Thursday 24 June 2010

Going digital (2) - the i-book, those crows, that bucket, and a bunch of differences

I'm just finishing off that synopsis for a picture book application for the iPad. Getting to the end means sorting out the terminology before submitting it. For one thing, is it actually a synopsis (as it would be for a book) or is it really a software spec (as it would be for a program)? Is each element a page or a screen? Do I talk about layout or about interface design?

And what are we going to call the whole thing? It's a book app, according to Apple, but that's using one noun to qualify another and we don't like to do that in UK English - not if we're, like, educated [sniff]. It's not an e-book because that is just an electronic book - a book that is digital in form, but otherwise is just a book. I'm going to call this an i-book: it's an interactive book. The fact that it is digital is implicit in the common usage of i- as a prefix, but technically my pop-up Earthquakes and Volcanoes is also an i-book. Let's stop caring if things are analogue or digital.

In the earlier post, I went through a few of the surprising things I'd encountered working on this crowfest. A few more have emerged over recent weeks. If I were doing this i-book on paper I would have to decide whether to use a whole double-page spread as a narrrative unit or whether to use the facing pages as independent but complementary units. That's gone; each page/screen is a discrete unit. The acronym 'dps' is hard-coded into my thinking about books, though, so I'm going to carry on using it, perhaps as 'digital page set'.

The next issue is the black plate. In a paper book, the text has to be on the black plate to make it cheaper and easier to print co-editions. (Only the black plate needs to be re-set, all the colour repro is the same in all editions.) No black plate - the text can be any colour. It took several weeks before I realised that the black-plate limitation has gone, dodo-ised.

But while we're thinking of foreign editions.... a paper children's book is usually printed in a British-English and a US-English edition. This way English children can be unpolluted by barbaric spellings such as 'color' and ugly words like 'gotten', and American children don't need to be shocked at hearing there are six faggots in the kitchen (they're a kind of nasty meatball over here) or that one child borrowed another child's rubber (eraser - no SID risk involved). I can't imagine we are going to make UK and US versions of this i-book. Are we? So does that mean I can't use words like 'queue'? Or do they have to be written 'que(ue)'? No, too confusing. Or could the i-book detect the country setting - or discover the location from the IP address - and vary the spelling accordingly? That would be nice.

Perhaps oddest of all, the i-book is only about 160 words long, yet the synopsis/spec is nearly 3,500. Perhaps it's inevitable that it all moves into the wordy, dreary style of software specs, but it is a shame. I've tried to avoid dreary, at least. If it were a paper book, I could give brief illustrator notes or a very poor rough (you wouldn't believe how poor my roughs are). I tried this - it meant a whole morning with a camera, props, scissors, straw, scanner, photoshop to produce a cruddy storyboard of one digital page set. So it's words, I'm afraid - much quicker. (26 pages = 13 days with said paraphernalia!)

I've had an app designer who is also a picture book illustrator go through most of it with me, and took on board all his suggestions about switching bits from animation-hungry content to things that can be done in programming (cheaper). Thank you, @berbank, for five hours in the sun on the Backs, eating strawberries, drinking wine and talking crows. [I love this job.] And I crowd-sourced lots of bits on twitter where I ran out of ideas for - well, I can't tell you what for without giving away the USP. But thank you, twitter people.

One thing I am aware I haven't got away from - and I'm not sure whether it matters - is the instinct to have movement going from left to right, so moving towards the page turn in a paper book. As long as the page-turn analogy still follows the left-to-right pattern (with a swipe gesture at the right-hand side of the screen towards the left, emulating flicking the page), that is probably appropriate. But there is no real reason why progress should be left to right. Do i-books in scripts that read right-to-left look different, I wonder? Off to the App store to investigate picture books in Arabic...


Monday 21 June 2010

How to read a publishing contract (14.5 and 15)

I know, I've been gone so long you thought I'd died - not far off. But Zombie Stroppy Author is here to carry on with that interminable publishing contract.

This is an alternative version of clause 14 that you will get if you are going to be paid a royalty for your book. If you have a long memory, you will recall that the clause 14 we did last time was for a flat-fee book.

14. Advance

The Publishers agree to pay the Author in advance and on account of all sums that may become due to the Author under this Agreement the sum of £x000 (X THOUSAND POUNDS STERLING) per title, payable, £x000 on signature of the contract. 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.

15. Royalties and Fees Payable

Subject to the terms and conditions set out in this Agreement the Publishers shall make to the Author the following payments in respect of all copies of the Work sold.

(a) Home Sales

Except as otherwise specified in this Agreement, a royalty of 3% (three per cent) of the Publisher's net receipts.

(b) Export Sales

A royalty of 1% (one per cent) of the net amounts received by the Publishers on copies of the Work sold to export markets outside of United Kingdom.

(c) Resetting

If revisions require resetting of more than 30% (thirty per cent) of the Work, the royalty on the revised edition shall be subject to renegotiation.

(d) Remainders

A royalty of 1% (one per cent) of the net amounts received by the Publishers on copies sold above cost of production. No royalties shall be payable on any copies sold at cost price or less.

(e) Royalty-Inclusive-Sales

On all copies sold bound or in sheets for the purpose of publication in the USA or elsewhere, a royalty of 1% (one per cent) of the net amount received bythe Publisher.

(f) Book Club

On all copies sold to Book Clubs, a royalty of 1% (one per cent) of the net amount received by the Publisher.

(g) Third Party

On the licence by the Publisher to a third party to print and publish on a royalty basis, the royalty shall be 10% (ten per cent) of the net amount received by the Publisher.

(h) Royalty-Free

No royalties shall be paid on any copies presented to the Author, given away for review or in the interest of the Work, destroyed by fire, water, enemy action, in transit, or otherwise, or sold at or below the cost of production. Any sums which may be received in respect of single specimen copies distributed to individual teachers for the purpose of publicity shall be regarded as a contribution to the expenses of such publicity and shall not be accounted for as sales.

Got that? Good. Let's move on to 16...
That was a contract negotiated by my agent, and frankly it's a really bad deal. Essentially, this publisher wanted to pay a flat fee, so they set bad royalty rates and a high advance so it would never earn out. Most advances never earn out, so if you are happy taking the advance as a flat fee then it's not worth a lot of argument. It would be different if this book were my life's work. In fact, this contract was for a series of first readers that would be sold mostly into libraries and schools. The royalty is split 50:50 between author and illustrator. If by any fluke the books really take off, the small royalty means you will get some benefit from having written them. I could spend all day on the poor rates here, but let's move on to what it all means.

14. Advance - this clause, curiously, seems to pay the full advance on signature of the contract. I can't remember, but that may have been because I'd already done the work by the time we got around to sorting out the contract (it happens). Usually, you will have the advance in chunks: on signature, on delivery/approval of the manuscript and on publication (on passing proofs if you can persuade them). The advance is considered to be a guess at what you will earn from royalties, paid in advance because you won't want to do the work if you have to hang around for years and years before you get paid. If you are VAT registered, you must charge VAT on the advance.

15. All those bits of royalties....

All these are 'net receipts' - this is a bad deal as it means you get a percentage of what the publisher actually gets, not a percentage of the cover price. So while you might think 'my book sells for £10, I get 10% so I get £1 for every book', if it's net receipts you might get 50p per book, or even less. The publisher may sell at different prices to different purchasers: they will sell at full price or a slight discount to people who buy directly from their website, but will discount by up to 80% if selling to a supermarket chain. A net receipt contract means you can't accurately anticipate your income from the print run. Not that you ever could, because you didn't know how many copies would sell, but even the possible income is not a fixed figure if you are earning on net receipts.

Home sales are sales within your home country (UK in this case). Usually these are through a distributor.

Export sales are sales into another country. Some publishers have their own branch or distributor overseas (OUP and CUP, for example). A publisher can sell into an export market even if you have not sold foreign rights. Foreign rights allow them to publish a co-edition - a version of the book in a foreign language.

Resetting - this means recreating the files from which the book is printed. The book might be reset if there is some change in the world which makes it inaccurate (for example, the Yellowstone volcano destroys the USA and so your book about world wildlife has substantial errors), or if the publisher wants to re-issue the book with different illustrations, or if you have made lots of mistakes that need correcting. Resetting the book costs more money, so the royalty is likely to go down to reflect this. But if your book is amazingly successful and they are resetting because Quentin Blake has asked to illustrate it, you may get the royalty to go up.

Remainders are copies that can't be sold. The publisher wants to be rid of the whole deal, so sells the remaining copies from the print run at a massive discount. Often they are sold below cost price, just to dispose of them. It's cheaper than pulping them, which involves paying for them to be destroyed. (I know, sob, sob.) You will probably be given first option to buy remaindered copies.

Royalty-inclusive sales refers to copies of the book produced specifically for a foreign market. They may be supplied as bound books or pages ready for binding. As there has been more work involved in producing the book (it has been specially produced and re-set, perhaps with pictures more appropriate to that specific country), the royalty is reduced to reflect the cost to the publisher.

Book Club sales attract a lower royalty for no very good reason, at least in the case of the publisher only giving you a royalty on net receipts. Sometime the publisher lets the book club do their own edition, and sometimes they sell bulk copies at a huge discount. If they print their own, it should fall under the next clause, Third Party. But if it is discounted, and you are getting a royalty on net receipts, why should it be a lower royalty? Worth arguing about this one, or at least asking for an explanation as to why the rate is so low (if it is).

Third Party means some other organisation takes on printing and distribution of an edition, paying the publisher for the privilege. An example here is (as happened to me once) the Open University adopts one of your books as a set text and wants to print it with their own logo on. You get a higher royalty as the publisher has low costs in a deal like this.

Royalty-Free copies are generally given away or accidentally destroyed. I'm puzzled by the last part of this clause, though - if the publisher has *given* the copies to a teacher, why on Earth would the teacher insist on giving the publisher some money? Is the world full of mad, rich teachers? I don't think so. So this looks like a fiddle. I suspect it means that if there is a conference and teachers' goodie-bags include your book, which the conference organiser may have paid for, you don't get any money. If this is the case, it's shameful. But I'm not certain.

There - that was a long haul. Well done if you've stuck it to the end. I shan't go on here about royalty rates as this is quite long enough.


Sunday 13 June 2010


Lovely followers, I am sorry I've left you all stuck on Clause 14 for so long. Trips into the Slough of Despond have detained me, I'm afraid. And I have also been rather caught up in launching a literary salon for professional writers in Cambridge. It's called Thrale's (after Hester Thrale) and will meet about every two months. It's very exciting, and the launch party is tonight - so I'll soon be back to my blogging duties. Thank you for your patience - and if you're impatient, and wriggling around and thinking of deserting me, then I'm very sorry and thank you for holding on a tiny bit longer.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Should you ever write for nothing?

I have been asked to write an essay for an academic book. I could write quite a good essay for this book, and it's published by a very respectable publisher. But they are not going to pay me anything. This is standard practice with academic publishing, and is based on the rather dodgy premise that academic writers are already being paid by their academic institutions and that they need the publications to improve their rating and to gain kudos.

Now, I'm not paid by an academic institution, I don't need any kind of rating or accreditation or kudos, and I will have to take time off paid writing to do it. It looks as though there is no reason at all to do it, doesn't there?

On the other hand... the book is for students, and I have a lot of sympathy for students. I can write something that will give them insights they won't get from the other contributors, precisely because I am a practising commercial writer and not an academic who writes the odd bit of fiction and doesn't have to live on the income from it. Unless all creative writing students are going to become creative writing teachers (and I don't think that is unlikely, actually), what I have to say might be rather useful for them. But then again, the very large publisher is presumably intending to make money from this book. They will doubtless pay their in-house staff, the printers, the electricity bill and all other costs relating to this book. So why on earth should they get away with not paying the contributors, the very people who will make the book unique and uniquely useful?

They want 5,000 words from me. To write something decent will take at least two days. Even writing journalism for a worthy outlet (rather than a well-financed national paper) I could get £500 for 5,000 words. I could get a lot more writing a book that length. If I'm going to spend two days not earning, I could spend the time with my daughter, or go to see friends, or spend it in art galleries. If I'm going to use the time writing, I could write something speculative that I want to write but don't have a commission for. Or I could write for an organisation that can't afford to pay me, rather than for one that just doesn't want to pay me.

Why should an international publisher (with whom I have published many other books, incidentally, for money) be a scrounger? Is the book truly uneconomic? Can't they charge a pound more for it and pay the contributors? What kind of business model is this, and why does no-one ever challenge it? The last time I wrote an academic book - a long time ago, I admit - I got a royalty.

I have no quarrel with the editor, and would like to help with her project as it's interesting and worthwhile, but I'm not sure I can persuade myself that my time is better spent doing this than earning £500 and giving it all to the homeless, or earthquake relief, or some other worthy cause. A publisher is not a charity and not a worthy cause - why should it act as though it has a dog on a string to support and no permanent address?

Is there a good enough reason to write this essay? I would be interested to hear your thoughts, kind readers - especially if you're a publisher.