Saturday, August 01, 2015

Publishing Contract Conversations



I’m not frequently asked what’s the reason for a publishing contract, but I’m sure many authors wonder. I’ll try to make this very short as there are entire books written on this subject.  The short version is there must be agreement between the parties involved.  Publishing contracts deal with copyright. When an author sits down to write, everything written by him or her is instantly copyrighted by law according to U.S. and international copyright conventions. 

With that said, no one except the author has the right to copy his or her work. Stealing one’s work is called copyright infringement.  So, the main purpose of a publishing contract is to allow someone besides the author—a publisher in this case—to copy, distribute, and. in most cases, to grant the ability to the publisher to license others to copy and distribute said copyrighted property.

All of this is usually contained in a paragraph or so at the beginning of the contract, so why 20 or more pages of paragraphs and sub-paragraphs in most contracts?  The answer is there are more issues that need to be resolved and understood, issues covering other important items beyond rights.

How about money?  Income from the sale of intellectual properties (books, novels, plays, TV scripts, music, etc.) also must have a place in a contract and be agreed upon by the parties involved.  For instance, there must be, described and agreed upon, when royalties are paid, in what form, and how royalties are to be divided between author and publisher.

How about the length of time the publisher gets to keep those rights? Also, there are movies and TV shows made from books. Contracts must also cover who controls these rights and how these rights, called secondary rights, are to be handled.

Then there are many issues in contracts that protect the author and publisher against infringement, meaning someone else publishing the book and putting money from sales in his/her pocket.  There are also parts on the contract that protect the publisher from unscrupulous authors stealing someone else’s book and claiming it is theirs.

I’ve promised to make this short, but that doesn’t mean the conversation has to stop here.  If you have a question concerning contracts or just general questions about publishing, feel free to comment.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Narrative Discovery



New authors usually write like they talk and this results in overwritten passages. When editing your work, ask yourself this:  Does my reader need this information?  Am I telling instead of showing my story or ideas?  Here’s an example:

It is a family tradition to go to the fair in the summertime.  We always go by car and drive there. It is about five miles from our house in Farmville to the fairgrounds. When we arrive, I always hurry past the many venders who are all in vending trailers selling all sorts of goodies. My favorite is cotton candy. So when we go to the fair next Saturday, I am going to get lots of cotton candy.

Here’s a very short version that actually says the same thing:  Next Saturday, I’m going to the fair and eat lots of cotton candy.

I’ve cut everything except what’s necessary to paint a very minimal word picture and, in so doing, have replaced a whole paragraph with one short sentence. Possibly the only item that could have been added would be that it’s a family tradition—but is it necessary for your reader to know going to the fair is a family tradition?

Let’s now look at what’s left out and why. First, aren’t most fairs held in summer?  Is it necessary to know the distance was traveled by car? Isn’t it assumed, if one goes by car, that the car is driven?  Is this information necessary? Does your reader need to know the fairground area is five miles away?  Isn’t it assumed there are lots of venders at fairs and who cares if there’s only one that sells cotton candy, because, for the protagonist, doesn’t cotton candy seem to be his/her focus?

The worst thing about overwriting is readers sense the author thinks them to be not too bright.  If this isn’t the case, then why explain each and every detail? Isn’t it better to let your reader join you in narrative discovery?  After all, both you and your readers have very creative minds.  Please let them use theirs by not explaining every single detail.   

Monday, October 27, 2014

Writers Are Word Dancers

My wife and I love competition. Because there aren’t many sports that a couple can engage in fully clothed, we chose competition sport dancing. Sport dancing, or DanceSport, is an international sport much like soccer is international.

Like any sport, DanceSport requires coaching, training, dedication, and practice to compete successfully. There many levels of competition in divisional categories based on whether a couple is amateur or professional, just like there are many levels of writing based on whether you are an amateur or a professional.

In addition to dancing, I also write novels, and sometimes I can’t help but compare potential success in writing to potential success on the dance floor. After all, each has its share of winners and losers. As mentioned above, as a dancer I must be coached and trained to be successful.  Is this true in writing?  Of course it is.  Having worked in nearly all facets of the publishing industry, I’ve always found this to be the case. However, I find that many writers feel they can compete with no training at all. Yes, almost everyone can write just like almost everyone can dance. However, everything changes when you go from just writing to wanting to be a published author, just like everything changes when you step off the social dance floor and onto the competitive dance floor.

For example, presentation becomes not only important, but vital. Step on the competition dance floor in jeans, and you’re not going to get a lot of the judges’ positive attention and that will distract them from getting the full impact of your dancing. The same goes for a manuscript. A sloppy manuscript is fine for your personal read-throughs, but when you decide to ask a reader to buy your work, your book needs to be polished so that it doesn’t distract from the story or readers will never buy another one of your books.

Also, even at the lowest levels of dance competition, the interpretation of the music is key. Just going through the patterns is not enough, even if they are technically perfect. If there’s not emotion, no connection with the music, there’s nothing for the audience to connect with. The same goes for your book--story is everything. If you have no real story, nothing your readers can connect to and enjoy, then you don’t have a book.

In dance, we practice and practice and practice to compete for anywhere from 5-20 minutes, depending on the competition. In publishing, books that take months to write and revise often only get about the same amount of time to wow the reader. Each requires a great deal of effort with little time to impress the intended audience, so the stakes become incredibly high.

Writers for years complained about gatekeepers who they felt were standing in their way and preventing them from being successful authors.  But as with dancers, writers also have those who judge their performance and it’s not just agents and editors anymore.  Even now that most gates are wide open, the indie author is still being held accountable by the same gatekeeper who has always judged them—the reader.

When you decide to go to the next level, whether in dancing or writing or something similar, you have to be prepared to understand, first of all, that competition is fierce, that there different levels and requirements, and ultimately, success of performance is directly proportional to how much time and effort is spent in preparation of the final product and its presentation.  And, as it is with competitive dancing, performance is everything.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Attributing Success--Or Not



I’ve been in many heated discussions with author’s groups covering many different subjects. However, when the subject of marketing came up, as it always does, the mood turns sour.  Each time I mention that authors must market to succeed, board groupies get very upset.  Most seem to feel an author’s only job is to write and it’s always the publisher’s job to do all the marketing. However, this isn’t and has never been the case in the long history of publishing.

Of course authors should write, but also it’s also in an author’s best interest to get his or her author name and books in front of as many potential readers as possible. Even though a publisher edits and publishes a book, it’s still the author’s book and every author should want to make sure his or her book is successful.

Even suggesting writers must market always opens a fire-storm of protest from the writer board side of the argument. This is because most new authors will trust their fellow supposedly knowledgeable authors who are notorious for giving out bad advice. The tactic board jockeys always use is to make anyone who opposes their argument look stupid by ganging up, misquoting and bullying any opposition into silence.

That an author is going to market his or he book is the expectation of all publishers. To back up this point, here is a quote from Jenny Bent, owner of the Bent Agency and formerly an agent with the Trident Media Group, one of the largest literary agencies in the world. This is from a paper she wrote in 2002 and is entitled, What to Expect When You’re Published?

Q: How much marketing and publicity can I expect from my publisher? Can we put something in the contract about this? And just was is my agent’s role in publishing my book?

A: I don’t know any authors, and this includes multi-published authors with million dollar deals, that are happy with the amount of publicity and marketing they receive from their publisher. Please be prepared to do as much as you possibly can in terms of your own publicity and marketing. Hiring your own publicist is always a good idea, and if handled correctly, will be welcomed by your publisher. If you look at the New York Times bestseller list, at least half of the writers on it will have worked or are still working with independent publicists. The big names in  particular always use an outside publicist in addition to the publicity their publishers provides…

Nothing has changed. Ms. Bent is not alone in saying this. Here is a list of others who go even further in insisting that authors must market to be successful.



Do Authors Really Need to Promote Their Own Books? http://michaelhyatt.com/do-authors-really-need-to-promote-their-own-books.html



Many more articles can be found that also back up the idea that if an author doesn’t market they will not sell many books. You might also ask board jockeys who advocate it’s the publisher’s job to market your book where they got this information and how successful they are using those tactics. Also, don’t take their word for their successes. Always check out their sales ranking on Amazon.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Can You Tell Your Story In One Sentence?



I was asked recently why I became a publisher.  I talked and talked and talked as I watched eyes glaze over. In my enthusiasm about a job I love, I never realized I was boring the hell out of everyone.

When someone asks you about your book, do you notice the polite smiles and glazed over eyes, or do you do, as I did, keep on talking; trying to cram years of joy into what should be a one minute conversation. 

Since I’ve bored enough people with my story, let’s talk about writing instead. I can do this because I love both. Also, I’ve listened to about a thousand people try to cram a 90,000 word novel into a 10 minute pitch session at writer’s conferences.

Okay Mr. Big, tell me how I can tell people about my book and not bore people to tears? The answers not easy but let me try without boring you too.

Do you know what you’ve written?  No, I’m not trying to insult your intelligence, but that’s the reason most of us can’t tell our story in a moment or two.  We know, of course we know, but can we tell anyone else?  
Actually, you should be able to express your book or profession, in one sentence.  Can’t be done you say.  Not easy I say, but it can and must be done.

To begin, write a chapter by chapter outline. What’s that and how do I write one of those things? It’s done by breaking each chapter into one paragraph. Go through your story and write down only the important stuff. Stick to only what’s moving the story forward.  Remember, only one paragraph and that’s it. No cheating.
Now you have maybe 30 paragraphs—a couple of pages instead of 350. What’s neat about this is you as faults in your writing pop right out as you’re doing this exercise.   

Next break each paragraph down into one sentence—one sentence that expresses only the importance of that paragraph. Said another way, could the story have survived without that one important factor.
There are now less than 30 sentences. Why? Because, as has happened with almost everyone, he or she has found a chapter, or more, that did nothing to promote their story. Those sentences that are left, with a little work, can become your novel’s synopsis.

You now have less than one page that expresses your whole novel.  Now you can easily reduce this small amount of writing into one paragraph. If you don’t include how the story ends, you have what’s known as your jacket blurb.

Now comes the part I always like: You can now see clearly what’s going on in your story. You can now express what your story is about in one paragraph and, with a little concentration, that one sentence you’re looking for should pop right out. You have in front of you just over a minute of conversation that expresses your entire novel, so tell whoever asks, “What’s your novel about?” that one sentence you’ve now found, then follow it up with your blurb.