording in Braille

The Publisher shall be entitled to authorise free of charge the recording of the Work in Braille or as a Talking Book for the use of the blind and/or the microfilming of the Work for the use of handicapped persons, such permissions to be given only for the use of the material on a non-commercial basis.

You wouldn't want to argue with this, would you? And I suspect they know that even if you *would* want to, you'd probably be too embarrassed to do so. It's not going to lose you any sales and it helps more people enjoy your book.

Talking books were originally cassette tape. I imagine they are now MP3s? I don't know - I would hope, though, that a blind person could put the book on their iPod and not have to wrestle with the past.

Microfilm?? Good Lord. I used to use microfilms of manuscripts and old newspapers occasionally when I was doing my PhD thesis. I would hope by now that no-one is making microfilms of my books. I can't really see how grappling with a microfilm reader would help someone with a handicap of any kind, and I hope by now they will be making accessible pdfs that are scalable and have full text-to-speech capability. But maybe the handicap they are thinking of is 'aversion to the modern world'.

So there you go - no stropping opportunities with this clause. Unless you want to use it to point out that your publisher should have their standard contract redrafted for this millennium. Updating once per millennium is not too much to ask, surely. Or that providing the blind and handicapped with such shoddy options is tantamount to discrimination, ghettoising them in the mid-20th century? I haven't done it, but it might be interesting to suggest they change this clause to produce usable versions for disadvantaged readers. Setting them off on a mission to find a microfilm reader or cassette player is surely cruel and inhuman treatment?