Friday, 29 June 2012

5 Publishing Contract Tips and Hints

It seems there are always writers ranting against ‘loss of control’ if they choose to traditionally publish. Any such loss of control will always be governed by the terms of the contract. I am not an intellectual property lawyer, nor a lawyer in the field of publishing, but I am a contracts lawyer, and there are a few basics that are generally consistent across all contracts.

1. Make sure you understand what the contact means. What you think it says, and what it actually means in a court of law, may be two different things, and note also that which court of law is making the determination will also affect the interpretation. A clause interpreted by a US court may not mean the same as a clause interpreted by an Australian court. Generally the contract will identify which country’s laws apply, and of course with big publishing houses this will nearly always be US law, but if you are contracting with a local publisher, it may be the laws of your country of residence.

2. You aren’t expected to know what a contract means – that’s part of what your agent is for. Self-publishers will cite not having to pay an agent as money in their pocket, but an agent is providing a service to traditionally published authors, and contract interpretation (and negotiation) should be one of those services. Unless you make an awful lot of money out of your books, an agent is probably going to be cheaper than a lawyer, or at least won’t charge you a lump sum in advance. Of course the quality of the service will vary from agent to agent, as with all things, but look to your agent for contract interpretation advice and (in my opinion) advice on when you really do need a lawyer.

3. If you don’t like what the contract says, including in relation to creative control, negotiate. Nearly all contracts are open to negotiation on some points, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get. The creative control clauses can range from allowing the publisher to make wholesale plot changes without the author’s consultation to the publisher only being permitted to make minor copy-edit changes. If something’s not mentioned, don’t assume you retain control. Silence is ambiguous, not conclusive. Always ask for more than you want so you have room to negotiate down – it helps, sometimes, to ask for something you don’t want at all so you can give it up.

4. Don’t assume the publisher knows what their contract says or means! This sounds bizarre, but it’s so true and this sin ranges from small to large business. You might think large businesses have their own in-house legal, but even if they do, the lawyers aren’t always approving all changes (even if they are meant to).

I’ve seen contracts cobbled together from other commercial contracts, with managers using a clause because ‘that sounds good’ and with no clue as to what it really means. In big companies, I’ve had the experience of negotiating against contract managers (not lawyers) who may have agreed changes to contracts without running them past legal and then in the future they just trot those flawed clauses out again and again to re-use. Sometimes you can negotiate a change purely because the other party never intended it to say what it actually says!

5. For those of you are self-published authors, rejoicing in the fact you don’t have to navigate this minefield, you’re not necessarily in a better position. If you have a contract with Amazon, you fall in the category of contracts that aren’t negotiable – ‘take it or leave it’ contracts, as I call them. Mass-marketed contracts. Contracts that are not negotiated on an individual basis because they are high-volume, low-value contracts.

Amazon may not be attempting to take creative control away from you, but this particular type of contract, because it is a one-size fits all contract, has been subjected to rigorous legal scrutiny, and you can bet your bottom dollar it is heavily tilted in the other party’s favour. I haven’t seen Amazon’s contract, but I’ve heard it has a few potential nasties in it. Do you know what it says? Do you know what it means? You may not be able to change it, but it’s always prudent to know what you’re in for before signing on the dotted line. The absolute most basic rule of contracts is never, ever sign something you haven't read!
If you missed it, check out why Game of Thrones has been a success while Legend of the Seeker was a total failure here.

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The information in this post is factual information only and is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

How Multiple Personality Disorder Ruined My Marriage

Some of you know I'm on to my second marriage. Some of you may know why. And some of you may well be ignorant about both of these facts.

But I don't believe my divorce, or the reasons for it, are anything to be ashamed of, so when @RachelintheOC invited me on to her blog to talk about something emotionally raw and honest, I was happy to oblige.

Mental illness is stigmatised. Not enough people talk about their own experiences, making it harder for those who later have similar experiences in isolation and without support. So if sharing my experience helps one person, then I'm happy to share. You can read the whole story here.

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Saturday, 23 June 2012

Why You Should Never Visit Your Parents When They're Drinking

Have you ever spent time with your parents when they're drinking? And you're stone cold sober?

It's an experience I had recently, and one I could have done without. I learned all sorts of things. About my parents. And the great-art of baby-making. And merkins - of which I was blissfully ignorant and could happily have stayed that way for the rest of my life.

But in the interests of sharing the misery, or perhaps the hysteria (and sharing is caring, right?) you can read about my unfortunate encounter with the merkin - a wig for a woman's nether regions - my parents, and alcohol here at Patricia Carrigan's blog.

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Friday, 15 June 2012

I Just Can’t Say It Enough – The Evil of Saidisms

 Have you read a book where the characters growled, mused, or grated everything? Did it annoy all hell out of you? It sure does me! I don’t go through my life applying such tags to the things people say to me day in and day out – I just process the vocal tone and body language to reach a conclusion about the nature of the interaction. 

If you’re a writer, you might pause to ponder if you’ve been guilty of this sin. I won’t wait for you to answer though because I already know you are guilty as charged. Every writer is.How do I know this?

Because it’s a beginner mistake.

We all do this in our early days. You might be thinking of some of your early work right now - you know, the ones you've buried in hopes they will never see the light of day again? If you’re looking at your current WIP and it's littered with so-called ‘saidisms’, I strongly urge you to go through and delete all those nasties. Said is an excellent word. Said is an under-appreciated word. No matter how much you think you might be over-using it, you’re probably not. And if you actually are, there are better alternatives than ‘hissed’, ‘bellowed’ and ‘snarled’. Don’t even touch ‘grinned’. Trust me on this one. 

In the traditionally published world, this kind of writing will have you hit the rejection pile so fast your head is spinning. There are, of course, exceptions (see my post about Joe Abercrombie here). One is that occasionally contracted writers are allowed to get away with sloppy writing mistakes that newbie writers can’t – something I don’t agree with, but hey, I don’t make the rules. 

Even more occasionally, a debut writer will get away with this – I can only assume because their story is so compelling the errors were allowable. If you’ve been following my #writetip series, you may have seen the one that said great storytelling can sometimes make up for mediocre writing, and I can only assume this is the case here. 

In the self-publishing world, though, the only control is that applied by the writer. Some writers don’t know any better – they’re new, and they haven’t yet learned a lot of craft, and in that first stage of writing, that euphoric bliss of unconscious incompetence that is the first step of learning anything, they publish their work. Ignorance really is bliss. I even know a few writers who, once they learned a bit more craft, pulled their ebooks from distribution because the second stage of learning, conscious incompetence, isn’t nearly so kind to the ego. 

Other writers who know better are tempted into the sin, or ignore their editors, and so a few saidisms might slip through.

Last week – or was it the week before? I’ve been sick and dehydrated to the point of near-hallucinations, so I really can’t be sure. But in the space of 5 minutes I started and discarded three books. Why? Because of evil saidisms.

I can forgive a few creative alternatives to ‘said’. But if you have too many in the first few pages you are likely to annoy me to the point of putting your book down. And if yours is the third book in that list, I am even more likely to be unforgiving. Congratulations to R.S. Guthrie, whose Black Beast was the fourth book I tried that day, and which I have now read to the end.

Why do saidisms annoy me so much? If you’re a reader (and not a writer), they may not consciously annoy you, but it’s likely they have a negative effect on you, even if you can’t put your finger on it. And they annoy me for the same reason, it’s just that so many years of writing and an impossibly long list of workshops (check out my website if you haven’t seen all the workshops I’ve done) leave me in a position where I can articulate precisely why they annoy me. 

‘Said’ is invisible. The reader reads it, but they don’t consciously acknowledge it. They just skim past it. It’s primary function is to alert the reader to who is talking. When a writer gets creative with speaker tags, and uses something else, the reader will, perhaps not consciously, attempt to match the tag to the words. Do they sound like something that would be growled? Is it appropriate to shout that line? Can that sentence actually be hissed? Wait... it’s got no sibilants in it. How can you hiss that

And now you have a problem. The reader is paying more attention to matching dialogue to tags than your actual story.

Jack Bickham, in 'The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes', says 90% of your speaker tags should be ‘said’. No, that doesn’t mean 90% of your dialogue should use ‘said’. What it means is that, where you use tags, 90% of them should be 'said'. There are, of course, other alternatives to speaker tags, such as no tag (where not needed) or an action tag, where the writer describes what a character is doing. This helps to give context to the dialogue and avoid the ‘talking heads’ problem. 

In short, using alternatives to said is distracting. It can jolt the reader out of the story. For reasons you can’t precisely identify, you may not feel as deeply involved in the story as you’d like. Sound familiar? Ever experienced that problem? I bet everyone has, at least once, even if you couldn’t say what it was you didn’t like about the book. 

Dialogue should speak for itself. We should understand the likely tone from the words themselves, and this extends to adding adverbs after said – there is no need to say ‘I’m sorry’ apologetically. We already see it’s apologetic from the words. And for god’s sake, words cannot be grimaced or grinned as in ‘I know,’ he grimaced. ‘Grimaced’ in this sentence is necessarily a modifier of the spoken words, which just doesn’t make sense. The correct structure would be ‘I know.’ He grimaced. The exception is arguably things like 'whispered' and 'shouted' where the reader can't actually gauge the tone from the words. And, of course, 'lied', but don't ever use this for a non-viewpoint character or you'll be head-hopping (unless you are using omniscient third). 

In the spirit of fun, here’s a poem by Franklin P. Adams. He wrote this poem using the attribution tags he found in two stories in a single magazine.

Monotonous Variety

She "greeted" and he "volunteered";
She "giggled": he "asserted";
She "queried" and he "lightly veered";
She "drawled" and he "averted";
She "scoffed," she "laughed" and he "averred";
He "mumbled," "parried," and "demurred."

She "languidly responded"; he
"Incautiously assented";
Doretta "proffered lazily";
Will "speedily invented";
She "parried," "whispered," "bade," and "mused";
He "urged," "acknowledged," and "refused."

She "softly added"; "she alleged";
He "consciously invited";
She "then corrected"; William "hedged";
She "prettily recited";
She "nodded" "stormed," and "acquiesced";
He "promised," "hastened," and "confessed."

Doretta "chided"; "cautioned" Will;
She "voiced" and he "defended";
She "vouchsafed"; he "continued still";
She "sneered" and he "amended";
She "smiled," she "twitted," and she "dared"
He "scorned," "exclaimed," "pronounced," and "flared."

He "waived," "believed," "explained," and "tried";
"Commented" she; he "muttered";
She "blushed," she "dimpled," and she "sighed";
He 'ventured" and he "stuttered";
She "spoke," "suggested," and "pursued";
He "pleaded," "pouted," "called," and "viewed."

O syonymble writers, ye
Whose work is so high-pricey.
Think ye not that variety
May haply be too spicy?
Meseems that in an elder day
They had a thing or two to--say.
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Monday, 4 June 2012

The Faux Editor – Will You Walk Into My Parlour? Said the Spider to the Fly

Some writers swear by editors, and some think editors are the very spawn of Satan. A recent survey shows writers who do use editors, on average, make more than those who don’t. Why the resistance to using editors? There are a multitude of reasons.
  1. Retaining creative control (not wanting someone else to rewrite their story) 
  2. Don’t see the value 
  3. Think their grammar is perfect or they can proof-read their own work 
  4. Editors are just evil.
I think 1 and 3 reflect fundamental misunderstandings. You can’t proof your own work because you are too close to be objective. You can never move away from your own knowledge of what you intended. 1 is slightly silly; you always retain control because a good editor won’t want to rewrite your work. An editor’s suggestions are just that – suggestions. Ultimately, it’s the writer’s job to do what he/she wants with the editor suggestions. 

I’ve seen a few really good explanations of the role of an editor recently.
  • An editor for a writer is like a coach for an elite athlete – from my husband, and perhaps not completely right, but he kind of got the gist of the idea. 
  • An editor helps to make the writing more evocative – for example, instead of ‘the door’, it could be ‘the oak door’ or a ‘carved door’ – Brandon Sanderson, Author of the Mistborn trilogy and the Stormlight Archives. 
  • The writer is the architect – not everything they dream up is structurally sound or aesthetically pleasing. The editor is the builder who helps to make the imagination a reality - @sirra_girl
None of these says the editor wants to seize control or rewrite. They are an aid to the writer only. 

As for 2 – see above about the results of the recent survey. That leaves 4. Why do some people think all editors are evil? When I first came across this attitude, I was struck by the impression of a man (or a woman) hating the opposite sex after a particularly nasty divorce. Writers are having bad experiences. Why? Setting aside outright fraud, there are two possible reasons – writers selling their ‘editing’ services when they hold no editorial qualifications or experience, and lack of understanding of the different editing services.

Editing Services

So the first problem is a misconception among many writers that an editor only checks grammar and proof-reading. I have news for you; that is not an editor’s primary role! There are in fact three generic categories of editing service:

Full Edit – Both substantive and copy-edits (proof-reading). Substantive edits look at everything including plot, pacing, voice, and character development. An explanation of a problem is often abstract, so the editor may or may not give some examples of alternate wording. Usually, these would occur first, and the manuscript will be returned to you to decide what revisions to make and to write any extra scenes required, etc. Then the manuscript is returned to the editor for copy-editing i.e. spelling, grammar, repetitive word use and syntax. 

Beta Read – If you are unlucky enough not to know any other writers who can do a beta read for you, you can pay an editor for that as well. This gives you a high-level impression of the book and notes on where the story isn’t working, but it’s entirely up to you to make changes, and even to figure out what changes to make. An editor will probably provide more comprehensive notes than a free beta read by a fellow writer. 

Proof Read – copy-editing changes only. Software is available to check their grammar as well. I can’t comment on its accuracy (although I’ve heard they aren’t 100% accurate) but they will try to correct deliberate grammatical errors. Ever noticed MS Word telling you you’ve used a fragment? Sometimes we use fragments deliberately. You don’t want to spend $150-$300 on software only to have it suck the life out of your story. At best, this kind of software offers a proof-read of poorer quality than an editor’s proofing. 

What’s often not explained is that when a writer is told to have their work ‘edited’, it means a full edit. Hopefully, you’ve already put your manuscript through the beta reading process with critique partners and groups. You probably need to before you engage an editor because professional editing is the last part of the process. The proof-read is the very last (and perhaps least important) part of a professional edit. Don’t be deceived into believing you are paying hundreds of dollars to have your typos corrected – you’re not, or shouldn’t be. 

The Faux Editor

If you do appreciate the different services, then you may run into the faux editor. 

I don’t know what the deal is with this one. There are different types of faux editors. Some are writers who think after a while they know enough to charge others for their wisdom. Um, no. I’ve been around the traps a bit and think I know a lot, but I could never justify charging for it. What I know (and can explain) is but a drop of water in the ocean compared to what my editors know. This is like hanging around with a lawyer for a few years and then thinking you can start charging for legal advice! Writers, you cannot charge for what is essentially a beta reading critique. You do it for free, and others do the same for you. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Karma. Whatever you want to call it. But it’s not a chargeable service. 

You also cannot decide that you have some background in some language related field (law, English, marketing, journalism, or non-fiction editing); and therefore, you can edit fiction work.

The degree of feedback you will get from an editor for a full edit or beta read is significantly more in-depth than what you will get from another writer with no qualifications or experience in the fiction publishing field. Even proof-reading for grammar and syntax, unless the faux editor has some kind of background in this field, won’t be of the same quality as a professional freelance editor. And believe me, your readers don’t need to know your grammar is bad for your sentence to fail to have the desired impact. 

If the editor you are looking at is a writer seeking to charge for editing, or a non-fiction editor offering editing services for fiction, I strongly urge you to go elsewhere. It is highly improbable this person will give you value for money and the degree of feedback an editor should be giving you. Unless, of course, you are well aware of the editor’s background and experience and you are prepared to accept the feedback you get won’t be as comprehensive as it could be – in which case I also hope you are paying a significantly reduced rate. 

What you should look for is some qualification or experience (preferably both) in publishing or writing related fields. The editor should also be a member of the Editors Freelance Association (although some choose not to be a member for various reasons) and/or perform quality work according to their guidelines and charge according to their recommended rates. 

Also, beware legitimate editing companies specialising in non-fiction work. They often operate via a ‘team’ of editors. You may never meet your editor or interact with them in any way and these companies are intended for anything from commercial documents, marketing, in-house policies and procedures to college essays. They are not recommended for fiction, and the only service they offer is technical copy-editing. This service can suffer from the same problems as the software – correcting deliberate grammatical errors for lack of appreciation of the reasons for their inclusion. Even if all you want is a copy edit, this is not a recommended service for fiction.

What are the signs of a good editor?
  • Qualifications and/or experience in the publishing industry
  • Will tell you if the service you have requested is unsuitable e.g. if your manuscript is still at the beta reading stage and you have requested a full edit
  • Will look at plot, pacing, character and voice as well as spelling, grammar and syntax
  • Won’t rewrite your manuscript or make significant changes without discussion/permission
  • Will explain corrections made and technical problems identified
  • May give examples of alternative wordings for problem areas
  • Will do the substantive edits, return to you for revision, and then the copy edits (note: lawyers work this way too!)
  • Has a professional attitude and doesn’t belittle your work while providing honest feedback
  • Has a professional and grammatically correct website
What are the signs of the faux editor?
  • No qualification or experience, or asserts qualification and experience which amounts to:
o   A lot of reading/reviewing experience;
o   Experienced writer offering betas or critiques;
o   Qualifications in fields such as law, journalism, communications or similar but not specifically in writing and with no in-house publishing experience;
  • Doesn’t offer a choice of levels of editing and offers a one-size-fits-all edit service – this may be a sign the ‘editor’ doesn’t appreciate the need for different kinds of editing
  • Rewrites significant portions of your manuscript regardless of need or permission
  • Doesn’t suggest changes but dictates a change you must make
  • Promises a “full’ edit but doesn’t look at character, plot, pacing, voice, or any other creative writing issues
  • Unprofessional in interactions with the writer – not responding to communications, or lack of manners and timeliness, or belittles the writer for their errors
  • A website that demonstrates grammatical errors.

If you’ve been burned by a bad editing experience, I challenge you to reflect on the experience and consider these questions. Was your ‘editor’ maybe a faux editor, or was the bad experience perhaps due to poor expectation management? Not all editors are created equal, so shop around for a real, legitimate editor. If they are professional editors, they will be more than happy to provide free sample edits and references. As a consumer, you have the right to ask questions, so don’t be afraid to ask. Ensure that you’re getting the service you paid for and the result you expected. 

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