One of your favorite articles from our archives, Pirates, Spies, And Submarines (Part One).
Next Wednesday we will follow with Part Two of this article.
One of your favorite articles from our archives, Pirates, Spies, And Submarines (Part One).
Next Wednesday we will follow with Part Two of this article.
Today I want to talk with all of you who might like to write a book, would like to write a book, are writing your first book, or just finished you first book.
Authors and writers who have met me know I believe all of us are co-workers. I strongly believe we should help each other. I have been helped by and have helped other writers, and I will continue to help other writers.
Today I want to give you a warning about some of the people and companies you are likely to come into contact with.
The good old days are gone. At one time you could sign a contract with a publisher. You would provide the best manuscript you could write and would do the requested rewrites. The publisher would handle the editing, cover design, marketing & advertising, and set up book signing tours. The costs for those things were covered by the publisher. The author was paid royalties based on book sales and was usually given an advance check against anticipated book sales. Those days are gone.
The good news is authors generally get larger royalties. The bad news is you are responsible for marketing, advertising, and setting up book tours. If you intend to be an independent author you will be responsible for all of it, editing, book cover, marketing & advertising, book signings everything.
My advice to you is to hire a professional to handle your editing and cover design at a minimum.
Now comes the advice.
You will come across people and companies that call themselves publishers. They are not publishers.
This is what a publisher does. A publisher gets the rights to publish (print) a book and sell those copies of the book. They make a profit when readers buy those books to read. There is no guarantee that the publisher will make a profit. The publisher has many expenses they must pay from sales of the book including the book’s author. In other words a publisher makes their money from book readers not book authors.
Today the author is responsible for more and more of those expenses, and that’s just the way it is.
When you talk with a publisher and they are talking about how much it will cost you to get your book into stores that publisher is NOT a publisher. They do not make the majority of their profit from readers, they make their money (most of it) from writers. But that does not necessarily mean you should run away.
You are going to pay for editing, cover design, marketing, and advertising. If the “publisher” is offering services you will need anyway you might want to do business with them. Take the price costs they give you and price compare. Get samples of their work so you may judge the quality. If you like their quality and you believe their price is reasonable they very well may be a good match for you. Just remember YOU don’t make money unless your book sells.
There is one kind of publisher you should ALWAYS run from. And they have a gimmick which will make you think they are a legitimate publisher.
The conversation starts off like any publisher. They want to publish your book, they want to sign you to a contract. Great! The contract will give them specific rights to your book. (See below about copyrights) So far so good. They also offer you a way out of the contract if you decide at a future date you want out. You can buy your way out. Now they begin to tell you about the different publishing packages you have to choose from, CAUTION FLAG. Then you find out what YOU have to pay for these packages, RED FLAG!
If you have to pay all the costs to get your book to retailers and you have to sign a contract giving your copyrights to this same publisher, I would NOT do business with that publisher.
That publisher is making the majority of their profits from writers not readers, AND they have the rights to your book.
So you have now spent thousands of dollars to get your book published. You may have even had some book sales when your book came out. But now the sales have dropped off or completely stopped. You decide you want to do something different with your book, but you can’t because you do not own the rights to your book any more. Ah but you can buy those rights back for only hundreds or thousands of dollars.
I chose to be an independent author. I like being in control of every aspect of my book. I use a POD company (publish on demand) to get my books into print and into stores. The POD company I use has none of my copyrights nor have we signed a contract. They make money when they sell a copy of my book. If I want print copies of my book I pay wholesale not retail prices. In other words I don’t pay what the stores charge customers, I pay what the stores pay for my book. And since I retain all my copyrights I can take my book to another POD any time I want.
For e-books I distribute my books through Amazon KDP and Smashwords. Again I keep all my copyrights and can take my book any time I want.
What about ISBN numbers you ask? I have never paid for one. Each of the companies I deal with ask if I have an ISBN number of my own I would like to use. The POD company and Smashwords offer me a free ISBN through them. I always go with that. Those two send my books out to many different retailers (like Apple and Barnes & Noble) I need an ISBN for them. When I go through Amazon KDP their only customer is Amazon, so I do not need an ISBN they have their own number they use.
Some people will tell you by using the free ISBN you are marking yourself as an independent writer. The owner of the ISBN is encoded in the number. But the retailer KNOWS they are getting books written by indie writers so who cares.
Also if you do leave the company that gave you the ISBN you cannot keep using that ISBN. They own the ISBN number but not your copyrights. YOU still own your copyrights even if you use an ISBN provided to you.
Now on to COPYRIGHT. First copyright law is a specialized legal field and your best bet is to talk with a copyright lawyer. In the mean time you can go to http://www.writersdigest.com and search the word copyright. They have several great articles on copyright that explain copyrights in an easy to understand manner.
The one thing I will tell you about copyrights is this. When you write a book you do not have just one copyright for that book. You have e-book, paperback, hardback, first run, anything someone can do with your book, it’s characters, & etc you can sell someone a copyright to do that – including movies, TV, and action figures. You can also put a time limit on how long they have those rights. Go to Writer’s Digest and then a lawyer.
Good luck and welcome aboard coworker!
Here is another of your favorite articles from our archives, “Sneak Peak at our new video.”
Disclaimer: This article is satire. Names, titles, and quotes have been fairly and accurately used under the “Fair Use” clause of United States Copyright Law. No attempt is being made to adversely impugn any person (living or dead) or any written or other artistically created work.
Those who do not have a dictionary (to look up the definition of “satire.”) or who have no sense of humor should put away this article immediately and do not read it at this time. At some future time when you have sufficient funds and transportation to travel to a retailer to purchase a dictionary and/or a sense of humor, you may then read this article.
The purpose of this article is to draw attention to the varied views of copyright law internationally, and to make artists aware of the presence of many influences attempting to erode their rights to their works and their ability to profit from their work; along with just a few of the additional problems faced by writers in the 21st century.
The attacks worldwide on copyright laws worldwide are far too numerous and complicated to discuss in one satirical blog post.
I was at my favorite e-book retailer drooling, I always drool when book shopping, when … what? No – that’s not why I drool in bookstores. I drool in bookstores in awe of the god-like (I used a little ‘g’ get off my butt) talent of authors. It seems every book I read these days falls into one of two groups of genius.
The first group is those who actually accomplish what has so far eluded me. (Writers always hate our own work and wish we could stop!) What is worse is that they make it look so easy and natural as well. I am convinced most writers hate those creatures worse than the dreaded critic. I would never admit to this hatred aloud (none of us do) that would be unprofessional – petty even. So I praise them with words while loathing them in that dark secret part of my mind. That same dark secret part of my mind that ridicules everything I write and laughs hysterically every time I write anything longer than a single sentence.
The second group is those who are able to exchange five hours of my life for their magnum opus. And at the conclusion of those five hours I have discovered their greatest talent is, (while using an alphabet that appears familiar) to create something which is even less comprehensible than the speech of a modern politician. And according to the retailer’s download counter this same said opus is outselling the Bible.
Now – back to my original train of thought.
I was perusing e-books online when I noticed something. It seems everyone who has published at least a few titles (regardless of length) has eventually published a book on writing. I had never noticed this before. I spent hours searching for books on writing. When I was finished I discovered there were two writers who have not published a book on writing.
The first, Ernest Hemingway, was saved from cataclysmic exclusion by another writer. This writer collected everything Hemingway wrote during 44 years; his entire repertoire from his first job as a reporter at age 18 on the Kansas City Star to his dying day. Then by carefully sifting through this enormous body of work produced a single (though enlightening) volume of Hemingway’s words and advice on the art of writing. The second writer was me.
Since I seriously doubt anyone is going to sift through my ‘enormous’ volume of work to do the same. I thought it was my time to put my words on writing down for you.
Now we begin:
First, if in addition to writing, you also find yourself harming your own physical body in anyway shape or form you are in luck. You are not a writer and a good counselor or mental health expert can help you overcome this so you may become a happy and healthy member of society. If not I am afraid we will have to do further testing.
Second test. Do you think you will one day be able to make a living through your writing? I have great news for you! You need to find a real job and get use to the idea that “you the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. You will do so much for so long with so little that you will be qualified to do anything with absolutely nothing at all.” Oh you will also make starvation wages while doing it.
Think I am wrong? “What about Dan Brown and Stephen King?” you ask.
Fair enough. Let’s look instead at other authors. How about say Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickenson, Jane Austin, William Shakespeare or even JRR Tolkien. Mr. Tolkien grossed fifty million dollars US in 2008 alone. Good ole JR died in 1973 and his combined income from birth to death (81 years) was – believe it or not – less than fifty million dollars.
“Not fair,” you shout. “Those are all top list authors!”
True and we all know you do not have to be a top list author to make a living, right? Mid-list authors make a living as a writer, some quite a good living too. So what does it take to be a mid-list author? Let’s say at least one number one selling book and a couple of awards. It does not matter where the awards come from. No one has ever heard of most of them.
(There are only two well known literary awards, and those are the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes in literature. And tell me when was the last time either of those two committees ever gave an award to someone you have even heard of much less read. I am not trying to knock them. Hemingway got the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature for The Old Man and the Sea. But that was more than fifty years ago. In the 21st century let’s face it, Nobel and Pulitzer awards have more to do with politics than talent. You think I am overstating an opinion? Okay, who won the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature? Give up? Hosea de Casa from Casa, Bolivia for his book A Caminhada. You look it up yet? Go ahead, I’ll wait. I made up the author, town, and book didn’t I? But you had to look to find out I was wrong. You even searched Google to find out if what I said was true! I don’t know who actually won and I do not care. Did you even hear of that person BEFORE you looked it up? When was the last time someone like Stephen King, Dan Brown, Sandra Brown, or Charlie Brown (oops sorry about that I got carried away) won one of those two awards? “Hemingway 1954,” you say. Yup Hemingway 1954, I proved my point.)
So back to the mid-list authors, the authors who had at least one #1 Bestseller! There are hundreds if not thousands of people who would qualify as “good mid-list” writers. I think you should read the article by The Guardian entitled “From bestseller to bust: is this the end of the author’s life.” Back yet? Did you read what those mid-list authors were saying about their income? That jerk boss and stupid co-workers aren’t looking so bad after all are they?
You still here? I have some really bad news for you. Please, you need to sit down. You are terminal, there is no help for you, and there is no cure. The only thing that can be done is to prepare you for your future life.
Have you ever seen what an eviction notice looks like or had a car repossessed? You will, and I hope you like ramen noodles too. In addition to having no wheels, no place to live, and crappy food to eat you need to get used to a couple of other ideas too. Most (but not all) of the people you know are going to want a free copy of at least one of your books, inscribed to them. That means you’ll need to buy it for them and then be grateful they are willing to accept it.
The other thing is that no one will have a clue what you meant in anything you wrote. No exceptions. You write a piece about a kid and his dog that is really a representation of the middle class in the 21st century and everyone will think you just wrote a piece about your dog when you were a kid. If you write something about your favorite sport everyone will think you were really writing a piece of social commentary. The good news is that if they think it aligns with their political view of the world you should be hearing from the Nobel Prize in Literature committee real soon.
You think I’m wrong about that last point? One of the first authors I looked up was Herman Melville. “Who?” you asked.
Herman Melville – you know, he wrote Moby Dick. “Oh yeah,” you said. “Had to read that in high school.”
Yup, and remember all that symbolism your literature teacher taught you with Moby Dick?
“Melville was really commenting on social conditions of the day. Ishmael represented blah, blah, blah. The whale represented blah, blah, blah. The blah, blah, blah represented blah, blah, blah.”
I hate to break it to you, but nope. What Melville was really writing about was a whaling ship that battled a whale. You know how I know that? Two reasons. First I learned everything I could about Melville when I was a kid. What I learned was that Herman did what writers are always told to do. He wrote about what he knew.
You see Herman went to sea as a common sailor on a merchant ship and then transferred to a – yup you guessed it – a whaling ship. Also, before he wrote Moby Dick there was a whaling ship named the Essex that was attacked by a whale. The incident was written up in the newspapers. Herman took that idea, what he knew about whaling ships, and wrote a novel. He made some money on it too (#@!^%$$).
The other reason I know your literature teacher was full of sheepdip is because Hemingway and Mark Twain said so. Read Mark Twain’s original preface to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or what Hemingway said about The Old Man and the Sea. Ernest actually said several things about symbolism in literature, but I can’t print some of it.
You know what? There are still literature teachers today that say they do not care what Hemingway said his novella is about. It is allegorical whether he says it is or not. So, just get used to the idea that no matter what you write YOU are the only one who will get it, no one else not even mom. And if by some accident someone actually DOES “get it” without you telling them? Don’t worry it was just a fluke. If it ever does happens a second time by then you’ll be drooling on yourself and won’t recognize your own nursing home staff.
The point I want to make is that no matter how dumb you think Ms. Strauss (or whomever) is for insisting she knows better than Hemingway what he meant when he wrote The Old man and the Sea, she is still smarter than you. She’s found a way to make a living in writing. She’ll make more money than you and never has to write a damn thing.
Lastly you may be saying, “Yes, but at least I am creating a legacy for my kids and grandkids.”
Umm not so fast. There are a lot of people who have an opinion on that too. It seems that creating a business that sells widgets and leaving it to your kids, grandkids, and so on is fine. But it is just not right for people with creative talents to try and do the same thing with their business.
Think I’m wrong again? You really need to start trusting me. I was reading an article on Australian Policy Online by Elizabeth (Beth) Webster (I have included a link in this article to take you to the web site, which reprinted from another web site Ms. Webster’s (no relation to Daniel) original article. I am not sure on how many web sites her article has been shared, but I have taken the brave step of breaking the domino effect here on my page – I think. Awww damn I did it too.). It seems she has some very real ideas about what needs to be done with your work and who needs to benefit from it. Here are a couple of quotes from her article.
“Currently, too many parts of the intellectual property system merely service rent seekers – that is those who seek rules and regulations that merely transfer income from other people to themselves without any net addition to social wealth.”
Who is the rent seeker? The owner of the copyright of course, even if it is the creator of the work, here is the next quote.
“The intention of copyright laws are to encourage people to create cultural products such as books, songs, movies and fine art inter alia. The argument goes that if authors of those works (or their owners) can charge royalties, then more people will decide to work as artists. Royalties mean the artist gets an income and can therefore spend more time creating works. This argument has some merit.”
“But the right to control who can reproduce these works should not last forever. In fact, it should not last beyond the point at which the royalties has an effect on artists’ decisions to create more. The question is what is this point? One thing we can all agree on is that $1 in 100 years’ time is worth very little today. At a 5% discount rate, it is worth less than 1 c. This means that existing copyright laws (which can give control for over 100 years) are merely lining the pockets of movies houses and the heirs of dead authors without any effect on the current cohort of artists.”
Yup that’s right. The profit from your hard work should not go to yourself and your heirs. You see the purpose of copyright is not about protecting property you created. It is about encouraging other artists. So after enough profit to have “… an effect on artists’ decisions to create more” the rest of the profit should go to up and coming artists. I would like to see Beth tell British Petroleum or Shell Oil, “You have been sufficiently encouraged to produce more oil. So we are going to take all your profits and giving them to oil companies that are just starting out.” What about the royalties from book sales for say – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? I think few people would say either of them needs more encouragement. Do their royalties get divided amongst the “current cohort of artists” along with the rest of us? Somehow I get the feeling that whichever of the two is deemed to be on the “correct side of politics” will get to keep his or her royalties.
Beth is not the only one who feels this way. The web is full of articles, comments, and posts by people who think your copyright is unfair. So who, you may ask, gets to decide what a “net addition to social wealth” is, or who the ‘worthy’ up and coming artists are? Or more important, who gets to decide when you have been sufficiently ‘encouraged’ to the point that you no longer need your copyright? Well no one ever answers those questions. I think they probably avoid answering because most artists who are making a living or trying to leave a legacy for their heirs won’t like the answers. If they did answer those questions I think you would find they are using the same criteria the Nobel Prize committee uses. And if that’s the case, I think Stephen King and Dan Brown are in trouble.
So, now, do you still want to be a writer?
[shaking my head]
Well then all I can say is may God have mercy on your soul.
PS For all you Charles Schultz fans out there, I agree with you. Charles Schultz DOES deserve a Nobel Prize in Literature.
For those of your who like a “free read” I just published my e-book short “Southern Cuisine.” A Lighthearted look at Southern food, and it is a free download at your favorite e-book retailer.
Enjoy and have a great weekend!
P.S. In another week or two I will be publishing my first ghost story “A Family Reunion: a different kind of ghost story” (also a free download). So look for it.