Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Not for Sale

There is an excellent discussion going on here over at Absolute Write's paying market forum that reads like a primer of everything a writer should check out and question about open anthology calls. I'm particularly impressed by how the writers on the site are responding to the post (and if you do go over and join in, please be as civilized about it as they are.) Protecting each other by flagging and (when possible) discussing prohibitive terms involved with any writing job is one of the most valuable aspects of being members of the online writing community.

In the past I've done flat-fee writing for hire, which in my case involved turning a concept into novels for one client. Like most writers I much prefer to do my own thing, but at the time I needed the income, and when bills pile up you often can't afford to be choosy. It turned out to be a neat challenge involving an interesting type of writing, plus I got to use some personal knowledge I don't usually have the chance to employ in my own writing. I worked with some great editors and was suitably compensated for my time and efforts. All in all it was a decent experience and I'm glad I did it; if the right project came along I'd certainly do it again.

That said, before I signed the contract for that particular WFH project I made sure I understood every aspect of what I was selling to the client: all rights, including the copyright, in exchange for a flat fee per novel plus a standard percentage of the royalties. Once the books were finished they belonged to the client, not me; from my POV they might as well have been written by someone else. Which is how I still think of them, actually -- as the client's books, not mine.

Bottom line, be sure and read all the terms involved with any offer or writing job you're considering, and be sure you're clear on what you're selling to the publisher or client. If any clause is unclear, ask for some clarification. If any of the terms leaves you feeling uncomfortable, worried or otherwise troubled, don't accept it. You can always find another job -- once you sell off your rights, they're gone forever.


  1. It's entirely possible I'm wrong - but I wonder if she might have been sincere in intent, but a bit misdirected in hoping to apply niche ebook marketing tactics to fiction.

    It's an interesting thought, though. And I can't say I've seen anyone jump in with both feet and truly try what I'm guessing she might have been planning to... if she was for real, that is.

    1. I'll guess she is sincere and for real. On the second page of the discussion she offers some info about herself that is quite illuminating as to what is likely her primary financial motivation. While I sympathize with her personal situation it's also worrisome.

      I've also seen a few projects like this in the past offered by someone who hasn't worked in the industry but wants to in a big way. A few of them have been successful and the writers were paid and published, but most never get beyond the planning stage.

  2. I think your captcha hates me - the first one had an indecipherable word and a picture of a light switch!

  3. Sorry. I'd turn it off if I could, but then the genitalia enhancers would flood us with their schlock. I'm also getting a lot of Buy My Freaking Book SPAM from clueless indie authors; I'm guessing they see my ranking on Technorati and think "I'll go there and drop a comment which mainly pimps my novel and THEN I'll make millions."

  4. The moral of the story is to always read both submissions guidelines and contracts carefully.

    Don't sign over rights on submission EVEN if they promise to give them back on rejection (and yes, I have seen publishers try to pull this one. It means that you can't withdraw the story and if they take five years to get back to you, your story is stuck in rights limbo). And some companies will try to pull the 'cheap content scam' where they request rights, often FULL rights, to every entry in a contest.

    Don't sign over full rights unless you're being paid what you consider to be accordingly. I wouldn't sign over full rights for a flat payment of less than 10 cents a word on fiction. (I'll take less on non-fiction because sometimes you have to take what work you can get).

    And bear in mind that what is 'standard' in one industry is not 'standard' in another. For example, most novelists own their own work and continue to do so. The publisher acts as a facilitator, providing editing, cover art, marketing, negotiation with bookstores if they do print, etc...but they don't claim to OWN the book. (I prefer the term 'published with' over 'published by' because it SHOULD be a partnership). But take a few steps sideways into the comic industry and you'll find a VERY different landscape with a completely different set of land mines...and situations that are neither 'they're publishing your book' NOR traditional work for hire.


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