Monday, March 18, 2013

Be contract wary & publisher savvy!

By T.W. Fendley

Once you've finished writing your book, you enter the next stage of being a professional writer--getting published. Whatever route you decide to take (more on that later), at some point you'll end up trying to decipher the legalese of a publishing contract. Make sure you're up to the task or get some help.

In recent weeks, Random House--one of New York's Big Six publishers--came under attack for offering "heinous" contracts on its electronic-only imprints Hydra, Alibi, Flirt and Loveswept. John Scalzi, outgoing president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, states in his blog: "Dear writers: This is a horrendously bad deal and if you are ever offered something like it, you should run away as fast as your legs or other conveyances will carry you."

Author/blogger Elizabeth Donald says: "Random House proposes to take all rights forever and to require the author to pay for standard publisher expenses like layout, design and marketing, after which they will split the costs. I find this quite similar to the person who comes up to me at a convention and says, "I have an idea for a story. Why don't you write it and we'll split the money?" Only this is more annoying, because Random House damn well knows better. They are not some well-meaning start-up on someone's kitchen table. This is a cynical opportunistic grab to huckster new writers, and I've always felt there is no one lower than the people trying to scam writers. If you're going to scam someone, try someone who actually has money."

According to Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware, Random House has since modified its digital-only contracts, but they still merit scrutiny. Random House maintains it offers "a different--but potentially lucrative--publishing model for authors: a profit share..."

So what's a writer to do? Here are a few suggestions:
  • Read--and understand what you're reading--before you sign a publishing contract. Sounds simple, but I know I would've been tempted to accept a contract from Random House just based on their Big Six status. 
  • Get an attorney to check it out. 
    • Eastern Missouri and Southwestern Illinois artists with an art-related problem can contact the VLAA (Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants of America). To qualify for free assistance, you must earn less than $27,255 per year (+$9,550 for each additional household member).

Before you have a contract in hand, be sure to understand what kind of publisher is right for you. Writer Beware has a good overview of the differences between commercial publishers, vanity/subsidy publishers and self-publishing.
  • Pay close attention to the differences between self-publishing and vanity presses!
  • If you're considering an offer, ask an author who's used that publisher about their experience.
  • Check online watchdogs.
If you're in the St. Louis area, you can also check out tonight's session at the VLAA, to be held at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar (directions):

Monday, Mar. 18, 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. -- $15 *
It’s becoming harder to define what ‘publishing’ really is. Co-sponsored by the fledgling Saint Louis Literary Consortium, this session will address the rapidly changing world of book publishing. If you're a writer exploring options for getting published, this workshop is for you! Panel: Brad Cook, St. Louis Writers Guild; Attorney Andrew Eastman, Brinker & Doyen; Kristina Makansi, Blank Slate Press; Lisa Miller, Walrus Publishing; Catherine Rankovic, poet; and Winnie Sullivan, PenUltimate Press.

*To save $5, call 314/863-6930 to register in advance--only cash accepted!

Hope to see you there!

1 comment:

  1. Most of the big houses have "publishing services" arms now. They know where the money is - don't let it be yours.