Thursday 27 May 2010

How to read a publishing contract (14)

At last we get to some money! This is the clause in which they promise to pay you :-)

There are two very different options here, so we will - just this once - look at two alternative clauses. We won't worry about which is the best (I'll look at that argument another day), just what they both mean. Today we will do the flat-fee clause.

14. Outright Fee

The Publishers agree to pay the Author an outright fee of £xxx (EX HUNDRED POUNDS STERLING) per title, payable £yyy on signature of the contract, £yyy on receipt of the manuscript and £zzz on publication. The Publishers agree to pay invoices issued by the Agent relating to all aspects of this contract strictly within 30 days of receipt of said invoices.

This outright fee clause relates to a short story, that's why the fee is so low - don't go around thinking you have to write a whole book for only a few hundred pounds!

You might instead have a royalty clause. It's quite a long and complex clause so I won't do it today. It will be too taxing for both of us, and I'm feeling pretty taxed already (which is why there has been such a long delay since part 13 - sorry, tolerant people).

Have you spotted the unfair bit in this clause? Yes, it's that they pay part of it on publication. Now, you have no control whatsoever over when they publish it, and you work is done long before publication date, so this is a REALLY UNFAIR condition. I have always managed to get it changed to 'on passing of page proofs' for non-fiction books. (An aside - children's non-fiction often pays flat fee only, with no royalty. That's something for another day, too.) I have never got it changed in fiction contracts. My suspicion is that it's because I negotiate non-fiction contracts myself and my agent negotiates fiction contracts and she is simply not stroppy enough. Maybe I should set up as Stroppy Agent instead of doing all this writing...

Now the payments are generally in the order of a quarter on signature, half on delivery or approval of manuscrip,t and a quarter on publication (or passing of page proofs). You might be able to get more up front, if you want it. I never do. I hate the idea that I've already spent the money before I've written the book, but I concede that it's actually more sensible to have the money earning interest in your bank account than not.

Sometimes, you can get the 'on publication' tranche reduced but only if you reduce the 'on signature' tranche equally. I'd say this is worth doing, as the bulk moves to the on delivery payment so you still get it reasonably early (unless you plan to spend years on the book, of course).

The Publishers agree to pay invoices issued by the Agent relating to all aspects of this contract strictly within 30 days of receipt of said invoices - Now this is just a lie, and you might as well accept it. Very few publishers actually pay so promptly.

The wording of this clause is so generous because I have insisted on it, as the publisher in question always pays late. They still pay late, but at least now they are in breach of contract and - looking ahead - if I want to strop or take them to court for non-payment, I can claim late payment interest from 30 days after the date of the invoice. Email the invoice, of course, so that you know the date of 'receipt' rather than just the date you sent it.

Your contract might say 60 days, or even 90 days, and it might say 'after the end of the month in which the invoice is received' which can add nearly a month to the period you are waiting. Look out for it, and argue. Another trick they might pull is not telling you when it's been published, so you don't send the invoice in immediately. Look on Amazon to see when your book is coming out.


Saturday 22 May 2010

How to read a publishing contract (13)

OK - Sorry for the delay, and thank you all for being patient while I spent a week doing my AS level Italian exams. Now on to the very serious business of indemnity, which means that the publisher holds you wholly responsible for anything that goes wrong.

13. Indemnity

The Author will indemnify and keep the Publishers indemnified against all actions, suits, proceedings, claims, demands, damages and costs (including any legal costs or expenses properly incurred and any compensation costs and disbursements paid by the Publishers on the advice of their legal advisers to compromise or settle any claim) occasioned to the Publishers in consequence of any breach of this warranty or arising out of any substantiated claim alleging that the Work constitutes an infringement of copyright or contains libellous, obscene, defamatory, blasphemous or other unlawful matter. The Publishers reserve the right to insist that the Author alter the text of the Work in such a way as may appear to them appropriate for the purpose of altering or removing any passage which on the advice of the Publishers' legal advisers may be considered objectionable3 or likely to be actionable at law, but any such alteration or removal shall be without prejudice to and shall not affect the Author's liability under his [sic] warranty and indemnity herein contained. If the Author shall refuse to amend or delete to the Publishers' satisfaction any passages in the Work as aforesaid the Publishers may refuse to publish the Work and upon the Publishers' giving notice in writing to the Author of such refusal the Author shall forthwith repay to the Publishers any sums advanced to him as provided in Clause 14 hereof and subject to such repayment this Agreement shall thereupon terminate and all rights granted to the Publishers hereunder shall revert automatically to the Author.

Got that? It's very long..... the longest clause in the contract, in fact. It means that if you breach any of the conditions we've looked at previously about the work being legal (ie no breach of copyright, no blasphemy, libel, lies, dangerous recipes, etc) you will be liable for anything it costs the publisher. So if you include a bit of someone's song, or you slag off your ex-partner and they notice, and the offended party sues the publisher, you will have to pay any fine and the publisher's legal costs and any other expenses. It's a 'we'll have your house, scummy author' clause.

This is a fairly reasonable version of the clause in that it specifies that the costs must arise out of a 'substantiated' claim. This means that if someone claims you have defamed them and you haven't, and the court finds in your favour or the legal teams agree that there was no defamation, you don't have to pay the costs. Some contracts try to sneak in that you pay even if the claim is NOT substantiated. I think we'll look at some unreasonable clauses later, when we've finished this contract. So, in this, clause, check that the word 'substantiated' is included and insist on having it included if it's not there.

Notice in this first sentence that the costs can include the publisher paying compensation without a court settlement if their legal advisers suggest it. This means that if they decide they might lose, or that the case will be expensive, the publisher can settle out of court and charge you even if you did not actually include anything illegal. If you are feeling particularly stroppy, you might like to add that you want your own legal adviser involved in this process, too. The best thing to do is to make sure there is nothing actionable in your book - but you can't guard against mad opportunists like those who have tried to sue JK Rowling for 'copying' their substandard, obscure works. Maybe it's a risk you have to live with, like crossing the road.

The next sentence means that if they tell you to change your book to avoid any possible legal action you have to do so. Fair enough, but the last part is not OK: if you change it in the way they tell you to, you are STILL not let off the indemnity, even though it is now their content that is illegal.

So, suppose you have been wronged by a hideous, duplicitous and manipulative person and decide to write her into a novel as the villain. (Let's assume it's her to avoid putting him/her all the time.) Your publisher thinks she will recognise herself and sue, so insists that you change the name, and perhaps her skin colour, and maybe make her a dentist instead of using her real job. They publish the book and the hideous, duplicitous, manipulative person sues. The publisher can still claim costs from you, even though you did as they asked. Not good. (You might wonder why the HDM person wants to own up to the description, but you'd be surprised - they do!)

Or say you write a non-fiction book in which you say that homeopathy is a load of crap, and the publisher is worried that they will be sued Simon-Singh-style, so they say you have to change it to say there is no credible evidence that homeopathy works. But the world's homeopaths sue anyway - again, you'd still be liable for the costs.

If you don't like the publisher's changes, or if the suggestion that the text might actionable has frightened you off, you can go with the last bit of the clause and refuse to make the changes. The book then won't be published, you repay any money you've had, but you keep your house. Notice that there is not an option for the publisher to make the changes anyway as part of the editorial process. If they made the changes and you had not seen or approved them, I think the liability would then be theirs - which clearly they don't want.

A final point is that this clause means you need to check the edited text and the layouts VERY carefully. If the editor has changed something so that it is actionable and you don't notice you are likely to be liable. Let's say you've written about that HDM person and used a fake name. The editor doesn't like the name for some reason or other and changes it, coincidentally, to the person's real name. Bad news. If you don't spot it and the book goes out like that, and HDM person is anal enough to be reading the books of her enemies, you're in trouble.


Monday 17 May 2010

Playing away

I'm blogging over at ABBA about why I won't read Wolf Hall and about the new RLF lectorships. So no contract clause today - sorry.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

How to read a publishing contract (12)

Today we do a clause which you need to take seriously. It has led to the downfall of many a greater writer than you and I (though usually because the writer has been sued by someone other than the publisher). This is a very important clause if you are writing a revenge novel after your husband/wife/lover/friend/boss has destroyed your life and your only recourse is to write about them.

12. Warranty

The Author hereby warrants to the Publishers and their assigns and licensees that she has full power to make this Agreement, that she is the sole author of the Work and is the owner of the rights herein granted, that the Work is original to her, and has not previously been published in any form in the territories specified in Clause 1 hereof, that the the Work is in no way whatever a violation or an infringement of any existing copyright or licence, that it contains nothing obscene, libellous, defamatory, blasphemous or other unlawful matter, and that all statements contained therein purporting to be facts are true, and the Author further warrants that any recipe or formula contained in the Work is not injurious to the user.

There is a hell of a lot in here. It means, basically - put one foot wrong and we'll have your house, scummy writer.

is the sole author of the Work... the Work is original to her...: This means you have to have written the work. All of it. So that phrase from a Beatles song, the bit the main character reads aloud from Twilight, the part where you have the sound of a Dr Who episode in the background - all those are NOT original to you and are in breach of this bit: 'the work is in no way whatever a violation or an infringement of any existing copyright or licence'.

has not previously been published in any form: so if you have published it in weekly instalments on your blog, or you put the whole thing up on your website (or a website where other people can crit your work), or if it is a reworking of something you published with a different publisher - even a small publisher, or a vanity publisher, or you self-published it - then you are in breach of this clause already. If you have done any of these things, tell your publisher about them now. Chances are, unless you have already published with a real publisher (and you will probably have signed a competing works clause that prevents you republishing it) your current publisher will say it doesn't matter - but you do have to tell them.

that the the Work is in no way whatever a violation or an infringement of any existing copyright or licence: this is part of that 'did you write it all' bit above. If your work is non-fiction, there may be real quotations, which you will need to credit. You may need to discuss with your publisher how they want quotations credited, and whether there are any quotations they don't feel are covered by 'fair dealing' (remember that? We did it in clause 4). One to look out for here is that copyright in a database exists in the collection of facts, NOT just in the words used to express the facts. So you can't take a whole load of facts from the Guinness Book of Records or any similar publication, reword them, and put them in your book. Obviously you can put a few facts, but if you are compiling a book of random facts you have to be careful you don't take too many from the same source. Keep a note of your sources for all facts of this type and all quotations. You may need to prove later where you took them from, even long after the book is published.

it contains nothing obscene, libellous, defamatory, blasphemous or other unlawful matter: of course, a lot of this is a matter of opinion, and some of it varies by territory. In the UK, a picture of a naked statue is fine, but in Iran or the USA it may be deemed obscene. Don't be rude about living people, even if you thinly disguise them by changing their name. If your treacherous wife/husband/lover/friend/boss can identify themselves in your work, and thinks other people will be able to identify them, you may be faced with a legal suit and a requirement to have the book withdrawn and pulped. Your publisher will not be happy. In this case, where it is a private individual being lampooned or defamed, your publisher is not in a position to anticipate the problem, whereas if you wrote something defamatory about, say, the prime minister, the publisher should really spot it before it goes to print. Even so, don't do it.

Of course, including something blasphemous can backfire badly (you don't want a fatwa like Salman Rushdie), but it can also be immensely profitable if all the publicity raises sales. But I'm not recommending it - you will still be in breach of the contract if you write something blasphemous. If you want to write something that might be considered blasphemous, you may like to check with your publisher which religions they like to cover with this clause. It could be that your chosen target religion is excluded.

all statements contained therein purporting to be facts are true: in a non-fiction book, I always get this changed to add 'true at the time of writingto the best of the author's knowledge'. I've written books that called Pluto a planet - it was at the time. Now that 'fact' is untrue. I don't want to be sued for it. Many other 'facts' change, too. And including 'to the best of the author's knowledge' is good, as it means if you have made an honest mistake you only need to apologise later, not worry about what it will cost you. You might like to argue about what counts as a fact, too. I once argued to have this clause removed totally from a book about alien abduction on the basis that although it was a book about genuine accounts of alien abduction, the people were clearly nutters who had NOT been abducted by aliens and the book was essentially a bunch of lies (and I knew it was).

any recipe or formula contained in the Work is not injurious to the user: you obviously need to test any recipes or formulae, and also make sure nothing can easily go wrong with them that could cause harm. Publishers are very wary, because people are increasingly likely to sue even when it is their own stupidity that has brought them harm. I was not allowed to put the 'recipe' for a made-up magic spell in a book in case stupid people went around blenderising rats and newst and drinking the result, then complaining they weren't suddenly beautiful or able to fly. You will have to put lots of dumb guidelines in about getting an adult to help if you have to use anything sharp (like scissors) or hot (like the oven). I know.... some books aren't worth the aggro any more. This elf and safe tea concern extends to fiction, too. If you show children doing something dangerous in a novel, you might be asked to remove it. If you have someone on a bike in a picture book, they will need to wear a bike helmet in the pictures. Publishers vary in how much they fuss over the representation of unsafe activities. Some are quite OK with it, which is how we have books in which kids rampage around graveyards nailing vampires with stakes.

Well, that's enough for now. I could have said a lot more on the details of this clause, but I'm sure you can work out all the ways in which you might write something defamatory, libellous, blasphemous or potentially injurious to health.


Monday 10 May 2010

How to read a publishing contract (11)

This clause is about competition - not a competition with prizes, though.

11. Competition

The Author shall not during the continuance of this Agreement without the prior consent of the Publishers in writing publish any abridgement, expansion or part of the Work in serial or book form, nor shall the Author prepare other than for the Publishers any Work which shall be an expansion or abridgement of the Work or of a nature which may reasonably be construed by the Publishers as likely to affect prejudicially the sales of the Work which is the subject of this Agreement.

This is sometimes called a 'competitive works' clause. It means you can't slightly adapt your book and publish it with anyone else, and you can't write a very similar book and publish it with someone else. You might think that this doesn't matter as you wouldn't want to anyway, but the key phrase here is 'during the continuance of this Agreement'. This should be backed up by a clause somewhere that says rights will revert to you if the book goes out of print for longer than a specified period or is withdrawn and not reissued. You should be able to publish a version or adaptation of the book if the publisher is no longer selling it, so you need to make sure that the agreement will no longer be in force in that case.

This is a reasonable competitive works clause. It relates to a work of fiction, and to be honest I'm not likely to want to rework the book. Once a book is published, I forget it and move on. But what if you feel you didn't do the book as well as you would have liked, you've sold it to a tiny publisher that is going to achieve only very small sales, and you wish you hadn't? Well, tough. You will have to wait until the agreement has come to an end before you can go back to that book, unless you ask for the publishers' permission - 'without the prior consent of the Publisher', it says. The publisher may give permission if they have no plans to reprint the book and it is not doing well. But they don't have to, and they may see no reason why they should. So for the competitive works clause to be acceptable you need to look at the whole of the rest of the contract to see when the agreement might be terminated. Now that print-on-demand means that a book need never go out of print, the old-style termination clauses do not work very well. We will look at termination clauses another day, but remember that the competing works clause and the termination clause go hand in hand.

In a contract for a non-fiction work, you may see a much more restrictive competitive works clause. The publisher might try to get you to agree not to write a book on the same topic for the same market, for example, or not to write any competing works. Now this clearly isn't viable, as you will very quickly have signed away your rights to write any more books on the topics you know about.

If you are writing a book about dinosaurs, and they want you to promise not to write more books about dinosaurs for children, you will have to argue about the clause. The chances are, they are paying no more than £2000 to write a book about dinosaurs. How can they expect to buy up your whole career for £2000? Of course they can't, it's unreasonable. As soon as you point this out, most publishers agree to change the clause. They probably won't get rid of it completely, but you should have the chance to re-word it so that you are happy with it. Be much more precise about what constitutes a competing work and in what time frame the work must be published to count as competition. You may promise not to write another 24-page trade pop-up book about dinosaurs for readers of 6-8 within three years of publication, for instance. And if you really feel the need to do one, you can always publish it under a different name.

If the publisher is adamant that a very restrictive competing works clause has to stand, walk away from the contract - unless they are either giving you a very good deal, or you are absolutely certain that you won't want to write more on that topic. If it gets to the point where you are about to withdraw from the deal, they may well back down. But don't do it to call their bluff - if you have said you will pull out if they don't change the clause, you have to do so. Before you get to that point, though, you can point out that the clause is a restraint of trade and so technically illegal. They are allowed to impose only 'reasonable' restrictions on you, and they have no legal right to be free of competition. Of course, 'reasonable' is open to interpretation.

The less common clause that requires you to offer your next book to the same publisher is also a restraint on trade, so you don't have to accept that either. We won't come across that clause in the contract I'm using as all my publishers already know I'm not going to accept that one so they don't include it any more. If you find yourself agreeing to such a clause and then regret it, make sure you offer them a book they won't want to publish. So if you are writing picture books, offer a book on customising your car or losing weight by paragliding. Best to check they don't have a list such a book would fit into first, though. On reflection, it's safer to get the clause removed in the first place.


Saturday 8 May 2010

Going digital - with 26 crows and a bucket

The best bit of work I've done over the last couple of days - as in most enjoyable, it remains to be seen how successful it is - has been changing a part-written picture book from something intended for paper to something intended to be an iPad application. Now, I am no stranger to software development, nor to electronic publishing, nor to picture books, but I have still encountered a few surprises.

First, some background as it shows how I'm approaching the task: writing and software.

I've had a few picture books
published . I write but I don't illustrate. I'm used to giving the briefest of illustrator notes as I want the illustrator to bring something fresh and original to the book.

Many years ago, I ran a software publishing company. It was called Emerald Publishing and the boss was a balloon. An orange balloon. She went through many incarnations. It was my job to blow up a new Emerald when she went saggy or burst. It was also my job to come up with product ideas, employ programmers, write the spec, do the marketing, bla bla bla. We were innovative and successful. We produced the first native, independent e-book in the UK, the first hieroglyphic editor and the first software for pre-school children. The last we made because there was no software available for my daughter when she was 18 months old. (She will be 19 next month.) We created a Chinese text editor with 10,000 characters long before anyone else (the font was shite, but it worked). But I didn't really like running a company and I didn't like marketing and when Emerald 19 burst I called it a day. There's only so much of your life you want to spend blowing up orange balloons (she was always orange).

At some point, I spent a lot of time training old-world printers in how to use digital technology. I can use every publishing technology from a 16th century press to the latest version of Quark, learnt to program in BASIC in 1977 (yes, 33 years ago) and used both Ventura and Pagemaker (remember those?). I can build websites and use Photoshop. And I have spent years writing books for children. I always maintained there was no point developing kids' books for the Sony e-book reader or the Kindle because they are transitional technologies not up to the job. But now there is the iPad and it is exactly what I have been waiting for. Now there is plenty of point in doing digital kids' books, and I am very well placed to do them.

In another world, I would be starting a publishing company again - no, I would have started it late last year. But I have had the most terrible nine months and could not begin to do so. Instead, I'll work with the people who have already started and remind myself of why I gave it up last time. So that gets us to today, and changing this book, working title Crowload!, from a possibly pop-up picture book to an iApp. And the point of this post is...? To tell you how surprising it is, even if you think you know what you're doing.

I don't program in Objective C. I have never created an iPhone app, nor struggled with Apple's tyrannical and megalomaniacal demands for control over the apps it will put in the apps store. This time, those are not part of my job, thank God. Instead I am writing the text and working out how the graphics will work with it and how the interactivity will work.

One thing is immediately very liberating: you don't have to work to 13 double-page spreads as you do in a paper book. My 'book' has 26 pages, so it fitted the 13-spread model anyway, but the potential to vary it struck me immediately.

And one thing is instantly very baffling: the user/reader can decide whether to view your book in landscape or portrait orientation. The length of the text lines is no longer fixed by the page size. The length of the paragraphs will vary if the user/reader turns the iPad round. This will affect the way we write, especially for children, as the appearance of the text block has a huge impact on the child's willingness to tackle it. In this particular book, it doesn't matter. Each page has only one sentence and it's short. The orientation still affects the pictures. Should I design it with square pictures in mind? The wayI think about pages and spreads, though, is closely bound to page size, to a page being portrait but a spread being landscape, to both halves of a spread being visible at once. Not any more. (The greatest impact is on comics, which can be chopped into discontiguous frames on the iPad - or viewed as a strip or page. This will present enormous problems - and possibly opportunities - for comic designers.)

All the usual aspects of picture book design and writing still apply, with the exception that you don't need to make sure surprises are revealed over a recto-verso page turn - now a verso-recto page turn can also hold a surprise as the two pages of the erstwhile-spread are not visible at once. But there are new things to consider. How will the book be interactive? Which gestures will it use? Do you need to vary the gestures page by page? Are the interactive elements intuitive? That is, will people (young readers in particular) automatically try out the very thing you want them to do? Remember, this doesn't come with instructions. You can't tell the child to poke the dog (or whatever) - you have to make the dog so invitingly pokable that the child does it and so starts whatever interactive element you have tied to that.

You need to know what is possible and why you are using it. I have been reading Apple's iPad Human Interface Guidelines (which is all geeky Americanese and not a scintillating read) and realised that I have not been rigorous enough in distinguishing between gestures. I might get away with what I have done, now I know to look at it again, but if I have swipe turning the page, I probably can't have it doing anything else on the page. I could set a page to have three swipes that work with the graphics and the last turns the page, but then the child user/reader will try swiping other pages, where I don't use swipe, and just turning the page. So can I not use swipe? How am I going to get that pile of poo moved out of the way using a broom, then? You can devise your own gestures, but this isn't a good idea for the very young as how will they know to try them?

There are real terms to use for many of the gestures, but sometimes I've used my own. Pinch-out and pinch-in tell you want to do, but not what happens. I've called them bigify and smallify. That might have to change. But maybe it won't; maybe I'll stick with bigify and smallify. It's pretty obvious what they are. (And getting in at the start means you get to write the language.)

Proposing the type of interactivity on each page means giving more detailed picture notes than I would usually do. Working with programmers is nothing like working with illustrators and designers. They often don't have any visual imagination and they are very unlikely to have any experience of the needs of very young emerging readers. We will have to be much more precise and prescriptive. The role of the art director will obviously change, too.

The first surprise has been that the work that started life as a picture book of only about 150 words is now a detailed proposal of nearly 1500 words. It's not finished yet. There is an extra layer or two to the checking and revising I'd do with a picture book. Are there too many pages in sequence that use the same gesture for their interactivity? Are any of the interactive elements too complex or counter-intuitive for the age range? Is it clear, on every page, what might create an interactive effect? And I'm putting 'easter eggs' in it, too - extra surprise bits of interactivity that you sometimes get if you do the wrong gesture. This will encourage exploration - but it won't always produce a result. Partial reinforcement - that will keep them experimenting and learning.

It's exciting to be combining software and story-telling, to be returning in a way to something I was doing seventeen and a half years ago, but with technology that is vastly superior, resourceful and inspirational. At the same time, I am a little edgy developing something which is accessible only to the privileged few. I am very wary of all the development money for picture books going into products only rich kids will see. We need paper books too, for the kids who don't have access to an iPad. I won't be giving up on paper any time soon, but I do need to play with the new toys, it's in my blood.

Now, excuse me, I just have to work out which is the best gesture to move the bucket under the beak of the vomiting crow....


Friday 7 May 2010

How to read a publishing contract (10)

Finally into double digits on the clauses - but we're still not half way through the contract. This is a pleasant clause as it's about what you get rather than what you have to do:

10. Author's Free Copies

On publication, the Author will immediately be sent x (x) presentation copies of the first edition, direct to her at Stroppy Author's address and 1 (one) copy of any subsequent edition of the Work and shall have the right to purchase further copies at trade terms for personal use but not for resale. On publication of the first edition, the Agent will also immediately be sent one complimentary copy, to Stroppy Author's Agent.

The copies of your books they give you on publication are called contractual copies. The main thing to argue here is about how many you get. It can range from 1 to 24. The most I have ever had is 18; the least is 0. (Yes, I have one book out there that I have never even seen.) However many they offer you, ask for more - unless you really can't see yourself giving away copies the book. There's no point having them just for the sake of it, they clog up the bookshelf space that could be occupied by other books that you actually want to read. Eight or ten is a good number. But see the bit below about school visits before deciding.

It has to be said that not all publishers are very diligent about sending your contractual copies. You might have to nag for them. The publisher might not even tell you the book has been published. I have occasionally bought my own book on Amazon because I've needed a copy to take somewhere/give someone and the contractual copies haven't arrived.

If there are people you have to give copies to because they helped you tell the publishers they will have to send copies to these people. (This is people who have helped you with information - not people who made your coffee and wiped your fevered brow. And not members of your family who read your early drafts [shudder - never show early drafts]). This is not really a contractual issue, but it's worth telling them at this stage so that if they say 'you will have x copies, send them one of those', you can argue here for the number to be increased. Publishers will usually give you extra free copies after publication if you are giving them to people they consider sufficiently interesting or influential, too.

As for copies of subsequent editions, in my experience they hardly ever turn up. It is worth asking what this means - does it mean you will get the paperback? Does it mean you will get a copy of every foreign edition? Does it mean that if they re-use your text in another book (which they may do if it is non-fiction and you don't retain copyright) that you will get a copy of that other book? Insist on all these. It may seem rather pointless, but if you have a copy of every edition, you can register them all for PLR. Otherwise, extra versions tend to come out and you don't know about them so you lose out on the PLR for those editions. It's OK to explain this reasoning to the publisher - if they can see you have a good reason for wanting the copies, they may be more likely to send them. They may. But don't hold your breath. It's often worth checking on Amazon every now and then to see which new editions have come out. You can then chase them up if you wish.

Make sure there is a copy for your agent. Or don't. If your agent reads the contract and doesn't notice if they are not down to get a copy, they don't deserve one. Nor do they deserve to stay as your agent.

The bit about not selling your copies may be of no consequence to you, but many children's authors make visits to schools and like to sell copies of their books at these visits. Personally, I do neither school visits nor selling, so I would be grateful if anyone who does could add in the comments any further advice on how this relates to the contract. As I understand it, most authors buy books at discount from their publisher and sell them on school visits. Maybe this is separately negotiated, or maybe the publishers just turn a blind eye. To do so would breach this contractual term, so if you plan to visit schools and set up your stall, you might want to challenge this clause, or at least clarify how you get discounted books to sell. (I often find it's cheaper to get my books on Amazon, often from re-sellers, when I need extra copies to give away.)


Tuesday 4 May 2010

Being stroppy about politics and picture books

I have just reviewed David McKee's Denver for Write Away - and this really was Stroppy Author in stroppy mood. There is no discussion space on Write Away for it, so if you want to take issue with the review please feel free to talk about it in the comments here.

I plan to write an article on censorship and books for very young children, as I feel uncomfortable saying I don't think it should have been published. I need to untangle what I think about that, as I am generally anti-censorship. No time to write it this week, but any comments you have that could feed into my thinking and anticipate objections will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you, kind blog-readers.


Monday 3 May 2010

How to read a publishing contract (9)

This is quite a straightforward clause - it really spends a lot of words saying they intend to publish your book. Which is just as well, since that was why you sent it to them, and is the whole point of the contract.

9. Production Responsibility

The Publishers shall, unless otherwise mutually agreed, or unless prevented by war, strikes, lockouts or other circumstances beyond the Publisher's control, at their own risk and expense, produce within a reasonable time, and publish the Work within 12 (twelve) months of the last sheet being passed for press. The Publishers shall have the entire control of the publication; and the paper, printing, binding, jacket and embellishments, the manner and exten of promotion and advertising, the number and distribution of free copies for the Press or otherwise, and the price and terms of sale of the first or any subsequent edition or impression shall be in their sole discretion.

This means they will publish it unless they can think of a good reason not to, and you don't have any say in how it is presented.

circumstances beyond their control is a catch-all phrase. I've had it deemed to include recession; there may be some that claim the volcano prevented publication, but I haven't heard of any. Once, in a clause that went the other way, I had 'pandemic' added as a reason I might not finish the book (it was a book about pandemics, so it seemed appropriate).

within 12 (twelve) months of the last shee being passed for press: within a year of you approving the page proofs. A year is a long time for a book that's already repro-ready to be sitting around doing nothing. Perhaps they hope you will forget about the book and not ask them.

They get to choose the illustrator, the cover design, the quality of the paper and so on. If you don't like their choice of illustrator/cover you can argue to have it changed, but they don't have to do as you want. It can be very distressing if you hate the cover or the illustrations. Most publishers will give you some say in these, but this clause means they don't have to. It's worth asking how much they are willing to involve you (but don't expect them to change the contract).

The most worrying bit of this clause is a bit you probably thought worked in your favour: that they will do all the advertising and promotion. This can backfire on you, as it means that they can ask to approve (or veto) anything you are planning on doing yourself, including your own website, your blog, any leaflets, posters, talks.... That might sound unlikely, but I have a friend to whom this has just happened. I built her website for her, at huge cost, and her Stroppy Publisher - who were shown the plans - said 'you can't put this online yet, we need to vet it' and sat on it without commenting until a few days before the book's publication date. It took a good bit of Stropping to get them to stop it and let us go live in time.

They choose how much to charge for the book. Fair enough, though you will be cross when they remainder it just prior to pulping. Sorry, didn't mean that. Your book will be a run-away success and they will reprint immediately at a higher cover price. Of course. Conversation overheard between two authors at a Cambridge dinner:

Author 1. Hello, how are you?
Author 2. Ah David, bit sad. I've just seen my book remaindered in Galloway and Porter.
Author 1. Remaindered? You're lucky - they pulped mine.

Saturday 1 May 2010

How to read a publishing contract (8)

This is another short clause. So there is little excuse for me being so slow at dealing with it except that I've been away working (though not very effectively) on a book. Yes, the point of the contract is to produce a book. It's easy to forget that and get side-tracked.

8. Responsibility for Damage or Loss

The Publishers shall not be held responsible for any damage to or loss of the Work, including illustratios or any other material, while in their custody or in in course of production or in transit whether resulting from negligence or from any other cause whatsoever.

If you are an illustrator, this means DON'T, under absolutely any circumstances, send your only copy of original artwork, because if they lose it you're screwed. There may be no alternative but to let them have the originals, but at least keep a very good quality colour photocopy so that the book is not completely doomed if they do lose or spill coffee on the pictures. Obviously you should either hand-deliver your pictures or send them by the most secure mail system you can find, such as kevlar-clad delivery boy guarded by polar bears.

If you are just sending your MS, there isn't really anything to lose or destroy. If you are sending paper printout, because your publisher is still lurking the age of the dinosaurs and insisted on it, they could lose that, but it doesn't cost much to print and post another copy. I am assuming that there is no such thing as a person who submits a typescript (and reads this blog), so the days when the publisher could lose the only copy of the text are, thankfully, long gone.

If you send in your MS not by email but on removable media, there is a chance they could lose a memory stick, I suppose, but as memory sticks are cheap this shouldn't worry you too much. The most significant threat for most writers is that you send reference for art work (pictures the illustrator will refer to) and the publisher loses that. I've lent books to publishers on occasion, and of course they are books that the publisher can't get hold of easily - out of print or rare books. When I've done this, I've handed them over in a meeting and have (eventually) got them back. As this is the main danger, and you can reasonably argue that it does not constitute part of 'the Work', you can probably let this clause stand.

If you are an illustrator, I'd suggest you try to get this clause changed, at the very least to cross out the reference to negligence. You don't really want them to be able to get you to redraw an illustration for free because they spilt gin on it, let the art director's cat sit on it, allowed a toddler to 'improve' it, or scrunched it under their wheelie office chair.