One of the main reasons I launched WANA International was I realized that we were entering an entirely new paradigm and authors were vulnerable. Sure, we have a better chance of success than ever before, but we are open to old predators and new. We can’t fight what we don’t understand. We can’t defend against what we don’t know exists.
Intellectual Property Attorney Susan Spann is here with me today. This week, I want to take an opportunity to introduce you to some of the speakers that will be at WANACon this coming weekend, and I hope you will clearly see why I
stalked, begged asked them to present. We writers are in a perilous world, and people like Susan can help keep you and your writing safe.
Take it away, Susan!
Would you give away your book for free?
I don’t mean a single copy. I mean the copyright – all copies, all languages, forever. Would you give that away for free, knowing you’d never make a penny and that the person you gave it to could make as much (or as little) as he or she liked?
If you would, feel free to go about your day.
But the rest of you, gather ‘round. I have a scary tale to tell.
As a publishing lawyer, I speak with a lot of writers. The lucky ones find me before they sign a contract. But there are others … not so lucky.
The ones who come too late, when there’s often nothing I can do.
The ones who signed a publishing contract that doesn’t require the publisher to account for moneys earned or amounts deducted from profits before “net royalties” are paid.
The ones who inadvertently granted their TV and movie rights to printer (not even a publisher) – for the life of copyright – and now won’t see a dime if the film rights sell.
The ones who entered their work in a contest – not realizing the entry rules contained a hidden copyright license that renders the work un-publishable by the author.
There are more. Many more, some even worse than the ones I’ve mentioned. (It does get worse. You’ll have to trust me there.)
And independent authors aren’t any safer than their traditional counterparts. Every time a book is published, in print or in digital format, there is a contract. Some indie websites and printers refer to their contracts as “terms of service,” but terms of service are legally binding contracts too.
Don’t be fooled. A contract by any other name is just as thorny and just as dangerous to the unaware. Smart authors know how to recognize them, how to read them, and how to make smart decisions about them.
But how? How do I make decisions about something I don’t understand?
Good question. Here’s the answer.
1. Smart Authors Take Responsibility for Their Careers
As an author, whether you choose traditional publishing, independent publishing, or both, you are the one in charge of your career. Agents, editors, publishers, printers, and everyone else in the industry is a potential business partner, not an employer and not a mystical power controlling your destiny.
When you choose to write for publication – regardless of method or path – you are actually choosing a career. You wouldn’t enter a standard job expecting someone else to make choices for you. Don’t treat publishing differently than any other job.
2. Smart Authors Educate Themselves About the Industry
Don’t listen to hype, and don’t fall for myths and tricks. If you want a publishing career, learn about the business from every angle. It doesn’t matter whether you want to “go indie” or believe your choice is “brick and mortar all the way.” Learn about all the options, and continue learning throughout your entire career.
You can’t decide which option is best if you don’t know what the available options are.
Take your time. Read blogs. Read books. Explore resources. Ask questions every chance you get. Talk with authors – independent as well as traditionally published. Listen and learn. The more you know, the less likely you are to get caught in a trap.
3. Smart Authors Learn Some Publishing Legalese
Learn to read a publishing contract. Know the standard terms. Understand the places where contracts trap you, and have a reliable place to get answers when questions arise.
Find an attorney, an agent, or a qualified professional you can trust – and make sure that person understands publishing contracts. Publishing legalese differs from other forms of legal agreements. You need a specialist with experience in the industry.
Don’t let yourself be trapped or fooled by someone who seems “too nice to be taking advantage.” Don’t let the other side tell you what the contract says or what the strange words mean. Learn for yourself. Protect yourself. At the end of the day, you are your own best watchdog.
So be the best watchdog, and the most responsible author, you can be.
It’s your book. It’s the world you built in your head, and it deserves the very best chance of success you can give it.
And it’s more than just your book: it’s your career.
I ask again: would you give away your book for free?
Then don’t let anyone take it from you either.
You are the President, CEO, and manager of your publishing career. Don’t take the responsibility lightly. Learn the industry. Be the watchdog. Save your (fictitious) world.
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Huge thanks to Kristen Lamb for sharing her blogging platform with me today, and also for inviting me to speak at the upcoming WANACon online writing convention. I’ll be teaching a class on understanding publishing contracts and another on “being your own best watchdog,” and I’m honored to be part of the fantastic lineup of professionals that Kristen and WANA International have brought together for WANACon to help equip writers with the tools to establish, grow, and manage their careers.
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Susan Spann is a practicing California attorney with over ten years’ experience in intellectual property, publishing and contract law. Her publishing clients include book and magazine publishers, authors (both traditionally and independently published), and developers of e-books and digital apps. She is the author of Claws of the Cat (St. Martin’s/Minotaur, July 2013), a Shinobi Mystery featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. Susan blogs about law, writing and seahorses at http://www.susanspann.com, and can be found on Twitter @SusanSpann
THANK YOU SUSAN! What Susan has to teach is SO vital, she has TWO classes at WANACon, and that’s because WANA is here for authors, ALL authors, no matter what road you choose to take for your publishing future. Thanks for stopping by, and details for WANACon are below.
Do you have any thoughts? Questions? Maybe a horror story to share? Did you nearly fall into a contract trap?
Again, here is where you can view the full conference schedule. WANACon is an on-line digital conference and it starts with a social Thursday night. The main conference and agent pitches are this Friday and Saturday and then there is the special PajamaCon with ME this Sunday. February 21-24 from YOUR HOME…ALL AWESOME.
Sign up for BOTH DAYS of WANACon for a mere $125 (this includes ALL the parties and Surprise Pajama Sunday). Register HERE.
Ready to get an agent? Sign up for Agent Pitch Sessions HERE.
We hope to see you at WANACon and PAJAMACon. Seats are limited, so sign up asap.
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