Sharks in Publishing

I just got an exciting email this past week: an anthology wanted to publish one of my own favorite short stories. Having not yet made a professional sale in fiction (so far I have had fiction work only appear in ezines) and given that he was paying the professional rate, I was naturally excited. Until he broke the terms out. He wants me to hand over the copyright to DE (his company) and that’s for life. He wants to have his editor rework my story to meet his needs with no input from me (I did negotiate and finally got him to agree to give me approval), and he wants to restrict my sale of the story in the future unless he gets paid.

I have submitted to a lot of professional fiction and nonfiction markets. This is the first time I was ever asked to give up a copyright. I sent out the question to three groups I am involved with, including American Christian Fiction Writers. The combined membership of the groups is easily several hundred. Of the fifty responses I got within an hour, only one person had ever been asked to give up copyright and she had refused. Another friend told me it is unethical to even ask.

DE’s reasons were to protect his investment in the anthology he was creating. He wanted total control so he could market it. When I offered him First Serial Rights and Electronic Rights, he told me that was archaic and the way of the past. He was working in the way of the future. If he’s able to foretell the future, that is indeed impressive, but every fiction market I research online still asks for the rights I offered, never copyright. Not even book publishers ask for that. So I guess he’s the only one who’s really hip and ahead of his time then.

I pulled the story and refused to agree unless he changed terms, so I lost a nice pay check and a chance to be published. It made for a depressing day, but imagine what would happen if one of my favorite stories was suddenly in demand by Hollywood for a film or TV production and I didn’t own it. If I wanted to someday do a collection of my short stories (if I ever do sell any and become respected enough) and couldn’t use this one. Imagine if someone wanted to give me an award and include it in their award anthology and I couldn’t allow that?

DE justified this additionally by saying he was buying stories from Indian writers for $10 each and was offering me thirty times that, so he was treating me more fairly and helping me get exposure. Well he’s exploiting the Indians and he wanted to exploit me, because this is his first publication venture. He has no track record, no distribution and isn’t even sure which stories he’ll end up using and whether it will be print or ebook. The more we emailed, the more I realized he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that made me even more convinced I’d be a fool to turn over my intellectual property rights to him.

To all you writers out there, it sucks to lose a sale. I get that, believe me. But don’t get so desperate you lose your self-respect and sell out. It’s not worth it, and it will come back to haunt you. Take my advice and those of lawyers and others and stand up for yourself. I hope someone else buys this story, because I really like it. But at least if they buy it, it will be from me and not someone else.

Wouldn’t you prefer it that way with your stories?

For what it’s worth…

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