Copyright Rules for Settings

In my day job as a publishing lawyer, I often get asked how copyright impacts an author's ability to use a specific setting in works of fiction. Like many other copyright questions (and, honestly, every other question a lawyer gets asked), the answer is "it depends."

Fortunately, the applicable rules are fairly straightforward and easy to analyze.

The key to understanding how copyright (and infringement) relates to settings is remembering that copyright law protects an author’s unique expression, but does not protect either facts or the “building blocks” of expression.

A setting which is unique, or created entirely by the author, receives far more protection than settings based on historical events or real places…but that’s not the end of the story.

A setting (like a character or other elements of an author’s work) receives increasing protection as the author "creates" it with more distinct and original detail.

Entirely fictitious settings--like J.K. Rowling's famous Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or the "Battle School" that appears in Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game--receive the highest level of protection, because they are entirely fictitious, and the authors' own creations. You cannot use someone else's entirely fictitious setting without permission. Doing so is copyright infringement.

Semi-fictitious settings--like the version of the shogun's palace I created in my second mystery, Blade of the Samurai--receive protection to the extent of their original, creative elements. I based my shogun's palace on a real place (Kyoto's Nijo Castle), and although I can't claim copyright ownership of the Nijo Castle layout, it would infringe my copyright for someone to copy the fictitious details I layered onto the building and grounds to create my fictitious version.

"Real world" settings - for example, the Oval Office of the U.S. White House -- receive less copyright protection still. As with other settings, the copyrightable elements are only those which the author creates; the factual or historical details can be used (or re-used) by anyone.

Let’s take a closer look at some important key components:

Copyright Law Does Not Protect Historical (or other) Facts.

If you write a historical novel based on the explosion of the Hindenburg, you can’t prevent other authors from using that topic. You cannot prevent them from using the Hindenburg as a setting, and you can’t claim infringement if the real historical figures who appear in your novel also appear in another author’s work.

Copyright Does Give (Limited) Protection to Unique Expressions of Historical Events.

You can protect the unique, creative way in which you describe and express historical events, but the closer your expression comes to duplicating historical facts, the thinner the protection you receive. For example, you can’t stop another author from using  the actual newspaper headlines that appeared on the day the Hindenburg exploded. However, if you create a fictitious newspaper, and write a fictitious headline, you can prevent other authors from using that portion of your work.

Fictitious Locations Based on Genuine Ones Receive More Copyright Protection Than Real-World Locations.

Actual facts about real-world locations can't be protected by copyright. If you set your novel at the Empire State Building, and describe it accurately, you can’t stop other authors from doing the same. You can stop copying of the creative elements of your work, but not the use of facts.

The level of protection increases if you use a fictitious building based on—but different from—a real one. Consider Nakatomi Plaza, the office building in the movie Die Hard. Nakatomi Plaza isn’t real place; the building the director used in the film is called Fox Plaza, and it’s located in Century City, California. By fictionalizing the building, the scriptwriters allowed themselves not only more leniency in constructing sets, but also ensured that no one could legally duplicate those exact descriptions for use in another work.

Completely Fictitious Locations Receive the Highest Level of Copyright Protection.

J.K. Rowling’s wizard academy, Hogwarts, is located . . . somewhere. Rowling constructed a completely fictitious (and highly creative) setting for her novels, which also means she receives the highest possible level of copyright protection. By making Hogwarts a completely fictitious place, with a layout and description she created, she ensured that it belonged to Harry Potter’s world—her world—alone.

If you copy identifiable details from Hogwarts (aside from ones that would qualify as “basic building blocks of expression”), you may be infringing Rowling's copyright. (Note: Unlicensed "Fan Fiction" is almost always copyright infringement, even if it's not prosecuted by the copyright holders.)

What is a “Basic Building Block” of Expression?

The answer is as simple as sandwich cookies and Oreos. The idea of taking two cookies and putting a filling between them, thereby creating a “cookie sandwich,” is a basic building block of expression—a generic concept.

Anyone can make a sandwich cookie, with any cookie and any filling.

However, if you use a particular recipe of chocolate cookie, with designs on one side, and you fill it with a specific mixture of white, sugary filling, and if you have the courage to stamp the word “Oreo” on the side, you’ve copied something that belongs to someone else, and you may get sued. (In the baking world, the lawsuit would be for trademark infringement. If you duplicate an author’s wordsmithed Oreo, the result is copyright infringement.)

The basic building blocks of expression are generic concepts, settings, and character archetypes: the whodunit mystery, the subway, and the cop.

The farther an author strays from those basic, generic archetypes, the higher the level of copyright protection his or her creation will receive.

Any author can write about “a cop.” An ex-cop who becomes a butcher receives a little more protection. But give that ex-cop butcher a love of tapioca pudding, a pet tarantula, and a vaccuum phobia, and you’re getting into territory nobody else can copy without consequences.

The takeaway lesson? It’s fine to use fact-based settings (and most of us need to, when our works are based in the “ordinary world”) – but know that other authors can use those settings too, as long as they don’t copy your work. The more creative (and fictitious) your settings, the more protection your work receives.

So . . .write the most creative story you can, and use even real-world facts in as unique and individual a manner as possible.

Your copyrights--and your readers--will thank you for it.

A Few Words About Photo Copyrights

The topic of photo copyrights came up during several of my workshops at last weekend's Colorado Gold Conference (one of the best Writers' Conferences anywhere - and if you've never attended one, PLEASE join us next September, when the conference turns 35!). Authors often have a limited understanding of how copyright law applies to photographs - and sometimes don't realize that using photos pulled from the Internet without a license is copyright infringement unless the photograph is in the public domain (or the owner has released it for use by others).

In light of that, I thought I'd take a little time today to review the law of copyright as it applies to photographs (and their use online), and offer tips for protecting yourself and your work from claims that you've infringed a photo copyright.

Copyright attaches to photographs at the time of creation, and belongs to the photographer who shot the image (or, in some cases, the client who hired the photographer to create works for hire). You cannot use someone else's image without a license (or permission), unless the image is released for your intended use and/or has entered the public domain--and you must be able to prove that status.

In other words: you cannot simply pull someone else's photographs from the Internet and use them, even on a blog that earns no money. 

Also, you cannot assume a photograph is released for use or in the public domain because it appears on Pinterest or on someone else's blog or website. (Even sites that claim to offer copyright-released or licensed photos for free can carry some degree of risk, because if a troll uploads a copyrighted image without the author's permission, people who subsequently use that image may be subject to infringement claims. It's rare, but I've seen it happen, with expensive consequences.)

So what's an author to do?

Some authors subscribe to reliable paid photography services that give access to image libraries. For a fee (and, in some cases, for free on a more limited basis) authors can use the images in these libraries for book covers, blogs, and other creative endeavors. Some services work on a "pay as you go" basis, licensing individual images, while others allow authors to pay a monthly (or annual) fee for unlimited image use. Only subscribe to reputable sites, and when using free photo sites, make sure the operators actually check the source of the images they offer.

Some authors stick with images that have entered the public domain, either due to copyright expiration or a confirmed copyright release by the photographer or copyright owner. Once an image has entered the public domain, it's free to use and it isn't copyright infringement to use it for blogs, book covers, and other creative works. The U.S. Library of Congress has an extensive collection of images, many of which are in the public domain and thus completely free to download and use. (Here's a link to their Japanese collection - much of which is in the public domain.) 

When pulling images from any website, BEWARE. Some free image sites are legitimate, but others may contain stolen or copyright-infringing images uploaded accidentally (or, in rare cases, on purpose by devious individuals wanting to cause trouble). When in doubt, don't use the image. You will be legally liable for copyright infringement even if the infringement was accidental.


The best solution of all is to create the images yourself. Most people have either a camera or (more commonly) a mobile device that includes a camera. When traveling, or even out and about near home, take photographs of everything from rocks to flowers to automobiles (be sure to blur any license plates you capture - or, better still, take photos where the license plate doesn't show).


I refer to this habit of taking photos of various objects and places as "shooting B roll" - and it's a habit every author and blogger should adopt.

In film and television, camera crews shoot a combination of "A roll" - the scenes involving the actors, hosts, or primary subjects of the film - and "B roll" - still and moving shots of background, interesting objects, and other items used in post-production to enhance the film, as well as for bumpers and introductory scenes.

By shooting your own B roll when you're out and about, you're establishing a photo library of images you own, which you can use for any and every purpose, from cover art to blogging and beyond.



Need a mug for a post on your favorite morning beverage?







Don't limit your photographs to family functions, historical sites and lovely landscapes--though they're certainly useful too. 



Start photographing that B-roll now. It won't take long to build a photo library all your own.



Like this bowl, you'll be glad you did.

Tips for Pitching Your Novel to an Agent or Editor

With Colorado Gold just around the corner (and other conferences happening around the country throughout the rest of the summer and the autumn), many authors are preparing to pitch a manuscript to a literary agent, an editor, or both. In hopes of reducing stress and helping you land a request for pages, here are some tips for pitching your work to publishing professionals:


Yes. ONE sentence. No more than a single breath - and that's not negotiable. The longer you talk before the conversation part of the pitch begins (see tip #2...) the less likely the agent or editor is to ask to read your manuscript.

The point of the initial one-sentence "elevator pitch" is to make the listener want to read the book, or at least to ask you for more information. The initial pitch is not the place to explain your protagonist's intricate backstory, six things that happened before the novel opens, or your favorite twisted subplot involving a carp full of angry bees.

Find a way to explain your book in a single sentence. You don't have to tell the entire story--just enough to make the listener curious enough to want to know more. (If you're having trouble condensing or figuring out what to say in that sentence, sign up for a pitch coaching session, ask a friend for help, or read up on elevator pitches in various trustworthy corners of the Internet.)


When you sit down with an editor or agent (or ask to pitch them elsewhere at the conference), the opening salvo is a single sentence (or single breath) but after that--if the listener is interested in your work--there's going to be a conversation.

Yes, I know that's terrifying. Yes, you have to do it anyway.

The good news (great news, really) is that agents and editors are human beings, and I have never known one to actually bite an author in public. (Lawyers, like me, are another story. Get your shots before you engage.) Jokes aside: try to remember that agents and editors come to conferences voluntarily in order to find new authors and projects to acquire. They love stories, books, and publishing. . .just like we do. Plan for your pitch to involve a conversation, and try to enjoy it.


It's not enough to know your book and be able to pitch it succinctly. You need to follow up by knowing the genre and target audience for your book. (Spoiler alert: "ALL GENRES IN ONE" and "EVERY LIVING HUMAN" are not the right answers.) Every traditionally published book will have to be placed on a specific shelf in a bookstore or library--and you need to know which shelf that is before you pitch to an agent or publishing house.

(Note: author-publishers have a bit more freedom if their plans for the work do not involve library, bookstore, or similar sales. Otherwise, this applies to self-published authors as well, though admittedly not in the agent/editor context.) 


Agents and editors normally specialize in certain types of books and certain genres. Pitching your dystopian YA romance to an agent who only represents mystery wastes your time (and also the agent's), and offering your erotic graphic novel to a children's publishing house won't end much better.

Most agents and publishing houses have websites. Visit those sites, as well as the agent or editor's Facebook and Twitter feeds (if any) before the conference. Know the person you're pitching and his or her preferences as well as possible, so you know how to pitch your work to best advantage.


This is a difficult one for many authors, especially those for whom it takes more than a year to write a book. However, it's also a serious turn-off to literary agents and editors to hear a pitch for the same project they considered (and, presumably, passed on) once before.

Exceptions to this are:

  • Where the agent or editor asked you to revise and resubmit, and you've finished and polished the project as requested.
  • Where you have revised the project so much, and so thoroughly, that it truly constitutes a different project. (Have someone else evaluate it if you can't be objective.)

Literary agents hear a lot of "repeat pitches" for the same projects, and I've never heard of one changing his or her mind unless the book was truly different. You'll have a much better chance approaching a different agent or editor--or writing a new and even better book! (And you CAN write another, better book. Trust me. I had to do it five times before I found my agent, and although those years were difficult, I learned a lot along the way. If I could do it, you can do it too.)



Pitching your work to an agent or editor means .... (wait for it...) YOU FINISHED A MANUSCRIPT! That's awesome, and something to celebrate! Don't let it go entirely to your head, but be proud of your achievement, proud of your book, and happy about the fact that you have a manuscript to pitch.

Authors often feel frightened of pitching because they find industry professionals intimidating to talk with. (Don't. They put peas in their ears just like you do. On second thought, nevermind. And my mother says "don't put peas in your ears.") Sometimes authors worry that agents and editors won't like their manuscripts. Maybe not everyone will...but no one will if you don't try.

If you're still nervous, come find me at Colorado Gold or talk to another author who's been through the pitching process and come out the other side. (There are lots of us, and we're glad to talk with you about our experiences.) Pitching isn't easy, but if you go in with the right attitude, it can be educational and fun.

Pitching veterans...what are YOUR top tips for pitching an agent or editor at a conference?

How to Spot (& Avoid) “Pay to Play” Publishing Contracts

In recent months, I’ve seen a resurgence of some terrible publishing “offers” that business-savvy authors need to recognize . . . and avoid.

Although these “deals” are legal if an author signs them, every time I see one of these contracts, I'm reminded of my law school contracts professor’s favorite saying: “You can make as good a deal, or AS BAD A DEAL, as you are able.”

And authors who accept these contract offers are making a very bad deal indeed.

Let's take a closer look:


This contract requires the author pay for some or all of the publisher's costs to produce the book. Often, the costs are not listed in detail up front, leaving the author on the hook for undisclosed (and often enormous) sums. When costs are listed, they often exceed the amount the author would have to pay to self-publish the work - meaning the author could hire a professional cover designer, developmental editor and copy editor . . . and still not pay as much these contracts require.

The publisher, not the author, should be responsible for all the publishing costs in a traditional publishing deal.

There are some legitimate "hybrid presses" that share the publishing costs with the author (and generally pay MUCH higher royalties--at least 50% of gross income--to offset those shared expenses). However, the legitimate ones are vastly outnumbered by the ones who simply want to make a buck off an unsuspecting author's dreams--so always have a hybrid-style contract reviewed by a publishing lawyer who works for YOU before you sign.

Beware: sometimes “pay to play” terms also lurk in the royalty language. A contract which pays royalties on “net receipts” and defines “net” as “amounts received by the publisher less the costs of editing and publishing the Work or less the Publisher’s actual costs to publish and sell the Work” is requiring the author to pay for the publisher’s costs. This doesn’t require payment out of pocket, but it’s still an inappropriate "pay to play" arrangement. 

Any time a "traditional" publisher tries to shift the costs of publishing the Work to the author—either up front or in the royalty share—the publisher is altering the traditional model and asking the author to take on an unfair share of the risk.

Legitimate hybrid publishers are always up front about the nature of the arrangement and the fact that the author isn’t being offered a “traditional deal.” Anyone who tries to tell you that the “author pays” model is a “typical New York contract” or a “traditional publishing opportunity” is trying to take advantage of your ignorance.


A publishing contract should never require the author to purchase copies of the finished book. Most publishing contracts permit the author to purchase finished copies, usually at a significant discount from the cover price. Some contracts restrict what the author can do with those discount copies (for example, some contracts prohibit their re-sale). However, traditional publishing contracts don’t ever require the author to purchase books from the publisher at any price.

One publishing “offer” I see a lot requires the author to purchase several thousand copies of the book and to pay the publisher for them in advance. The author must pay the publisher tens of thousands of dollars up front, but give the publisher full control over cover art, editing, and the content of the finished work. Don't do this. Ever.

Do the math: if the author buys five thousand copies of the finished work from the publisher at $16.95 apiece, how many copies does the publisher have to sell someone else to make a profit? The answer, of course, is NONE—and these publishers often make no effort to sell their books to anyone other than the authors.

NEVER sign a contract which requires a mandatory purchase of the work. Legitimate publishers just don’t work that way.


A few publishers offer unsuspecting authors a “traditional publishing deal” – where the publisher pays publishing costs and industry-standard royalties on sales – paired with a “mandatory marketing and author training contract” that requires the author to pay the publisher (or an affiliated marketing agency) thousands of dollars for marketing and "author training" services.

This is not a traditional publishing deal, and it’s not a good deal, either.

Once again, the author pays thousands of dollars out of pocket in return for unspecified "marketing" and "training." Even if services are specified, they usually include only things the publisher (or its “marketing arm”) can do in-house, like writing press releases, promotional Facebook posts, and other things authors can easily do themselves. Here, too, the publisher doesn’t need to sell any books to make a profit, and authors usually end up paying far more than the value of what they receive. 

Fortunately, authors can avoid bad contracts like these by following a few simple guidelines:

1.  Never sign a "traditional" contract that requires you to pay the publisher money (for publishing costs or royalties). 

2.  Never sign a contract that lets the publisher recoup its publishing costs before calculating your royalty share.

3. Never sign any contract without having it reviewed by an agent or a publishing attorney.

4. If you suspect your publishing deal isn't fair, or if something seems "not right"--be willing to walk away. 

Save your money and your work--because having no publishing deal at all is always better than having a deal you regret.

Master Classes at 2016 Colorado Gold

RMFWConference_Chalkboard_MasterClassesLooking to dig deep and expand your learning at conference? Master Classes are back this year and we've added new times for more offerings!

These classes are four hours in length and provide more specialized instruction on writing and the business of being an author. This year’s classes are scheduled for Friday morning and, based on attendee feedback surveys, we've added a new Saturday morning and afternoon class as well.

The fee to attend a master class is $60. Space is limited.

Check out this year's lineup:

Friday Morning Master Classes

Avoid Real Life Drama: Nuts and Bolts of Contracts and Tax Law | by Lisa Adams
When you enter the digital or print marketplace, it helps to understand both the contract and tax aspects of your publishing adventure beforehand. This is true regardless of whether you are an indie author or traditionally-published. Knowledge is power and a wonderful drama avoidance tool.

Emotion in Fiction: Making Characters Real, Making Readers Feel | by Angie Hodapp
Memorable stories are rooted in emotion. Come learn how to make the three actors of emotion in fiction-writer, character, reader-connect on the page. Then learn dozens of ways you can use character, story, and prose to elicit emotion in readers-and make your stories unforgettable!

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: The Secrets of Book Architecture| by Stuart Horwitz
Have you ever asked yourself while writing: How many drafts is this going to take? It doesn’t seem like such a question would have an answer but Stuart Horwitz proposes it does–and that the answer is three, provided you approach each draft in the right spirit, and know what action steps to take between drafts. This presentation will discuss the best outlook and direction for each of the three drafts so that you can increase your efficiency, satisfaction, and engagement with both your writing process and your final product.

Nailing an Agent-Grabbing Opening | by Heather Webb (Submit pages by August 1)
Learn what makes an opening grabby-or trite-and how to win the agent's eye for which you're vying. The class will be divided into instruction and workshop time. Attendees are invited to submit up to five (5) pages ahead of time for feedback from the instructor, as well as during class from peer groups.

Writing a Killer Mystery | by Susan Spann
Plotting the perfect crime requires more than merely killing off imaginary friends. You need a sterling sleuth, well-crafted clues, a cast of (un)usual suspects, and a killer eye for details. Come learn the inside tricks of writing standalone and series mysteries, with useful techniques for both plotters and pantsers. Whether you’re a veteran mystery writer or plotting your very first (fictional) murder, this master’s class will give you the practical tools to write complex and compelling crime fiction.

New! Saturday AM and PM Master Classes

Vocal Training for Writers: An Introvert’s Guide to Developing a Fabulous Book Tour Persona | by J. Dylan Yates
55% of people fear public speaking more than death. Why? Lack of training! Writers can overcome public speaking fears using writing skills. This workshop helps align your storytelling talents with your vocal presentations. Get prepared to deliver your biggest promotional asset-your own voice! This fun, engaging workshop utilizes relaxation exercises, professional acting techniques and 1-on-1 coaching. You’ll be given the tools to create a polished, professional speaking presentation. Traditional public speaking principles will be used to develop individual promotional plans. We’ll use vocal and physical relaxation exercises, beginning acting techniques, individual vocal production feedback using personal writing pieces chosen by the attendees. Each attendee will receive a handbook for future reference. BRING: yoga mat or towel, a personal writing piece for reading, a sense of fun, humor, and wear comfy clothing.

Tell and Sell Your Story Smarter | by Betsy Dornbusch
Queries and Synopses are required sales tools for any writer who wants to be-and stay-professionally published. Besides being necessary to sell on spec, they can become valuable tools not just for selling, but for writing. A big secret for success is to write them from the very start, before you get much past the idea stage, and let them evolve with your book. They can validate your idea and give you a process to balance market vs. craft. But even if your book is finished, you can figure out how to write selling copy for your story. In this workshop we'll learn how to write queries and synopses to use not only as sales tools but as novel-crafting aids. There will be plenty of writing time and work-shopping opportunities so participants can walk out of the class with a solid query and synopsis. BRING: Laptop and/or pen and paper.

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' 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.


Now, wait a minute.

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


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?

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.