Conference Spotlight: Critique Round Table Sessions

Greeting from Conference HQ!

Thinking about signing up for a critique round table at conference? Act now, because registration is required and these sessions are filling up! NOTE: Registration for these sessions closes July 15.

The critique round table sessions are among the most popular offerings at RMFW Colorado Gold. Three and a half hours in length, the round tables offer you a chance to receive detailed critique on ten pages of your work and allow you the time to give feedback on the work of the other members in your group. The round tables are a unique opportunity to experience specific critique with other writers as well as an agent or editor. This year, we have 14 sessions to choose from, monitored by an attending agent or editor. Attendees may sign up for one or two round tables. Sessions are offered Friday morning at 8:00 AM and Friday afternoon at 1:00 PM. The tables are open to 8 critique participants and 2 auditors.

Critique Participants: You will submit the first ten pages of your manuscript, plus a one-page synopsis of your story, to be critiqued by the agent/editor of your choice as well as by the other participants at your table.

Critique Auditors: You will only observe; you will neither submit pages nor offer critiques to participants. This is a great way to see how critique works and be a fly on the wall. Hear other authors' feedback on the submitted work and listen as the attending agent or editor shares their insights.

Once registration closes, participants will receive further instructions from RMFW volunteer, Scott Brendel, who manages all the things with Round Table Critiques. He will provide details on everything, including where and how to submit your pages, which will be due August 9.

These sessions are a $40 add-on for participants, $15 for auditors. Deadline to register is July 15. Pages are Due Aug 9.

Conference Bookstore & Friday Author Signing Event

The Colorado Gold Conference Book Sale is a great way to promote yourself as an author and sell copies of your books. Not only are there over 400 attendees, the public is also invited to attend the Friday night book signing. Please spread the word to your friends and fans.

Sign up begins June 1st at 10:00 AM

Eligibility

There are two book sale opportunities at Colorado Gold:

1. The Conference Bookstore (Fri 1pm - Sun 2pm)
2. The Friday Author Signing Event (Fri 8-10pm)

Lots of people ask if they are eligible for the bookstore and signing on Friday. Here is a breakdown of who is eligible for both of these things:

Eligible for Bookstore:

  • Keynotes, Mentors, Special Guests, Presenters, and Panelists.
  • All RMFW Members, even if you're unable to attend the conference.

Eligible for Friday Night Author Signing:

  • Keynotes, Mentors, Special Guests, Presenters, and Panelists.
  • RMFW PAL members (Traditionally Published Author League)
  • RMFW IPAL members (Independently Published Author League)

For information on how to become a member of RMFW PAL or RMFW IPAL, click the links or locate the information under the menu above: About > Published Authors > IPAL or PAL Membership.

Ways to Participate in Friday Night Author Signing and/or Bookstore

  1. CONSIGNMENT (Bring your own books): 
    • New for 2017: If you choose to consign your books, this will be handled through RMFW. RMFW will pay you 85% of the selling price of your books sold. You will be responsible for bringing your own books and checking them in at the bookstore on Friday. If you are coming in from out of state and consigning, we have arranged for you to be able to ship your books to us ahead of time. Be sure to contact us to arrange this.
  2. ORDERED through WHO ELSE! BOOKS:
    • If you choose to have your books ordered and brought to conference by Who Else! Books, Nina and Ron Else are happy to order your books for the conference bookstore.

How Are Authors Chosen for the Friday Author Signing Event?

VIPs, Mentors and Special Guests, our Honored Guiding Member, and WOTY and IWOTY nominees are guaranteed a table at the Friday night book signing. We are currently working on the floorplan for the Friday night event. At the time of this writing, it appears we will have a total of 54 spaces for authors. Because space is limited, we are implementing a first-come, first-served sign-up for all other authors. There will be a proportionate amount of space allocated for IPAL and PAL members, based on their membership.

After the sign-up process, we will contact you personally to confirm the information you submitted about your books. We will also post the authors on the website in case emails don’t reach recipients. Also note that if there are any cancellations by those authors who were assigned a table, the next name on the waitlist will be chosen as a replacement.

When and How to Sign Up

Sign up begins June 1st at 10:00 AM and runs through July 15th at 11:59 PM (or until we are at capacity). You’ll fill out a form on the rmfw.org website, accessible from a link on the home page and conference page. The form will ask for the same information as in previous years. Make sure you complete the entire form.

Everyone who wants to be in the bookstore and signing must complete the form. Be prepared to provide the following information:

  • How you plan to participate: bookstore, Friday author signing, or both
  • Author information including your name, pen name, and email address
  • PAL/IPAL membership status and additional information about your eligibility
  • Information about each of your books for ordering and payment purposes
  • Whether you’re bringing books on consignment or prefer to have your books ordered
  • Any additional special instructions

Now mark your calendar! Return here to the RMFW website on June 1st and reserve your spot in the bookstore Friday author signing event. Because space is limited, we are implementing a first-come, first-served sign-up for all other authors. There will be a proportionate amount of space allocated for IPAL and PAL members, based on their membership.

Note to Presenters: If you plan to recommend any books on writing craft during your sessions, we appreciate your sending the titles to Nina of Who Else! Books at who_else@att.net. She will do her best to include your recommendations in the conference bookstore. And don’t forget to mention during your workshop that the bookstore has your suggestions in stock.

Correction: 5/8/17 - This blog was originally posted with language that stated books ordered through Who Else! Books would pay a percentage back to the authors. This was incorrect. Only consigned books will result in payments back to the authors. 

 

Master Classes and Special NLA Story Clinic at Colorado Gold

Greetings from Conference HQ!

We're putting the final polish on the brochure and at-a-glance (AAG) schedule and will have that online very soon. But until then, feast your eyes on the Friday Master Class offerings we have for you this year!

In addition to our fabulous master classes, we are very excited to offer a special Master Class Intensive on Saturday:

The Nelson Literary Agency Story Clinic.

Looking to dig deep and expand your learning at conference? We've worked to put together classes that cover a range of topics taught by excellent instructors with the aim to have something for everyone. Each class is four hours in length and provides more specialized instruction on writing, story development, 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 Saturday session to the schedule as well.

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

Check out this year's lineup:

MFA in Half a Day: Your Guide to Artful Prose | Angie Hodapp
Writers tend to think that artful prose belongs solely to the realm of literary fiction—that writers of genre fiction need only concern themselves with matters of story craft: plot, structure, character arc, pacing, and so on. Not true! For agents, a great disappointment is a manuscript that scores high on all the elements of story craft but falls flat in narrative style. This master class is all about what genre writers can learn from their literary cousins. Come prepared to write! Learn various poetic and literary devices and practice applying them to your prose, from simple sentences to complex scenes. How can description be used to make meaning? How can voice be used to support theme? And, most importantly, how can you develop a personal writing style that leaves a lasting impression on your reader?

Self-Publish Like a Pro | David Gaughran
Out of the three main tasks an author has – writing, publishing, and marketing – publishing is the most straight-forward, and this masterclass will prove that. It will cover the current state of the industry, delve into the incredible new opportunities that exist for writers today, and also teach you how to self-publish like a pro. You will learn: *How to find an editor, cover designer, and formatter, and how to put the package together professionally. *Pitfalls you must avoid as a writer in the digital age, and how to spot scammers. *Building a readership: Facebook, blogging and Twitter don’t really sell books. We’ll cover what does. The class will also cover common myths, piracy, and the biggest mistakes self-publishers make (and how to avoid them). We'll finish by looking at the marketing strategies of successful self-publishers, and how they have taken over a third of the US e-book market.

Deep Character Building: Analyze, Traumatize, Accessorize & Eulogize Your Character | Chris Mandeville
Your characters are the heart of your story. If you want them to capture the hearts of readers, you need to know them deeply and personally, and be able to convey their richness on the page. This hands-on, writing-intensive master class enables you to dive deep into the history and personality of one character. It can be a protagonist, antagonist, mentor, love interest--any character you want to explore and expand. You'll do four exercises: analyzing, traumatizing, accessorizing, and eulogizing this character. Then we'll explore how to use this information in your story to allow readers to know and understand your character. We'll also look at how you can use what you've learned to build a strong arc for this character. You'll leave the class with exercises and techniques you can use to enrich and enhance any character.

B.A.M!: Crafting Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction with the Book Architecture Method | Stuart Horwitz
It’s the age-old battle between the outliners and the pantsers – those who meticulously script every writing session, and those who pilot solely by feel. Finding your unique approach requires a method rather than a formula. The Book Architecture Method has helped bestselling writers transform their messy manuscripts into polished books. Accomplished and aspiring writers alike will learn the secrets of how to painlessly create a complex narrative such as: • what “plotting” actually means, and why there isn’t one narrative arc but several • how to make sure your book has one “theme” – and one theme only • how to separate your work into scenes and use this disassembly to diagnose what’s going wrong with your manuscript • the secret to why some narratives feel like they are all coming together at an emotional pay-off while others do not. This workshop will introduce writers to a process for organization and revision that includes in-depth exercises. This workshop assumes nothing of a writer’s previous knowledge of technique, nor how much of their manuscript is complete.

Deep Revisions: Making the Good Even Better | Heather Webb
It’s easy to get tangled in our stories while editing. Often we lose hours, months, even years, never knowing if we’re truly finished. In this session, learn how to navigate the three major components to effective editing: the emotional, the organizational, and the mechanical (craft). Attendees will discover when to battle on or to call in help—or when to move on. They will also walk away with concrete tips of how to streamline their process, use betas to the best advantage, and fine-tune specific aspects of their craft. The class is a hands-on approach through exercises as well as examining samples from expert writers. Attendees should bring two copies of the same five-page sample from their manuscript as well.

How to Write a Series that Sells | Susan Spann
Whether you want to write a series or already have one under way, come learn to write--and improve--your series world with multi-published mystery author Susan Spann. Topics include creating a realistic 'series world;' believable protagonists, foils, and villains; plotting the 'series arc' and more! This class examines the series as a whole. Hour 1: establishing a 'series world' and building it effectively. Hour 2: creating protagonists, believable foils, and other supporting characters. Hour 3: 'plotting the larger series through' -Including both overarching series arcs and the arcs for each individual novel. Hour 4: continuity, keeping the details straight, how to weave secondary characters through various novels within the series without creating gaps.

Special Master Class Intensive:
The Nelson Literary Agency Story Clinic | Kristin Nelson, Danielle Burby, Angie Hodapp, James Persichetti
Limit: 12, Register by July 15
Join Nelson Literary Agency for this intensive story clinic designed to help you step back from your prose and turn your premise into a solid plot: Do you have a clear “what-if” premise and story question? Is your novel structured so that it makes promises in the first half that you deliver on in the second? Is character conflict driving your plot, and in the right direction? Do story events progress logically, plausibly, and with clear motivation? Can you identify your major turning points? Is your story idea unique enough to stand out in the marketplace while still delivering on tropes readers of your genre expect? In preparation for this session, each attendee will submit a 750-1,000-word synopsis for a story idea—one you're working on, stuck on, or unsure how to develop. Include specific questions or frustrations you have about your story idea. Manuscripts do not need to be complete. You’ll read and critique each attendee's synopsis ahead of time—not on its merits as a piece of writing, but on the story idea it presents—and be prepared to discuss with the NLA team what works, what doesn’t, and what it will take for each author to take their stories to the next level.

To Progress, Sometimes You Must Retreat

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend (and teach at) the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' 2017 Writing Retreat in Colorado Springs.

The retreat took place at the lovely Franciscan Retreat Center, a beautiful, serene location surrounded by mountains and inhabited by lots of fuzzy deer.

The attendees, fellow presenters Anita Mumm and Susie Brooks, and I spent three days working, learning, and sharing our craft and our stories.

Each morning, after a tasty breakfast, most of us gathered for a teaching session--though other attendees set up computers in their rooms, on couches in the comfy lounge, or outside on the retreat center's lovely campus, for private writing time. Afternoon activities included blue pencil critiques, writing classes, and round-table critiques in which attendees both gave and received constructive (and positive) criticism of one another's works.

In the evenings, we gathered in the lounge for readings, talk, and wine (the tasty kind . . . without the "h").

At any hour of the day or night, you could find people writing, editing, or talking through plot points with other writers, either in the lodge or on one of the center's many lovely trails.

 

Did I mention there were deer?

 

 

 

 

We laughed. We talked. We worked on our stories. We let the "real world" slip away for three delightful days . Regardless of the jobs we do or the lives we led below the mountain, for this delightful, peaceful weekend, we were writers . . . first and only.

The atmosphere was encouraging, invigorating, and inspiring--just the thing to shake loose blocks and get the writing gears in motion.

Also, they had deer. Yay, deer!

 

 

 

 

 

Writing is mostly a lonesome art. Unless you write with a partner (and often, even if you do) you probably spend a lot of hours alone at your desk--or wherever you write--creating words in a kind of artistic vaccuum. This doesn't bother most of us - writers are often introverts - but even the most introverted of writers can benefit from time in the company of others who share our peculiar, solitary art.

Hence the title: sometimes, a retreat may provide precisely the atmosphere and inspiration you need to move forward with your writing. Although they do cost money, retreats pay enormous dividends in craft improvement, professional connections, and inspiration. It's easy to let the needs of the world come between you and your writing, and a retreat is often the best prescription for writers suffering from self-doubt or flagging strength.

If you can, I hope you attend the RMFW 2018 retreat--and if you can't, I hope you can take the time to retreat on your own, or with a group of writers close to you. I think you'll find the benefits well worth while.

Have you attended a writing retreat? I'd love to hear about your experience too! 

How to Obtain a Reversion of Publishing Rights (At Least, How to Try)

While wearing my publishing lawyer hat, authors often ask me about how to terminate an old (or unprofitable) publishing contract and obtain a reversion of their rights to the relevant works.

Obtaining a reversion of rights can be tricky, and is always dependent on the terms of the contract (and/or the author's relationship with the publisher). 

Normally, the contract states the terms--if any--under which an author can terminate or obtain a reversion of publishing rights, and if the conditions in the contract are not met, the author cannot terminate unless the publisher is willing to release the rights.

However, the fact that a work is under contract isn't always the end of the story.

Here are the recommended steps for authors hoping to terminate a contract or obtain a reversion of publishing rights from a traditional publishing house:*

1. Review the Contact.

In almost all cases, the contract will state exactly when and how (and by whom) it can be terminated.

If the contract allows you to terminate under the current circumstances, follow the procedures in the contract to request a termination and reversion of your rights. (Note: if you only want to revert certain rights--for example, foreign translations--follow the procedures for requesting those rights only.)

If you have questions, or don’t understand the contract, get help from a publishing lawyer or a literary agent.

2. Ask the Publisher (Nicely) to Terminate the Contract and/or Revert the Rights.

By law, the parties to a contract can always modify or terminate their agreement by mutual consent, even if the contract doesn’t say so.

If the contract doesn’t grant you the right to terminate, you can still ask the publisher to terminate the contract and revert your rights voluntarily. Some publishers will agree to termination, or reversion of certain rights, when sales have dropped so low that keeping a work in print creates more obligations than benefits. Make sure your request is polite and professional—regardless of your relationship with (or opinion of) the publisher.

As my grandmother used to say, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

3. Consult a Publishing Attorney or Literary Agent.

If the contract doesn’t grant you termination rights and the publisher refuses your polite request for termination (or reversion of certain rights), seek the advice of a publishing attorney or agent. Sometimes a third party can help negotiate solutions that authors cannot obtain on their own behalf.

However, be aware that in most cases your right to terminate a contract and obtain a reversion of publishing rights is limited by the terms of the agreement. Unless the publisher breaches the contract, you may have no choice but to wait the contract out.

Which brings us to one final, forward-looking step:

4. Ensure all Future Contracts Give You Unilateral Termination Rights and Out of Print Clauses Tied to Royalty-Bearing Sales.

Admittedly, this doesn't help you with the old agreement, but it will ensure you don’t end up in the same situation again.

Tying out of print status to royalty-bearing sales, and giving the author the unilateral right to terminate if the work goes out of print, helps ensure that authors can retrieve their rights if a book stops selling (and stops a publisher from keeping works perpetually “in print” simply by listing ebooks on Amazon).

When it comes to publishing contracts, the best defense is a good offense—negotiating  unilateral termination rights and reversion clauses into the agreement before you sign.

*Note: These tips apply only to traditional publishers, and in situations where the publisher is NOT in breach of contract. If the publisher IS in breach of contract, consult a lawyer or literary agent immediately.

Note also: Author-publishers should always be able to terminate any contracts or publishing arrangements at will, subject to payment of fees owed and other pre-existing legal arrangements. If you self-publish, make sure your contracts give you all the power when it comes to termination.

How to Identify & Avoid Some Common “Bad” Publishing Deals

Business-savvy authors must learn to recognize and avoid a wide variety of scams and legal but inappropriate publishing deals. Some of the most dangerous ones remind me of my law school contracts professor’s warning that a person can make as good a deal, or AS BAD A DEAL, as (s)he is able.”

Some publishing offers are very bad deals indeed. 

Not all traditional publishers are out to take advantage of authors, but sometimes it's difficult to tell the "good" from the "bad" (not to mention the "ugly") unless you know specifically what to look for:

 

BEWARE OF “WE PUBLISH, YOU PAY” OFFERS.

The publisher, not the author, should be responsible for all the publishing costs in a traditional publishing deal. Author-publishers (aka, self-published authors) bear the costs - but also receive most (if not all) of the profits. 

Beware of any contract that claims to offer a "traditional" deal but requires the author pay for some or all of the costs to produce the book. Often, the costs are not stated, outlined, or detailed up front, leaving the author on the hook for undisclosed (and often enormous) sums. Even where costs are listed, they usually exceed the amount the author would have to pay to self-publish the work - in which case, the author is better off publishing the work himself or herself, as an author-publisher.

Remember: a contract that calculates royalties on “net receipts,” defined 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 actually requiring the author to pay the publishing costs. This is not a traditional publishing deal.

A potential exception to this is an up-front, disclosed, properly drafted “hybrid” publishing arrangement, where the author and publisher understand and accept the cost-sharing terms.

In a hybrid arrangement, the author does share the publishing costs, but also receives an equivalent share of the benefits and increased control over cover art and other parts of the publishing process.

However, legitimate hybrid publishers are always up front about 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 “traditional publishing deal” is trying to take advantage of your ignorance.

 

BEWARE OF “WE PUBLISH, YOU BUY” OFFERS

A publishing contract should never require the author to purchase copies of the finished book.

Traditional publishing contracts often permit authors to buy finished copies, usually at a discount. However, traditional contracts don’t ever require the author to purchase books at any price.

One publishing “offer” I seeing a lot requires the author to purchase several thousand copies of the finished work—and to pay for them in advance!

Consider: if you contract to buy five thousand copies of the finished work, how many copies does the publisher have to sell someone else to make a profit?

NONE

Unsurprisingly, these publishers generally make no effort to sell the books they publish to anyone other than the authors.

NEVER sign a contract which requires you to purchase copies of the finished work. 

 

BEWARE OF CONTRACTS WITH MANDATORY PAID MARKETING COMPONENTS

These contracts include a “mandatory marketing agreement,” requiring the author to pay the publisher (or an affiliated marketing agency) thousands of dollars to market and advertise on the author’s behalf.

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

Once again, the author pays thousands of dollars, up front, for normally-unspecified “marketing.” Where services are specified, they usually include only in-house press releases, trailers for the publisher’s own YouTube channel, writing Facebook posts, and other things the author could do for him-or-herself for free.

As with “We Publish, You Buy,” this type of publisher doesn’t make the bulk of its money from selling books. They make it from unsuspecting authors.

 

So: Never sign contracts requiring you to pay the publisher out of pocket, and if you suspect your publishing deal isn’t quite as fair as the publisher claims—don't be afraid to walk away.

The publishing "life" you save will be your own.

Photography & Writing Research: Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

Whether you're writing historical novels, contemporary fiction, or even fantasy, research photography is a skill worth developing (see what I did there...). Not only does it help with research, but photos also help writers connect with readers, supplement and inspire blogging content, and provide a library of images writers can use with articles and online.

I've already written a post about the importance of shooting "B Roll" images, but today I thought I'd offer a few tips on getting the most from your research photography.

1. Shoot EVERYTHING.

Those of us who grew up in a time when cameras used "film" and photos cost money to develop and print often forget that pixels are effectively free - and it costs no more to shoot a thousand photos than it does to shoot a dozen.

During my recent research trip to Japan, I shot over 10,000 images (in 3 weeks' time). While you may not need that many images, it's easy to delete unwanted photos after you return - and hard to go back in time to capture things you missed. Err on the side of capturing more, and sort/file/delete when you get home.

2. When possible, use maps & signs for context.

Historical and other sites often give out free maps detailing the location and sights of interest. Shooting a photo of the relevant portion of the map before you photograph the location - or even just photographing the sign at the entrance to the historical or other site -  can help you keep track of the photos when you return.

When visiting Fushimi Inari Taisha (Shrine), south of Kyoto, I climbed to the top of Mt. Inari and took almost a thousand photos. To make it easier to remember where I took them, I also photographed the "station signs" that hang at each of the sub-shrines and stopping points at intervals along the route:

So even months later, I know these torii sit just outside Station 13:

Whether I'm working on a novel, writing a blog or article about my experiences in Japan, or simply offering context for a photo I want to post on social media, using the map or local signs to anchor the photos helps me remember where and why I took them.

3. Shoot your subjects from multiple angles.

During my research trip, I stayed in a Buddhist temple and slept on traditional Japanese bedding - a futon with a buckwheat-hull pillow. I deliberately shot multiple photographs of the futon, alone:

In the context of the room:

And from multiple angles:

...to ensure I had the photos needed, for writing research and for blogs about futons and Japanese temple lodgings. Shooting multiple shots from different angles let figure out which photos to use, and in which contexts, after I came home.

(The Takeaway: Don't waste valuable time sorting photos on your trip. Shoot many, and sort them later.)

4.  Crop duplicate photos to highlight details.

Taking extra photos of the futon in the temple also gave me at least one I could crop for a blog about traditional Japanese pillows stuffed with buckwheat hulls:

Creative cropping helps you turn one image into several (either by using extras or by duplicating the original and cropping it in different ways).

 

5. Remember to wait for a "clear" shot without strangers, or to crop (or blur) their images out.

In some countries, it's illegal to photograph strangers or to share their images without permission. Even in the U.S., permission is required in order to use photographs of identifiable people in many contexts (there are exceptions, but "on my author website where I also promote my books" is generally not among them). The solution: crop or blur photos to remove the images of strangers before you post them.

I shot this original image (note that I blurred the faces before posting it) to show the way a temple nestled up against a mountainside:

Here's the same photo, cropped to remove the people:

With a little practice, and a creative eye, it's easy to build a library of research photos that meet a variety of writing and social media needs.

Have photo tips to share? I hope you'll add your thoughts in the comments too!

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.

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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.

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

 

 

 

 

Done.

 

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

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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:

1. BE ABLE TO EXPLAIN (AND PITCH) YOUR BOOK IN A SINGLE SENTENCE.

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.)

2. REMEMBER THAT PITCHING IS A CONVERSATION, NOT A MONOLOGUE.

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.

3. KNOW YOUR GENRE AND TARGET AUDIENCE.

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.) 

4. RESEARCH THE AGENT (OR EDITOR'S PUBLISHING HOUSE) AHEAD OF TIME.

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.

5. DON'T RE-PITCH THE SAME PROJECT (UNLESS IT'S TRULY A DIFFERENT BOOK).

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.)

6. HAVE FUN.

7.  NO, SERIOUSLY. THIS IS ACTUALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.

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?