Wednesday, 28 April 2010

How to read a publishing contract (7)

This is a short and easy clause. You just have to make sure it's there, really.

7. Author's Name and Copyright Notice

The Publishers undertake that the name of the Author shall appear on the title-page and on the cover or binding and jacket of every copy produced and that the following copyright notice shall be printed in every copy of the Work:

Copyright in the text Stroppy Author 20**

**indicates the first year of publication

You should make sure the publishers include this: it's vitally important to keep your copyright if you possibly can. It should always be possible with fiction, though if you are writing for a series sold into schools you might have to argue.

In the case of children's non-fiction, particularly that commissioned as part of a series intended for sale into schools and libraries, you may not have this clause. This type of work is often considered 'work for hire'. You can, if you wish, try arguing that you want to keep copyright and license the text to them, but I don't give much for your chances. Full sale of copyright is standard in many areas of children's non-fiction. I don't argue about this one, nor do most children's n-f writers. If you don't have the copyright clause, the work will usually pay a flat fee and no royalty. The publishers can re-use the work, re-issue it without telling you (though that is not polite) and produce it in different formats without paying you more or telling you. As long as you retain moral rights (we'll come to that) they can't just ransack it and use gobbets, or rewrite chunks of it.

This clause might say that the publisher will 'endeavour' to show the author's name on the cover, etc. This is not acceptable. They have the power actually to do it, and to make it a condition of any co-edition agreement. Make sure it does say it will be on the cover and title page - occasionally a publisher will miss your name off the cover, and some will even miss it off the title page. It is vitally important that you get your name on the title page as you need that in order to claim PLR in the book. If it is not mentioned in the contract, make sure you get it added. If you don't remember what PLR is, there is an earlier post on it and an article in the Bookseller about the importance of registering.

It is standard with licensed character work that your name will NOT be shown on the cover or title page, and you won't get this changed. The argument is that the book is usually presented as 'belonging' to the character (eg Angelina Ballerina's book of ballet shoes) and so it can't 'belong' to you. In addition, the character belongs to the original creator (which is a fair point) and they probably don't want your name on it. It is work for hire. There is nothing very imaginative in doing licensed character work - it follows a formula and adheres to a strict style and content guide. Accept that you won't get copyright or a cover/title page credit - if you don't like that, don't take the work. However, you may be able to get your name included on the imprint/acknowledgement page and as long as NO ONE has their name on the title page, you can still claim PLR on the book. It's worth arguing to have your name somewhere if it is a book that is likely to go into libraries (eg not a sticker book, or an activity book that is destroyed or defaced in use).

20**: the copyright date is always the date of first publication. If the book is reprinted in a later year, the copyright date stays the same. If the book comes out in a new edition, the copyright date changes when the text changes, but usually first copyright date is also shown.


Monday, 26 April 2010

How to read a publishing contract (6)

After the clause about making sure you get it right the first time, there is a clause about correcting the mistakes if you didn't all get it right. That's not pessimistic, it's realistic. There will always be mistakes in a book...

6. Author's Corrections

The Author undertakes to read, check and correct the proofs and to return them to the Publishers within 14 (fourteen) days of their receipt, failing which the Publishers may consider the proofs as passed for press. The cost of all alterations and corrections made by the Author in the finished artwork and in the proofs (other than the correction of artists', copy editors' and printers' errors) above 10% (ten per cent) of the original cost of composition and/or artists' fees shall be borne by the Author. Should any charge arise under this clause the amount may be deducted from anysum which may become due to the Author under this Agreement. In the event of such charge exceeding the payments due to the Author under this Agreement the Author agrees to pay the Publishers the balance due promptly on receipt of such charge.

This means you have to check everything very carefully because if mistakes which are your fault get through to proof stage you may have to pay to have them corrected.

read, check and correct the proofs: There are usually several points at which you get the chance to check the book, and you should make sure there will be such opportunities. Typically, they are:

  • edited text - the editor may ask you for some changes in advance of editing, and may ask you for further changes when (s)he has edited the text. You should then see the edited text so that you can check it yourself. Make sure the editor has not introduced anything that is inaccurate (if it is a non-fiction book). If it is fiction, the editor should have discussed any changes with you in detail and made sure you agreed to them, or asked you to make all changes. In a non-fiction book, many editors take a very cavalier attitude, or are ignorant of the topic, and make changes that damage the accuracy or integrity of the book. This is such a large and troublesome issue that I will write a separate post on it at some point. For now, just be aware that you have to look out for this.
  • artwork rough/picture selection - after the illustrator has been briefed, (s)he will produce roughs, which are pencil sketches of the proposed illustrations. You need to check these carefully to make sure they show exactly what is needed. If there is something in the roughs which you should have objected to, but which makes it through to the final artwork, you may have to pay to have the picture redrawn because you should have spotted the mistake at the roughs stage. If the error is not evident in the roughs, that counts as an illustrator's error and you won't have to pay. But if there is anything which you can foresee may go wrong or be missed out, flag it early (a) to be on the safe side and (b) to save time and everyone's work later. If the book is illustrated with photos from a picture library, you should see the selection of photos, preferably before layout, so that you can approve them or ask for them to be changed. If you accept a photo at this stage and change your mind later, you may be asked to pay the cost of changing it (picture research fees, picture licensing if it has got that far).
  • layout - the layouts will probably be sent to you as PDF files. The layouts are the text and pictures combined into pages, so this is the point at which you will see how the text and pictures relate to each other, where page breaks fall, and so on. Make sure the pictures are in the right places, read the text carefully, write any captions if they are needed (or check the editor has written sensible captions if you are not doing them yourself). You may receive layouts as printed pages, though this is less common these days. In highly illustrated books, a PDF may be too large to send to you and then you will have printed pages. You can either mark them up (in pen, never pencil) and send them back, or make a list of changes which you email to the editor. The latter takes longer but has the advantage that you keep your copy of the proofs, which is useful if you need to discuss changes with the editor, and there is no chance of them being lost in the post.
  • proofs - layouts are not proofs. Proofs are page proofs, and are generally produced by the printers. They should be on nice quality paper, in full colour (if the book is in colour) and at full size. They should look exactly like the printed pages will look with the exception that they have not been trimmed (so the pages are printed on larger sheets of paper). You might, perhaps, come across the term galley proofs. This is a relic from the age of the dinosaurs when proofs were printed on long strips of paper. You won't actually see a galley proof (I don't think I've seen one since the 1980s), so if you come across the term the publisher will really mean page proofs (ie they are printed on pages).

alterations and corrections - alterations are changes you make to improve the book; corrections are changes you make because something was wrong. Alterations can generally be avoided, whereas corrections must be made. So if you want to change the name of a character because you have just found that another author is publishing a book with a very similar character with the same name (this happened to me once), you can ask to make an alteration. In this case, the publisher felt it was in their interests to change the name and it was accomplished quickly and without any fuss. If you write a book about picking and eating mushrooms and find that you have included a deadly fungus in a recipe, that is a mistake and you will need to correct it (otherwise you are going to fall foul of clause 13...). The publisher will want you to correct it, anyway.

Now, these are fairly straightforward and the publisher is unlikely to want you to pay for them. Suppose you had written a book about a Roman soldier with a magic sword and you had sent the illustrator reference (ie pictures on which to base the illustrations) which showed a Greek sword. At the last minute, you notice there is the wrong type of sword in every picture. You supplied the reference, so the illustrator is not at fault. You will very likely have to pay to have all the sword pictures redrawn, or the book will go out with the wrong sword in it and you will look a fool - because, believe me, people WILL pick up on it. The world is full of fanatics who seem to spend every waking minute looking for mistakes in books so that they can complain to the publishers.

The best way to avoid any arguments over this clause later is to check at every stage so that no errors get through to proofs. It does not actually cost very much to change the text these days as there is no such thing as real metal typesetting any more. Even so, any changes to page breaks have a knock-on effect, anything that requires changing or moving pictures causes problems, and changes that go over more than one page (such as changing the spelling of a name) can become expensive. The files sent to the printers will usually have to be regenerated (small text changes to a single page are often handled by the printers, but not larger changes or changes to pictures).

original cost of composition = what the publisher has paid to make the pages look like they do. Originally, 'composition' meant the compositor's fee. The compositor used metal type to make a plate for the pages, then used a computer to do this. Now, page make-up is done in a layout program such as Quark or InDesign and there is no compositor. Composition means doing the layout and producing the files for repro. Notice that this clause covers composition 'and/or artists' fees'. The latter are likely to be much higher (per page) than the cost of composition, but changing a picture will also mean redoing the page layout.

The only dodgy part of this clause is the final point, that if the costs exceed what they are paying you, you will have to pay the extra. To be honest, you would need to screw up pretty badly for this to happen - unless it is an academic book for which you are getting practically no money. In that case, I'd argue against this final bit. Normally, though, you would have to be quite incompetent to run up such a large bill for changes and corrections that you were paying the publisher. Even then, it's reasonable as you have incurred the cost. If you are so bad at the business that you can't check the book properly in advance, frankly it serves you right. However, it is important that you make sure there are opportunities to check before page proofs. If the contract is from a publisher you haven't worked with before, it is worth checking before signing that you will see edited text and layouts before page proofs. You will always spot errors once the text has been away from your for a while, so it's important that you can correct them at a relatively early (and free) stage.

Most arguments arising from this clause are likely to be over who is responsible for the errors, and I'll deal with that another day. On balance, apart from checking at which stages prior to proofs you will see the book, you can accept this clause without a fuss (unless you might fall foul of the 'you pay us' clause at the end).

Friday, 23 April 2010

How to read a publishing contract (5)

I'm back! LBF done (new post on it soon - or maybe not; perhaps we've all had enough LBF now), and back to that contract. Incidentally, I had a stroppyish email from an editor who said she couldn't pass my invoice for payment of the on-signature tranche because I hadn't sent the contract back. Ooooops. Don't forget that you actually have to get to the end of the contract, negotiate, sign it and send it back some day!

Here we go. This is a pretty crucial clause as if you don't send the book in, and in a form the publisher likes, it won't be published:

5. Conditions and Acceptance

The Publishers shall have the right as a condition of acceptance to require such amendments or corrections by the Author to the typescript and/or illustrative material as they think fit. Should the Author fail to carry out such amendments or corrections to the satisfaction of the Publishers, they shall have the right to reject the work, and in such event this Agreement shall be terminated and all rights in the Work shall revert to the Author, any advance payment made to the Author shall forthwith become repayable to the Publishers. The Author shall not be at liberty to publish the Work or enter into an agreement for publication of the Work elsewhere until such advance has been repaid.

This means that if the publisher wants you to change things in the book, you have to make those changes before they will publish the book. If you don't make the changes, the book will be rejected, you have to repay any money you've had, and you can take the book elsewhere. This might look fairly non-controversial and straightforward, but it means more than it appears to mean.

When you first read this clause, you will probably think it means 'does the book do as it set out to do what it says in the synopsis?' and 'does the book have errors, inconsistencies and other faults that must be corrected?' This is certainly part of what it means. Let's look at this first.

If yours is a non-fiction book,and the editor/consultant has checked the book and found there are things that are wrong and need to be corrected, you need to put them right. It might mean you have missed something out that you have to add, or that you have included something they consider irrelevant that you must remove. In either a fiction or non-fiction book it can mean that your writing is not good enough and you need to improve the style, or that the structure does not work and you need to improve the narrative flow or the logic of the argument. If it is fiction, the characters may be inconsistent, or the action implausible, or any number of other faults, all of which may not have been obvious from the synopsis. All of these aspects are to do with you, the writer, having done the job badly and the publisher wanting you to put it right. Fair enough.

But what if you don't agree that the features the publisher has identified as faults are actually faults? What if the changes the publisher wants are unacceptable to you? We'll leave aside whether you are right - whether it would actually be a better book if you did as you were told - as I can't judge that without seeing your book and the publisher's requirements. It is enough that you are certain the publisher is wrong and you don't want to make the changes. This clause works in your favour as well as theirs. It means that if you are adamant that you won't change a character, restructure the plot, rewrite in a less/more flowery style, add a chapter on nuclear power, remove an incident, add counter-arguments or whatever - you don't have to. You can say 'I will not make these changes, as it will then not be the book I wanted to write, or a book I want my name on. So the agreement is at an end and I will take my book away and here is your money. Goodbye.'

Scary? Well, maybe. But it's scary for them, too, especially if your book is part of a series and the rest of the series is all on target.

Of course, you don't need to say all that at once - it depends how strongly you feel and how strongly you think they feel. If they say your book is badly written, it probably is, to be honest (especially if you haven't published (m)any other books or your previous books have been heavily edited). They are the experts. If it is a difference of opinion - they think it would be better if you did certain things, but you think what they want would change the argument/nature of the book in a way unacceptable to you - it's worth arguing your case. If you can put a cogent and persuasive case, they may agree you are right. But this is all for the future - let's not jump ahead to your book encountering problems. The point here is that this clause is your friend: it means you keep control over your book as long as you are willing to walk away from the money and from publication. Maybe you aren't. But it's not a clause you can get struck out, and it's not a clause you should try to get struck out, as it gives you as much protection as it gives the publisher.

This one gets through without argument. By the way, 'advance' may also be 'fee' if the book is for a flat fee. And you only have to correct the illustrations if you are the illustrator. There will be more about corrections in clause 6.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Volcano squatting

Stroppy Author is taking a bit of time out to go to the London Book Fair. Lots of meetings with friends, editors, agent and anyone amenable, too much coffee (no doubt) and just enough wine (I hope!).

I'll also be volcano-squatting one of the empty stands, showing off as many books as I can carry. If you're at the Fair, look out for me! There will be a volcano poster on the stand (if I can get a stand with wall space).

Friday, 16 April 2010

How to read a publishing contract (4)

Now we're on page 2 - so mentally turn the page. Don't forget to initial the first page.

4. Permissions

The Author shall give the Publishers full details of any copyright material (both textual and illustrative) which is not original to the Author. The Publishers shall clear the permissions for such material, and the cost of any permission fees shall be borne by the the Publishers, but if in their opinion any permission fees are excessively high they can decline to include the relevant copyright material in the Work.

This means that you can't stick bits of someone else's book or other copyright work in your book without telling the publisher all about it. The publisher will pay the costs involved, but can refuse to include the material if it costs too much.

full details of any copyright material = the title of the work, the name and contact details of the copyright holder, the publisher, the publication date, the ISBN (if it's a book), the reference for the bit you want to use (eg page or line numbers), the text (or picture) you want to use. It's illegal to reproduce copyright material without the permission of the copyright holder, and if you include copyright material and don't tell the publisher, you'll be in trouble if the copyright holder sues. 'Trouble' can be anything up to and including ending up in the bankruptcy courts.

any copyright material = any material covered by copyright; in the UK, copyright generally extends for 70 years after the death of the original author. But there are plenty of special cases and if you are using anything other than a book published relatively recently, you need to check carefully. For instance: you have found some letters written during World War I by a soldier killed at Verdun that have never been published. Copyright in these expires on 31st December 2039. Now suppose your soldier survived the war and died of old age in 1984, still not having published his letters. Copyright in these expires 70 years after the death of the soldier, in 2054. But if the soldier was killed in an air raid in the World War II, copyright would still expire on 31st December 2039. Confused? Here's a useful flowchart to help you work out whether something is still in copyright.

Don't assume that because something was written a very long time ago it is out of copyright. Milton's Paradise Lost was first published in 1667, but that doesn't mean you can grab your copy of Paradise Lost and use as much of it as you like. There is also copyright in an edition - so the punctuation, corrections, capitalisation, page layout and so on are copyright even though the actual words are not. If you want to quote from something old, you can easily find an old edition that is out of copyright or an online edition that is copyright free. There is also copyright in translations, so if you want to quote a chunk of Goethe, that will be covered by copyright restriction unless you choose a very old translation.

If you are writing fiction, copyright material you are most likely to use would be any snippets of songs that your characters sing, any quotations from other books, or from poems, films, TV series and so on. If you are writing non-fiction, it's more likely to be obvious to you that you have used copyright material as it will probably be chunks quoted from another book.

In the UK, there is no legal limit set on how much of a work you can quote without permission, and some copyright holders are very vigorous in pursuing people they consider have breached their copyright. T.S. Eliot's widow is notorious for this and there are tales of her objecting to quotations of more than two consecutive words of Eliot's poetry without permission. Some reproduction of copyright material is allowed as long at is it considered 'fair dealing' or 'fair use'. Quotation for the purposes of 'criticism or review' is allowed under this provision as long as the quotation is not excessive and the source is acknowledged, so a book of literary criticism will not need clearance for every single quotation. (If you are publishing such a book, the publisher should know what they are happy quoting without permission.) Other things covered by fair dealing include news reporting and incidental use (eg accidentally showing a copyright poster in the background of a photograph). There is a good summary of fair dealing here.

The Publishers shall clear the permissions = you give the publisher the details of what you are using, it's up to them to get permission to use the material. Look out for this clause, as some publishers will try to make it your responsibility to clear permissions. The publisher should have staff who know how to clear permissions and do it routinely. Let them do it. You might make an exception if, for instance, the copyright holder of unpublished letters is your great aunt. Otherwise, let the publisher do it.

the cost of any permission fees = the amount it will cost to use the material

Often, permission to use copyright material is given in exchange for payment of a fee. It is entirely up to the copyright holder how much they want to charge, but it usually relates to the amount that is being reproduced and the use it is put to. So the fee is likely to be lower for a book aimed at the educational market, printing 5,000 copies and selling into schools and libraries, than for a glossy coffee-table book that will sell 50,000 copies at £25 a time. Large publishers and picture agencies usually have an established scale of charges. For pictures, the fee varies depending on how large the picture will be when reproduced, whether it is on the cover or internal pages, and whether it is in black and white or colour.

Look out for this clause - some publishers try to make you pay the permission fee! This is especially the case in academic works, and you may not be able to get it changed. I once spotted it in a contract for a book which was to consist of 40% quotation, so it would not have been worth writing the book if I had not had the clause removed as all the income would have gone on permissions clearance.

if in their opinion any permission fees are excessively high they can decline to include the relevant copyright material in the Work = if it costs too much, the material won't go in the book. You might be able to find cheaper replacement material, or you might just have to miss it out. (If it is lines from a song, you might do better to make up a song of your own.)

You need to take good notice of this clause as there will be a later one, usually labelled 'warranty', which makes YOU liable for any financial loss that results from you including copyright material that has not been cleared.

Monday, 12 April 2010

How to read a publishing contract (3)

If your book is illustrated, there may be clause covering the illustrations.

3. Illustrations
The Publishers shall at their own expense reproduce any photographs, pictures, diagrams, maps or any other material in addition to the Author's illustrations which is considered necessary for the proper illustration of the Work. All photographs shall, when done with, be returned to the photographic agencies by the Publishers. Any material belonging to the Author shall be returned to him by the Publishers. The Publishers shall have the right to require such amendments or corrections by the Author to the illustrative material as they think fit.

This can look a bit scary, but don't worry - it doesn't mean you have to do anything you weren't expecting. The first bit means you don't have to pay for the licence to use any pictures. These might be pictures from a picture agency, or specially commissioned photographs or illustrations. In an academic book, you MAY have to pay for the use of illustrations, but this is a contract for a commercial fiction title and this is the standard - the publisher pays all reproduction costs.

The reference to the Author's illustrations doesn't mean you are expected to supply any illustrations - this is just a standard clause. If you are the author/illustrator of a picture book, you will already know you are providing illustrations. The book this contract relates to doesn't have any illustrations (or I don't think it does.... haven't seen the pdfs yet!) but the clause is still here. It will, of course, have a cover illustration, so that counts.

All photographs shall, when done with, be returned to the photographic agencies by the Publishers -
This is an old bit, left in from the Dark Ages. Now, the photographs (if there are any) will be selected online and you will be sent thumbnails, or links to the light box on the picture agency site, or you will see them when they are in the layouts and you get a pdf. The publisher will never be in receipt of a physical copy of the photograph, they will just pay to download a high-resolution image file, so there is no returning to be done.

Long, long ago, when we had to use real physical photos, publishers would sometimes send copies of photos out to authors. This was very scary, as you could lose them, or spill coffee on them, or your child/cat could be sick on them, and then you had to pay a large fee to the picture agency. Thank God we don't have that any more.

Any material belonging to the Author shall be returned to him by the Publishers - This usually refers to any artwork roughs or reference you have sent (unless you are a real illustrator). Artwork roughs are sketches of the picture required. They are not to be reproduced in the book but passed to the illustrator so that (s)he knows what to drawn. Reference is any picture that can be used to guide the illustrator. It is an image that is more finished than a rough, but may not show exactly what to draw. For instance, if a map is needed, the reference may be a copyright image that shows exactly what is required, and the illustrator will draw something pretty similar. But reference may also be a picture of the type of hat a character in a larger picture must have, or a photograph on which a biological illustration is to be based, or almost anything else.

If you are the illustrator, you will have sent original artwork and perhaps a dummy (a small, rough, mock-up of the book showing how all the words and pictures are laid out). These should be returned to you. Never send anything without taking a copy. Obviously. Of course you weren't going to do that, were you? Even if you hand-deliver it, take a good quality copy.

The Publishers shall have the right to require such amendments or corrections by the Author to the illustrative material as they think fit - If you are the illustrator of the work, this means you have to make changes the publishers want. If you are not the illustator, don't worry about this. It basically means you might have to add annotation or suggest changes the illustrator can make. Sometimes, I do these by marking up the picture in Photoshop, but you can often do it just by giving a description. In the worst case, you can print it out, add your changes in pen and either put in the post (remember the post?) or scan it in. It doesn't mean you actually have to make the changes to the finished illustration (if you're not the illustrator) - so you can start breathing again.

Friday, 9 April 2010

How to read a publishing contract (2)

OK, clause 2. This is a short one:

Delivery of Manuscripts

2. The Author shall deliver to the Publishers a complete copy of the typescript together with the Work on disk, by the following date:

[usually a date in the past]

a complete copy of the typescript = a copy of the work printed on pieces of paper and put into an envelope

the Work on disk = a copy of the work on some kind of disc, which your computer almost certainly can't write to and theirs can't read

They don't mean this clause at all. No, really, they don't. I have only delivered one paper copy of a manuscript in the last ten years and even then I said 'Really? Do you really want a paper copy? Why?' Perhaps they didn't have a printer.

Anyway, this clause actually means 'send the work as an email attachment. It must be a Word document. We probably won't be able to open it if you use the latest version of Word because we have antiquated systems.'

Often, you get the contract after you have sent the MS. If this is not the case, check that you actually can deliver the MS by the date specified. If it is in the past, and you haven't delivered it, that's worth arguing about. If it is too soon - you won't have finished the book - argue about that. It's better to set an achievable delivery date, even if it means they get a little bit cross as this stage, than to agree to a date you can't meet and then (a) get very, very stressed and (b) make them very cross when you don't deliver on time. Really. Believe me. It is in unprofessional to let them plan their production schedule around a date you know you can't meet. If they won't budge on an unrealistic date, tear up the contract and look for another publisher. I mean it.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

How to read a publishing contract (1)

Publishing contracts can be long and scary documents. It's easy to be intimidated into thinking that you just have to sign on the dotted line and go along with what the publisher wants, but you don't.

If you have an agent, your agent should be good at arguing for you, but some agents are better than others. If you are a member of the Society of Authors, they will look at the contract for you and make suggestions about clauses they consider unfair. If you are not a member of the Society of Authors, join now! You only need one published book (not self-published or vanity published), or one publishing contract, to join.

But having an agent and joining the Society of Authors doesn't let you off the hook. You still need to read the contract, you still need to understand it, and you may still object to things that SocA or your agent don't object to - or you may be happy with things they object to. Remember, it's your book, your career, your final choice. Don't be bullied. And don't be ignorant. If you are planning on being a professional writer, you need to understand your publishing contracts. And remember that to start with the publisher will send your their 'standard' contract. It's where you start negotiating from - it's not the end of the story.

Now, as they're long and scary, I'm not going to go through a whole publishing contract in one go here. We'll do it clause by clause. I will just pick my last contract, so it's a random choice. Every now and then I'll stick in a clause from a different contract so that we cover all (or most) bases. Please, people, feel free to add extra advice and, most importantly, correct any errors in the comments. What I am using here is not quite a standard contract as I have worked with this publisher before and argued with them, so my contracts are now tailored to accommodate the results of previous strops. They sometimes reinsert their favourite clauses to be argued about again, or in the hope that I won't notice them.

Note - this is a UK contract, relating to UK law and I give UK interpretations of the terminology. If you are not in the UK, your contracts will be different. Don't follow my advice and then grumble that it doesn't match your legal system and you've been strung up.

Here we go:

First the preamble:

MEMORANDUM OF AGREEMENT made this ...[insert date before you sign] day of ...[insert month] Two Thousand and ...[insert year] between Stroppy Author, c/o Stroppy Author's agent, Agent Street, London, (hereinafter called 'the Author', which expression shall, where the context admits, include Authors and Author's executors, administrators and assigns or successors in business as the case may be) of one part and Stroppy Publishers of Stroppy Publisher address (hereinafter called 'the Publishers', which expression shall, where the context admits, include the Publishers' assigns or successors in business as the case may be, whether carried on under the present or another style) of the other part

WHEREAS the Author agrees to write an original work for the [Stroppy series], at present entitled:

Stroppy's Latest Book

(hereinafter called 'the Work')

OK. This is a long-winded way of saying who you are, who the publisher is, and what your book is currently called. It means that if you die, or become completely incapacitated, you aren't let off the terms of the contract, the terms just apply to your descendants. It also means that you aren't let off if the publisher goes bankrupt, changes its name, bla bla - the contract will still be in force with whoever takes over. This might mean (for you) negotiating with a liquidator. It might mean (for the publisher) negotiating with your bereft relatives. We won't get distracted into that now. We'll do 'when your publisher goes bust' another day. Let's stay optimistic for now.

So, assuming you live long enough to write the book and the publisher stays solvent long enough to publish it, what next?

In this contract, the book is 'at present entitled' which means you/the publisher might change the title of the book before it is published and the contract will still be valid. The book is now known in the contract as 'the Work' and will still be 'the [same] Work' if the title changes.

Clause 1, then I'll let you off for today:

Rights and Territory
1. In consideration of the payments hereinafter mentioned, the Author hereby grants the Publishers during the legal term of copyright the sole and exclusive right and licence to produce, publish, broadcast and perform the Work or any abridgement, portion or adaptation of it in all editions, languages and forms throughout the world. The Author grants to the Publishers electronic rights for excerpts of up to 150 words from the Work. Further electronic rights are to be mutually agreed.

In consideration of the payments hereinafter mentioned = in exchange for payment; there is a later clause about money

during the legal term of copyright = until 70 years after your death (UK law); varies by jurisdiction, but there is a full list here. If you publish in Afghanistan, there is no copyright.

sole and exclusive right and licence = you can't let another publisher do anything with the book and you can't self publish it or do anything else with it yourself

produce, publish, broadcast and perform the Work or any abridgement, portion or adaptation of it = the publisher has broadcast and performance rights; they can negotiate with the BBC to serialise the book, they can approve (or not) stage performances, readings, audiobooks. You can't do a short version, chunk or re-working of the book for another publisher or broadcaster. Think this doesn't affect you because it's not feature-film material? Think again. It means you can't do a YouTube video of yourself reading from the book without their permission. You can't produce an opera from it, or a puppet show, or a machinima movie. Even if you translate it into Tamil first.

throughout the world = you can publish it on other planets. They are being generous. I have heard of a publishing contract that claimed rights throughout the 'known and unknown universe'. Throughout the world, though, suggests that you could broadcast your work on the basis that you are aiming it at a different planet but unfortunately some people on Earth are listening to the signal when they shouldn't be. I haven't put that to the test, but it looks plausible...

The Author grants to the Publishers electronic rights for excerpts of up to 150 words from the Work = the publisher can use up to 150 words in any electronic form, such as putting it on their website, on Amazon, or including it in other e-books as a taster. This publisher is being very reasonable. (Actually, I insisted on this restriction in an earlier contract and they anticipated another strop if they didn't include it in this one). We'll come back to electronic rights properly another day, but allowing an excerpt is fine. The reason this excerpt is so short is that the book is very short; for a longer book, expect a longer excerpt - but not too long.

Further electronic rights are to be mutually agreed = If they want to make an e-book, they have to ask you first and you will arrange the terms then. I hope the wording of this clause means that electronic rights remain with the author until they are 'mutually agreed', as that's what I asked for. If any legally-expert readers would like to confirm or refute this in the comments I would be grateful. If the contract claims electronic rights here, you MUST argue about the clause. You may want to reject the contract outright if they won't change it.

So, by agreeing to this clause you give up all rights to do anything else with your book anywhere in the world in any language. This is a clause you should argue with. Why should the publisher stop you giving a reading, allowing the book to be read on radio, or make a YouTube video? Do you want your agent to be able to sell foreign rights? Don't you want to make a block-buster movie and sell plushies of your characters? What's wrong with you?

Did I strop?

No. I would have challenged the performance/adaptation part of this clause. In fact, this contract has a later clause clawing back TV, film and merchandising rights so I didn't, but if your contract doesn't have such a clause you must argue to keep some of these rights.

In this case, I didn't strop as my daughter was very ill and I just signed on the dotted line to get it over and done with. Sometimes that happens, but I would try not to do it again. I always want to keep animation rights. I will argue that YouTube and machinima are electronic rights if I want to do either of these later.

Whether you argue about this clause will depend on who your publisher is, who your agent is, and what you plan to do with your book. If your publisher is a large international and will do their own foreign editions, you may want to let them deal with foreign rights, and they may insist on it. If your agent is an expert at selling foreign rights, you might want to argue. If your book is a textbook on integral calculus, you might think the performance rights are not worth keeping. But think carefully - a video of glove puppets explaining integral calculus might be a big hit!

Right, enough for now. I'm off to make a glove puppet show about integral calculus...

Monday, 5 April 2010

Stranger danger and car-jacking fire engines

If you're in the UK, the start of the new Dr Who series will not have passed you by unless you live underground, far from the reach of TV waves.

For those of us who used to hide behind the sofa while black-and-white daleks were stumped by stairs and risked their cardboard going soggy in the London fog, the rotating Christmas decoration threatening humanity was a welcome return to 1960s Blue-Peter values. And the plot was a welcome return to the days when a young girl could invite a strange man into her bedroom without wondering whether he was actually a Catholic priest hoping she had a nice brother.

This Dr Who had everything the 1960s did so well - casual racism ('You're Scottish. Fry something.'), complete disregard for the safety of viewers (yep, get a freak with a screwdriver to come into your bedroom late at night, little girl. No harm in that), promotion of crime (nick a fire engine and talk on the phone while driving it), child neglect (where was the aunt in the middle of the night?), and even desertion of good manners (spitting out food someone has cooked for you and you've asked for). Actually, the last of those would not have been tolerated in the 1960s, at least not in my corner of the 60s.

Was there a little splinterette of a moral lesson in this Dr Who? If you let strange men into your bedroom you grow up to be a strippergram? Or was that just sound career advice? If you want to be a strippergram, let strange men into your room... (Incidentally, if you try to nick a fire engine, you get banned from the fire station. I know this as my Big Bint was banned from the fire station for 10 years. The moral of this is - make sure you are successful in nicking the fire engine and you won't be there to be banned.)

Don't get me wrong. I think a healthy spirit of adventure is to be encouraged. I'm with Arthur Ransome - 'better drowned than duffers; if not duffers, won't drown' (
Swallows and Amazons). But it is a little unfair that while Mr Moffat gets to encourage children to whizz around space-time with non-CRB-checked potential paedophiles, children's writers aren't allowed to put a sword in a book because it might encourage violence. So I'm going to have a little strop about it. If we can trust children not to follow the examples of Dr Who and his side-kick, aspirational heroes for many generations (except no-one worthwhile ever wanted to be Sarah-Jane), can't we trust them not to run amok in a fourth-crusade-style sword massacre if we show them pictures of a medieval knight?

If you would like to become the Dr's assistant without risking attack by paedophiles, it's safest to do it on this BBC website instead of at home in your bedroom.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Writers as stars?

(Painting by Stuart Pearson Wright
linked from UsableMarkets)

It's a funny thing being a writer at the moment. Writers are lauded and celebrated everywhere. Reading groups have sprung up like fungus; readings and book launches are packed; the radio waves are filled with writer interviews and book programmes; famous writers are consulted on non-writing matters; literary festivals proliferate like coat-hangers left in a cupboard; celebrities think it worth their while to pretend to be writers and pay ghosts to produce books with their name on; The Reading Organisation and The Reading Agency try to bring reading to a wider constituency and promote/exploit the therapeutic benefits of literature; creative writing courses are crammed with wannabe writers - everyone loves writers, suddenly.

But not books. Libraries close, or reduce their book stock in favour of space for computers, 'mediatheque' installations, or just empty space for readings and performance. (Oh, the irony - remove the books to make space for authors giving readings from, er, books.) Geeks and moneymakers shout loudly about e-books and the potential for replacing the active role of imagination in reading text with the passive and lazy consumption of multimedia. Authors are paid less and less - very few earn even the average wage, many earn below the minimum wage. Bookshops stock more copies of fewer titles, and shun anything not guaranteed to be a bestseller. Books are commoditized in supermarkets, sold for practically nothing by Amazon re-sellers (even books that have only just come out), stolen by pirates.

How has this dichotomy arisen and where will it lead? How can society on the one hand idolise writers and on the other hand despise books and their place in our lives? It's not even as though it is different people doing the two things. The same people who promote new trends in publishing before considering how to address the financial impact on professional writers are those who turn up at readings.

I would be the last to say that society owes writers a living. I have never applied for an Arts Council grant or any other source of support for my writing. But in a market that apparently wants writers, why does no-one want to pay a sustainable amount for our work? Why are they happy to let us talk on the radio for free or virtually nothing, but not happy to pay the going rate for a book in print? It looks as though we are returning to a world in which the only people who can afford to write are those with another source of income. Some people say that's fine, you can write in your free time. But that will exclude many people - single, working parents don't have free time; people on a low wage may be struggling with more than one job to make ends meet. And we need books written by people from all parts of society, so that all parts of society can find something they want to read, that they feel speaks to them, and so that we can all, as readers, enter different worlds unfamiliar to us.

It should NOT be necessary to subsidise writing by doing literary festivals, school visits and 'personal appearances'. Nothing wrong with these as extra sources of income for those who like doing them - but they are not and should not be, an essential part of the job of being a writer. They require a completely different skill set and THEY ARE NOT WRITING, they take time away from the job of being a writer. If I wanted to be a performer, I'd have gone to RADA instead of Cambridge (oh, hang on...) - I'd have been in Footlights instead of the library.

If society really values writers and reading, can they please stop treating books so badly? Fame is all very nice (perhaps) but food on the table is more sustaining. I don't want a free glass of warm Pinot Grigio in Heffers every other week - I want my books to be sold for a fair price and to be paid a fair price for writing them.