Comedy In Fiction

LaughterOne of my favorite movies of all time, Front Page, features one of the first cinematic examples of what has come to be known as "snappy dialog": a rapid-fire exchange of witty banter and rejoinders. When a stand-up comedian drops a clunker (delivers a joke that earns little to no laughter) he can sometimes be heard to say, "On the way home tonight you're going to get that and laugh your head off!" With snappy dialog, the one-liners dropped in that machine-gun barrage can often go by so quickly you find yourself laughing at it minutes after the scene has already passed.

Examples, you ask? Well, I was recently watching a sci-fi/fantasy show set in the midst of WWII in which, as a byproduct of a sci-fi event, a group of unknowing people are healed by very thorough nano-robots of an alien virus. A woman then walks up to her physician to report, "My leg's back! I had only one leg, and now the other's grown back!" To which he replies, "Well there's a war on. Is it possible you miscounted?" This line is delivered so flatly, almost as an aside before the scene goes back to the main plot, I found myself laughing still minutes after the show had ended.

LaughterIn another example, the captain of a ship on which a bomb is about to explode is on the intercom demanding his crew find a way to jettison the explosive.

Captain: "How about we stuff it in an escape capsule?"
Crewman: "There are no escape capsules."
Captain: "Are you sure?"
Crewman: "Yes, Captain."
Captain: "Have you looked everywhere? Under the sink?"
Crewman: "Yes, Captain."

I enjoy comedic dialog, if done well, and strive to include it as much as possible in at least one of my ongoing series of suspense adventures. In an unpublished manuscript of mine there is a scene in which one character comments on a bullet wound that only creased the main character's scalp:

"What happened there?"
"Freak knitting accident."

And the dialog goes on, taking no notice of the joke. The funniest dialog is when it isn't acknowledged by the characters in the scene. In an interview, Mel Brooks once said of an actress, "She didn't do comedy. When she delivered a line, she couldn't stop herself from broadcasting it, all but winking at the camera and saying, 'Here comes the joke, folks!'" The very nature of comedy is the surprise. The funniest dialog is delivered non-sequitur, and it's even funnier when others in the scene act as if it's a perfectly normal thing to say.

LaughterDouglas Adams, celebrated British comedic sci-fi writer wrote this bit of a giggle:

"I have detected disturbances. Eddies in the space-time continuum."
"Ah...is he. Is he."
"What?"
"Er, who is Eddy, then, exactly?”

Here, an anomaly of the English language leads to a misunderstanding, giving rise to comedy.

I've heard other comedic people, writers and comedians, say comedy either comes naturally to a person or it doesn't. It cannot be taught. What's your opinion?

I often think I'm quite hilarious. Some don't agree. Which leads to another point: some comedy is subjective. I, for example, don't find bathroom humor funny, as a rule. The recent cinematic trend in gross-out humor leaves me cold. Other's nearly pass out with laughter. On the other hand, many hold that puns are the lowest form of humor. For me, contrariwise, a well-placed pun or double-meaning will send me into gales. Triple-, quadruple-meanings...the more facets an entendre has, the funnier it is.

Physical comedy is very hard to do in fiction. Don't believe me? Try describing your favorite comic strip to a reader. The challenge comes in explaining an action without dragging the joke on so long that by the time you get to the punch line the reader has already outthunk you and moved on. You need to develop a talent for pithy narrative. Good comedy writing is some of the tightest, most backloaded writing I've ever read. Even if you don't write comedy, it's good practice for any kind of writing.

An example of bad physical comedy in fiction?

"Lucy holds the football upright by the tip, an evil gleam in her eye. Charlie Brown, tongue planted firmly in the corner of his mouth, narrows his eyes and takes aim. He charges, planting his feet to pour on maximum speed. Just as he swings his foot at the ball, Lucy pulls it away. Charlie can't stop, and his momentum carries him off is feet, to where he it seems to him he is actually suspended for several seconds, time enough to scream, 'Aaaaaaargh!' When he falls he slides on the grass for a yard or so before coming to rest, staring at the sky. 'You blockhead!' he hears in the distance as Lucy struts away, not laughing, just disgusted."

This scene comes off as rather sad when written out this way. (BTW: It's my opinion Lucy secretly likes Charlie Brown. Every time she pulls the ball away she's testing him to see if he has yet become the man(boy) she needs him to be to justify her crush. But the subtext of cartoons is a whole other blog topic. One for true fiction-nerds.)

Now consider this physical scene:

"Turning the knob, she tried to open the door quietly, but it creaked as it opened. She tried to step through gaps in the crime scene tape, but it stuck to her pant leg, then her sleeve, and before she knew it she was stumbling through the door, a-tangle in the sticky stuff, hopping on one leg and trying to pull it free of her clothes."

Here the writer could have gone on to describe the scene in greater detail, and if this were any other kind of scene you might encourage them to do so. But in a comedic scene, it's only the action that convey's the humor, not the color of the door or the texture of the clothing that made the tape stick so well, etc.

One more point: strive to make your comedy as inclusive as possible. When you make others laugh at the expense of another, it's fun for your audience, but not so much for its victim. Puns aside, this is, in my opinion, the true lowest form of humor.

What's your favorite comedic moment in television, film or literature? Leave comments below.

Pack Up Your Media Kit and Smile!

As I sit down to write, I’m remembering that game we used to play as kids—the one where someone starts by saying, “I’m going on a trip and in my bag I packed…” You sit in a circle, and the starter names one item with each player listing previous items in turn and then adding another until you can’t remember the sequence anymore. I’m hoping to start a list that others will want to add to in the comments section at the end, because an author’s media kit may contain any number of items and no two media kits are alike.

You worked hard to publish your book. But now the promotional push has begun, and it will continue until you retire. A well-stocked media kit will save you oodles of time as your book list grows and you venture forth into various promotional arenas. Here are some ideas for what yours might include:

  • Your Photo. If you’re lucky you can sign up at the Colorado Gold Conference and have author and super-photographer Mark Stevens shoot you. J But if the timing doesn’t work, invest in a headshot done by one of your local professional studios. You’ll want the high-resolution digital version, and be sure to obtain a written release of the photographer’s rights transferred to you.
  • Your Book Cover. Again, you’ll want a high-resolution cover shot.
  • Your Business Card. You can have one professionally designed or do it yourself at a company like FedEx Office. I’ve done it both ways. Since I like to add a new book onto my card each year, I’ve saved some money by learning to design my cards myself.
  • Author Bios. You’ll need at least two: a short bio of less than one hundred words and an official bio that can be longer.
  • Book Endorsement List. Create one document to copy all of the industry review pull-quotes and author blurbs that you accrue as you publish your books. Whenever you need a media quote for a given book, one will be right at your fingertips.
  • List of Links to Online Articles, Interviews, and Guest Blogs. Again, build one document by pasting in each link. It saves so much time to have that information in one place, and the guest appearances add up over the years. If you have audio files from radio interviews, you can add those here too.
  • List of Cover Flap Blurbs and Short Book Descriptions. I like to have all of my book descriptions in one place, the longer ones from the cover flap or back of the book as well as the short one-to-two liners. When you need a book description for an announcement, you won’t have to search to find it or take the time to re-create one.
  • The type of promotional items to give out at events is a personal decision and varies from business cards only to elaborate gifts—and everything in between. My first year I used business cards, the second I added bookmarks, and this year I’m adding pens as well as bookmarks, for no reason other than I simply enjoy receiving these two items from other authors when I attend their events. I’ve read that swag should reflect your book content if possible, which seems like a good idea, so I sometimes give out doggie milk bones in party favor bags at my signings. And though not related to the content in my murder mysteries, but a gesture that reflects my gratitude, I love to give out kisses and hugs to readers…the chocolate kind.

Okay, here we go now. Smile and enjoy the journey! This is a good list for starters—but what else should we pack in our media kit?

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

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series, which includes Killing Trail (2015), an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award nominee; Stalking Ground (2016), a Colorado Book Award and International Book Award finalist; and Hunting Hour (2017), an RT Book Reviews Top Pick. She lives in Colorado where she assists her husband with their veterinary practice and Angus cattle herd. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.

Ocean Liner or Toy Boat?

Your book launch is like a ship christening, right?

Pomp, circumstance. The whole bit.

You invite as many people as you know, including every stranger you encounter in the weeks leading up.

You bash yourself a little bit for not doing a better job of keeping your email lists tightly organized over the years.

And, of course, you buy a jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot Brut and a long rope and you make a big deal out of the moment.

Well, I’m here to echo what Nathan Lowell wrote on the blog last month.

Yes, a good launch is swell. It feels good. But it’s not a bad idea to think about the long-term, too.

Pace yourself.

Book clubs, bookstore visits, blog interviews, radio interviews, literary conferences, genre conferences, library talks, on and on. Can you find one feature event or two every month for the next couple of years? (Investing in a publicist can help you generate ideas and leads.)

You never know.

Sure, it's not all wonderful. I’ve been there in empty and nearly-empty library conference rooms—even after weeks of promotion and large posters hanging by the library doors for weeks leading up. I’ve been to bookstore talks with a couple of readers. I once drove 400 miles to a book signing and the ONLY person who came to the store on purpose was a student who needed to interview somebody for a college class. (Though I did sign bunch of stock for the store and had another, more successful event on the same trip.) My good friend Linda Hull and I decided to do a joint library talk in Aurora about a year ago and our only attendee was our mutual pal (and writer; and book fanatic) Dean Wyant.

But if you believe in your book, it’s more than the launch. Its sheer existence represents an opportunity to get out and go find readers.

A couple months ago, out of the freaking blue, I got an email asking if Greenwood Village and Arapahoe Libraries could feature Lake of Fire for their first-ever “Village Read.”

Soon, the creative folks at Arapahoe Libraries had eight (count ‘em, eight!) events lined up and a fair amount of incredible publicity buzzing around a book that came out … two years ago. I am giving a few talks and the organizers are putting together some community events related to themes from my story—a forager, experts in fighting forest fires, a real-life female huntress. There’s an opening event. There's a closing event featuring a bluegrass band a tequila tasting (because tequila is the preferred beverage of my main character, Allison Coil). They also organized an a-m-a-z-i-n-g art show at Greenwood Village City Hall that will hang for about eight weeks--and all the art (photographs, painting, and mixed media too) are pieces inspired by Lake of Fire. 

Holy smokes!

Why? Why me? How did I get chosen for this incredible opportunity? I had to ask.

And the word came back—because I had done some talks in the Arapahoe Library district and, well, the reviews were good.

I guess the lesson is that your launch is the day of the release—you are sending your baby out into the world. At that point, you likely feel like you’ve put as much work into the story as if you built an ocean liner yourself with a hammer and a wrench.

So, why not smash a bottle of champagne?

But also think of your book as a little toy sailboat. You stretch out on your stomach at the end of the dock and lower the boat into the water with two hands.

You give it a little nudge.

Then, you watch it bob in the ripples and catch a little breeze.

++

Complete list of "Village Read" events are here:

Curing White Room Syndrome: How to Ground Your Reader

This is my second year serving as a judge for the Colorado Gold contest (which I highly recommend, for a number of reasons—but that’s a story for another blog post). After judging a dozen or so entries, I noticed I was making the same comment on almost every single manuscript: I didn't feel grounded enough.

Lack of grounding is sometimes referred to as "white room syndrome," because without sufficient setting details, a scene can feel like it’s taking place in an empty, white-walled room. But the lack of grounding isn't just a setting issue. Readers need sufficient information on other elements, such as character, conflict, and genre, to be fully immersed in the scene. At best, lack of grounding causes readers to feel like they're watching a scene from a distance rather than living it along with the characters. At worst, it causes readers to be too confused to turn the page.

So how do you achieve that elusive sense of grounding? Start by asking yourself the five W questions about your scene:

Where is it set? This applies to the macro and micro level. Is it set on Earth? In America, or Antarctica? In a big city or small town? Inside a building, on a train, in a cornfield, in an underground tunnel?

When is it? This also has macro and micro elements. Is it present-day? WWII era? Prehistoric? Is it the middle of the night? Sunrise? Dinnertime?

Who is in the scene? This doesn’t just mean describing the main character; you must also provide a sense of anyone else present. Is Mr. Protagonist sitting on the couch by himself, or is his wife sitting beside him? Are they alone, or is there a cocktail party full of people going on around them?

What are they doing, and why? If your character is digging a hole, he might be planting a rose bush or burying a body. If she’s racing to the hospital, she could be a surgeon who’s late for an operation, or she could be pregnant and going into labor.

Remember to look at these questions from the perspective of a reader. You, the writer, know the answers to all of these and more—but from the first page, or even the first paragraph, does the reader know?

Of course, grounding is no excuse for info dumping or over-choreography. The reader doesn’t need to know that the main character is 42 years old, 5’9” tall, 160 lbs, with shoulder-length chestnut hair, gray-green eyes, a square chin, and long fingernails. The reader doesn’t need to know she’s sitting behind a desk in room 212 on the second floor of Corporation, Inc. in Blahville, USA on March 22nd, 2016. The reader just needs a few key details to get a flavor of these things. For instance, you can show the character is middle-aged by showing a picture of her 12-year-old son. You can hint that she lives in the present day by mentioning her computer or smartphone.

Then, you can make the scene come alive by adding concrete, memorable details. Instead of “She had long fingernails,” try “Her glittery glue-ons clicked with every letter she typed.” Instead of “She worked in an office,” try “Her windowless cube farm felt live a cave.” Find details of character and setting that are dynamic, rather than static—things that can be incorporated into action, things that can be described with active verbs rather than the life-sucking “was.” Instead of “Her skirt was black,” try “Her black skirt clung to her as if it had been painted on.” When your descriptors pack more punch, they’ll stick better in your reader’s memory.

I’ve seen many writers get halfway there: they do a good job grounding the reader, but too late. Imagine you’re reading along, envisioning a fair-haired boy walking through a forest—only to discover 10 pages later that the character is actually a bald 50-year-old walking around a cruise ship. It’s jarring, and it pulls you out of the story. When we read something that isn't fully grounded, our brain automatically fills in some of the gaps. It's jarring when we realize we've filled them in wrong, and we have to tear down and rebuild the entire scene in our mind.

This applies to genre as well. When readers encounter white room syndrome, they’ll usually fill in the gaps with a contemporary setting by default. Imagine their shock when, pages later, they realize the story is set in a space-bubble orbiting Saturn, or the human female they were envisioning turns out to be a centaur-cyborg hybrid. Not only do they have to rebuild the setting in their mind, they also have to grapple with an entirely different genre. Readers want a sense, from the first page, of what kind of story they’re diving into—and if you don’t provide that, they’ll be ungrounded.

As writers, we have a painfully short window of opportunity to hook readers before they put our books down forever. The good news is, if you work hard on grounding, you can immerse readers on page 1 and never let them go.

I Won!

I did it! I’m the best.

Problem is, I won the Writing Procrastination Award, hands down. I’ve managed to find about four hundred different reasons not to write – at least not what I was supposed to.

Some of my excuses are good ones – I submitted to the RMFW Anthology, I submitted to Gold, and I judged Gold. However, this is over about a three month period, and I can guarantee all three of those added together did not come close to that much time.

My other excuses included:

  • Obsessively watching every Harry Potter movie that I found on cable, some more than once
  • Rereading books I love, but…REreading
  • Having a yard sale (OK, so that took, like, DAYS to get ready for)
  • Ironing (yes, I still do that – but only when I’m avoiding writing)
  • Looking at recipes on the Internet, and in my cook books, and anywhere else I could find them (and not making them)
  • Reorganizing my cupboards in the kitchen (bonus – I found all the years-long expired ingredients that might have been fatal if used)
  • Buying, but not planting, a bunch of flowers and vegetables (Why not planted? Because I forgot I need to fix my irrigation system set up before they all died)

So now you have an idea about how scattered I’ve been this summer. It’s mid-July, and I promised myself I would have my WIP submitted to agents by end of August. I think I’m going to need to come up with some kind of horrible penalty if I don’t, like having my husband tear out the bathtub and replace it with a shower if I don’t (that would be a fate nearly worse than death to me!). Or I should get back in a critique group so I HAVE to get something written (cheaper, and probably more productive).

Are any of you having trouble focusing on writing this summer? What are your solutions?

I hope to see you all at Gold, if not sooner, and I won’t hold it against you if you ask me if I got my manuscript submitted. In the meantime, I solemnly swear to Write On!

Writers: Learn to Love Revision

When you look at some of the writing advice out here in the great etheric wonder that is the internet, what you'll see is a lot of the same information repeated over and over. This is because writing isn't a science, it's a very subjective process which looks similar to lots of different people, but with a few common factors which tend to influence the craft in immensely different ways. One of the big ones I always see is READ. And yes, it is a big one. Huge, even. Top two or three. Because...writers tend to also read. But for my dollar, there's one that takes the number one spot just above reading (number 2), and actually doing the writing itself (number 3). Yes, even above the writing. Why? Because the best way to learn to write is to read. That's all well and good, I assume you say, but what's number one? Well that leads us here, to the element of writing residing at the number one spot is:

Revision...Learn to Love it:

I know, I know, right? Kinda gave that one away. But the importance of this can't be overstated. Other writers will disagree with this in slight terms of importance. Learning to love and appreciate revision and editing is where the REAL writing happens. Writing, especially longer works, is not a one and done type of thing. Unless you are a one in a billion (with a 'B'), chances are you don't write something down and it comes out as if uttered from the lips of God. You make mistakes. There are typos. Information and back story is missing. Your characters aren't developed. Your bad guys are flat. And most of all, your writing probably sucks.

Don't take that last part personally. My first drafts suck big hairy, dangling, goat...appendages. I'm editing one right now, and it's the kind steeped for days in a mixture of vinegar made from raw sewage and second-hand baby diapers. So there.

So why learn to love it?

Because, as said above, it's where the real writing happens. Writing is called a craft for a reason. It's likely that your words will need to be crafted and shaped into something better than when they originally dribble out of your mind and through your fingers to make sloppy, magical brain juice on paper you may or may not have found in the vicinity of a toilet. In fact, most first drafts can hardly be considered magical, just about any author will tell you that. But the shaping, from barely formed clay into a gracefully sculpted, uh...sculpture, of finely hewn words, metaphors, and analogies, doesn't happen in one go. Heck, it only happens over time and experience with your story, and understanding the important things it has to offer.

So when you think about your writing and all these brilliant pearls of narrative glory that spring into that creative muscle precariously perched atop your neck, remember that they probably aren't great yet. But they will be soon, once you take the time to cut, shape, polish, and perfect your way into a true writer's work.

Checklist for Business Cards

Conference is just seven weeks away. Do you even need business cards? Now’s the time to decide and start designing them so you can take advantage of those great printing deals…and ensure that your card will work hard for you.

Over the years, I’ve shared my business cards with editors and agents during appointments and while circulating during programs and hallway conversations. I’ve also collected cards from graphic designers, editors, cover designers and other service providers.

Will you meet someone at conference and wish you had prepared one? Will you miss a connection with another writer that may prove useful and eventually enhance your support team?

Business cards can be useful well past conference time, too. I’m in two tennis leagues, and the Evergreen tennis team we played became very enthusiastic about my books. They all wanted a business card so they could look up my books on Amazon and iBooks. Because I spent the time preparing one for last year’s conference, I was able to distribute them.

I could have just as easily given them a bookmark, for example, or a postcard with my latest release on the front. Personally, my preferences have changed since I became an indie publisher. I no longer need postcards or bookmarks, as I did with my first two big book signings when I sent large mailings promoting them. I have found the business card to be a more convenient size throughout the year.

Should you decide it’s a good idea to have them at the ready, here’s a quick and dirty checklist.

Just the facts, Ma’am. Name, genre, website or Facebook page—make your card point to your strongest landing page.

Go first class! A poor quality card shouts poor quality writing or services. Upgrade your card stock, and remember that quality starts with you. Proof, proof, and proof again. Words are your business, so make every effort to get them right. Always put another set of eyeballs to your copy to catch errors like website URLs and email addies. Home printers are notorious for faded colors and colors that run if exposed to moisture, which also sends a bad message.

Strut your stuff! Same rules apply to cards as with book covers. Reveal your genre or service, which involves colors and hues. This includes your brand. If your website landing page and newsletter masthead features red, white and blue, design your card to echo the color theme for consistency.

Make a promise. If you provide service/s, don your “clever” hat and give them one good reason to contact you.

Send ‘em to your website. This will help you avoid a cluttered card with 6-point type that no one can read without strong reading glasses. It will also remind you to have your website or Facebook page up to date and operating properly, with all links working.

Be ready. What good is all this preparation if you don’t have your cards at the ready? Store them in your purse, pocket, car glove compartment, and briefcase.

Include a call to action. "Click here." Can't do that on a card, but include it in some way. "See my website for rate schedule/more info/free book offer--whatever entices them to act.

Research = inspiration. Play the information game. Give and collect cards. Check the free tables this year to see how other authors position/brand themselves, and what they include on their cards. This is not to promote copying them, but rather to give you inspiration to develop your own message and layout.   Research printers, too. There are some great deals out there, and if you order early, your odds for getting them in time are much higher.

"Do you have a card?"

Rocky Mountain Writer #92

Heather Webb & Deep Revision

"Deep Revision - Making the Good Even Better" is the title of a master class being taught by Heather Webb at the RMFW Colorado Gold conference in September.

On the podcast, Heather talks about the topics she’ll cover in those four hours of in-depth learning.

Heather also gives us a peek at books she has coming out later this year and early next. The first is an epistolary love story she co-wrote with Hazel Gaynor called Last Christmas in Paris. The second is a re-telling of The Phantom of the Opera called The Phantom’s Apprentice.

Heather Webb is the author of historical novels Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover, which have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Elle, France Magazine, and many more. Rodin’s Lover was a Goodreads Top Pick in 2015. To date, Heather’s novels have sold in ten countries. She is also a professional freelance editor, foodie, and travel fiend.

Heather's website.

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Writing Decisions That Affect Readers and my Reader/Writer Hats…

First, this article is for Working Writers WHO WANT TO SUPPORT THEMSELVES BY WRITING.

My Reader Hat: I buy books that sound good, mostly romance (all sub-genres), fantasy (most genres), some mysteries and YA. Less often I download a sample. And I rarely read something NEW when I'm far behind deadline, as I was from November through May. So I've been opening up the purchased-last-year books to find something, particularly a series to read. Not having much luck. As follows:

A book starting with teenage date rape (probably not the heroine but I gave it NO chance). Just. No.

Writer Hat, Note: I HATE opening with a Victim’s Point of View Just To Show Us The Bad Guy Deserves A Hideous Death, which is what I think the writer was going for (but I don’t know because I stopped and moved on to the next book).

A mystery written by a man with a female first person point of view that he gets wrong. Writer Hat, Note: No, women don’t think that…or that…or that. Can you run it by a female that age and that career, please?

A romance written by an urban fantasy writer with a plot conflict that is so cliche, I can't handle it. Writer Hat, Note: Excellent characters, interesting twist, BUT this conflict over Save The Ranch/Sell The Ranch to Developers has been done a zillion times, and I don’t think you’ve read widely enough in romance. KNOW YOUR GENRE.

A couple of first person present point of view books that just aren't good enough with plot and characters to make me forget about first person present. Sorry, you have to work harder for me. Writer Hat, Note: I’m not the only person who finds First Person Present Point Of View a challenge, especially when you write/dialog about a past event and you go into Past Point Of View, then have to yank us back to Present. That also makes it challenging for you, the writer (sort of like Initial Caps of Words, yes I can poke fun at myself and these pronouncements).

A 18th century historical set in England with: “Failure was not an option.” That ripped me straight from the lush setting to the white counters and male scientists of NASA and Apollo 13 and I probably won’t go back. Writer Hat Note, KNOW YOUR HISTORICAL SLANG/ANACHRONISTIC PHRASES.
********************
Reader Hat: An okay book with sort of interesting characters up to the half where I realized the guy I didn't like was the love interest.

Reader Hat: The next book in a mystery series where the heroine gets pregnant. Not for me.

Reader/Writer Hat: Now, the last two are just a matter of personal preference. Nothing that really irritated me into stopping reading. The author did his/her job.

Personal Preference: I know this issue. I've had people say, "I don't like reading about intelligent/talking animals." And I reply "You will never like my work." I accept that.

And no story will please all of the people all of the time.

And I may be a little harsh right now, but the book's gotta hook me, have good characters and plot. I can deal with a slower historical/high fantasy plot, or one that zooms along at light speed. I can deal with ramped up, graphic violence. Off-scene romance, erotic romance, all okay by me. I can suspend a modicum of disbelief.

But, as WORKING writers, we must all be aware of our choices, and what will cause someone to put the book down, for a moment, or forever…and whether that reader will ever buy us again. And, for me, I will never buy the author of the date-rape book again. NOT a good place to start.

I AM a WORKING WRITER, I MUST SUPPORT MYSELF (and two cats) BY MY WRITING, so I DO think about the above when writing, or, more likely, revising.

That said, Reader Hat, I AM up to a very promising YA/paranormal school series. Which, like a marriage of convenience, can pretty much always hook me.

That's my musing on writing today.

Protecting Your Merchandising Rights in a Publishing Deal

In publishing, “merchandising” refers to the right(s) to create, market, and sell products (merchandise) based on a book or its characters and settings.

A good example is Bertie Botts’ Every-Flavor Beans, which appear in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and also on many convenience and candy store shelves. Since Rowling invented the candy in her books, she also owns the right to control who can (and cannot) produce them, through licensing agreements.

However, many publishing contracts contain a license of "merchandising rights" that takes control over merchandising away from the author and gives it to the publisher instead. Granted, the contract requires the publisher to pay the author a royalty on merchandising licenses--but smart authors should retain complete control of merchandising rights instead.  

Authors often don’t realize (soon enough) that their contracts contain an exclusive license of all merchandising rights to the publisher. This is yet another reason why it's important to have a publishing lawyer or agent review and negotiate your contracts--to ensure you keep these (and other) valuable rights.

Authors have no legal obligation to license merchandising rights to the publisher.

Obtaining the right to license merchandising rights is a potentially significant windfall for publishing houses, which can also limit the author's ability to profit from his or her creativity.

However, authors who retain the merchandising rights to their works can either create the merchandise themselves or license those rights to third parties--without obtaining a  publisher's consent or approval.

Grants of merchandising rights are usually found in the “subsidiary rights” paragraph (along with grants to license film, TV, and similar secondary rights to the work). The language you're looking for is “merchandising” or “product” rights - and if your contract grants them to the publisher, you should ask the publisher to remove that section entirely, replacing it with language that states the merchandising rights remain the sole property of the author.

Sometimes, publishers try to insist on obtaining the merchandising rights. While you, the author, have the right to grant that license if you wish, consider the following before you sign a contract that licenses merchandising rights to the publisher:

1. Is the grant of rights exclusive?

Granting a publisher exclusive rights to merchandise licensing means the author cannot license those rights to anyone else or create his or her own merchandise without the publisher's consent--and the publisher has no obligation to consent at all.

2. Is the publisher capable of profitably exploiting merchandising rights? 

Don’t license merchandising rights to anyone who cannot use them effectively. Few (if any) publishers have sales departments capable of licensing merchandising rights effectively.

Merchandising normally becomes important after a book becomes a bestseller and manufacturers approach the author (or publisher), seeking permission to make a licensed product. If you’ve given those rights to a publisher, you lose the chance to control that deal yourself, and you also lose a significant percentage of the income. 

3. Does the publisher have a history of successful merchandising deals?

If so, and if the publisher can show you a plan that will guarantee you more money than you could get on your own, it might be worth sharing the profits. That said, don't license merchandising rights to anyone who hasn’t got a viable plan to produce or license products.

4. Is the author’s royalty (or license percentage) fair?

I've seen contracts giving the author less than 50% of the "amount the publisher receives" on merchandise licenses. Given that any merchandise is based on the author's creativity--not the publisher's work--this isn't nearly a high enough percentage. Also, be aware: 50% of the publisher’s receipts is not the same as 50% of the profits on the products.

Normally, merchandising rights have little value at the time an author enters into a publishing contract. That said, managing rights properly now will help avoid future regrets.

5. Is it worth abandoning a publishing deal to retain your merchandising rights?

Only the author can make that call, but I’m empowering you to make it any way you choose. Don’t feel intimidated if a publisher pushes back on the issue of merchandising. They’re your rights, and you, the author, get to decide whether or not to license them, and on what terms.

Make the decision you believe is appropriate for you and for your work.

Once you’ve signed the rights away, you generally can’t get them back as long as the contract remains in force, so treat this as a business decision and always get professional advice before you sign.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve already signed these rights away. It’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it makes business sense to license merchandising rights (at proper percentages) to make a deal. Other times, it’s better for the author to walk away. The key is making an informed decision based on your personal situation.

Have you licensed merchandising rights? If not, do you feel better prepared to manage these rights when the time comes?