Here’s an entry in a useful series from The Passive Voice, in this case that “out-of-print” clause that can prevent authors from ever recovering their rights to their own work. The discussion is complicated, but worth storing somewhere when the day arrives that you have this problem. I was able to get my rights back easily, but then, my books had been out of print for a fairly long time. Search this blog for “reversion of rights,” and you’ll find links to several related discussions of the kind of language any contract should contain.
Category Archives: Money issues for writers
I suspect I’m not the only one for whom this list is useful! Thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for sharing it!
Over at Writers in the Storm, guest blogger Tasha Seegmiller writes not to offer a “downer,” but instead, “to help people align their expectations of writing a little better.”
This column reminded me how I’m constantly surprised by some of the questions aspiring writers ask on self-help Facebook sites. Yesterday, is grammar important? Today, should an author get a web site? This column offers some advice I think everyone hoping to publish needs.
Me included. Realizing that writing is a business—never a comfortable home territory for me—but also that it really has to be something you just can’t help doing: These are the reminders I need.
A while back, in answer to a post on the pros and cons of self- versus traditional publishing, I wrote “What It Was Like for Me,” an account of my own experiences being traditionally published. Even though my encounter with the realities of publishing happened quite a long time ago, I still found that Seegmiller’s take resonated. It was ever so, and I didn’t know enough then to negotiate this strange and daunting space.
Follow good blogs and wonderful people like @JaneFriedman. As Seegmiller says, educate yourself. So you’ll be more ready than I was.
There are a few folks I consider treasures for the #writingcommunity. If you’re not familiar with Jane Friedman, take the time to learn about her. (And make sure you subscribe to Chris the Story Reading Ape, a terrific curator of posts we all can use.)
Over the weekend, you might have seen a writing-and-money topic trending on Twitter, #PublishingPaidMe, where authors started publicly sharing their advances. Such transparency is long overdue and—in this particular case—is meant to reveal stark differences between what Black and non-Black authors get paid.
Amidst these tweets, I saw a repeated call to action for Black authors: Before you agree to a deal, ask your publisher about their marketing and promotion plans for your book. Ask how they plan to support you.
Ask, ask, ask. (Because their support falls short of where it needs to be, and publishers have to be pushed.)
To assist with that call to action, I’ve collected and expanded information from my past books and articles to help authors ask questions of their potential or existing publisher. I’ve tried to also include indicators that will help you notice and challenge unhelpful answers. If you have an…
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If you haven’t been following this issue of interest to writers, you can catch up with posts on the Internet Archive and its practice of scanning and giving away copyrighted books for free, here and here. Claiming the cover of the pandemic, the IA actually expanded its practices by eliminating limits on the amount of time “borrowers” could keep books they download and other provisions. Last week, major publishers sued the Archive, and this headline on the Internet Archive’s response to the lawsuit popped up in my New York Times feed today.
Note that the decision to end the “Emergency Library” supposedly designed to increase access during lockdowns does not affect the IA’s usual practices of buying a book, then scanning it and distributing it for free.
You will need to decide on your own to what extent you want to defend your own copyrights. I was able to get my republished ebooks taken off the IA, but I found that fighting the myriad other book pirates who either have or claim to have my books available for free was a losing effort. Is Neil Gaiman right that we might as well embrace the unauthorized distribution of free books?
One wrinkle I discovered is the existence of an international protocol that does authorize the distribution of free resources to print-disabled readers by appropriately designated sites. Whether IA is one of these appropriate sites is debatable.
The Victoria Strauss posts I link to provide takedown-notice templates and other ongoing discussions of this problem. I’ve linked as well to Chuck Wendig’s statement on the IA’s practices.
Use these resources in any way that works for you. Let me know what you decide.
With so much going on, don’t lose sight of what’s happening to your books. Not everyone agrees that having free books going out *freely* is bad for writers, but you at least need to be able to choose. Victoria Strauss again reports on the Internet Archive and its copyright infringement via its “Emergency Library”—now being challenged in court by major publishers. Her post on Writer Beware lists a number of past posts and resources. Check it out.
Here’s Chuck Wendig’s take on the decision by Internet Archive (as he points out, already on the hook for stealing and distributing copyrighted work) to provide books for free even if they are, indeed, copyrighted because people need books more than ever now. Wendig’s piece provides not only his take, elaborating on a comment that aired in a show on NPR, but also links to a response from the IA, so you can decide what you think. There is also at least one comment that takes a different stance.
I first became aware of IA’s activities through Victoria Strauss’s indispensable Writer Beware. I tracked down one of my books on IA and sent a takedown notice; supposedly they honored my request. I shared my experience on this blog (link below), then subscribed briefly to a service that promised to find all such theft of my work.
Let me tell you, that was a waste of time. The app found instance after instance. In every single case I tried to track, it was impossible to file a takedown notice. There would be no contact information, no claim of ownership, no one to protest to. Possibly, with stronger computer skills and oodles of time, I could have found the culprits. Some of these sites had takedown-notice forms, but when I sent them, they returned error messages. Long story short, I gave up.
However, one notable outcome was an exchange with a poet who is print-disabled (in his case because of vision issues), who told me about the Marrakesh Treaty, which allows “allows authorized non-profit sites to post—without permission—works for “blind and print-disabled” persons.” This was new information for me, as I suspect it will be for others.
This link will take you to the one of the later posts in my sequence about Internet Archive and book piracy, back in early 2018; there’s a link in the post to the Marrakesh Treaty, and you can read the comments from my reader. All the posts are filed under “Copyright for Writers” and can be accessed by searching for “Internet Archive.”
In any case, I also found myself consoled by an argument from Neil Gaiman that book pirates are really just helping you find readers for your work. If that claim raises eyebrows, well, maybe it should. Or not. The post contains links to several back-and-forths on whether we should be up in arms or opening our arms.
This is a fraught issue in this time of the cholera, as Wendig’s discussion shows. I probably will adhere to my non-action process for now.
If only those freebie readers would leave reviews. . . .
Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware continues to let us know when new scams proliferate—in this case, crooks pretending to be literary agents who just LOVE our books! I have actually talked to people who take such come-ons seriously.
Well, maybe that title is just click-bait. Hope it gets some clicks!
More accurately, my title should read, Why I’ve Quit Worrying about Book Pirates.
Here are a few links you can check out if you’ve heard horror stories (I sort of have some), and/or if you’re interested in this debate:
- Neil Gaiman making claims about why having his books pirated is the best thing since adaptive cruise control (love it in my new car).
- D. G. Kaye on why you SHOULD worry about book piracy, and what you can do about it.
- Robert Kroese at The Creative Penn basically saying there’s nothing you can do about book piracy, so stop wasting your time.
- And Katy Guest at The Guardian on the scope of the problem of book piracy and why you probably can’t do much to protect yourself (horror X5).
My quick take—and my reasons for copping out on the anti-book-piracy crusade: Like some of the responders on Kaye’s post, I tried the beta Blasty service. I found myself on sites where I didn’t have the technical knowledge to identify the site owners (Kaye offers some tools to help with this). No address to which to send my own DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice. Some offered their own DMCA form—but every one I completed returned an error notice.
And after I’d spent a whole morning uselessly following Blasty’s leads, I got yet another massive list of all the places where my books could be downloaded for free.
Blasty offered paid services that would send the notices for me. There are other such services; comments on the various articles I’ve linked to above provide some sources, if you want to pursue this route.
But if you read the Guest piece, you may, like me, come away with a sense of “what for?”
“The legal and tech aspects of book piracy prevention are complex and fast-evolving, but those in the know describe it very simply: it’s whack-a-mole. One of the most persistent ebook pirate sites has been taken down multiple times, only to pop back up again under a .com, a .net and a .org domain name. At least 120,000 take-down notices have been issued against it already, involving web crawlers, lawyers, its domain host and the Metropolitan police. But that website is back regardless, complete with some intimidating legal language of its own, addressed to anyone who plans to complain.”
I have read, in more than one place, that many of the “free” sites don’t even have copies of the books they’re selling; they just want people’s credit card info. A lot easier way of taking people’s money than actually scanning books and repackaging them, I suspect.
Who knows? If the big publishers are really losing a lot of money to piracy, maybe they will finally figure out a way to protect their property. And maybe some enterprising soul will pirate their methods and share them with us (in a user-friendly form). Maybe even Amazon will catch on and act. In the meantime, I have other wasteful uses of my time that are a lot more fun than hunting down all those links and filling out a new version of that form ten times a day.
I’m thinking, in fact, about making more of my work (I really do have WsIP!) available for free. The truism Kroese and others offer makes sense to me:
The biggest challenge facing a new author isn’t piracy; it’s obscurity.
So from one so-far obscure writer to others, I’ve quit worrying about people stealing my books. When you read one you like, just be sure to tell your friends.