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.
Tag Archives: Victoria Strauss
Yet again, on a Facebook page for writers of fiction, someone asked about a clear vanity press scam. Page members quickly jumped in with the appropriate answer for such a query: RUN!
But what amazes me is that I see so many of these kinds of questions. I’m not a particularly patient soul myself, so I had to throttle my immediate response: Don’t you have a computer? Don’t you know how to Google? Shouldn’t basic research be the first step for someone thinking about publishing? Doesn’t it occur to folks that in this day and age, How-To is there for the asking? All you have to do is look.
I consider the answer I composed reasonably tactful (for me):
These days, when we all clearly have access to the Internet, it surprises me that people don’t actively search for information on “how to publish a book.” Of course, a search like that will turn up lots of scams and vanity presses, but it will also turn up many useful sites that offer advice. Everyone who is thinking seriously about publishing should be compiling a personal list of the most helpful FREE sites that lay out the ins and outs of today’s publishing options. A search for “best websites for writers” would yield a ton of these. Yes, you will get some conflicting opinions–some people love Amazon, some hate it–but you’ll begin to get the lay of the land. After a while you begin to get a sense of which bloggers know their business and which don’t. In my earlier comment, I listed Jane Friedman and Victoria Strauss (Writer Beware): invaluable. I also recommend The Book Designer (Joel Friedlander). You can buy books by the carload that will walk you through every step; most are cheap enough as ebooks that you can buy more than one and get a wider set of options. Takes a little time, yes, but not nearly as much time as you have devoted to writing your book, and this basic research will save you many hours by helping you make the best choice for you. Chris the Story Reading Ape also offers regular links to excellent advice. I found these people by Googling, attending conferences, and searching Amazon. Don’t put less energy into this than you would in buying a car!
Okay, I get it that posting questions to Facebook groups is a step in this process. But Facebook friends can’t offer the kind of education we writers need. Learning about style and grammar and showing-not-telling are basic skills, but so are the fundamentals of the business you are thinking of entering. For example, one respondent said she couldn’t afford to self-publish! Facebook friends can’t possibly slap up a full explanation of why this comment is unfounded. They basically have to say, “Go look it up!”
So that’s what I’m saying: Want to be a writer? Go look it up.
Am I completely off base here?
I need your help.
On January 11, 2018, I shared a post from Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware about possible copyright infringement by the Internet Archive, which scans books and posts them for free in a “lending library” without notifying authors or receiving permission.
On the Internet Archive site, I found a pdf of the 1989 mass-market paperback of my novel, King of the Roses (originally published by St. Martin’s in 1983). I sent two email notices requesting that the book be taken down, using the free form included in Victoria’s original post.
I have received a response. The response raises several questions for me and I would appreciate feedback from readers. In particular,
1) Have I understood the response correctly?
2) What is the correct and ethical response to the fact that the Internet Archive plans to retain a copy of my book for “blind and print-disabled” readers?
Here’s what I did in order to get a response:
After sending the two notices and receiving no response, I followed a link in Victoria Strauss’s post to the Internet Archive site. There, on the blog page for the site, I discovered a comment box.
Into that box I posted; “I have sent two takedown notices about my book, which is still under my copyright and is available as a self-published Kindle edition, but you have not responded. Please post a link to the “Notice and Takedown” process you reference above on your home page. My next step will be to seek legal advice and, if necessary, take you to court.”
Within 36 hours, I received the following email, which I paste here in full:
Dear Ms. Anderson,
Thank you for your emails.
To help clarify things regarding the item you have identified (https://archive.org/details/kingofroses00virg) – blind and print-disabled patrons (verified by formal institutions including the Library of Congress) may access special electronic versions of the book that can be used with accessible software. They agree not to make copies or distribute materials. Our program to enable blind and print-disabled access has been in operation since 2010 (our original press release w/links to stories in the media can be seen here).
There is no other access available to this item (lending access for general users has been disabled). Please feel free to check the links under “Download Options”. They are all inoperable or include only to metadata (i.e., catalog information about the text, not the text itself).
And of course, the Internet Archive offers these texts on a wholly non-commercial basis. Our project, organization, and mission are entirely charitable and oriented towards broad social benefit.
Again, thank you for getting in touch with us. Hoping this information is helpful.
The Internet Archive Team
Here’s what I think it says:
1) My book is no longer available for free in their lending library.
2) They do post the metadata for my book.
3) A free version of my book is still available to disabled readers who have some kind of “accessible software” and who are somehow bound not to share the book with others.
1) How readers qualify for free access to this book is not well explained.
2) The copy of the book on their site is a pdf of the original 1989 paperback, and is of very poor quality. Is there “accessible software” that can actually read this text?
3) Doesn’t the decision of the Internet Archive to retain this version of my book still constitute copyright infringement, since access is being supplied to these readers without my permission?
Obviously, the appeal is to my sense of pathos. How could I possibly deny disabled readers access to my incredibly wonderful book?
On the one hand, of course I’m vulnerable to such an appeal. On the other, while I do not have an audio version of my book, is there no software that readers with disabilities can use to access a paperback or Kindle version purchased through regular channels? How can authors be sure that the readers who still have access to their books for free through the Internet Archive really need the charitable services of the Internet Archive?
I suspect that my book will not be high on the list of frequently downloaded books, whether by readers with disabilities or others. Some authors, though, may find that their books are likely to be frequently accessed.
The bottom line, in my view, is that the decision to post a book for free, whether for abled readers or readers with disabilities, should be made in conjunction with, and with the permission of, the author/copyright holder. Anything else is still a copyright violation.
What do you think?
Do you have hard-copy books out, in or out of print? See this notice from Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware.
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has issued an alert on copyright infringement by the Internet Archive. Other professional writers’ groups taking notice include the UK’s Society of Authors, which has posted an alert on its website, and the USA’s Authors Guild and National Writers Union, which have alerted their members.
Strauss posts the full notice from SFWA. What’s more, SFWA will generate a “takedown notice” for you that you can immediately email if your book is included on the offending site.
You can search the site easily to see if any of your titles are involved. I found that searching for a character’s name within the book text generated the best response.
Possibly you may not be concerned at having a pirated version of your book offered for free, but you may want to be informed that it exists.
I found the Bantam paperback edition of King of the Roses on the site. I’ve decided to send the takedown notice. Strauss says that two notices she sent have thus far not received responses.
Please pass this information on to anyone you think will benefit from it.
Something here for every aspiring writer! Strauss is one of the best resources around! Info on contracts, social media, marketing, promotion—check it out!
Following up on the rather alarming article by Dean Wesley Smith that one of my earlier posts linked to, I wrote to some agents and publishing experts requesting their thoughts. Despite dealing with a family emergency, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware took the time to write back with a compelling clarification of Smith’s more extreme claims. With her permission, I reproduce her reply here. You’ll note a link to a very thorough article on the issue of reversion-of-rights clauses in contracts. If you’re on the verge of querying or have an offer, this article is well worth your time.
Here is Victoria’s reply to my questions:
Taking your questions in order:
1) Is it true that “life-of-copyright” is now the industry standard,
so that rights never revert, regardless of the original publisher’s
intentions for the book?
Life of copyright has _always_ been the industry standard among large and medium-size publishers. This is nothing new, and I’m bemused that Dean Wesley Smith would say that it is.
I do think that a limited-term contract is far more desirable, if you’re going with a small press (and small presses do often offer limited-term contracts–though life-of-copyright is not at all uncommon in the small press world). But life of copyright doesn’t have to be a problem–as long as there’s a detailed, specific reversion clause that ties rights reversion to minimum sales (for instance, making rights reversion automatic on author request once sales drop below 100 copies in any 12-month period). I’ve written about this in detail here: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2012/04/importance-of-reversion-clauses-in-book.html .
Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to encounter life of copyright contracts that _don’t_ have adequate reversion clauses–especially in the small press world, where people often don’t know what they’re doing. You may be able to negotiate to add a good reversion clause–my agent has negotiated sales-dependent reversion clauses into all my contracts since at least the early 2000’s–but, depending on the publisher, you may also choose to walk away from a life of copyright contract offer with inadequate reversion provisions. It’s definitely something to watch out for. But the reality is a lot more nuanced than what’s presented in Dean Wesley Smith’s post.
2) Is it true that authors who were once seen as “midlist” should
now assume they will most likely be offered $5000 or less as an
advance? (I received that amount for my first novel, but much more
for subsequent submissions that definitely did not quality as
“best-sellers,” though they sold respectably.)
Advances have generally fallen, especially since the 2008 economic downturn. But they are all over the map, so it’s impossible to make a blanket declaration. Advance amounts depend on all kinds of factors, including your agent (or if you have one; authors without agents tend to get lower advances), the publisher (smaller publishers generally offer smaller advances), what the publisher’s expectations of your books are–and, unfortunately, if you have a publishing track record, the sales of your previous books. In any case, if your sales are good, you’ll get the money owed to you regardless of the advance amount.
As for the whole “midlist” thing (that word doesn’t mean what it used to)–a lot has changed in the publishing world over the past 15 to 20 years, and one of the things that’s changed most is how hard it is to stay in the game. I don’t think it’s any more difficult to break into traditional publishing than it ever was (possibly easier, given the huge volume of books that are being published), but it is a lot more difficult to maintain a career, especially if your sales aren’t stellar.
3) the proliferation of “royalty only” publishers. How are such
entities regarded in the industry at present? Is this a coming wave?
This really is a phenomenon only in the small press world, which has expanded hugely over the past 15 or so years thanks to digital technology. These days, anyone can set up a publishing company just by registering with CreateSpace or LightningSpark. One of the ways many small presses try to limit their financial outlay is to eliminate advances. This is extremely common, and has been for some time. However, don’t believe anyone who tells you that advances are becoming less common among large and medium-sized publishers, or that debut authors no longer receive advances. This simply isn’t true.
There are some great small presses, but an awful lot of amateur and predatory ones whose staff know little about editing, production, design, and marketing. When Writer Beware was founded in 1998, we mostly got complaints about literary agents and scam vanity publishers; these days, small press problems make up by far the biggest volume of complaints we receive. In many cases, self-publishing is preferable.