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?

Another Successful Year at Colorado Gold

What a wonderful weekend we had at the 33rd Annual Colorado Gold Conference! On behalf of our board and volunteers, we hope you learned new things to apply to your writing, found yourself encouraged and inspired to keep developing your ideas, and felt supported and connected after three days of classes, panels, critiques, workshops, speeches, and one-on-one coaching with your tribe.

Cheers to each of our presenters and panelists. The conference doesn't happen without you. Content of the workshops was great. We all learned a tremendous amount with the variety of topics and expertise of the presenters. Even Jeffery Deaver and Desiree Holt were found taking notes. Thank you for making the 2015 Colorado Gold Conference the best one yet.

A very special thanks to each of our first-time attendees. There were 123 of you, and it was fun spotting your green ribbons and seeing you with new friends, sharing stories, and becoming a part of our wonderful tribe.

Many of us appreciated the return of the hospitality suite, but don't worry, no photos. What happens in the hospitality suite, stays in the hospitality suite.

If you missed the conference or didn't want it to end, read on for a recap of all the amazing presentations, contest results and honored attendees.

Writer of the Year

On Friday night, 2015 Writer of the Year Susan Spann moved the room with an emotional and inspirational keynote address about the power of a name. Using the story of Weeble, her seahorse who defied the odds despite serious setbacks, she challenged us all. She gave us all a name: Writer. In addition, she gave us the mandate to follow our dreams.

Keynote Speakers

Saturday night, Keynote Speaker and acclaimed author Jeffery Deaver brought us back in time to meet his younger nerd self (before being a nerd was cool), striving to find his way as a professional author. Through his own experiences he shared how subjective this business is, and how important it is to never give up.

On Sunday afternoon, Desiree Holt, The Queen of Erotic Romance, closed the conference with her Keynote address where she shared through her own experience that it is truly never too late to get started or to make it in this business.

The thread that carried through each of these keynote speeches was clear: Never give up. Don't stop writing.

Honored Members

There were so many wonderful notes of love and thanks that our attendees left for our honored guiding members Carol Caverly, Kay Bergstrom and Christine Goff.

Pen Awards

Congratulations to the Pen Award recipients! The Pen Award is given to authors who have published their debut novel.

Maura Weiler • Margaret Mizushima • Rae James • Catherine Dilts
Stephen Benjamin • Emily France • Thom Nicholson
Katherine Lampe • Corinne O'Flynn • Shawn McGuire
Yvonne Montgomery • Muffie Humphry • Laura V. Keegan
P.J. Hermanson • Kendrick E. Knight • Stephen C. Merlino
D.L. Orton • Liz Roadifer • Benadette Marie • Catherine Winters
Monica Poole • LM Manifold • C.R. Lemons • Cheryl Carpinello
John Turley • Laura Reeves • Lisa Stormes Hawker • Sue Duff

2015 Colorado Gold Contest Results - CONGRATS to This Year's WINNERS!

The Colorado Gold contest has given aspiring novelists the chance to get their work in front of an acquiring agent or editor while also providing feedback and encouragement for the craft of writing. The quality of this year's finalists was so high that our judges had an extra hard time deciding on the following winners:

First Place: Michael Hope Searing Flames (Littleton, CO)
Second Place: Douglas Adcock Massacre (Breckenridge, CO)
Third Place: Bruce Leaf Fire Step (Boulder, CO)

First Place: Trish Hermanson Mrs. Robinson's Reunion (Lakewood, CO)
Second Place: Michelle Boelter After the End (Delta, CO)
Third Place: Rebecca Hopkins The Orchid Girl's Chase (Tarakan, Indonesia)

First Place: Alan Larson Hard Red Winter (Scottsdale, AZ)
Second Place: Sherry Nelson Turning Stones (Cheyenne Wells, CO)
Third Place: Michael Hope Hallelujah is Dying (Littleton, CO)

First Place: Elisabeth Burns Rinse and Repeat (Mount Olive, IL)
Second Place: Michelle Boelter Nena (Delta, CO)
Third Place: Louise Jones Memory Lane (Arvada, CO)

Speculative Fiction
First Place: Shantal LaViolette The Iron Duke: Voices at the Door (El Prado, NM)
Second Place: D.L. Orton Crossing in Time (Colorado Springs, CO)
Third Place: CJ Collins In the Ghost Prints of Dragons (Clovis, CA)

First Place: John Christenson Starball (Boulder, CO)
Second Place: Corinne O'Flynn The Ghosts of Witches Past (Parker, CO)
Third Place: Mary Johnson Awoken (Englewood, CO)

Special Thanks to Ron and Nina Else!

As always, the bookstore and signing were fabulous thanks to Bonnie Biafore and Who Else Books.

"The bookstore with Ron and Nina Else was well stocked, and I brought home an armful of new treasures at great prices."

Liesa Malik, PAL Liaison

Thank You to Our Volunteers

Jasmine Award

Wendy Howard is this year's Jasmine Award winner. She reminds everyone that volunteering with fellow writers is an important part of personal and career growth. During those times she is down and ready to quit, the rewards of volunteering with RMFW keep her focused on achieving the ultimate goal of publication. In addition, she adds that never has she volunteered with a more amazing group of people. She encourages everyone to email and get involved.

Nugget Awards

Thank you to those volunteers who won Nugget Awards this year.

Mark Stevens • Vicki Rubin • Wendy Howard • Charles Senseman • Susan Smith
Angie Hodapp • Wendy Terrien • Vicki Law • Terri Benson • Linda Joffe Hull
Corinne O'Flynn • Susan Brooks • Susan Spann • Not pictured: Maura Weiler
Margaret Mizushima • Rae James • Catherine Dilts • Michael Ruchhoeft

Special Thanks to Mark Stevens! THANK YOU Mark (top left) for all your hard work capturing the heart of the conference in all the amazing photos you have taken and shared.

Simile Contest

As usual, the Simile Contest was a fun time for all and had us rolling on the floor laughing. Thanks to Peggy Waidde and Alice Kober for picking some real winners! Congrats to Chad Mathine, Matthew Porter, and Michele Winkler for making us laugh.

Take Aways from #RMFW2015 by Martha Husain: Winner of the Treasure Hunt

Martha Husain won the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize in the treasure hunt contest. Well, she was the only entry but did get ALL the answers correct. Below are the lessons Martha took away from this year's conference:

  1. Reconsider having first drafts critiqued before the whole story is completed. Reworking the same passage may be futile because you may have to ditch it when you put it all together.
  2. Meet, make friends, and keep up with your fellow authors in your genre. They are your future blurb writers when you all become published and famous.
  3. Having multiple WIP at once is a good way to deal with "getting stuck."
  4. Avoid spending a lot of time on research before editing for story. The need to research may get cut.
  5. World building should include macro, micro, backstory, and (what was the fourth thing? Something like context?)
  6. Take pictures of people you meet and post them on social media. The memories survive better with a visual record.
  7. The Corinne O'Flynn method of avoiding the awkward memory lapse on names: "Hi, I know we've been introduced about four times now, but remind me what your name is?"
  8. The "herd" is there to support you and they're rooting for you to succeed. Show them you can do it.

The Biggest Thanks to Susan Brooks, Conference Chair

Susan Brooks took on the role of conference chair four years ago and gave herself the mandate to make each year's conference better than the one before. Well, this year she's done it again. This is no small feat, as RMFW has a reputation for bringing a stellar event to the Denver area for over 30 years! In fact, she was presented with the Jasmine Award in 2014 for the level of excellence she has brought to Colorado Gold. While Susan has stepped down as conference chair, we are fortunate to have her take on the role of retreat chair. Thank you Susan for all you've done to make this year's conference the best one yet and all you will do for RMFW in the future.

Finding Your People

The Viking says I need a new travel agent. This business of flying into Spokane at 11 pm and then traveling home over dark, deserted highways filled with suicidal deer has got to change. I tell him if it is the price I must pay to engage in a conference like Colorado Gold, then I am willing, even if it does leave me shuffling around for days like a zombie with a big, red, "recharge battery NOW" sign blinking where my brain should be.

This year, as usual, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers crew put on a fabulous conference: great classes, wonderful speakers, along with opportunities to talk to industry professionals and get books signed by awesome authors.

But for me, what made the conference spectacularly awesome was hanging out with other writers. I skipped interesting and informative classes to talk to writers. I stayed up way past my bedtime and functioned on minimal sleep in order to spend time hanging out with writers. I even skipped coffee once or twice in order to talk to writers.

I'm a full on introvert, and this is not my usual modus operandi. My forays into social events tend to be infrequent and brief. Not because I'm shy, but because I usually find gatherings of people draining and exhausting. Besides, my life is bursting at the seams with writing and other things I need to get done.

I tell myself I don't have time for anybody outside of my immediate family.

This is a comforting little lie that allows me to feel like a better human.

The truth is, I don't have time to hang out with people who want to talk about shoes and clothes and kitchens and the latest reality show on TV. And I don't really care which movie star is cheating on his spouse or which singer just got pregnant. Sometimes at a party I'll catch my eyes glazing over as I realize that I'm terribly, horribly, bored.

But give me people who want to talk philosophy, writing, personality typing, how to get things done, book ideas, character development, publishing industry news - and I light up like a prairie sunrise.

Where I'm going with all of this, I guess, is that it's important to find our people. Even those of us who are hard core introverts need a tribe – or a herd, as Susan Spann so eloquently put it during her Writer of the Year speech at Colorado Gold. We need people to spark new ideas for us, to believe in us, to support us. We need people to encourage us when the publishing industry looks like a Sharknado, or when the book we're writing sucks so bad we can't bear to even look at the page.

And we need the experience of being the person who offers support and encouragement, along with the understanding that even our seemingly boring little lives can be a catalyst and inspiration to somebody else.

Fortunately, we don't have to wait for conferences to be a part of this experience. Check your social media feeds and find the writers who are interesting and supportive. Or, for that matter, non-writers with whom you share interests. And remember that you have the power to shape your own social media world – you can let in the members of your tribe and lock out the others. Life's too short to spend it either bored or alone.

Are You Following the New RMFW Podcast Series Hosted by Mark Stevens?

Is there anything Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers doesn't do for its members (and all writers for that matter)? Not too much. One of the newest offerings is a series of podcasts that features a variety of professionals to entertain and enlighten all those who tune in. Hosted by Mark Stevens, the podcasts are another great way to meet RMFW members and Colorado Gold guests.

The link to the most recent podcast was posted just this week. Featuring two of the three finalists for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers of the Year, Susan Spann and Cindi Myers, the panel took place at the downtown Denver Tattered Cover in August. Tune in to hear these two authors discuss their writing lives and offer advice based on their own experiences. The third finalist, Joan Johnston, was unable to attend.

Susan Spann

The podcast posted at the end of August featured long-time RMFW member and volunteer, Mario Acevedo. His focus was on the Sept. 5 workshop held in Grand Junction: "Everything You Need to Know About the Next RMFW Anthology."

Mario, who has agreed to step in as editor for the anthology, talks about the submission schedule and selection process and reveals the selected theme. In addition, Mario talks about writing short stories and about his ongoing series featuring vampire Felix Gomez. If you think you'll want to submit a story for consideration in the anthology, you might want to check out Mario's podcast.


The previous interview was with one of the Colorado Gold keynote speakers, erotic romance writer Desiree Holt. In this podcast, Desiree chatted about her six series of books, her daily writing schedule and a preview of the three classes she will be teaching at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference this weekend.DesireeHolt200x263

The podcast before that featured Aaron Michael Ritchey, a highly productive writer and frequent workshop presenter. He'll participate in three writing workshops at Colorado Gold Conference. He talks about his daily dedication to writing and the series he's producing for WordFire Press called The Juniper Wars. As he puts it, the series is "cowgirls with machine guns on a post-apocalyptic cattle drive." Aaron is the author of three books--The Never Prayer, Long Live the Suicide King and Elizabeth's Midnight. He is also the author of numerous collaborations and short stories, including a story in the upcoming Nightmares Unhinged, an anthology from Hex Publishers.Aaron_Michael_Ritchey.jpg

For summaries of the other podcasts produced so far, and for future interviews, check out the page of links on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website.

The 2015 Writer of the Year is Susan Spann!

By Wendy Howard

CLICK HERE to view the announcement party photo gallery. The 2015 Writer of the Year finalists were Joan Johnston, Cindi Myers, and Susan Spann.

Susan SpannSusan Spann's mysteries have made a splash, published in hard cover to unfailingly good reviews. Her third Shinobi mystery, Flask of the Drunken Master, was published earlier this month and now Susan has been named 2015 Writer of the Year. Her mysteries are set in sixteenth-century Japan and feature ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Jesuit Sidekick, Father Mateo. The first book was Claws of the Cat and the second was titled Blade of the Sumarai.

Claws of the Cat was named a Library Journal mystery debut of the month and was a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. As a result, Susan was interviewed for an article in Writers Digest by Chuck Sambuchino.

Susan has been a voracious reader since preschool in Santa Monica, California. In high school, she wrote her first complete novel, a fantasy that started as a short story assignment, though she vows that book will never, ever see the light of day!

A yearning to experience different cultures sent Susan to Tufts University in Boston, where she immersed herself in the history and culture of China and Japan and earned an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies—a background she draws upon for her Shinobi mysteries. But before justice-seeking ninjas took over her imagination, Susan went to law school. She practices law in California, where her long-lasting love affair with books led her to specialize in intellectual property, business, and publishing contracts. She has also been a law professor.

Susan is the current president of the Northern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and also a member of the MWA National Board. She belongs to Sisters in Crime and the Historical Novel Society.

Susan founded and is curator of the #PubLaw Twitter hashtag, through which she provides pro bono information for writers and answers questions about copyright and publishing issues. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.

Susan has been an RMFW member since 2010 and has presented workshops for conference. She lives in California but remains a regular monthly contributor to the RMFW Blog, Writers In the Storm, and Murder Is Everywhere. She met and pitched to her agent, Sandra Bond, at the 2011 Colorado Gold Conference. Please visit Susan’s website to find out more.2015 WOTY finalists

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 (, on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Writing the Gender-Flipped Character

By Susan Spann

Good fiction requires both male and female characters, and every author needs to learn to write both types convincingly in order to put a compelling cast on the page.

Few authors have experience living as both a male and a female. Most of us are only dealt one hand of gender-cards. The trick, as an author, is learning to how to peek at what the other side is holding (pun intended). Successful authors, like successful gamblers, often cheat.

My shinobi mysteries features dual protagonists, neither of whom is female. However, I was born with "indoor plumbing" -- facts which, taken together, create a conundrum:

How can a woman write a book from a man's perspective? And, for other authors...How can a man see life through a woman’s eyes?

Pervasive gender stereotypes and snide remarks aside, it’s not only possible to write from the other gender’s perspective … authors can do it very well, with a little time and practice.

Here are some tips for writing from the “other plumbing’s POV":

1.  Character first, gender second. Trying to write “like a man" or to "sound like a woman” will get you in hot water, no matter which direction the gender flip is rolling. Instead, consider your characters as if they were real people. Learn as much about them as you can—personality, backstory (most which doesn’t make it into the novel), likes/dislikes, phobias--everything a "real" person needs to become a unique individual. The more well-rounded your characters become, the more convincing they’ll be—regardless of gender.

2. "The Ability to Speak Does Not Make You Intelligent.” (Bonus points for those who can identify the quote.) Dialogue is key to gender differentiation. Men and women speak differently. Many of those differences relate more to personality than to gender, though gender also plays a role. Men and women both speak referentially, but references differ according to gender, personality, personal preferences, and experience. An athlete doesn't sound like a stripper, and neither of them will sound like a ballet dancer, male OR female.

Statistically speaking, more men than women will recognize the quote that leads this paragraph* because the “sci-fi/gamer” contingency contains more men than women. That said, many of my female friends would know the quote immediately. That's the circle in which I run...and it points out another important facet of gender-swap in writing: don't let your preconceptions about gender control your writing. Investigate how the other half really lives. 

3. Tell Me About Your Feelings. Men and women often express emotion differently. My ninja detective, Hiro Hattori, considers his feelings only rarely, and almost never discusses them. By contrast, many of my female characters express emotion with less reserve. (Ironically, the era in which I write--medieval Japan--results in far less emotional display by both genders than you might see in a modern novel--once again, research trumps preconception.) Beware of stereotypes, and individuals do differ, but as a rule men spend less time discussing emotions, especially when talking with other men. Women ( a rule) relate better to emotional topics and tend to discuss them in more detail.

4. Observe. Listen. Take Notes. And Share it on Social Media. OK, maybe not the last bit, but the rest of this is important. Listen to conversations in public places. Watch how people interact. Pay special attention to the "other gender," especially when the people in question are similar to the characters you're writing. Watch the way they stand, the way they gesture, the way they move. Pay attention to word choice and rhythm when they speak. People act most naturally when they don’t think anyone is watching, so try to observe without being noticed...or arrested. Note: STALKING IS BAD, MMMKAY? Police mug shots look really bad on the inside cover of novels.

5. Cheat. Find a beta reader and a critique partner of the opposite gender. (Note: that's two different people, not just one.) The beta reader should simply read, without editing the manuscript, and tell you whether the characters of his or her gender sound like "real" people. Critique partners should read and also offer edits or suggestions. Both are important, because they will notice different things. Tell them you want to know if anything sounds wrong or out of place … and then pay attention to what they tell you.

My now-adult son acts as my alpha reader for every novel, and I also have a male critique partner. Trust me when I tell you that nothing—NOTHING—critiques your work as bluntly as a college-age male. (My critique partner is far more polite about telling me something's amiss.) However, I can rely on them both, and if Hiro or Father Mateo says or does something "wrong" I can count on one or both of them telling me: “No guy in his position would say that. EVER.”

Note taken. Revision made.

One of the most difficult parts of writing gender-flipped characters is avoiding stereotyping (it’s hard to do, even--or maybe especially--in posts like this). Knowing what men like, and how they act, helps woman write the male POV, and the opposite is true for males writing inside a female mind. (To whom I say...God help you all.)

What helps you write from the other gender's perspective?

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 (, on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Don’t “Gag” on your Publishing Contract

Today's guest post relates to a topic I'm seeing more than I'd like to in the publishing lawyer side of my day: contracts containing a "nondisclosure" clause which prohibits the author from discussing the publisher--or the author's relationship with the publisher--in public.

Too many authors sign these contracts without an understanding of industry standards -- or the fact that this kind of nondisclosure clause gives the publisher far more power than it deserves. As a result, I want to shed some light on these clauses, and why they're bad news for the author.

Nondisclosure is not the same as "confidentiality."

Some contracts contain a "confidentiality" clause which states that the parties (if mutual) or one party (negotiate for mutuality whenever possible) cannot disclose the other party's "confidential information" in public without permission from the party which owns the information. This is more common in business and employment contracts, which often involve the disclosure of business methods and proprietary information (like software), than in publishing.

If you work for a company which owns proprietary information or uses trade secrets, you've probably seen this kind of clause before. It appears in employment contracts, contractor agreements, and "nondisclosure agreements" (also known as NDA's).

Confidentiality provisions don't make sense in the publishing context the way they do in business. In publishing, the author's information (the manuscript) is supposed to become public (that's what publishing means, yo) and the publisher generally doesn't share trade secrets or other confidential information with authors. Therefore, there's really no reason for confidentiality provisions.

However, sometimes publishers do include a confidentiality clause in publishing agreements. A "standard" confidentiality clause should always be mutual and should state that neither party to the contract can disclose the other party's legally protectable trade secrets and proprietary information without the permission of the party that owns that information. Although obnoxious, this kind of clause isn't necessarily a deal breaker -- as long as it's not overly broad and relates only to certain kinds of "legally protectable" confidential information.

Even so, I'd suggest you ask the publisher to remove it.

If you see a confidentiality clause in your contract, don't sign without an attorney or an agent reviewing the contract and either negotiating it out or letting you know that the wording and content isn't a trap.

By contrast, "Nondisclosure" provisions are contract clauses which prohibit one or both parties from any public discussion of either: (a) the terms of the contract, or (b) their relationship.

General "nondisclosure" provisions do not belong in a publishing contract.

Good publishers don't want to stifle the author's ability to talk about the publisher or the publishing process. Publishers would prefer that authors spoke about them in a positive way, of course--and authors should behave professionally in public whether or not a contract requires it. However, it's dangerous for the author, and for publishing generally, for publishers to try to stifle the author's freedom of speech.

Publishers can attempt to enforce a general nondisclosure provision in ways which prevent the author from speaking out if the publisher fails to comply with its contractual obligations. Sometimes, these clauses can be invoked to stop the author from mentioning when the publisher behaves inappropriately, or to prohibit authors from warning others away from the publishing house.

Overreaching nondisclosure provisions can be used to prohibit the author from speaking either in public (e.g., on blogs or social media) or in private - meaning that the author is completely barred from discussing the publishing house in any way without the publisher's permission (which publishers like this usually grant only for purposes of advertising the author's book and experience in positive ways).

If you're offered a contract which contains a nondisclosure provision, ask the publisher to remove it. If the publisher refuses, be willing to walk away--or to hire an attorney or agent to negotiate on your behalf.

Don't let yourself get stuck in a situation where you have no power to speak about your experiences. Insist on industry-standard contract terms which don't prohibit you from discussing your publishing experience. If you're not sure what that entails, or how to ensure you've obtained it, don't sign anything without an agent or lawyer reviewing the contract on your behalf.


This can be difficult to remember in the heat of the moment, or when your dream appears to be on the verge of coming true, but remember: Bad contract language can turn that dream-come-true into a waking nightmare. Keep your business wits about you and insist on a contract that respects your legal rights as well as the publisher's interests.

What do you think about confidentiality in publishing?

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 (, on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

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.


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 (, 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-exclusiveand 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 (, on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.