Traditional publishing (and other) problems (#SFWApro)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is writing a series on publishing contracts (hat tip to Walk of Words), so far posting Parts One, Two, Three and Four. The big takeaway is that you should read any contract carefully and get a legal explanation of whatever you don’t understand. And that includes things like contest rules and nondisclosure agreements: Rusch says in Part Four that one contest she’s entered in the past now has fine print requiring entrants — not just winners — give the contest group a large share of copyright.

Which leads to the other takeaway, that publishers and even agents are increasingly aggressive in sinking their fangs into your rights: even some agents demand a share of copyright now. Rusch makes the point that intellectual property is an asset: even if the publisher has no interest in reissuing an old book, keeping it makes the balance sheet look much more profitable. And while most of the publisher’s staff can move on if, say, a hedge fun buys up the company, we’re stuck with the contract and its obligations (this is not hypothetical. A writing acquaintance has told me of bankrupt publishers whose intellectual property wound up in the hands of banks or landlords, who, of course, have no interest in publishing it).

•On the other hand, writer Ros Barber explains that given the added responsibilities involved in self-publishing — editing, getting a cover, marketing your book — she’ll stick with traditional, despite the limited income. While I wouldn’t rule out self-publishing at some point (something novel length, that is, rather than a collection such as Philosophy and Fairytales), I admit that marketing is not my strength, and the necessity is a huge disincentive.

•And then we have Mallory Ortberg writing on The Toast about publishers’ apparent interest in writers who are good-looking. : “Herr, for her part, acknowledges that an author’s appearance can affect an advance — ‘We look at all of that stuff’ — but insists, ‘We would have paid her the same money if she weighed 500 pounds and was really hard to look at.’ In other words, appearance doesn’t affect advances and contracts, except when it does. Ditto contacts (one interviewee says a writer being able to get a cover blurb from Amy Poehler was a big plus) and social media skills.

Which is not news, really. I remember back in the 1990s one editor at Daw saying one of the things he looked for in submitting writers was whether they’d networked enough they could promise a few big names would provide blurbs for the books. But it’s still disturbing for all of us who are not, shall we say, avatars of physical perfection, to know we might be judged on our looks as much as our craft.

It’s also one of the problems I have with arguments that we should kill copyright and let writers make their living off personal appearances and readings. Writers are not actors or musicians; public performance isn’t part of the skill set. A lot of people are too nervous (public speaking is one of the commonest phobias); a lot of people are just poor public speakers. Huge numbers of people don’t have the kind of presence or appearance that draws a crowd, or the kind of fame that will put butts in seats: I’ve made probably over a thousand on short stories over the years, but I seriously doubt I could earn that much by reading them in public. It’s a really good idea unless you think writers should be fine not making money. Which some people are.

•And here’s a depressing report that Ace and Roc are being merged in with their parent companies, and in the process not only are editors going but upper management will make “title cuts” — which Rusch in another article says some books simply won’t come out. It was depressing enough when Barbarian Books closed its doors before publishing Questionable Minds; I think having the title “cut” would be even more painful.

•To end on an upbeat note, here’s an unusual cover (don’t know the artist, all rights reside with current holder) I rather like.

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1 Comment

Filed under copyright, cover art, Writing

One response to “Traditional publishing (and other) problems (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Dubious arguments for killing copyright (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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