Great Stuff for Writers, March 7 & 8, 2013

Happy Friday, everyone. The Tucson Festival of Books is this weekend and I’m psyched. This is always a great event. Maybe I’ll see you there. Meanwhile, there’s a big kerfuffle afoot over some new ebook contracts from Random House. See below for much more on that, plus other, far less controversial Great Stuff.

CRAFT

Jordan Dane (@JordanDane) offers terrific advice in 8 Key Ways to Edit Suspense & Pace into Your Finished Manuscript. If that title isn’t enough to make you want to go read it, I’ll tease a few of her suggestions: figure out if you’ve started at the best point; is the setting the right one; does the protagonist’s “black moment” occur at the best possible place? Valuable stuff here.

Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) injects a moment of sanity in what other might be a crazy-making time in a writer’s life in Calling Your Manuscript Finished (For Now). The idea is simple to say, hard for some of us to do: once you’ve submitted it somewhere—and especially once an agent has accepted it!—let it go. Don’t worry about the little stuff: the occasional typo, the margins that might be 1/10th of an inch off. Those things can be fixed later, if necessary. In the meantime, relax.

BUSINESS

My original headline for this article was going to be “John Scalzi Nukes New Random House eBook Imprint Contracts,” but upon further review, I’m going to tone down my own rhetoric and let others speak for themselves. Victoria Strauss (@victoriastrauss) over at Writer Beware® Blogs broke the story of the new contract boilerplate from the SF/Fantasy imprint Hydra. Then Dean Wesley Smith (@DeanWesleySmith) reported that Scalzi (@scalzi), the President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), went into much more detail about these contracts. The first of his two posts, Note to SF/F Writers: Random House’s Hydra Imprint Has Appallingly Bad Contract Terms, relies largely on Strauss’s reporting, but his second post, also put up on March 6th, A Contract from Alibi (the mystery/thriller story imprint), is based on an actual copy of the contract. Random House has also launched two other imprints, Flirt for “New Adult,” and Loveswept for romance, and given that two of the four are using the same boilerplate, it’s reasonable to assume these latter two will do the same. Why did Scalzi go ballistic? He lists seven reasons; I’ll mention just four:

  • The author gets no advance.
  • The imprint takes all rights, all over the world, for the life of the copyright.
  • The author gets billed for part of the costs of things the publisher used to pay for itself, possibly without having any way of knowing what they were charged or whether that amount was accurate and reasonable.
  • The rights-reversion clause does not define when a book has gone “out of print,” allowing the publisher to never revert rights back to the author so long as the book is available from just one obscure source anywhere in the world.

The SFWA subsequently announced that it will not consider Hydra a membership-qualifying publisher. (SF/F writers have to have published three works with “qualifying” publishers/publications to be eligible for SFWA membership.) Strauss finds some of these parts of the contract less objectionable than Scalzi does in SFWA De-Lists Hydra; Random House Responds.  My friend Dawn pointed me to this post on The Passive Voice blog (@PassiveVoiceBlg): Random House Responds to SFWA Slamming Its Hydra Imprint, which contains the full text of the RH letter. This morning, SFWA wrote back, saying in essence, “sorry, we don’t buy your arguments, we’re standing by our delisting, and if this sort of contract spreads to other imprints besides Alibi or to the wider company, we just might delist Random House altogether.”

There’s an important caveat here: no one in this argument besides Scalzi and the SFWA board and the folks at Random House has seen a copy of an actual contract. Strauss has not, so far as I can tell, only an offer sheet. So until and unless a copy of the contract is made public—and how likely is that?—we’re all working on second-hand information. As I type this, neither the mystery nor romance writers associations have commented on their web sites.

What should you do? Read these posts—carefully—including Scalzi’s CYA disclaimers in the first comment to each of his posts.

If you write in any of the genres listed above and already have an agent, you might want to tell them not to pitch to these imprints at least until the dust settles. If you’re pitching on your own, same thing: hold off. If you’ve already signed one of these contracts, that’s another matter entirely. Scalzi says nothing about the contracts’ escape/cancellation clauses, but that doesn’t mean they’re okay.

Now, take a deep breath. This is Chapter The First of this story, not Chapter The Last, and it’s important not to get too caught up in the emotions of the moment. Random House has a chance to change its mind and rewrite these contracts. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t; maybe a revision will make things better, maybe worse. Time will tell.

Whew! Let’s get away from that mess for a while. Joel Friedlander invited lawyer Sara Hawkins (@Saving4Someday) to do a post on the 5 Top Legal Issues for Authors and Self-Publishers. She discusses matters of potential copyright infringement by the author of images, graphics, text, and music lyrics, copyright registration, misuse of brand names and trademarks, and what you might do if it’s your copyrighted work that’s misused. The discussion is necessarily general but should give you a good sense of where the sometimes gray lines are.

THE WRITING LIFE

There are a couple of posts today on the general subject of children and writing but Rochelle Melander’s (@WriteNowCoach) 5 Things Children Teach Us About Writing on the WORDplay blog resonated better with me. In summary, Melander’s 5 things are: dedicate space and time to writing, accept what shows up, honor your passion, prewrite, and look for “the golden sentence” in each day’s work. These are all things she does with the kids she teaches and has learned to apply them to her own writing life too.

FUN

Okay, time to get your word-geek on. Mignon Fogarty (@GrammarGirl) discusses a couple sets of Crazy English Idioms: those surrounding the word “whole”—first “the whole ball of wax,” and then others including “the whole enchilada”—and then the pair “go pound sand” and “go pound salt.” Every language has its expressions that leave foreigners scratching their heads, and English in all its many variations has its share, which was partly why Sir Winston Churchill once described Americans and Britons as “two peoples separated by a common tongue.”

This last item has nothing to do with writing but it’s just amazing. Michael Swanwick reports on two videos from an Austrian university (their equivalent of MIT) in which pairs of small four-rotor autonomous drones called quadrotors bounce a ball back and forth to each other while in flight or toss a pole from one to the other. The link to the first video in Teaching Quadrotors to Juggle worked fine but the second one didn’t. You can, however, see that two-minute video here.

What do you think? What’s going to happen with those Random House contracts? How bad do you think they are?

Thanks for leaving a reply