Write Tip: 10 Resources For Educating Yourself About Book Contracts

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, thus, no legal advice is implied nor offered in the following post. What I offer instead are resources and ideas for how to inform yourself and prepare for understanding and negotiating contracts with better satisfaction and success.

You’ve written a book, run it through beta readers, then polished it until it sparkled. Then you queried, waited, now it’s out and someone’s interested. Congratulations. Soon you may have an actual book contract in your hands. But you don’t know anything about contracts. How do you find out what you need to know to make sure you get the best deal, to make sure you know what you’re signing? Here’s some resources to help:

1) Get Yourself An Intellectual Property Attorney–Agents are not attorneys. Neither are publishers. And it’s unethical for them to give you legal advice. Besides, they are in business to serve their interests first, not yours. So get someone whose job is to be on your side. That’s the IP Attorney. How do you find one? Author Laura Resnick offers a list on her site hereNovelists Inc offers a list for members. Author friends and acquaintances can recommend them. But don’t just roll dice and hire them. Know what to ask and vet them first. Make sure the one you hire is a good fit. You can get recommendations from friends, but you can also check them out. Here’s 10 Questions You Should Ask.

2) Learn About Copyright–It’s boring, yes, but it’s absolutely essentially. I post on how to register copyrights here but what you really need is to understand the law. One of the best books for you to check out, and there are others, is The Copyright Handbook from Nolo Press.  You can also read a lot directly from the Library Of Congress Copyright Office’s site at http://www.copyright.gov/. Novelists, Inc. has copyright info here.

3) Familiarize Yourself With Contracts–The SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) offers sample contracts on their site. For television and film contracts, Writers Guild Of America West has examples on their site here. Novelists, Inc. also has great stuff on their blog here.

4) Buy Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide for Authors, Agents and Lawyers by Mark Levine. This book is written by an experienced IP Attorney and examines clauses in detail: what they mean, what they mean to you, why they matter, and how to get what’s best for you. It’s a thin book but rich with data and well written. Absolutely essential. I used it in negotiating my own first book contract to great success. There are other books out there but this one I know is helpful and accurate.

5) Visit The Business Rusch–Kristine Katherine Rusch is a very experienced author and editor who blogs regularly about the publishing business, copyright and contracts. She does not offer legal advice but she does help authors understand how things work and what they need to know. Very helpful, very extensive.

6) Visit http://www.thepassivevoice.com/–another informative blog on all things publishing, contract, and writing related. Very helpful information on negotiations, agents, contracts, and more.

7) Talk With Other Authors–As you can see, there are plenty of authors out there willing to offer advice, lists, etc. Find one you know, especially one who works with your genre because they’ll have experience with the publishers and agents you’ll be dealing with, and ask them who their IP attorney is and get their advice on negotiating. What are things you should look out for? How did they educate themselves? Which aspects of the contract which matter most in their opinion?

8 ) Take A Contract Law Class–My Copyright Law class was one of the best I ever took in college. Very helpful throughout my creative career in so many ways. There are lots of them available at universities and colleges all over the country. If you’re serious about a career as a creative, you can never be too informed. Being under informed is the only liability here.

9) Consider The Author’s Guild Contract Services–The Guild offers legal services to help authors review contracts and get advice on negotiating them. For a reasonable fee, you get unbiased help from experts knowledgeable about ethics, the law and business standard practices to help you ensure you get the best deal and understand what you got.

10) Start Now–Don’t wait until a contract’s on the table. You don’t want to feel rushed or nervous then, so start educating yourself now. It’s often boring reading, so spread it out over time and do the research. This way when the time comes, you’ll be prepared.

Getting published is a huge accomplishment and one to be proud of but nothing can spoil it more than a bad contract or negative negotiating experience. I hope these suggestions help ease the process for you by aiding your preparation. It’s much better to feel confident you know enough to do what’s right and protect yourself so instead of worrying about a bad deal, you can enjoy the satisfaction of having a deal in the first place. What are your tips for learning about book contracts? We’d love to here more. Feel free to post them below.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog. His second novel, The Returning, sequel to The Worker Prince, is forthcoming in Summer 2012.

3 5-star & 6 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh$14.99 tpbhttp://bit.ly/qIJCkS



How To Register A Copyright For Your Prose

In the current climate of instant everything, protecting your work is important. Anything you post online or email to a friend could potentially be stolen. So how do you protect yourself? One important method for serious creatives is by copyright. Now copyrighting is handled by the Library of Congress a Federal agency. It’s not the best approach in all cases, because it’s not inexpensive. At a cost of $35-65 per written work, that can really add up. But it does provide security. By law, copyrights last the author’s lifetime plus 50 years and can be renewed indefinitely by legal heirs. You’re also listed and a copy kept on file in the archives at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. which can be used as evidence in legal proceedings should you face the misfortune of having to sue to protect your intellectual property. So there are advantages to this but it may not be right for you in every case.  Much information can be found on the Library of Congress sites at www.loc.gov and www.copyright.gov.

By law, Copyright exists from the moment of creation. So protections are already in place under the law. However, registration of copyright can be important in providing stronger proof and enabling you to sue for more damages in the case of infringement. This post examines how to go about officially registering a copyright claim and when it might be a good idea to do so.


How To Determine If Copyright Registration Is Necessary:

1) Is your creative work at risk?  If you post it online, the answer is yes. If you turn it in as a class assignment, the answer may be no. Most professors would never violate your copyright. And in most cases, when you are first learning, school work isn’t going to have serious potential for marketing. So the likelihood of your work being stolen and distributed is pretty minor. What is the intended audience and how is the work being distributed? If your work is really at risk, then copyright may be a good idea.

2) What is the type of prose? If it’s fiction, poetry, or nonfiction on a significant topic, copyright is wise. But how do you know it’s significant? What’s the subject? If it’s scientific with unique contributions to the study of the topic, involves a subject of great interest (celebrities, political issues, religion, etc.), then perhaps it’s worth copyrighting. Some raw scribbles, probably not. It’s up to you to determine and in this day and age, caution should be the watch word, but do use wisdom.

3) Do you own it? If your work is a work for hire, you have no right to claim it. A work for hire is a creative work instigated by someone else but created by you on their behalf. In most cases, your contract stipulates that they own all rights. If not, that should be worked out. If you are writing technical manuals for a product owned by a company, the copyright will belong to them. If you are creating something original from your own mind for them, that’s another question. But you must own a work to claim the copyright. If your work is derivative of another property, such as a Star Trek tie-on novel, you likely cannot copyright it. If you can, you can only copyright the original portions which were not previously created by the originator.

4) Is Your Work Valuable? If you are just an unknown person posting on a blog, putting copyright notice (c) on the blog itself should protect you. The law states that your copyright is owned by you the moment you publish the work and suggests putting appropriate notice. Registration through the Library of Congress is merely a formality for extra protection in court or legal matters. It’s a way to prove definitively that your claim is valid. If you are a celebrity or you work will be significantly distributed, then the chances are it will come to be of such value as needing extra protection.


Once you’ve determined that it’s appropriate to register a copyright, then you need to get the materials necessary together.

What You’ll Need:

1) A clean copy of your manuscript--Typed for clarity is best. And make sure it’s the version you want to protect. Do all editing and other adjustments. Formatting itself is not copyrighted, only content, so layout is not the concern, just the content itself. Also be sure and put your name, address, phone number and other relevant information, including a copyright notice on the work. Don’t put a date as that won’t be official until you actually file.

2) Form TX–the official copyright form, which can be found here: http://www.copyright.gov/forms/formtx.pdf

3) A check or credit card–to pay the filing fee which is currently $35 online and $65 by mail.

4) A stamped envelope–if you intend to mail your submission.


Once the materials are ready, then you can file as follows:

 1) Fill out the appropriate form in detail. List all pertinent information as concisely and clearly as possible. Be sure and save a copy of the form for yourself in case it 1) gets lost in the mail; b) you need it for reference, etc.

2) Paperclip the form to your work and place in envelope. Mail it. No need for Priority, Registered or Express or tracking. All of these cost extra. You will get confirmation that it’s been received by mail when your copyright certificate arrives. However, if you have the money and want reassurance, you can pay for these as you wish.

To file online,

1) Find the Electronic Copyright Office online at: http://www.copyright.gov/eco/ and register yourself. Read the relevant information about acceptable file types, etc. When you are ready, fill out the form here: http://www.copyright.gov/eco/help-registration-steps.html

2)  Once the form is filled, attach your document. You will be prompted. Again, view the list of acceptable file types above to verify yours will be accepted in its present format.

3) Make electronic payment. This can be done online with credit or debit card or electronic check and you will be prompted.

4) Submit. Click the button to submit when you are finished.

Processing time can vary, and the Copyright Office site issues the following warning:

 The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the number of applications the Office is receiving and clearing at the time of submission and the extent of questions associated with the application.

Like everything else in life and especially when dealing with government, you will have to wait, but you will receive a copy back of your registered form signifying recognition and acceptance of your claim with the official date of copyright. This can be kept in a safe deposit box or file.

That’s it. Allow a few weeks for a record of your copyright to be searchable in the Library Of Congress database.  But you can rest assured you will soon have a legally registered copyright protection for your work.

An example of a listing can be found here.   I own several copyrights to musical works as listed. Not everything under “Bryan Thomas Schmidt” is mine, however.

I hope his helps you better understand the copyright process.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Why I’m Not A Fan of FanFic

My take on fan fiction:

This past week I saw a blog post where someone pointed to “the real canon of Harry Potter.” Now, I’m not a Rowling fan. I have yet to read any of her books, although I’ve seen a couple of movies based on them. I have heard many people criticize the Rowling books for various reasons, and, in a nation of free speech, that’s your right, of course. But this particular situation took it too far and really riled me up. They implied this fanfic was better than Rowling’s version, the only true version. It was a complete alternate history of HP, told by this fan, who explained herself with diatribes about her issues with it. Boy, do I have an issue with that. And then a few days later, I saw a post about writer whose entire book had been plagiarized almost word for word and posted as fanfic by a person who changed the character names and then even went as far as to make up posts about their challenges during the writing process.

I have never written fanfic and I long ago stopped even attempting to read it. Like many, I sought out fan fiction as a way to get more time with characters and in worlds I’d fallen in love with. My hopes were high for a new escape and recapturing all the emotions I felt when I read the original. Unfortunately, I found that most fanfic is a poor imitation. Are there talented writers writing fanfic? Yes. But it’s not my point that no talent exists in the pool. Some even practice their craft and develop it writing that. I get it. But from quality and style to plotting and other factors, a majority of it, in my experience, just isn’t the same, and, frankly, all too much of it was just not good at all.  But on top of that, I always had doubts because of an inner belief that it’s not legitimate. And although I’ve not written anything popular enough to inspire such imitation, I’ll respond as if I had, because this is pretty much how I’d feel if it happened that way.

Basically, in my mind, fanfic is someone else ripping off a creator’s world and work and twisting it in whatever way they see fit. And that’s not freedom of speech, it’s copyright infringement, plain and simple. Fanfic might be said to be a form of flattery or mockery or criticism, but to me the latter two are more applicable and neither justifies it. You want to critique, write a review. What gives you the right to take a world I or someone else created and make up your own alternate history for the characters? Don’t get me wrong, I’d be flattered if anyone liked my world enough that it inspired them to create. But the flattery stops when they publish something using my intellectual property. It’s mine, not yours. For you to go in and mess with the plots, characters or worlds is disrespectful to my vision along with being illegal use of my intellectual property. Okay, maybe you don’t like how I write it. I don’t care. It’s mine, not yours. And I reserve the right to take whatever legal action necessary to shut you down. No, I don’t care if that alienates you.  Go make your own world and characters. Sell them. Get rich. Get popular. Great. But leave mine alone. You may be a talented writer, but if all you’re doing is writing about someone else’s characters without their permission the implication is you lack the creativity to create your own world.

That being said,  I have a couple of friends who got their start through fanfic.  Both are talented writers, but I respect them on the merit of their own original work, not their fanfic. One is even a bestselling novelist now. I understand fandom and the attachment one can feel to certain properties. I feel that way about Star Wars, Star Trek (to a lesser degree), Majipoor, Narnia, and Middle Earth. I love visiting them over and over and imagining them. I love wondering about characters and various aspects. It can be wonderful fun. But no, that doesn’t change my mind at all. I don’t like fanfic. It’s not a legitimate use of someone else’s intellectual property and never will be. The sole exception is cases where an author sets up a fanfic site and encourages it. Then permission to play is implied by the site’s creation and the official authorized publication. But that fanfic still is just fans playing, not creating canon. And yes, I know it’s established in fandom. So is selling drugs on street corners, which doesn’t make it legal. The established existence of patterns does not make the pattern less of a violation. If I joined a cult and the cult leader was sleeping with young girls and I objected, should I accept his argument that it’s their tradition and I am just ignorant of their ways? And don’t give me the argument about the damage caused by sex v. fanfic. I’m talking about the morality of violating one law v. another. Both are equally violations regardless of consequences even if the law treats them differently in sentencing.

I would think that if you write fanfic on my world and characters, you obviously are impressed with me. You may not like what I did with it, but it’s my right with my property, not yours, plain and simple fact.  I won’t read it, honor it, or in any way attempt to recognize its legitimacy or allow it to influence my writing, worldbuilding or plotting. I will ignore it as if it never existed. If I violate it in every way, I won’t care if you complain your is better. It’s not better. It’s a bastard distortion of the real property I created. It has no bearing on canon. It’s not even related to canon. It’s not real. It’s not true. It’s lies. It’s someone’s attempt to piggyback on my hard work without putting in their own sweat.  I never bothered to invest myself in Star Wars, Star Trek, or other fanfic (I am not talking about tie-in books) because I knew all this already and believed it. So what if it’s good? Why emotionally or mentally invest myself in something Roddenberry or Lucas could turn around and undo in a month? They have the right to decide what happens, and only they do. I want the real story, whether it turns out how I expect or like. Whether they revise it and change it so much it loses its power or not. Yeah, Lucas did a crappy job with 1-3. Yeah he made some changes to the originals I wish he hadn’t. His property. His right. I’ll cherish the memories I have of the original versions. Even save the VHS’ and DVD’s so I can watch them that way. That’s my right. But at least the person whose blood, sweet and brain power originated it is doing what they want. I salute them. If on the other hand, an author, such as S.M. Stirling, chooses to encourage fanfic, that’s their right. I respect that.

I respect fans. I honor their passion. I honor their desire to see more of the characters and worlds they love and their desire to be creative. But at the same time, I think a line is all too often crossed. And their time would be better spent pooling that creative energy and passion into creating stories like they’d like to read with their own characters and worlds than by copying someone else. Oh, I know many will disagree with me, but if they have not sold or written their own works, they really are missing a key point of reference to understand where I’m coming from. So, I’ll give notice, if my work ever actually gets that popular (which seems unlikely, yes, now that I’ve alienated a bunch of fans), keep this in mind: Don’t piss in my pool. Consider the sign posted.

NOTE: After careful thought and consideration, I have decided not to allow comments on this post. I rarely see comments on my blog anyway, despite getting 1500+ hits this month. And given the vitriol with which all too many express their opinions about this volatile topic, I don’t want to get into a situation of fighting off trolls or arguing. While certainly good debate is healthy, in this case, I am posting my personal opinion on a topic I feel strongly about and about which I prefer not to debate. You and other authors can have your opinions, I respect that. But I have formed this opinion since I first discovered fanfic twenty-four years ago in college and believe me, you’re not going to change my mind.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.