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Writing Ruminations

Writing is such an internal process. Why not make those private ruminations public? This is how stories take shape and grow.

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Location: Happy Valley, Oregon, United States

I've been supporting myself as a writer for many years and am watching the changes in the publishing world with fascination. For me, sharing the craft, teaching, is as creatively satisfying as the writing process itself.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Heads Up, Authors!!!

Heads up, fellow authors! The Author's Guild posted a warning that publisher Simon and Schuster now consider a book to be 'in print' as long as ANY copies of the book are available at all. So if they offer your book in Print on Demand format or as an ebook they will retain rights to your work essentially forever, even if no copies are sold. You might as well have sold them 'all rights'. Under pressure by Authors Guild, they have publically stated that they will negotiate these rights on a 'book by book basis'. If you are an author who plans to sell to any imprint of Simon and Schuster, beware!

Here is the latest bulletin from Author's Guild and Simon and Schuster's press release in their entirety:
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From Author's Guild:

Simon & Schuster is irked that we went public with our information about their unannounced new contract language. They’ve sent a release (you can read it below) accusing us of “perpetrat[ing] serious misinformation.”That's a heavy charge, so we went back and double-checked. We stand by every word of our statement.Simon & Schuster’s release pretends that the argument concerns “print on demand.”

That isn’t the issue. We like print on demand: we encourage publishers to sell books in every permissible way. You wouldn’t know it from reading its release, but Simon & Schuster already has the rights – as they have for years in their standard contract – to take advantage of print on demand and e-book technologies.The issue is what happens when a book goes out of print, when the publisher is no longer selling it in meaningful numbers. Traditionally, rights then revert at the request of the author, who often is able to give the book a new life elsewhere.

Simon & Schuster is trying to change the rules of the industry so that they never have to admit that a book is out of print.We meant what we said in our press release and our alert to members:

1. Simon & Schuster’s new contract would indeed allow it to retain exclusive rights to a book even if it were no longer in print. Simon & Schuster’s contract says, “The Work shall not be deemed out of print as long as it is available in any U.S. trade edition, including electronic editions.” Having a book available for sale in some database – without the obligation to sell a single copy – is not keeping a book “in print” as common sense and the industry have defined that term.

2. Simon & Schuster would, under its new contract, be empowered to exclusively control your rights even if your books aren't available for sale through traditional bookstores. E-book availability (read any good e-books lately?) would be enough to fulfill Simon & Schuster’s contractual commitments under its interpretation of “in print.” Roy Blount is plainly right, this contract would allow Simon & Schuster to squirrel away rights.

3. Simon & Schuster’s press release avowals about its promotional efforts as it pursues “incremental income” for backlist titles are not legally binding. Simon & Schuster goes on at some length about efforts to market backlist titles including “regularly review[ing] inventory opportunities with all our accounts” and engaging in the “distribution of online assets (cover, bios, synopses, chapters) and data feeds about basic information” on backlist titles to retailers. Whatever the merit of these efforts, Simon & Schuster carefully avoids committing to them on behalf of authors with books relegated to the backlist.

4. Simon & Schuster’s efforts to alter the true core deal of a trade book contract – that a publisher controls the right to sell an author’s book only so long as the publisher effectively exploits that right – demanded exposure. Agents reported to us that Simon & Schuster had slipped the change into its contracts without alerting agents to the alteration, which was quite subtle and easily missed. Agents also reported that when they discovered the change and questioned the publisher about it, Simon & Schuster played hardball, saying the clause was non-negotiable and wouldn’t be discussed. In its release, Simon & Schuster seems miffed that we didn’t discuss their new contractual language with them before exposing it to sunlight. Engaging in discussions with a conglomerate playing hardball while authors may have been unwittingly signing rights away would, in our view, have been irresponsible. We welcome and will take Simon & Schuster up on its offer to discuss this matter. We hope to report soon that it has rejoined the ranks of publishers who behave as responsible stewards of their authors’ copyrights.

In the meantime, if you have an offer from Simon & Schuster, remember that the publisher has now said it will negotiate this clause on a book-by-book basis. If you’re fortunate, Simon & Schuster will offer you a reasonable out-of-print clause. (Feel free to discuss this with us or talk to your agent about the adequacy of the clause.) If not, it’s in your interest to explore your options – other publishers have reaffirmed that they’re not following Simon & Schuster’s example.

If you have a manuscript that may be auctioned, it’s in your strong interest to ask your agent to exclude Simon & Schuster imprints unless they agree before the auction to use industry standard terms.

Here’s Simon & Schuster’s release in its entirety, which we forward to you at the publisher’s request.Feel free to forward and post this alert. The Authors Guild (http://app.bronto.com/public/?q=message_link&fn=Key&id=asbjvrnjoptrwjhupkkvtlqzsflabhf&link=bpdpnjlsrtkbfhnlnjqhwrxclopbbmo) is the oldest and largest organization of published book authors in the U.S. -----------------

TO OUR COLLEAGUES IN THE AUTHOR AND AGENT COMMUNITYThe Authors Guild has recently perpetrated serious misinformation regarding Simon & Schuster, our author contracts and our commitment to making our authors’ books available for sale. Unfortunately, these distortions were released by the Authors Guild without their having undertaken any effort to have a dialogue with Simon & Schuster on this topic. In recent years, Simon & Schuster has accepted, at the request of some agencies, contract language that specifies a minimum level of activity for print on demand titles. Our experience with the current high quality and accessibility of print on demand titles indicates to us that such minimums are no longer necessary.

Our position on reversions for active titles remains unchanged. As always, we are willing to have an open and forthright dialogue on this or any other topic.When considering this issue, we ask you to please keep in mind these important points: • Through print on demand technology, publishers now have the ability, for the first time in history, to actually fulfill the promise which is at the core of their contracts with authors – to keep the author’s book available for sale over the term of the license. • We view this progress as a great opportunity to maximize the sales potential for slow moving titles, and some of the best news for authors and publishers in a long time. The potential benefit for all concerned in incremental income for the publishing partnership far outweighs any imaginary negatives purported by the Authors Guild. • We and others are investing heavily in digitization so that authors and publishers can reap the maximum benefit of publication over the long term. New technologies including print on demand will extend the life of a book far beyond what has been possible in the past.• Contrary to the Authors Guild assertion, using technologies like print on demand is not about “squirreling away” rights, nor does it mean that “no copies are available to be ordered by traditional bookstores.” Print on demand is simply a means of manufacturing a book, making it widely available to retailers and consumers.• Publishers must and will continue to invest in sales and marketing organizations that work on behalf of its books regardless of how they are manufactured.

Among the activities that publishers regularly undertake for backlist titles:
-- Keeping them available for sale everywhere books are sold, through brick and mortar and online stores.-- Our Sales team regularly reviews inventory opportunities with all our accounts.-- Distribution of online assets (covers, bios, synopses, chapters) and data feeds about basic information to both online and traditional retailers.-- Books are cataloged and regularly featured and solicited in category promotions.-- Re-promotion of books to tie in with seasonal and current events.-- Re-promotion of an author’s backlist titles together with new frontlist releases.• Print on demand, digital archives, and virtual warehouses support greater flexibility and effectiveness in making books available.

Simon & Schuster has already had instances where a high level of sales activity of print on demand titles has led us to go back to press for larger quantities.Most importantly, we hope you know that we view authors and agents as our partners in the publishing process. We have always been open to discussion and negotiated in good faith at every point in the life of a book.Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.May 21, 2007

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