Tips For Evaluating a Traditional Publishing House

The explosion of small and micro-presses in the United States (and elsewhere) makes it more important than ever for authors to investigate publishers carefully before signing a publishing contract. While even diligent research can't help you foresee and avoid every possible problem, here are some tips to help you evaluate whether or not to accept a publisher's offer:

1. Does the Contract Require the Author to Pay for Anything?

If the answer is "yes," do not pass go, do NOT pay $500...or even $1. This is not a traditional publishing house. It's either a "hybrid press" (where the author shares the costs--and benefits--of publication), a "vanity press" (where the author pays far too much for far too little), or a scam. If you think it's a hybrid press, contact an agent or a publishing attorney you trust and arrange for professional review and negotiation before you sign.

Do not rely on the publisher's word that the contract is "hybrid" or "fair"--and don't forget: a traditional publishing house will never expect the author to pay anything out of pocket (and none of the publishing costs, except for unreasonable changes demanded by the author after the proofs are approved). No exceptions.

2. Does the Publisher Also Offer "Paid Marketing Programs"?

A number of vanity presses have recently started offering "fully traditional contracts" which also require the author to participate in paid "author training programs" and "marketing programs." The marketing contract is an addendum to the "traditional publishing deal" and can cost the author several thousand dollars out of pocket. Legitimate traditional publishers never make authors pay for anything out of pocket, either as part of the publishing contract or in a separate (but required) agreement.

3. Does the Publisher Make Any Claims About Success, Sales, or Reviews?

No legitimate publisher can or will ever promise an author success (financial or otherwise), sales, or good reviews (they can't even promise legitimate reviews, let alone good ones). Any publisher whose website contains statements like "Make extra money writing books!" or "Become a bestseller by publishing with us!" -- or anything else of that nature -- is not a legitimate, traditional publishing house. Run, don't walk, in the other direction.

4. Does the Contract Require Authors to Purchase Copies of the Finished Book?

Some small presses' contracts require the author to purchase a stated number of copies of the book upon release. Many times, the author is also required to pay for these books (in part, or completely!) before the publication date, and sometimes before the author even sees the proofs of the finished work. Legitimate presses will never make an author commit to purchasing any copies of the work (though often they do offer authors a discount on copies the author elects to buy).

A little related publishing math: if the author commits to paying the publisher $8,000 for copies of the work at $16.00 apiece, how many additional books does the publisher have to sell to pay for its investment in the book? (The answer is generally, none, especially since these publishers normally publish "Print on Demand," which means the publisher keeps no stock of the printed work.) 

5. How Long Has the Publisher Been in Business?

The answer to this is not a deal-breaker, but it's something to consider. The longer a publisher has been in business, and the more books it produces, the better authors can evaluate the publisher's history of contract compliance, sales and distribution, and successfully published work. It's perfectly fine to take a chance on a newer publisher if you choose...but only if all of the other factors align with industry standards. Also, authors should be aware that working with newer publishers represents a business risk, because publishing houses have high failure rates--so make sure the contract contains appropriate protections for the author (including appropriate termination rights).

Note: new presses that work with experienced counsel, or have experienced editors or publishers at the helm, generally present a smaller risk in this regard. 

6. How Much, And What Kind of, Publishing Experience Does the Publisher/Editor Have?

Again, while not a deal-breaker, authors should be aware that many small publishers open with great intentions, but little or no practical experience in traditional publishing, sales, and distribution. This creates enormous risk, both for the publisher and the author. Before signing with a small press, always ask about the publisher's experience, distribution program, and how many books they have in bookstores outside their local area. Also, publishers without much practical experience tend to have a more difficult time negotiating contracts and complying with contract obligations--not from malice, but because they simply don't understand what's involved in running a traditional publishing house.

7. What Do Other Authors & Industry Watchdogs Have to Say?

Never, ever sign with a publishing house unless you've researched both the house and the publisher/editor with industry watchdogs like Publisher's Marketplace, Writer's Digest, Writer Beware, and Preditors and Editors. Pay attention to what you see there, too. While lack of a listing may suggest the publisher is legitimate, it also might indicate a publisher is simply too new for the watchdogs to have flagged its bad behavior. For maximum safety, don't sign with any publisher unless you can actually confirm legitimacy and positive ratings with industry watchdog sites.

Also: always talk with at least 2-3 other authors published by the publisher before you sign a contract. Ask the publisher to give you authors' names and contact information, or find them online--make connections through friends, if you can. If authors won't speak with you honestly (or tell you the contract won't let them talk about the press), move on. Don't ever commit yourself and your work to a press that doesn't get glowing reviews from its authors--no matter how big or experienced the press.

8. What Do the Publisher's Other Books Look Like?

You have seen their other books, right? In print? On Amazon ("look inside" should be enabled, and you should actually do it) or in bookstores. Find them. Hold them--on an e-reader if they're ebook only. Look at the font, the production values, the covers, and then ask yourself: is this what I want my book to look like? Would I be proud if my name was on this cover?

9. Where Are the Publisher's Other Books Sold? 

Many small publishers don't have distribution arrangements, and even if they do, that may or may not translate to actually having books on shelves in stores. Ask where the publisher's books are sold. Confirm it. This isn't a deal-breaker, one way or the other, but you need the information to decide whether this is a house that will be able to support your work the way you want them to.

10. How Many Books Does the Publisher Release Each Year?

Again, not a deal breaker, just something smart authors evaluate. Sometimes a lower number works in your favor, and sometimes larger numbers work against you. Sometimes, it's the opposite. Generally speaking, the more books a publisher releases each year, the fewer resources the publisher has to dedicate to each individual book. That's especially true when you consider that many publishers dedicate the lion's share of advertising time and resources to A-list titles by authors who already have a substantial following.

11. Does Anything Else Seem...Odd?

Trust your instincts. They're better than you think. If anything seems "odd" or "not quite right" about the publisher, remember: you're better off with no publishing deal than signing a deal you later regret.

12. Even if Everything Else Looks Good, Consult a Publishing Lawyer or Agent Before You Sign the Contract.

Starfleet regulations don't allow a compromised captain on the bridge...and every author is compromised (to one degree or another) when it comes to evaluating a publishing deal. Always consult a lawyer or an agent before you sign a publishing contract, particularly if you're not experienced reading and negotiating legalese.

I can't promise these questions will save you from signing a publishing deal you regret, or protect you against every predatory or inexperienced publisher. That said, if you keep these in mind, you'll have a much better start when evaluating prospective publishing houses for your work.

*Disclaimer: This post does not constitute legal advice, create an attorney-client relationship between the author and any person, and is intended for educational purposes only. Author makes no representations that this post is complete or contains all relevant information required to protect authors when choosing a publishing house, escaping from zombies, or trying to avoid a swarm of lawyers wielding bee-infested carp. Your experience, legal rights, and favorite cupcake flavor may vary.

Beware of Hidden Dangers in Short-Form Publishing Contracts

Authors have a lot to watch out for when reading a publishing contract, but one of the most common dangers is actually invisible: the protections typically missing from short-form contracts.

Standard publishing contracts run 10-30 pages, in little type, with wording that ranges from “difficult” to “possibly penned in Hieroglyphs.” Most authors don't know how to approach the dense legalese, or find it uncomfortable and intimidating.

By contrast, many authors see a three-page form and think “Hooray! A contract that makes sense!”

Beware: that way be dragons.

Publishing contracts are long because they address a wide range of legal rights and issues. “Copyright” is actually a group of rights, and each of them must be addressed in a proper contract. Failure to deal with issues creates dangerous ambiguities and loopholes, most of which cut in the publisher’s favor in short-form contracts. (This is because the short-form contract deals with rights as a bundle rather than separating them, and often they simply license the entire bundle to the publisher.)

Sometimes, publishers try to claim their short-form contracts offer authors a “better deal” than “traditional, complex forms.”

Again, beware.

These shorter contracts are often missing a number of critical provisions that authors don’t realize they need to include for their own protection. When a problem arises, the author goes to the contract, only to find that the “friendly short form” doesn’t address that issue (or, when it does, the publisher prevails).

Here’s a list of some important provisions many short-form contracts don’t include: 

1.  Proper reservations of subsidiary rights to the author. The shorter the contract, the more likely it is to simply grant the publisher “all rights” in and to the work “in all forms, formats, and territories.” Publishers don’t need “all rights” to a work. Most publishers need print, ebook, and sometimes serial rights. Everything else is open for negotiation. At a minimum, those other rights (often called “subsidiary rights”) should be separately listed and addressed in the contract language. One-size-fits-all rights language is not the best option for the author, and something authors should be watching for with an eagle eye. 

2. Author termination rights. Publishing contracts often last “for the life of copyright,” but that’s actually only the contract term if the contract isn’t breached or terminated earlier. Good contracts give the author several ways to escape if things go badly, including the right to terminate (and revert all rights) if the publisher fails to publish within a stated time, goes out of business, breaches the contract, or fails to sell at least a specified minimum number of royalty-bearing copies in a stated period of time. (Each of these termination rights often appears in a different paragraph--look for all of them in your contract!) Short form contracts generally fall woefully short on author termination rights. 

3. Sales Statements. Each royalty check should be accompanied by a sales statement detailing  relevant information about the number and format of books sold and returned during the sales period, as well as any reserves being held against future returns. Not surprisingly, short-form contracts often skip over sales statements—and unwary authors often forget the importance of receiving this documentation until the first (unexplained) royalty check comes in...or doesn't.

4. Audit rights. The author needs the right to audit the publisher’s books and records relating to the work at least once in every calendar year. Again, this is often missing in short-form deals.

5. “Out of Print” status tied to royalty-bearing sales. Short-form contracts often omit the author’s “out of print” termination rights altogether ("whoops…") or tie “out of print” status to “availability” – which usually keeps the work in print as long as an ebook version is offered anywhere for sale.  

Note: this list is not exhaustive. There are other important provisions which short-form contracts often omit, but this list is enough to demonstrate the dangers of short-form contracts. Sometimes, publishers try to claim these clauses “aren’t needed,” or that authors can trust them to “do the right thing.”

SHENANIGANS.

It’s true that publishers and authors should be able to trust one another. However, it’s also true that good fences make good neighbors, and good contracts make for good partnerships—in publishing, as elsewhere. Contract law says that a promise which isn’t contained in the contract does not exist as part of the deal. (There are exceptions, but you should never rely on exceptions.)

Never, ever sign a publishing contract—especially not a “short-form” deal—without obtaining a professional opinion from an agent or a publishing lawyer, to ensure the contract offers adequate protection for your legal rights.

 

Understanding Your Ebook Rights

With a new year upon us, my #PubLaw for Writers guest posts here at the RMFW blog will focus on helping authors understand and protect their legal rights. Today, we're kicking it off with a little more about ebook rights--what they are, and how they function in a publishing contract.

Ebook Rights are Normally Addressed in a Contract's "Grant of Rights" or "Primary Rights" Paragraph. 

One of the first paragraphs in a publishing contract is normally titled "Grant of Rights" (or sometimes, "Primary Rights").

The Grant of Rights paragraph often mentions many different rights, all of which belong to the author as part of the copyright in the work. In the contract, the author grants the publisher a license (legally defined as a "right to use") the enumerated rights.

Normally, the "primary rights" include the rights to publish, distribute, and sell the work in print and ebook formats. Sometimes, the primary rights include a few other rights as well--and we'll look at them in the months to come. (Today, it's all ebook, all the time.)

Note: Ebook-only publishers shouldn't be asking for print rights too, but print publishers normally do request ebook rights.

The Contract Should Never Give the Publisher "Ownership" of Any Rights or Copyrights.

A license is not the same thing as "ownership"--the contract should never give the publisher ownership of the copyright, or any other ownership rights in the work.

Instead, the contract should give the publisher a license--normally "exclusive" with regard to print and ebooks--that lasts for the term of the contract (which may or may not be the same as the copyright term--more on that in a future post). 

The New Frontier: Enhanced Ebook Rights.

Most authors know what an "ebook" is (if you don't...you may have been living in a cave for the past few decades). However, many authors don't know the difference between "ebook rights" and "enhanced ebook rights."

An "enhanced ebook" is an ebook containing not only the text of the work, but also various kinds of supplementary content designed to enhance the reader's experience. Examples of enhanced ebook content might include pop-up maps (such as maps that appear when you click a linked phrase or place name), musical scores or other "background sound effects" to accompany the reading, hyperlinks that open web-based content, and similar added features.

Enhanced ebooks are rare, but several startup companies now offer enhanced ebooks for sale, either as independent products or as an "enhanced overlay" for a publisher's existing ebook content.

Enhanced Ebooks in Publishing Contracts:

Although the standard ebook clause, which normally includes a grant of rights for the publisher to produce ebooks "in any method of ebook production now known or hereafter developed," many publishers are now including the words "enhanced ebooks" as another specific piece of the grant of rights (so the contract now reads: "ebooks and enhanced ebooks" rather than just "ebooks").

By granting enhanced ebook rights to the publisher, the author surrenders his or her right to: (a) determine whether or not an enhanced ebook is made during the term of the contract (the publisher, as the holder of the license, gets to make that call), (b) control the enhanced content, and (c) request a higher, or different, royalty rate on the enhanced ebooks--normally the standard ebook rate would apply.

While some publishers may not be willing to negotiate on enhanced ebooks, since this format might compete with the standard ebook, authors should be aware that this is actually a separate right from ebooks, and that it may be possible to negotiate the grant of enhanced ebook rights.

For example: sometimes the publisher will allow the author to keep enhanced ebooks altogether; if not, perhaps the author can negotiate approval rights over any enhanced ebook content, and possibly also a higher percentage of royalties on the enhanced version.

The Final Decision About Your Enhanced Ebook Rights Belongs To You.

The number of enhanced ebooks on the market now is fairly small--but the same was true of "regular" ebooks, back in the days when e-readers were new. Like any publishing right, only you--the author--can make the business decision whether or not to grant the right to a publisher, and there is no "right or wrong" answer--it depends on your personal business decisions and the other terms of the deal. However, before you sign a publishing contract, be sure you know where ebooks and enhanced ebooks fit in, that you understand the terms being offered, and that you're making the decision you believe is best for you and your work.

Have questions about this or other publishing contract terms? Pop into the comments and let me know!

 

 

How–and Why–to Write a Business Plan For Your Book

“Do you know how to eat a whale?" the old joke asks.

The answer: "One bite at a time!”

The same advice holds true for writing a business plan for your book.

Many authors don't actually take the time to write a business plan. Either the process seems too boring, too complicated, or "not worth the time." In some cases, writers simply don't think to do it. Whatever the reason, writers who fail to write a business plan for every book they write are missing out on an important tool for writing and publishing success.

Business plans are important whether you self-publish or work with a traditional publishing house, and though it's generally better to write them before you start the novel, it's never too late to write a business plan for your current work-in-progress--even if the book has already released (though if that's the case, you'll probably focus more on the marketing sections and less on the pieces dedicated to how the book gets written).

Today, I thought we'd take a walk through the sections of a book business plan, to take a look at what they contain and offers some #PubLaw pointers on how to write them:

A typical business plan has seven sections, and a book business plan is no exception: 

1.  The Summary comes first (but you can write it last if you prefer, because it basically summarizes the rest of the business plan.)

The business plan summary isn't the same as a summary or synopsis of the book itself (that's Section 2). Instead, this summary contains a one-paragraph synopsis (think "jacket copy") of the novel and a summary of the entire business plan, including the genre, target audience, and other “at-a-glance” relevant facts about the book and the way you plan to sell and market it to the intended readers.

2.  The Book Description contains a synopsis of the book. If you haven’t written your novel yet, it’s OK to create a placeholder – a one-page summary of the story you plan to write. If you write your synopsis (or outline) first, you can add it here before you write the book; if you write it after the manuscript is finished, you can add the completed section to the plan at the appropriate time. 

3. The Marketing Section actually consists of three sub-sections, containing your plans to market the book during its pre-release, release, and post-release phases. The more detailed you can be when planning each section, the better. (And if you have no idea how to do this, I've blogged about it in detail at my own blog, in the #PubLaw category.)

4. A Competitive Analysis follows the marketing section. This part of the business plan requires you to identify where your book will sit in a bookstore (even if you plan for an ebook only release) and to examine similar works in the marketplace, analyzing why readers will (or should) want your book instead of (or in addition to) the other options. This is also where you brainstorm strategies to maximize your advantages and minimize any weaknesses you find.

5.  The Development Timelines Section is designed to keep both you and your work on track during the various phases of writing, producing, and marketing the book. Like the marketing section, this actually consists of three different timelines: one for the writing process, one for the publishing process (regardless of whether you publish traditionally or self-publish, there will be things you do during the publishing process), and one for marketing the work.

6.  In the Operations and Management section, you plan (in detail) who will handle each specific part of the writing, publishing, promotion and sales process. If you publish traditionally, many of the duties will fall to your publisher, whereas if you self-publish, this part of the plan becomes a critical roadmap to the staff and process of bringing your book to market.

7. The Budget finishes up your business plan. As with operations and management, this portion may be simple or complex, depending on the author’s plans and past experience. This is where you plan the budget for everything from production costs (primarily an issue for author-publishers) to marketing and travel expenses associated with the book's release.

In a panic? Don’t be! Business plans take work but they’re not as difficult as they seem. They're also a powerful tool to take control of your book and your writing career.

Have you ever written a business plan for your book? If not, would you consider it in the future? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the business plan!

It’s Full of Stars

In many ways, a writer's journey has much in common with Arthur C. Clarke’s novel-turned-classic-film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The hapless author boards his-or-her craft (a manuscript instead of a rocket), launches into a hostile space, and spends many months (or, sometimes, years) in what seems like suspended animation. Time passes, the author alternately waiting for something to happen and struggling with the perpetual fears that NO ONE WILL EVER OPEN THE POD BAY DOORS no matter how much (s)he begs.

(HAL’s got nothing on a writer’s subconscious. Trust me here.)

During those weeks, and months, and years, the author keeps busy, studying craft and working on as many manuscripts as it takes to reach the destination. Agents get queried, tearstained rejections get filed, and life moves on. Eventually, the writer finds an agent and a publisher, or decides the self-publishing path is the right one.

Then, just like the astronaut in 2001, the author's journey reaches its endpoint–the book release. At which point, the author stares in awe at the real, live book in her hands and whispers softly...

It’s full of stars.”

… fade to black. Journey over. Story ended.

WHAT????

Now, wait a minute.

If you're like me, you saw that ending and said. "That can't be all there is."

WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL US WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

But there's a reason 2001 ended where it did, and why it didn't tell us any more. It parallels the writer's path here, too.

When you get there, you realize the ending--whether we're talking 2001 or an author's debut release--isn't actually the ending at all.

The ending is just the start of another journey.

Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. (There’s a reason we call it “the writing life.”) The author's initial trip to publication is wonderful, scary, and filled with firsts, and yet it's merely the opening bars of a longer (and even more beautiful) symphony.

Surprise. When it's over? It isn’t over.

And now, another story.

In late December 1973 I was two and a half years old.

A neighbor gave me a pair of lovely presents wrapped in shiny paper and tied with ribbons. I opened the first, unwinding the bow and setting it gently aside before I peeled back the tape that bound the paper. Minutes passed, but I took my time. I savored every moment until at last I removed the wrapping and revealed a brand-new book beneath.

A hardback book.

I don't remember the title but I'll never forget the cool, slick feel of that cover beneath my hands. Immediately, I opened it up and began to "read" the pictures.

My mother gave me a gentle reminder: “Susan, don't forget you have another present. Why don't you open it? What do you think's inside?”

I paused, one hand on the page to hold my place, and looked at the second package. After a moment I answered, "Probably … another book.”

And then, I went back to reading.

That story has more to do with this post than you might initially suspect.

I love my debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CATI enjoyed every part of the detailed process that went into its writing, editing, layout, and publication. The book's release came after ten years of struggle, craft, and rejection, and I savored the feel of that book in my hands as I savored the beautiful Christmas book my neighbor gave me many years ago.

But by the time I held my published book in my hands, I had already boarded another craft--the second book in the series. When that one was finished...I started on the next.

Consider this post your gentle reminder to stop gazing lovingly at the book in your lap--regardless of whether or not it's published--and to continue moving forward, one the next phase of your journey.

Because the writer's journey, the writer's life, is not about a destination. Finish a project and start on the next one.

Never let your fears or insecurities stop you, no matter how impossible the journey seems right now. Don't wait on someone to open the pod bay doors and let you enter this realm--success as a writer is something you have to work for, and accomplish, through hard work, determination, and effort. And you can do it, if you try.

But on the way, take time to enjoy the process, no matter where you are.

Today is the dream.

Today is the journey.

Savor this moment.

Trust me.

It’s full of stars.

Finding Your Writing Pace

Authors often forget that professional writing is a two-pronged calling.

First and foremost, writers write. It's what defines us, and we do it whether or not we write for publication or for pleasure (or, as happens in many cases, both). There’s nothing wrong with writing as an avocation instead of a career – and some writers make a business decision to self-publish (or even NOT publish) their work and never worry about sales or the business side of publishing.

That is a legitimate choice.

But for authors who intend to make writing a career, publication is a business, and sales do count, and to make those sales you must start with a salable product. In publishing, as in any other business, quality is not the place to compromise. Quality works sell better, and are more engaging to read, than unpolished or hurried ones.

As the old adage says, “you never have a second chance to make a first impression.” This goes for authors too. Whether you’re querying agents, approaching a publisher, self-publishing, or marketing your work to readers, professional authors have a business obligation (as well as a personal one) to produce the best work possible.

As an author, you have a story to tell, but a working writer never forgets that a story is also a product, and high-quality goods sell better than shoddy ones.

From a business perspective, an author must plan enough writing time to write, edit and polish each work before the due date or release. Rushed works never please as well as careful, well-developed stories.

As an author, you need to learn how long it takes you to write, revise, edit and polish a work for publication--not "what the market wants," but what you can reasonably do. Your speed might not be the same as anyone else's--and that's okay.

Your time to produce a manuscript will likely decrease with time and experience, but learning how long it takes you to write and polish a publishable manuscript is a fundamental part of every author's early business plan. You’ll need to know in order to set and stick to your publishing schedule – regardless of the publishing path you choose.

Don’t panic if you can't finish a novel as fast as someone else, or if it takes you more than a year from start to finish. If you want to write faster, or more consistently, try setting a schedule and deadlines--even if they're entirely self-imposed. Vary the pace and find your comfort zone. (Also: be open to change – few writers keep the same pace throughout their careers.)

Knowing your pace helps you plan and schedule releases and publishing contracts – regardless of publishing path. It also helps you plan for future projects. Can you handle more than one series at a time? Some authors can, but some cannot--and their results don't matter...what matters is how it works for you. It's not a race, and your writing career cannot--and should not--be defined by someone else's process.

Many authors enter the business with little awareness that writing pace controls many other decisions. Finding your pace means finding the time you need to deliver a polished, professional work that readers will love. Quality wins out over speed every time.

Take some time this week to examine your pace. Try making a schedule. See what works, and discover what doesn't. Challenge yourself, but respect your creative process, too.

Do you know how long it takes you to produce a finished manuscript? Have you gotten faster as the years go by?

Colorado Gold 2015: Another Wonderful Weekend With the Herd

Another Colorado Gold Conference (my sixth) has come and gone. No matter how I try to freeze the clock, somehow the moments pass--far faster than normal--and it seems things have no sooner started than I'm home once more and waiting for the next one.

This was an unusually wonderful Colorado Gold for me, this year, and not just because I had the honor of viewing the Friday evening banquet from the other side of the podium. (Huge thanks to everyone who voted me 2015's Writer of the Year.) In addition to teaching classes, attending workshops, and spending time with my beloved "herd" I learned a few important lessons--and received some critical reminders--that I will carry with me in the year to come:

12004745_832040746909072_5028712672877300556_nPublishing is a Business; Knowledge is Power.

From Friday morning Master's Classes to morning and afternoon workshops, conferences like Colorado Gold empower authors to take charge of every aspect of their publishing careers. No matter how much we know about the business, there's always something more to learn--and wonderful instructors like Keir Graff (pictured) and the rest of the RMFW faculty make learning FUN.

Nobody Gets "Too Big" For Kindness (aka "We're all in this together.") 12002855_832258653553948_7773124374528047647_n

Keynote speaker and guest of honor Jeffery Deaver not only attended workshops "like the rest of us" but spent many hours meeting and talking with our RMFW crew. He showed particular kindness to our three teenage attendees, encouraging them and talking with them about their works. Thank you, Mr. Deaver, for being such an inspiring speaker, gifted workshop teacher, and all-around class act.

Many hands make light (and happy) work.

10301455_832539993525814_7436406780272355661_nConference chair Susie Brooks and her team of amazing volunteers kept the conference moving without a hitch (without any visible hitches, anyway) and did it with perpetual smiles. Anyone passing the registration table at any hour--day or night--could see Susie and her team at work, hear their laughter, and receive a friendly smile. The same was true of the army of RMFW volunteers, who worked hard--but happily--to make this the best Colorado Gold Conference yet. As authors, we'd be smart to follow their example when carrying out our writing--and our day job tasks!

Though Often Loners, We Are Not Alone 

As I might have mentioned once or twice, RMFW is my tribe--my "herd"--and both the organization Attendees01-sliderand its members have had an irreplaceable impact on my life and my writing career. Much of a writer's life is spent in solitary--butt in the chair and fingers on the keys.

Conferences like Colorado Gold remind me--and should remind all of us--that there are others, brothers and sisters of the written word, who toil and worry and suffer as we do, and that we are stronger together than any of us could possibly be alone.

Everyone's Tail Gets Broken...But Time With the Herd Will Help Us Heal.

Every writer has a path to walk, and few of those paths are paved with fairy dust and unicorn kisses. Far more often, we spend our days on the bottom of our proverbial tanks, with our broken tails in the air. Colorado Gold is a vitally important safe-haven, a writers' reef, where we can come together for a few sparkling days and nights each year to recharge in the company of our "herd."

IMG_6210

We share our stories, eat and drink (sometimes a little more than we planned), laugh and cry and "hug it out"--and leave a little happier, a little stronger, and far more inspired than we were before. Conferences heal our wounds--or, at least, help set us on the path to healing. They renew our hope. They remind us that we do this not for money, or fame, or success (or, at least, not only for those things) but because we--like all the others here--are in love with the written word.

Our stories burn within us, and we write because we owe those burning stories nothing less. 

Thank you, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Colorado Gold volunteers, fellow attendees, and members of my lovely herd, for reminding me of so many important things. I cannot wait to see you all at next year's Colorado Gold. 

***

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of 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 in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, released on July 14, 2015. Susan is honored to be the 2015 RMFW Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she  raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Do YOU Know How to Find Your Agent Match?

Finding an agent isn't just about finding "someone" to represent your work. The author-agent relationship works best when author and his or her agent match well on a personal and professional level. 

Some people prefer to work via email; others like to talk by phone. Some authors want to know about every submission and every editor's comments, while others would rather hear only positive news. 

Although, to a certain extent, authors must "wait" for an agent to offer representation, we can increase the odds of getting that offer by making smart--and informed decisions--about which agents to query in the first place.  

Agents often advise authors to "do your homework before you query" but many authors struggle with understanding that assignment. 

Three weeks from now, at Colorado Gold, I'll be presenting a joint workshop with my fantastic agent, Sandra Bond, on exactly what it means to "do your homework" and how to pick--and work with--the agent that's right for you.

In the meantime (or for those who might not make the conference) here are some tips to start you in the right direction.

 

1. Query only agents who represent works in the genre where your manuscript belongs--and your subsection (if any) within that genre. 

Note: this requires knowing what genre you're writing. 

Every book needs to be shelved (or "shelve-able") in a bookstore. Figure out where your book would be shelved BEFORE you query. Even if you're writing a speculative-historical-mystery-YA/MG-romance...one (2 at most) of those are primary. Know your genre.

Narrow your query list from "all agents in the known universe" to "agents who want to represent MY genre." No matter how well you write, you won't convert a romance specialist into a mystery lover--or vice versa. Do not try. The easiest way to rejection is querying agents who don't represent the type of book you're offering.

2. Check the agent's bio, website, or wish list (if any), and see whether the agent likes the type of book you've written. 

Finding the right agent requires more than just a genre match. Huge diversity exists within genres. You need to find an agent who likes the type of book you've written (e.g., cozy mystery) rather than something on the other end of the genre spectrum. 

Many agents also use the "Manuscript Wish List" (#MSWL) hashtag on Twitter to let people know what they're looking for. Check this too. 

3. If you can't tell what the agent is actively looking for at the moment, look at the his or her client list and see if your work fits into the "group." 

An agent whose client list consists primarily of cozy mysteries and middle grade novels might not be the best candidate for your gritty, erotic police procedural. It's tempting to just send queries out to every agent in your genre, but don't. It wastes a lot of time and effort on both sides.

Determining whether your work fits into an agent's client or wish list requires honest self-reflection about yourself & your work. The question is not "do I want Agent A to love me?" but "do I genuinely believe Agent A will love this book I wrote?" These are not the same thing.

4. Google the agents you want to query; read their articles and interviews.

Before I pitched Sandra, I read an interview in which she mentioned liking character-driven mystery. That's what I write, so the interview helped me decide to pitch her (at the 2012 Colorado Gold Conference).

Researching agents individually does take more time than simply carpet bombing the Writers' Digest listings, but it also gives great insight into whether an agent would be a good fit for you as well as your work. The query process isn't just about sending a thousand missiles into the night and hoping one of them hits a target. "Aim" comes before "fire" (or "send") in queries as well as warfare. 

Want to know more? I hope you'll join Sandra and me for the "Finding the Perfect Agent" workshop at Colorado Gold!

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of 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 in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, released on July 14, 2015. Susan is honored to be the 2015 RMFW Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she  raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Debunking Copyright Registration Myths

Authors are often confused about the benefits and timing of copyright registration for creative works. It's a universal issue authors must understand, regardless of the publishing path they choose, so today we're taking a quick and dirty look at some popular myths--and truths--about copyright registration.

Myth #1: You Have to Register Copyright, or You Lose It.

The truth: Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office (or with foreign copyright offices, where appropriate) is not a legal requirement for copyright ownership.

Copyright ownership attaches automatically at the time a qualifying work is created. (For the sake of time and space...short stories, novellas, novels, anthologies and most other published fiction and non-fiction works generally qualify for copyright protection.)

However, copyright registration is required in order to obtain a variety of protections available to copyright holders under U.S. Law. Among them:

  • The right to sue infringers to stop infringement.
  • The right to collect statutory damages (money damages, in amounts set by law) from infringers.
  • The right to recover attorney fees against an infringer in a successful lawsuit.

Myth #2: If You Don't Register Before The Book Is Published, You're Screwed and Cannot Register At All.

(And yes, "screwed" is the technical legal term.)

The Truth: To maximize access to legal rights, an author's copyright should be registered within 90 days of the initial publication date. (Note: publishing the work for free online can constitute "publication" - so consult an attorney before you self-publish or release the work to the public in any form.)

However, authors can register copyright at any time. ANY. TIME. Although some legal rights--for example, the right to recover statutory damages and attorney fees--are lost if the 90-day window passes, other legal rights are available to the copyright holder at any time after registration, no matter when the registration is filed.

In other words: it's never too late to register. It just might cost you some rights if you delay.

Myth #3: Authors Should Register Copyright Before Querying Agents.

The Truth: Not unless the work is already published--and even then, the registration trigger is publication, not queries.

Sometimes authors think they need to register copyright to protect the work from being stolen by unscrupulous agents or publishers. To this, I have two answers:

First: why are you querying unscrupulous agents and publishers?? Do your homework and query only reputable industry professionals.

Second: Although this scenario might have happened to someone, somewhere, registering copyright to avoid an agent stealing your work is about as effective as wearing bulletproof briefs to prevent a random stranger from shooting you in the crotch as they pass by. Again...it might have happened, but if you're hanging out in places where this sort of thing goes on, a re-evaluation of life choices might be in order.

Registering copyright too early can create problems for traditional publishers, most of whom register copyright on the authors behalf. If the work is already registered, the publisher has to complete a different kind of registration, for a 'revised edition' of the work--which creates extra paperwork and headaches all around.

Myth #4: Legitimate Traditional Publishers Always Register Copyright for the Author.

The Truth: Many do, but some don't.

If you publish traditionally, your contract should contain language stating; (a) who is responsible for registering the copyright, and (b) that the publisher will include a copyright notice which satisfies the requirements of U.S. law in all copies of the work published and sold. If the language isn't there...ask for the publisher to insert it. If you don't know what language to ask for...consult a publishing lawyer.

Myth #5: Registering a Copyright is Difficult/Expensive/Requires a Lawyer

The Truth: None of the above.

Most copyrights can be registered online at the U.S. Copyright Office website (www.copyright.gov); in most cases, registration costs less than $50. The copyright office website has a tutorial for copyright registration that can walk authors through the process, step by step, with useful explanations for some of the more confusing terms.

The copyright office's tutorial isn't perfect--there are some areas where I think it could use improvement, and I'm planning a #PubLaw copyright registration booklet (when I get the time to write it...and a unicorn that takes dictation). Even so, it makes what might seem confusing much simpler, so anyone can do it.

So...when SHOULD you register copyright?

If you plan to self-publish, register copyright on your publication day if possible; definitely register within the 90-day window to preserve your rights.

If you publish traditionally, ensure your contract dictates who will handle the registration, and if the task falls to you follow through on publication day or within that first critical 90 days after initial publication.

And there you have it...a whirlwind tour of common copyright registration myths and the truths behind them. We now return you to your regularly scheduled summer fun.

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 in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, just released on July 14. 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.

Respect for the Law…and Copyright…Starts at Home

By Susan Spann

In the digital age, it's easy to break the law and call it "harmless."

For example:

...Copying a photograph or an inspirational piece of art from someone else's website.

...Re-blogging a blog post without obtaining the author's permission in advance.

...Downloading pirated ebooks, songs, or videos off the Internet, because after all...those people make tons of money and surely my single download doesn't hurt.

I've heard the excuses a thousand times. "[The artist or creator] doesn't need my money." "It's only one download." "I'm crediting the original author--(s)he should be glad that I wanted to share the work!"

Excuses are not justifications, and wrongful taking, copying, or even re-blogging of someone else's work without the legal permission to do so constitutes copyright violation...regardless of your motives.

In simpler words: the fact that you didn't intend any harm doesn't make an illegal choice okay.

Few artists get paid even close to "enough" for the time and effort they spend creating their works. If you're reading this, you're probably a writer (or an artist, or both) and you know the previous sentence is true. More importantly: it's not for the consumer to decide "how much is enough."

Bloggers rarely receive any monetary compensation for the work they do. The benefit they receive consists mostly of website traffic--which might, in time, develop into a platform allowing the blogger to sell a nonfiction book or other creative work. When you re-blog an article (a term that normally refers to cutting and pasting a blog or other content onto your own blog or website, usually--though not always--crediting the original author and often linking to the original source), you're depriving the author of much-needed website traffic. In other words: you're using their content to promote your blog or website instead of the author's own.

If you do this without permission, it's illegal--and it's also morally wrong. If you believe an article or blog entry merits reading, it's better (and legal!) to post a sentence or two on your blog, describing the article, along with a link to the original source. For example:

Read a post about respecting copyrights on the RMFW Blog today. Do you know the difference between legal linking and copyright infringement? Susan Spann explains why, "In the digital age, it's easy to break the law and call it "harmless" -- and why it's really not so harmless after all. Check it out: [Insert Link to the post you're reading...]

See what I did there?

Here are some quick tips for sharing content without violating copyright:

1. It's okay to capture a short "pull quote" or teaser to use along with your link. Just make sure it's short, and a "teaser" rather than the heart of the useful content.

2. Links are legal--and the original blogger or author will appreciate you for doing it! Link to the original source, rather than copying the material over to your own blog or website.

3. If you really want to duplicate the entire article, ask permission. Many times, bloggers or writers will gladly grant permission for you to re-post content (sometimes with a few reasonable restrictions). I often grant permission for re-blogging or re-posting of articles (subject to restrictions like my byline, a link to my website, and no alteration of my original content). However, if the author refuses permission, don't be a jerk. The content does belong to its creator.

Don't be afraid that sending people to someone else's website will cost you traffic. "Aggregators" are blogs or websites known for providing links to useful content elsewhere on the web. People who value your opinions will come to you even if you "only" point them to useful content (as opposed to posting it yourself). Respecting others' copyright reveals a professional attitude, and raises your reputation far higher than taking other people's work without permission--whether or not you attribute the source.

The good that we do in this world comes back to us eventually--so do the right thing, and remember: respect for the law, and copyright, starts at home.

How do you handle sharing valuable content you find on the web? Do you link it on social media, or post a "look at this" on your blog? Have you ever asked an author for permission to re-post? If so, how did it go?

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 in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, will release in July 2015. 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.