Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Attention, Fiction Writers!

Do you write fiction?  Well, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has an interesting offer for fiction writers with unpublished book manuscripts.  Laurie Hertzel, the newspaper's Books Editor announced in the Book Review Section of last Sunday's edition that they are now looking for unpublished book manuscripts to serialize in the newspaper as they did Mary Logue's mystery Giving Up the Ghost last summer. 

The requirements are minimal and fairly standard, but one thing caught my eye and took my breath away.  It was this:
"We do pay a modest advance as well as royalties if your book is chosen; in return, we receive all rights to your book."
At first glance, this perhaps doesn't look bad.  Look more closely, especially if you are a writer considering this offer.  The newspaper pays a "modest" advance and "royalties" -- on what?  Number of copies of the newspaper sold that contain each section of the novel?  And what percentage?  While that's too vague for my taste, it's the final clause that's the kicker: "we receive all rights to your book."  That means, you no longer will have foreign rights, film/TV rights, audio rights, e-book rights, etc. as well as paperback and hardcover rights.  Wow, what a GREAT deal for the newspaper and what a TERRIBLE  deal for the writer.

This is an example of a big media outlet trying to take advantage, perhaps, of writers who are inexperienced and don't know about copyright and what rights they own as the creator of their intellectual property.  The first thing I learned was NEVER sign away all your rights!  Not unless the publisher was offering you thousands of dollars for them, which I doubt very much the Minneapolis Star Tribune is offering.  They are also not offering the option of negotiation.

So what rights would be appropriate to sell here?  The writer could offer North American First Serial Rights and retain all other rights.  There could be also something about reprint rights for the serialized version of the novel, and licensing for website publication also.  All of which could include a specific time period that the newspaper has those rights, and when the time period ends, the rights revert back to the writer.

Is there any benefit to a writer to accept the deal as offered?  Hmmmmm.....  Well, the writer will receive a modest advance and royalties.  Perhaps the writer will also receive a certain level of exposure for his or her other books or writings by having his or her novel serialized in Minnesota's primary print news source.  I am assuming also that the newspaper will include the serialization on its website which increases exposure for the writer.  Will that increase sales of her other books?  What if this is the writer's first book?  This publication could be a boost to a writer's career if he has other writing to send out to take advantage of it.  At any rate, it becomes a publication credit, and one that could capture the attention of agents and publishers.

From Huffington Post
But is it worth signing over all the rights to the book?  Well, imagine this: as a result of the serialization, a big New York publisher becomes interested in it and wants to publish it as a hardcover.  Who owns the rights?  The Minneapolis Star Tribune.  They would be the entity that would benefit the most from the publicity and promotion, unless those "royalties" included a percentage of any other publishing deal that may come along.  Then the writer would benefit financially also.  But if the "royalties" don't include that kind of profit sharing, then the writer must settle only for publication in the newspaper and whatever exposure that would bring to his career as a writer.

You see?  Know what is being offered and the ramifications, insist of negotiating the rights, and find a good entertainment lawyer to help you....   


Ms Sparrow said...

Thanks for pointing out how seeking local fame can backfire on an unsuspecting writer!

Gina said...

Thanks for posting a comment, Ms. Sparrow! I am concerned about inexperienced writers who might get taken in by this or some other offer and lose all their rights to their intellectual property. Frankly, I'm surprised that the Minneapolis newspaper would make this offer and not accept, apparently, negotiation of rights.

Anonymous said...

As an ex-editor, I would counsel any writer to never sign a blank contract signing over the rights to their work.

At a minimum, the contract ought to state exactly how the original author would be compensated if the "work" ever does appear in some other form (like a book).

If the contract contains no such provision, I think that would be the worst kind of exploitation by the Strib (or any other publisher).

Gina said...

Thanks, Anonymous/ex-editor, for your perspective. It's so important for writers to educate themselves on copyright and rights, when to secure legal counsel, etc. I was truly surprised that the Strib made this offer. I can only hope that the actual contract is better for writers, but why not just say that in the original announcement?