Category Archives: Contracts

All The Good Things That You Do Not Want

As authors, it isn’t enough to have goals and know what you want – you also have to know what you don’t want.

We spend so much time working towards our goals that it seems contrarian to not embrace every opportunity that comes along, but in fact, to truly create and build up the kind of career you want most, that’s exactly what you have to do. The problem isn’t that we aren’t offered opportunities; the problem is that we are so hungry for acceptance, so desperate for validation of what we work so hard to create, that we overlook the potential drawbacks of saying yes to the opportunities we’re presented with.

This, exactly this, is what allows vanity presses to thrive, and scam artists pseudo-publishers, who promise everything from editorial guidance to production to promotion to distribution, to prosper. Education is key in avoiding being stuck in those kinds of mires, which is one reason I am a teacher for and advocate of the annual Superstars Writing Seminars – because learning the business of being an author is just as vitally important as being an author itself, and the need for that knowledge is ongoing.

New authors are extremely vulnerable when it comes to publishing scams – but those can, with a little knowledge, be easily avoided. No one wants to be scammed, so those aren’t exactly missed opportunities. The ones that are more difficult to avoid, even for experienced authors, are the ones that look exactly like what we wanted, and may in fact be very close – but which turn out to be Potential Disasters In The Making.

Several years ago, I had an opportunity to sell a comic book project to a flashy, upstart publisher that had been having a lot of success in the comic book Direct Market. A lot of my peers were doing books with them, and we were in active talks to develop my project – until I read the contract. They asked not just for a stake in ownership of the properties they developed (which was balanced by a hefty page rate up front, something not guaranteed by publishers like Image where they don’t have an ownership stake, but you pay all the development costs yourself), they asked for 51%. Just enough to be the majority owner of the Intellectual Property. And over that 1%, I declined.

I took a lot of grief from friends over what they saw as a stupid decision – right up until that company decided to shut down, and sell all of its properties to a Big Corporation Publisher. All my friends lost their books, because that 1% meant they never owned them from the moment they said yes and cashed the check. In some cases, they had to watch as other writers and artists were brought in by the Big Corporate Publisher to work on books they had created, while they weren’t even considered.

Saying yes to that 1% might have given me a short-term boost, as it did with my friends – but I’d have lost control and ownership of something I had created, and that option was never, ever going to be appealing to me.

In traditional book publishing (as opposed to comics), ownership is not a question, unless you are being asked to do work-for-hire, or ghostwrite a project, but the same problems can arise depending on the terms of the contracts being signed. Even dealing with that issue that is mostly a matter of knowledge though, and willingness to stick to what you want, so it’s something that can be worked through (or not) and signed (or not). The opportunities that are the hardest to turn down are the ones that almost give you everything you think you want – except for that one little thing. But trust me: like the 1% difference in that comics contract, that one little thing is what will define our work and our careers, and sometimes irrevocably change the direction they take.

I spent a good part of this year negotiating a publishing deal for my inspirational nonfiction trilogy The Meditations, with a publisher that is well known and respected for publishing such books. The publisher liked me. The editorial staff liked me. They liked the books a lot, and really liked the fact that I was already being paid as a speaker, doing my presentation Drawing out the Dragons. It all seemed like an ideal match and a perfect opportunity: they would publish the books, and I would join other speakers on their established lecture circuit. It was giftwrapped and ready to go…except for that one little thing.

They wanted exclusivity, not of those books, but of my efforts as an author and speaker. In doing their due diligence, it seemed to them that I had plans to continue working as a YA Fantasy author, and comics creator, and an illustrator, and they felt that was not the best use of my abilities – not if I wanted the deal to move forward. They saw me as a potential full-time Life Coach, and someone who could ask – and get – ten or twenty times the amounts I was being paid in speaking fees if I was only just willing to edit the books to point in that direction, and more fully dedicate my efforts to that end as a part of their stable of author/speaker/Life Coaches.

I had to decide what I wanted, because that proposal seemed to me to be 99% of what I had asked for – a nice book deal, an international platform, and the potential for a lot of money – but the 1% difference, which wasn’t going to be contractual, just, ah, strongly encouraged, made my heart sink.

I knew what I wanted my career and life and work to be, and it was all of the things I do: writing fantasy, drawing comics, and yes, writing inspirational books and giving lectures. But the combination, the whole, is what makes me happy, and hopefully, inspires those around me. To exclude any of those parts would lessen who I am, lessen my happiness, and lessen the quality of the work that I do. And so I said no, and let that opportunity pass.

Those books have their own purpose, and will find their audience. I’m not worried about missing that deal, or about my career, because it’s the choices we make and the actions we take that define us, and there are always going to be more opportunities to choose, as long as we haven’t given away too much of our power by saying yes to too many of the wrong things, simply because we were afraid to say no.

So, if you didn’t get that publishing deal, or agent, or contract, have a drink and celebrate – it might be the best thing that could have happened to you. Then keep going, keep writing, keep choosing. That’s how it works.

James A OwenJames A. Owen is the author of the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series, the creator of the critically acclaimed Starchild graphic novel series, and the author of the Mythworld series of novels. He is also founder and executive director of Coppervale International, a comic book company that also publishes magazines and develops and produces television and film projects. He lives in Arizona. Visit him at HereThereBeDragons.net

The Importance of Author Mentors

A guest post by Petra Klarbrunn.

Most beginning authors I know think that a mentor is someone who will look over your latest screed and give you feedback and editing suggestions. While it is something that a mentor may do for you, that’s actually the job of an editor and/or critique group.

So what does an author mentor provide? I’m glad you asked.

  1. Questions at all stages. As mentioned, you might be lucky enough to have a mentor who has enough time to read over your epic novel. The majority of mentors are working professionals, so they’re busy working on their own epic space opera trilogy. They don’t have time to line edit your work. They do make time to answer specific questions for you. Say you’re having a problem with your opening hook. You can ask your mentor to look at a couple of paragraphs and get feedback from someone who knows how to write opening lines that propel the reader forward. Even better, they can provide a couple of different takes and have them go over why one is better than the other.
  1. Contracts. Mentors can give you some feedback on contracts, explaining what the egregious portions are and what they actually mean. They may suggest contract modifications or recommend that you take the contract to a specialist lawyer, especially if the contract is from one of the Big 5 publishers.
  1. Plotting. Some mentors can go over your plot outline and make suggestions. One of my mentors found a serious flaw in a novella that would have had me spinning my wheels for weeks until I discovered it. Don’t send a forty-page plot outline to your mentor. Send a bullet-point list so they can see how you build up towards the third act.
  1. Networking. Often overlooked, having someone who can provide introductions within your genre can give you a leg-up on your peers. One of the complaints about writing is “it’s about who you know that counts.” While exceptional writing can do your introductions for you, getting introduced to a busy editor at a convention or via email can at least give your work a better chance at getting looked over by a publisher. Introductions can also provide opportunities to get into anthologies or to work on collaborations.
  1. Blurbs. Receiving a blurb from a bestselling author or a celebrity can push your work to the top of the shopping cart. Stephen King gave a relatively unknown author named Jack Ketchum a glowing blurb and recommendation. Now Mr. Ketchum is a bestselling author and screenwriter.
  1. Giving back. Most mentors say that the main reason they choose to be a mentor is to give back to the community. Because most authors are genuinely nice individuals, they want others to succeed. Sometimes mentors didn’t have anyone they could ask questions of, and they want to help new authors with the craft. And who knows? Perhaps one day they will ask their mentee for a blurb or two.

Petra Klarbrunn Bio: Petra battles with her four cats daily for the use of her laptop. She writes in the romance, erotica, bizarro, horror, and academic fields using multiple pseudonyms. Her diet consists mainly of tofu and espresso.

Manage Your Business

The Fictorians and our guest bloggers have spent the month of March covering a number of legal topics and issues with which we feel every writer should have some familiarity. If we didn’t cover a topic you’re interested in, drop us a line and we’ll see if we can squeeze it in in the upcoming months.

All of these posts, however, rest upon a common premise; that is, as writers we should also be business people. Writing a work is only the beginning of the story—getting that work published and in the hands of readers is the rest of it, and that takes some understanding of a lot of different aspects of the business. And perhaps even more of the story is revealed when you consider how you’re going to keep that work in front of and available to readers after the initial blush has worn off. That’s all part of the business world in which we writers—now more than ever—have to operate.

We have to be business people, and we have to be focused on our own business—the marketing and dissemination of our creative work. Emphasize the ‘we’. Underline it, put it in bold italic 24 point Gothic font with flashing red lights. If we don’t manage our own business, if we don’t take responsibility for managing our own affairs, we can’t expect anyone else to do it for us. We have to know enough to take care of the day to day work and decisions. We have to know enough to know when we need to consult with or hire a professional to address a problem. And we have to know enough to be able to tell if that professional is getting the job done.

I wish that Robert Asprin was still with us. More than any other writer I know, he could have given a testimonial about this.

Robert was a pretty successful mid-list fantasy and science fiction author in the 1980s-1990s, who unfortunately ran afoul of the Internal Revenue System after one of his books actually made it to the New York Times bestseller list. I don’t know all the details of the story, but I do know that he ended up having to make monthly payments to the IRS for over a decade. He died in 2008, literally just a few weeks after making the final payment to pay off his tax bill.

So, yes, paying attention to detail and keeping track of the information and getting the forms right and turning everything in on time is important. Robert would bear witness to that. Just like reading the contracts and taking the time to learn what each of those paragraphs of legalese really means is important if we want to continue to own and manage our works.

The problem is that most creative people really really really don’t like the boring humdrum routine of doing what the commercial world calls the back office routines. I certainly don’t. But if we don’t stay on top of our correspondence, if we don’t gather all the material together for tax preparation and payments, if we don’t read those contracts before we sign them, etc., then we’ll deserve the problems that come of them.

The goal of every Fictorian is to not only be a successful writer, but to be a professional writer. Hmm, actually, that may be two different ways of saying the same thing; because every successful writer that I know is also very professional about taking care of business.

That’s the consistent message of the Superstars of Writing seminars: that to a great extent, a writer’s success is founded on not just his skill at the craft of writing, but also how well he manages the business side of his career.

So in pursuit of that goal, we’ve spent this month talking about various aspects of the writing business. Our hope is that you’ve found knowledge or confirmation among the various topics. Keep in mind that none of what has been presented represents legal or financial advice. Always consult an attorney or an accountant if you have issues arise. Pay the money. You’ll be better off, and the fees are tax deductible.

I want to thank all the Fictorians and guest posters for their many and excellent contributions, most especially M. Scott Boone who gave us not one, not two, but three guest posts this month.

Stay tuned—we’ll resume our themes about the writing side of the writer’s life tomorrow.

Record Keeping, Part Two: . . . But Necessary

Okay, now for a couple of specific issues:

Tax Records (U.S. version)

It is a commonly held belief that the IRS requires you to keep your tax records for seven years. Actually, according to the records manager of a company I used to work for, that’s not quite the case. According to her, the IRS regulations require you to keep your records for three years. However, if they do decide to audit you, they can go back seven years. And since no one would want to depend on an adversary for records concerning his or her own interests, everyone just automatically keeps seven years’ worth of records. And just so we’re clear, that means not only your tax filings, forms, and schedules, but also all of the supporting documentation: receipts, 1099 forms, spreadsheets, QuickBooks reports, e-mails that pertain to the taxes, and anything that would be necessary to defend deductions or interpretations, most especially any communications from the IRS. In this area, it’s better to err on the side of caution; if you’re not certain you need to keep it, you should probably keep it in the file.

Contracts (U.S. version)

Every state in the U S has regulations that define certain types of records which businesses must keep, even self-employed businesses like writers. As long as you as a writer are a one-person shop, most of them won’t be an issue. If you get to the point, however, where you are paying people to perform business functions for you (accountant, secretary, researcher, etc.) then you need to educate yourself on what your state requires.

There is one type of business record retention about which even the one-person writer shop needs to know, and that is your contracts and agreements. Almost every publishing contract between an author and a publisher or a publishing platform will contain a clause that says that in the event of disagreement between the parties, the contract is to be interpreted under the laws of a certain state. Most of the traditional publishing contracts indicate they will be interpreted under the laws of New York.

Obviously you want to keep the contract or agreement as long as it is active; in other words, as long as there are obligations between you and the other party which must be observed or performed.

But at such point in time as the contract has basically terminated—all parties no longer owe anything to anyone under its provisions—what do you do with it then?

Hint: don’t throw it away.

Every state has statutes or regulations that stipulate how long such a terminated contract must be retained by the parties subject to it. Here’s the summary: if you or your publisher reside or work in Louisiana, or if the contract says it will be interpreted by the laws of Louisiana, the rule is to hold it fifteen years past termination. All the other states have settled on a term of five years.

In states other than Louisiana, the only caveat I would raise would be if the contract had provisions that dealt with finances, you should probably keep it until the last year it operated has passed its seventh year tax retention.

And finally, the contract file should contain anything that would have a bearing on the intent of the parties in drafting the agreement, as well as anything that might bear on how it should be interpreted. So yes, you may need to keep some letters or e-mails to support that contract.

In summary: be organized, back everything up to protect yourself, and manage your records.