Author Archives: Susan Spann

Protecting Your Copyright in Anthology Contracts

By Susan Spann

Happy Holidays!

Today, we continue our ongoing series on writing for anthologies with a look at copyright clauses in anthology contracts.

IMG_5212

Anthology writing differs from other forms of publication, and though the contracts often look similar, authors need to be aware of the critical differences between anthology contracts and those which govern publication of single-author (or even two-author collaborative) book or novella-length fiction.  

Anthology contracts should contain at least two clear statements of copyright:

1. A declaration that copyright in the author’s work remains the sole property of the contributing author; and

2. A declaration that the copyright in the anthology “as a collective work” belongs to the anthology publisher.

Let’s look at each one in more detail:

1. The Author’s Retention of Copyright.

The anthology contract should contain the following statement (or something substantially similar): “Author is the sole copyright owner of the Work, and retains all rights to the Work except for those expressly granted to [Anthology Publisher] in this Agreement.”

This ensures that the author owns the story, even after its publication in the anthology. Elsewhere, the contract should also address any limitations on the author’s right to publish the story elsewhere (tune in next month for more details on that issue). However, the contract needs to contain a clear statement of copyright ownership — which declares that the contributing author remains the sole owner of the copyright in the story.

2. Anthology Copyright in the Publisher.

The anthology contract will probably also contain a statement similar to the following: “To the extent a separate copyright attaches to the Anthology as a collective work, [Anthology Publisher] is the copyright owner of any such copyright on the Anthology as a collective work.”

The reason for this second clause is to ensure that no one else can infringe the publisher’s copyright by reproducing or publishing “pirated” (i.e., infringing) copies of the anthology without permission. A statement of the publisher’s ownership in the collective work gives the publisher the sole right to produce that collective work. The copyright in the work as a collective work is not the same thing as the copyright on the individual stories, however, and you should never give the anthology publisher ownership of your copyright in your work.

To repeat: The publisher doesn’t need your copyright to publish your work as part of an anthology or other collective work.

You may ask the publisher to add: “provided that no collective work copyright will limit or prevent Author’s rights to exploit, publish, and profit from the Work separately from or in addition to the Anthology except to the limited extent provided in this Agreement.” That language isn’t absolutely required, but it’s something authors might ask for if there’s any ambiguity in the contract with regard to copyright. (It’s also something to ask for if you don’t know the publisher well.) 

A Word About Copyright Registration

Publishers often want to register copyright on an anthology as a collective work. That’s OK, as long as the registration is clear that you, the author, own the copyright in your contribution. Make sure the contract is clear about the manner in which copyright may (and may not) be registered, and states that:

(a) The publisher will include an appropriate notice on the verso page (commonly known as the “copyright page”) of the anthology, properly identifying the contributors as the owners of the copyrighted material contained in the work; and

(b) If the publisher registers copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, that registration will cover the collective work only, and will acknowledge the author(s) as the copyright owner(s) of the contributed works. 

A little attention to detail can help protect your copyrights and ensure a more successful anthology experience.

Have you contributed an an anthology? Did you notice the copyright language in the contract?

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Limiting Grants of Rights in Anthology Contracts

By Susan Spann

Last month, my #PubLaw guest post took a look at important legal issues authors face when writing for anthologies. Today, and in the months to come, I’ll be taking a closer look at anthology contracts, and at the special issues unique to anthology writing.

Today, we start with a look at the grant of rights in anthology contracts, which differs significantly from the grant of rights in a standard book-length publishing deal.

The following are all normal or standard grants of rights which authors can expect to see in anthology contracts:

1. Grant of “first” print rights (or, sometimes, “non-exclusive print rights”) — and limits those rights to use in the specified anthology only. Many anthologies want “first print rights” to the stories they contain, which means those stories cannot appear elsewhere, in print or electronic formats, before they are published in the  anthology. (Most of the time, publishers of book-length works want first print rights as well.) For this reason, the grant of rights in anthology contracts typically reads: “Author hereby grants first English-language publication rights” or “Author grants first English-language anthology publication rights.”

When the work has appeared somewhere else before, the anthology contract may modify this language by removing “first” and inserting “non-exclusive,” or “second” or some other appropriate identifying word.

Note: if the work in question has appeared in print or electronic form somewhere else (including publication on a blog) in whole or in significant part, you must let the publisher know before you sign the anthology contract, to be sure the grant of rights is properly phrased (and that the publisher is willing to take previously published work).

Be careful to ensure that the grant of rights enables the publisher to publish the work as part of a specified anthology only. The grant of rights is for anthology publication, not for standalone or other unspecified purposes.

2. Grant of continuing, non-exclusive print or publication rights (as part of the specified anthology only). Authors writing for anthologies should always be careful to ensure that the contract’s grant of rights contains the word “non-exclusive” and clearly states that the anthology’s publisher has the continuing, non-exclusive right to reproduce the author’s work as part of the specified anthology only.

Publishers need “continuing” non-exclusive rights so the work can be included in future editions or subsequent printings of the anthology.

Never surrender your rights to publish the work in other formats, other anthologies, or in other collections. Some anthologies may require the author to wait for a stated period of time before publishing the work elsewhere (6-12 months is reasonable–go longer only if you decide you want to agree to a longer term). That’s okay, and reasonable if the time requested isn’t too long. However, beware anthologies that bar you from ever publishing or using your work again in other places. That’s not reasonable, and not something authors should grant.

Note: NEVER grant or transfer your copyright in your work to an anthology publisher. We’ll deal with “anthology copyrights” in next month’s post, but for now, remember: an anthology publisher DOES NOT NEED to own the copyright in your story. The author should always retain copyright ownership in his or her work.

3.   Grant of English language rights only (no translation rights). Unless the anthology’s publisher regularly translates anthologies into foreign languages (and this is rare), the publisher needs only English language rights to the author’s work. Retaining foreign language (and translation) rights enables the author to sell those rights elsewhere, or arrange for foreign-language publication in foreign anthologies, without limitations.

4. No grants of subsidiary rights. Film, TV, apps and gaming, merchandising, and other subsidiary rights don’t generally belong in anthology contracts, except to the extent the contract specifies that they belong to the author alone.

5. A statement that the author retains all rights not expressly granted to the publisher in the contract. This is standard language, but should appear in all contracts an author signs, just to ensure all parties are clear that the only rights being granted are those the author states, clearly, that (s)he is licensing to the publisher.

Some of these terms resemble the ones in a book-length publishing contract, but authors need to ensure that anthology contracts contain only the limited grants of rights the publisher needs to publish, print (and reprint) the work as part of the anthology in question. Anything beyond that should remain with the author alone.

Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

The Legal Side of Anthologies (Part 1)

By Susan Spann

Anthologies offer a great opportunity for authors to publish creative works and find new readers. Some anthologies feature works by authors from a specific group (for example, RMFW’s own CROSSING COLFAX, which contains short stories from members of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization), while others have open submissions on a specified topic, like horror or science fiction. Still others feature a publisher’s in-house authors, or a group of authors who come together to write about a topic of mutual interest (such as A DAY OF FIRE, a novel in six parts, about Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius).

In short: the options are almost limitless.

Anthologies lend themselves equally well to traditional publication and self-publishing, and can help new or lesser-known authors achieve much broader exposure, due to shared marketing efforts and the ability to “cross pollinate” from other authors’ existing readership.

But I’m a lawyer, so you know there must be a fly in this ointment somewhere.

Handled properly, anthologies have many benefits and relatively few drawbacks (aside from those common to publishing as a whole). However, it’s important to ensure–before you submit– that the anthology you’re considering provides both you and your work with proper protection and consideration of your legal rights.

In the months to come, we’ll break down the legal issues surrounding anthologies here on the RMFW blog. Today, we’ll take an overview look at the biggest legal traps and pitfalls present in anthology publication.

1. Contract, Contract, Contract.

Never publish your work in any anthology that doesn’t have a professional, written publishing contract. Never. No exceptions. No ifs, ands, or buts. NO.

The contract needs to contain the same type of language, and address the same issues, as any traditional publishing contract (plus some special terms applicable only to anthologies) – even in the case of self-published anthologies. Why? Because you’re allowing someone else (the anthology publisher) the right to publish your work. The terms upon which that publication happens must be spelled out clearly in a written contract, so both you and the publisher (whoever that is!) have a written reference and foundation for publication.

2. Don’t Sign Away Your Copyright.

Anthology publishers need only a limited license to publish the work as part of the anthology. Anthology publishers do NOT need copyright ownership of the individual works. While authors have the right to transfer copyright to the anthology publisher, that eliminates the author’s right to use and publish the work in other contexts later on. My law school contracts professor taught us that “you can make as good a deal…or as bad a deal…as you are able,” but why make a bad deal about your writing?

Anthologies are plentiful, and most of them do not take the author’s copyright. The decision is yours to make, but I strongly recommend you refuse to submit to any anthology that tries to take the copyright in your work.

Note: the anthology contract probably will contain language stating that the publisher owns the copyright on the anthology as a collective work. This is different from owning the copyright on your story. Copyright on the collective work means the right to publish the anthology itself, as a collection consisting of all of the stories within it — and that copyright exists to ensure that no one else can copy and sell the anthology as a whole without permission. If you can’t tell what your contract says in this regard, be sure to get an opinion from an experienced copyright attorney before you sign.

3. Show Me the Money (and Where it’s Going).

Sometimes the participating authors get a share of royalties on anthology sales. Other times the proceeds go to the organization sponsoring the publication, to charity, or to someone else entirely. Make sure you know, and evaluate, where the money is going before you agree to participate.

4. Consider the Source.

All publications are not created equal. Some anthologies carry more cachet (and sell more copies) than others. Evaluate the publisher, group affiliations, and other aspects of the anthology before you submit, and  publish only with groups that you want your name affiliated with.

5. Stand and Deliver – on Time.

Anthologies have deadlines, like any other publication. Don’t submit your story late, or unfinished, or in non-publishable condition … and if you do, prepare to accept the consequences.

6. Ask About Purchase and Marketing Requirements.

Some anthologies require participating authors to purchase a specified number of copies of the finished work and/or to participate in specific marketing efforts. (Note: no matter what the requirements are, be prepared to help market the anthology when it releases. It’s rude to expect someone else to do all the work.) Know what your obligations are beforehand, so you don’t have rude surprises down the line. 

In the months to come, my #PubLaw posts here at the RMFW blog will look in-depth at these and other anthology-related issues, including those sneaky contract provisions specific to anthologies. Have questions I haven’t answered? Feel free to ask in the comments, and I’ll work them into future posts!  

Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

The First Rule of #PubLaw: Don’t Be a Jerk

By Susan Spann

One of the lessons I seem to repeat most often in my #PubLaw posts has (on the surface) little to do with law. In fact, I repeat it so often that I’m officially calling it #PubLaw Rule #1:

Don’t be a Jerk.

It’s a slightly more “SFW” version of the gaming community’s popular Wheaton’s Law (Google it…research is good for the soul.) and no less applicable in publishing … or anywhere else in life, for that matter.

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to keep your cool when dreams are on the line, especially when negotiations, contracts, reviews, or sales don’t go your way. And at some point in your career, all of those things will go against you.

Today, we’re taking a look at some ways to prevent yourself from being “that author” … the one who ends up on the bad behavior lists.

1. Don’t Let the “Submit” Button Go Down on Your Anger. Business moves much faster–and more publicly–in the digital age. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter give us instantaneous access to other authors, readers … and everyone else on the planet with a computer and a few extra minutes to kill. Unfortunately, that also makes it faster and easier for authors to make angry public statements which feel justified in the moment but which, upon reflection, were unnecessarily hostile or ill-advised. The best rule is never blog or use social media when angry. If you must write something, write it offline and give it 24 hours to “settle” before you post. Review it only after the initial anger passes…and see whether you still believe the comments are justified and constructive.

2. Don’t Kick Sleeping Dogs, and Don’t Respond to Bad Reviews. Some people won’t like your book. Some people will actually hate it. Some people will say, in public, that your book should be burned as a service to humanity, to prevent an innocent reader from accidentally stumbling across it in a used bookstore (yes, that’s a real review, which a friend of mine received). DO NOT RESPOND TO BAD REVIEWS. Period. End of story. Even a troll has a right to an opinion, and no single review will make or break a novel. What can break a novel–and a novelist– however, is a reputation for arguing with readers and reviewers in public. Let the reviewer have his or her opinion. You’re free to disagree–but do it in private.

3. Compliment and Support Other Authors. Rising tides float all ships, and getting people interested in reading helps all authors. Read a good book? Tweet or Facebook or write a review–and don’t expect repayment in return. Authors who give to others acquire a good reputation; those who never read, never give a compliment except in exchange for “equal value,” and never share their own love for books are missing a great opportunity. Nice people do nice things. Be nice. It comes back around to you.

4. Try to See Negotiations, and Other Publishing Situations, From the Other Person’s Point of View (Not Just Your Own). The more you practice seeing situations from someone else’s side, the better you’ll be at spotting creative solutions, not only in negotiations but in  all aspects of your publishing career.

5. Kill Your … Emotions (Once You Reach the Business Side). Emotion increases myopia, so do your best to remove the emotion from the negotiating and publishing process. Pour your feelings into your writing … let your passion flow on the page. But when you reach “The End” remember: writing is an emotional process, but business belongs to the logical brain.

These aren’t the only ways to keep yourself from becoming “that author” in public…but they’re a start. Publishing might seem large, but the business itself is surprisingly small, and reputations follow us much longer than we imagine in those early days of a writing career.

The more positive you are, the more attractive others will find you … a rule that applies as much in publishing as it does in the rest of life.

Got more tips for keeping things on the positive side? Hop into the comments and share! 

Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

“Negotiation” Is Not a Four-Letter Word

By Susan Spann

Today we continue the pre-conference #PubLaw prep for the contract negotiation workshop at Colorado Gold (which I’m team-teaching with Midnight Ink editor Terri Bischoff) with an unusual look at publishing contracts: one that doesn’t talk about contracts at all. 

(Note: You don’t have to go to Colorado Gold to benefit from the concepts we’re discussing here – so whether or not you’re attending the conference….read on.)

Today, we’re talking about negotiation.

Many people understand only the “Zero-Sum” approach to negotiation, which essentially boils down to “one person wins, and the other person loses.” Under a Zero-Sum philosophy, every negotiation (or contract) point I “win” is one that the other side “loses.” The idea, then, is to win as many points as possible, and force the other side to accept a “losing” position in the final deal.

Unfortunately, zero-sum doesn’t work very well for publishing contracts. The reason should be obvious. The more one side takes an “author vs. publisher” or “us vs. them” position in the negotiating process, the more difficult it becomes to set those differences aside and build a  business partnership once the deal is signed.

The Mutual Benefit Strategy offers a far more effective method of negotiation for publishing contracts — and not just because it lays the groundwork for a better relationship after the signing.

“Mutual Benefit Negotiation” is a strategy which focuses on finding not only a “meet in the middle” solution to contract disagreements, but actually finding a place where both sides are better off than they were before.

Admittedly, it isn’t always possible to find a win-win solution to every problem. In some cases, only one side can have its way.

A good example is whether or not the contract includes both print and ebook rights. If the author wants to sell both, but the publisher offers ebook only–or, more commonly, the other way around–only one side can prevail and there really is no middle ground.

More commonly, however, there is a place where both sides can “win” and the contract terms can reach a mutually beneficial position.

For an example of this, let’s look at translation rights. They don’t have to be “all or nothing.” If a publisher has an in-house translator for Spanish, or French, or Italian, or regularly sells a lot of translation rights to certain countries, you may be able to negotiate to include only certain languages in your contract.

Another good example is special editions for people with disabilities. Most publishing contracts give the publisher the right to produce or license these editions (for example, Braille versions) with no royalties paid to the author. This is because, many times, the publisher “donates” the rights to these editions and/or licenses them free of charge. As an author, you shouldn’t want to deprive disabled people of the chance to experience your books. However, you don’t want to give out windfalls, either — so a compromise position is language which states the publisher can license these editions royalty-free, but that if the publisher does receive financial compensation for the license, that compensation is shared equally with the author. Win-win. The publisher keeps the right to get those editions on the market, and the author gets the right to share in any benefits that arise.

When you negotiate a publishing contract, be clever. Look at the publisher as a business-partner-to-be. That doesn’t mean you trust beyond what the publishing house deserves–or that you compromise in unreasonable ways. However, if you can offer creative solutions that leave both parties better off (or at least satisfied with the outcome) you can turn the contract negotiation from a hostile, zero-sum environment into an incubator for the (hopefully long-term) relationship to come. 

Again … this doesn’t mean roll over and show your belly. It means be smart, be creative, and be aware that sometimes the best solution to a problem is Option C – which, often, nobody thought about to begin with.

I hope to see you all at Colorado Gold!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

Forget the Money: Show Me the Contract

By Susan Spann

This September, I’m co-teaching a workshop at Colorado Gold with Midnight Ink editor Terri Bischoff. The workshop, titled “Contract Law: Where You Can Make a Difference,” is intended to offer advanced-level instruction on which publishing contract clauses are (and are not) negotiable.

In preparation for that, my guest posts between now and Colorado Gold will offer some entry and mid-level information about the contracts process, to help authors get up to speed for the information Terri and I will present at Colorado Gold.

***

For many authors, obtaining a publishing contract is a lifelong dream-come-true.

It doesn’t matter whether you publish traditionally, through a self-publishing service like Amazon or CreateSpace, or with a hybrid publisher who gives the author significant control over things like cover art and pricing.

Getting your novels into print is both the fulfillment of a dream … and also the start of a business endeavor.

Smart authors remember to treat it as both.

No matter which publishing route you use, you must have a written contract. Copyright law requires one when rights are licensed on an exclusive basis (which is the case with most publishing contracts), and no smart author would ever publish a book without some writing governing the terms of the publishing deal.

In the case of self-publishing venues like Amazon, CreateSpace, and others, that writing is often the online Terms of Use.  Authors should treat those terms of use like a contract–albeit a nonnegotiable one, since website publishers generally will not change any terms of those contracts on an individual basis. Even so, online terms of use have been held just as binding as written contracts–so beware.

Many authors make serious contract mistakes because they allow emotion to get in the way of business sense. Don’t be that person.

When presented with a publishing contract (or preparing to self-publish your work), remember:

1. The financial terms (royalties and advances) are important, but NOT AS IMPORTANT as the sum of all of the legal terms in the contract. Don’t let royalties or advances blind you to the other legal terms.

2. Read the entire contract carefully, and get experienced legal help with anything you don’t understand. This help might come from an agent or an attorney — but it should always come from someone not affiliated with the publisher. The publisher may or may not be honest–but publishers have a conflict of interest when it comes to explaining your legal rights. It’s always more expensive to try and break a contract after the fact than it is to find out what the contract says up front.

3. Remember that contracts are legally binding documents — and that ONLY the actual words in the contract govern your legal relationship with the publisher. Emails, telephone calls, and other promises don’t mean anything if they’re not included in the contract. In some cases, a court may even prevent you from introducing evidence that “outside promises” even existed. Treat the contract as if it’s the only document that matters, and the only thing controlling your relationship with the publisher–and then make sure that everything is included.

4. Be wary of ANY contract which doesn’t comply with industry standards. In particular, beware: nondisclosure clauses (which prevent the author from talking about the publisher in public or on social media), non-competition clauses preventing the author from publishing ANY other works of any length without the publisher’s permission, a total lack of termination options for the author, and “out of print” clauses tied to inventory or “on sale status” rather than sales figures. These aren’t the only warning flags, but a contract which contains one or more of these must be approached with caution (and a lawyer in your corner).

These aren’t the only things to beware in your publishing contract, but they’re a decent start. Next month, we’ll take a look at some more contract pitfalls to avoid.

In the meantime – keep treating your writing as a business and remembering that, regardless of your publishing path, YOU are the one in charge of your publishing career.

***

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

Look Who’s Coming to the Colorado Gold Conference: Meet Bestselling Author William Kent Krueger

Interview by Susan Spann

New York Times Bestselling author William Kent Krueger is not only a talented author (and the winner of the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Novel), also a fabulous and approachable person. I’m looking forward to meeting him in person at this year’s Colorado Gold Conference, and after this interview, I’m sure the rest of you will be looking forward to it, too. Since his website leads with “Call me Kent,” I hope he’ll forgive us that liberty here as well:

Here’s a little more about Kent: 

WKKruegerRaised in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, William Kent Krueger briefly attended Stanford University—before being kicked out for radical activities.  After that, he logged timber, worked construction, tried his hand at free-lance journalism, and eventually ended up researching child development at the University of Minnesota.  He currently makes his living as a full-time author.  He’s been married for over 35 years to a marvelous woman who is an attorney.  He makes his home in St. Paul, a city he dearly loves.

Krueger writes a mystery series set in the north woods of Minnesota.  His protagonist is Cork O’Connor, the former sheriff of Tamarack County and a man of mixed heritage—part Irish and part Ojibwe.  His work has received a number of awards, including the Minnesota Book Award, the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award, the Anthony Award, the Barry Award, and the Friends of American Writers Prize. Northwest Angle (2011) and Trickster’s Point (2012) were New York Times bestsellers. 

A stand-alone novel, Ordinary Grace, was released in March 2013 and also became a New York Times bestseller. The thirteenth book in the Cork O’Connor series, Tamarack County, is scheduled for release in August 2013.

And now, let’s get to know even more about this very special guest:

Susan Spann: How and where did you come up with the idea for your first novel?

Kent Krueger: Iron Lake, the first novel in my Cork O’Connor series, was an evolutionary process. I began with the seed of an idea for a character. All I knew about him at first was that he was the kind of guy who was so resilient that no matter how far life pushed him down, he would always bob back to the surface. His name would be Cork. My next decision was to set the work in the great Northwoods of Minnesota. Then, because I was a great fan of Tony Hillerman, I decided that I would include the Ojibwe culture as an element. And my final decision—probably because of Hillerman—was that it would be a mystery.

What I’ve described sounds very linear, but in truth, it was all a jumble that I was sorting out as I thought everything through. I’d been trying to write the Great American Novel for years, and was sick of it. I wanted to write something that would appeal to a broad range of readership, and when I really took a look at what people were reading, I saw mystery novels everywhere. I thought it might be a refreshing change, so I altered my literary course and found a direction that proved satisfying to me on so many levels.

SS: I understand that you prefer to write in a coffee shop. Do you ever write anywhere else? And how does the coffee shop environment create an inspiring and positive influence on your creative process?

Kent Krueger: I began writing in coffee shops for a very practical reason. My wife was in law school, we had very young children, and I was the sole support of our household. When I came home at the end of a work day, I had no time or energy to write. But I knew that if I wanted to develop my art, I needed to find a way to do that on a regular basis and still meet my responsibilities to my family. I took a lesson from Hemingway, who loved to rise at first light and write. He felt it was the most creative time of the day. We lived a couple of blocks from a coffee shop that opened its doors at six a.m. So there I was every morning with notebook and pen in hand waiting for them to unlock. I’d sit down, they’d pour me coffee, I’d open my notebook, and for the next hour, I’d bend to the writing.

I find now that if I try to write at home, the environment is too quiet. I hear everything—the furnace cycling on and off, the dishes crying from the sink to be washed. The phone rings or someone knocks at the door, and I’m required to answer. At the coffee shop, I have no responsibilities except to my writing. In its odd way, it’s a very liberating environment.

SS: If you could return to the beginning of your writing career, knowing everything you’ve learned along the way, would you do something differently? Why or why not?

Kent Krueger: I would give up trying to write the Great American Novel a lot sooner. Now, there’s an aspiration that I’m sure has done in its share of fine young writers.

In terms of my career as a genre author, I can’t think of anything that I might choose to do differently. It’s been a pretty good ride. I’m proud of my body of work. I have a great readership. I enjoy a strong relationship with my publisher and editor and all the folks at Atria Books. I love my agent. I make a decent living. And when I do book events, lots of people gather to tell me they like my work. What could be better?

SS: What inspired you to write mystery novels? What do you like most about the genre?

Kent Krueger: I turned to mystery writing during a mid-life crisis. At the age of eighteen, I’d fallen in love with Hemingway, both his Nobel prize-winning prose and his mythic image. I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. I tried for way too long to write a novel as he might have written it, which was stupid on so many levels I won’t even go there. In my early forties, I decided it was time to write something else, something someone might actually enjoy reading. I looked around, and what I discovered was that people everywhere, in all circumstances and at all social, economic, and educational levels, enjoyed mysteries.

What I realized when I read and then began to write mysteries was that there is a structure to the story that is simple yet sturdy, and most importantly, flexible. Mysteries begin with something happening. Usually this a crime, often a murder. Investigation follows. And answers are found. That’s it. Simple, right? A structure anyone can use. But its real appeal, I believe, is its flexibility. Within that simple structure, a writer is free to do anything he or she may want to do. Historians write historical mysteries. Funny people write humorous mysteries. And someone who wants to talk about important issues—social, philosophical, spiritual—can do just that within the loose framework of a good, compelling mystery. The reach of the crime genre is so broad that it can embrace any interest that a reader or writer might have. I think of it as a very egalitarian form of prose. There’s a reason it’s called “popular fiction.”

SS: Could you tell us a little about your personal editing process? What happens after you finish the first draft of a new manuscript?

Kent Krueger: I write the first draft rather slowly. Usually I’ve thought the story through significantly, so I know the basic plot. What I focus on in the actual writing are the narrative elements: language, setting, character development, themes, atmosphere. When I’ve completed the first draft, the revision tends to be rather brief (because I hate revising!)

My agent, who is wonderful, always critiques my manuscript before I send it to my publisher. She—and a few of her selected colleagues—read the manuscript and offer me feedback. I revise based on their suggestions, then it goes to my editor. She also has suggestions. As does the copyeditor. (I never feel more stupid than when I look over the copyedited manuscript and see all my errors.)

SS: Of all the novels you have written (published or unpublished), which one is your favorite and why?

Kent Krueger: Ordinary Grace, which is not a part of my series, is my personal favorite. I tapped the deep roots of my own experience for this novel, and that allowed me to speak significantly about issues that have been important to me all my life. When you’re the author of a popular series, it’s risky to write something different. Readers may not be willing to follow you to a new place. But the story of Ordinary Grace, when it finally crystallized for me, was so compelling that I had to write it. I didn’t know if my publisher would be interested. And even if it was published, I had no idea if anyone would buy it. But the reception—the sales, the awards, the personal response from readers—has been so gratifying.

*A Note from Susan: Ordinary Grace, the novel mentioned above, just won the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Novel. On behalf of myself, and RMFW, I’d like to offer special congratulations on the award – it’s a wonderful thing when a novel that’s so special to the author receives such fabulous recognition! 

And now, the speed round:

SS: Coffee, tea, or bourbon?

Kent Krueger: Oh, coffee, coffee, and more coffee.

SS: Outlines or no outlines?

Kent Krueger: Outlines, usually, though not for Ordinary Grace.

SS: Cats, dogs, or reptiles?

Kent Krueger: None. I travel too much.

SS: What was the last book you read purely for enjoyment?

Kent Krueger: I reread, for the umpteenth time, Harper Lee’s masterful To Kill A Mockingbird.

SS:  Thank you for joining us here on the RMFW blog. We’re honored, and excited, to welcome you to Colorado Gold this September! 

Taxes 101 for Authors*

*Note:  If you haven’t figured out why I picked today to talk about taxes, you probably need this post more than you think you do… 

Most people in the United States work for someone else, as employees or independent contractors. (And, statistically, most people are employees.)

Most writers have “day jobs” to help support their writing careers.

For those who are self-employed, business owners, or primarily independent contractors, the tax obligations of a writer are probably already familiar. For those whose primary work experience comes as an employee, however, making money from writing means it’s time to think outside the W-2.

WRITING INCOME IS SELF-EMPLOYED INCOME

U.S. residents (and foreign citizens living abroad who pay taxes in the United States) will not receive a W-2 (report of wages earned by employee) from the publisher at the end of the year. Independently published authors won’t get a W-2 from the distributions sites through which they sell their books (for example, from Amazon). Instead, an author receives Form 1099 – report of income other than wages, salaries or tips.

People who receive Form 1099 are considered self-employed or independent contractors by the IRS, which is relevant because people in those categories must pay quarterly estimated taxes during every calendar year. As soon as you start making income from writing, you must calculate and pay estimated taxes too.

WHAT ARE ESTIMATED TAXES AND HOW DO I PAY THEM?

Four times a year, on the 15th of April, June, September and December, authors and other self-employed people must estimate the taxes due to the IRS and their state of residence (if the state has an individual income tax – some don’t) on income earned during the previous calendar quarter. On the due date, the author (or contractor) must send a check for the estimated tax amount due (if any) to the IRS (and the state, if appropriate) along with the relevant estimated tax forms.

If you fail to pay estimated taxes on time, or fail to pay enough, the IRS and/or state may assess a monetary penalty against you.

The obligation to pay estimated taxes often comes as a shock to authors who previously worked only as employees or whose employers withheld taxes from the authors’ paychecks.

BE PREPARED: ORGANIZE YOURSELF FOR ESTIMATED TAXES

Don’t incur a penalty because you were unprepared! As soon as you (a) sign a publishing contract or (b) self-publish your first manuscript:

1. Find out what you need to know about paying estimated taxes. Get the necessary forms and mark your calendar. If you can’t figure it out on your own, attend a local workshop or talk to an accountant.

2. Set aside a portion of every royalty check or periodic self-publishing income to cover your tax obligations – don’t anticipate having enough left over from then-current income when the payment comes due.

3. Don’t forget to document your deductions! Authors may be able to deduct certain costs, including some expenses associated with research, writing, and publication. Consult an accountant or tax advisor to learn which ones, and don’t forget to save and mark receipts to document deductions.

I’m not a tax advisor, and this post should not be taken as tax advice. Consult a qualified accountant or other tax advisor before making decisions on tax-related issues.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California publishing and business attorney who also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Her second novel, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases July 15, 2014. Susan’s legal practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website, http://www.SusanSpann.com, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

Juggling Contracts, Part 3: Beware the Sub-Clauses!

By Susan Spann

Last month’s RMFW #PubLaw post talked about contract language authors want to see when juggling multiple contracts for different types of rights.

This month, we’ll take a look at the other clauses authors need to watch for.

Even contracts which seem to address only limited rights sometimes contain additional terms that impact sub-rights licensing and limit the other contracts the author can sign without a publisher’s permission. Here’s an overview of the most common:

1. Sub-rights paragraphs. Check the contract’s sub-rights paragraphs against your list of rights you intend to sell. Make sure you’re giving away only the rights you intend. Be careful, because the “grant of rights” paragraph doesn’t always contain all of the rights language. Many contracts contain sub-rights language in other places, farther down the agreement.

2. Licensing and assignment rights. Many contracts have separate paragraphs authorizing the publisher to sub-license additional rights. Be careful to ensure this doesn’t reach beyond the scope of the rights you intend to grant, and make sure these paragraphs specifically state that the publisher can’t license or sell rights beyond those “expressly granted to Publisher in this Agreement.”

3. Intellectual Property Ownership Provisions. Some publishers try to “grab” rights in the copyright and ownership sections. Read carefully, and ensure that you retain full ownership to all rights in the work (except for the ones licensed to the publisher, of course), and that your contract specifically states that you can benefit from those rights without owing the publisher any share or licensing fee.

4. Competitive Works Provisions. Many contracts prohibit the author from publishing or licensing “competitive works,” defined as works which might damage the market for the work referenced in the contract. Be sure these provisions have carve outs for derivative rights and sub-licensing of the other rights you intend to exploit. In fact, the contract should expressly state that the author’s exploitation of reserved rights is not a violation of this provision.

5. Option Clauses. Beware the lurking option clause that casts too broad a net. If a publisher takes an option, restrict that option as much as possible. For example, if you’re licensing publication rights to a novel, the option should be for “Author’s next book-length work of fiction in the same series only” and should not include derivatives, spinoffs, and short stories or novellas.

As you can see, the job of juggling rights becomes more intricate as more publishers and rights become involved. I recommend that authors who want to juggle multiple contracts have an agent or an experienced publishing attorney at their side, and that the author hires professional help before the first contract is signed.

Juggling rights requires careful planning and attention to detail, as well as a solid understanding of legalese and contract law. Don’t go it alone. The rights–and the profits–you save will be worth the trouble.

*As always, be aware that this column is general business advice, and not intended as specific legal advice to any person. All authors should consult an experienced publishing attorney before signing contracts or compromising their legal rights.

Have questions about this or other publishing legal topics? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author from Sacramento, California. Her debut mystery novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, July 2013), is the first in a series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. The sequel, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, will release on July 15, 2014. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at http://www.SusanSpann.com. Find her on Twitter @SusanSpann or on Facebook.

Juggling Contracts, Part 2: Look for the Language!

By Susan Spann

In month’s #PubLaw post here at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, we started a conversation about juggling multiple contracts for rights to novels and other creative works. Over the next couple of months, my posts will continue that conversation, with an eye to helping authors learn to juggle rights successfully.

Step 2 in successful contract juggling is making sure each contract contains TWO vital pieces of language:

– A clear and unambiguous statement of the rights you are licensing, AND

– A clear and unambiguous statement that you have the right to (separately) license and benefit from the rights you retain.

1. A Clear Statement of the Rights You License:

As I mentioned last month, the statement of licensed rights should be clear and unambiguous. It should start off with either the statement, “Author hereby licenses, to Publisher, for [stated term – often “the length of copyright”] the following rights…” and then list the specific rights you’re licensing.

Easy, right? Not so fast.

Read the contract carefully for words like subsidiary rights, additional rights, translation rights and derivative rights – in fact, do a search for “rights” and read carefully everywhere that term appears. Make sure the publisher hasn’t tried to obtain other rights in other paragraphs. It happens, and it happens often — and, for the record, it isn’t “pulling a fast one” – that’s just the way contracts read.

Make sure any rights you don’t intend to license are stricken out of the contract.

If you don’t understand the language, or aren’t sure how to strike the rights you want to retain, make sure you have an experienced publishing lawyer (or agent) review the contract and assist you to make sure you retain the rights you need. You don’t want to find out later that you inadvertently licensed rights you intended to retain.

1. A Statement About the Rights You Retain, and Your Right to License Them Separately (and to Other Parties).

Then, make sure the contract contains this, or a similar, statement: “Author reserves all rights not expressly granted to Publisher in this Agreement, along with the sole right to license and benefit from reserved rights in any manner Author chooses, including without limitation the right to enter into contracts with third parties for licensing and exploitation of said retained rights.”

You’re looking for language that says three things:

1. Any rights not expressly granted to the publisher belong to you.

2. You have the right to license and benefit from reserved rights in any manner you choose.

3. You have the right to license those retained rights to others (“third parties,” in contract language).

In addition, you want to make sure the contract states (somewhere) that you will not owe the publisher anything (or be in breach) if you enter into licenses or contracts to exploit the rights you’ve retained. 

We’ll talk more next month about “sneaky clauses” that might cause trouble in this regard. For now, take a look at the things you need to see–and make sure you’ve got a checklist of things to look for.

And, as always, don’t hesitate to seek assistance when the contract negotiations (or language) get outside your comfort zone. Seeking help now can keep you from needing to hire a lawyer down the line–and legal problems are ALWAYS less expensive when you deal with them in advance.

Have questions or topics you’d like to see covered in future RMFW #PubLaw guest posts? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author from Sacramento, California. Her debut mystery novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, July 2013), is the first in a series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. The sequel, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, will release on July 15, 2014. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at http://www.SusanSpann.com. Find her on Twitter @SusanSpann or on Facebook.