Friday, April 12, 2013

A better deal: Why knowing the business gives you power

If your publisher was going out of business, and offered you a choice between taking a below-industry-standard royalty rate and a less-than-ideal rights grab, or losing your work in legal limbo forever, which would you choose?

For a while, that's what the authors of Night Shade Books were afraid of. Night Shade is going under, and to stay solvent (and thus not have their assets seized by the government until the debts are resolved, assets including the copyrights of all their authors), they are planning to make a deal with Skyhorse and Start. Skyhorse and Start will then use the authors who sign the deal to start a new imprint, but the deal will only go through if 90% of the authors sign on.

Then Skyhorse and Start sat down and looked at the internet response to their terms, and talked with the Science Fiction Writers of America, and revised their terms to be pretty much industry standard--in some points slightly better than industry average. In other words, the publishers talked with authors and agencies that represent authors, listened to the feedback authors and readers left them, and improved it.

It's happening all over. Thanks to the internet, the ease of self-publishing, e-books that allow better royalty rates, and writers having a multitude of options, authors everywhere are getting better deals.

Not every author, every time. Certainly not. And there are some things that are getting consistently worse, like the winnowing of the author advance. But on the whole, authors have something that was previously lacking: power.

We, as writers, own the copyrights of our work until we sell them. Not long ago, I had someone ask me if they had to pay their publisher a royalty when personally optioning foreign rights. Did the publisher have the foreign rights as part of the contract? No. Was there anything in the contract stipulating they'd have to pay a fee to option other rights? No. (And what a horrible contract that would be if the answer had been yes!) Therefore, no, the author owed the publisher nothing. The publisher had no claim to those rights in the first place, so the author could do anything he or she wanted with them.

Everyone wants in to the rights-grab: publishers will try to take as many rights as they can, because it makes them money, and making money is their first business. But, they also know authors have power. Authors have the right to say no, and the ability to go elsewhere, which enforces that power. If a publisher makes an insulting offer, it knows it won't get an educated author. So, proving you know something about the industry means you'll get a better deal.

Teach yourself. Know your options. You have power, and publishers do--really do--listen to you.

What are some of your favorite publishing sites? Where, or to whom, do you go to learn about the industry?

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