Monday, 28 November 2016

What's Mine Is Mine

Sometimes, it’s not until you build up a body of work that you really appreciate what you have created. And that’s when the consequences of being a little slap dash with the rights you grant others in your work becomes apparent.
When you’re starting out, it’s easy to be swayed into granting more rights in a piece of your work than you’d like. You know you really ought not give a publisher copyright in your article, but they are going to publish it (which is what you really want) and, let’s face it, who is going to turn Ten Alternative Uses Of A Nose-Hair Clipper into a movie?
While I will say that there can be a time and a place for assigning copyright, retaining as many rights as you can is important because you never know what opportunities may arise in the future. More opportunities can arise as your body of work builds up over time.
Freelance writer Susie Kearley has just published The Little Book of Freelance Writing. The book draws upon material and quotes she initially gathered for many of her articles. Had she sold the copyright (or granted a magazine All Rights, which is, effectively, the same thing) then she would have found producing such a book much more difficult.
So it’s because she’s been careful with the rights she’s granted in her work that she’s been able to exploit this opportunity. Having written so much, she now has a wealth of material from which to draw, something that probably didn’t cross her mind when she wrote her first article.
Some of you may know that a few years ago I collected together some of my short stories that had been published in women’s magazines, and I repackaged them into my own anthology of stories: Ten Teatime Tales. This collection continues to sell today: an opportunity I couldn’t exploit had I sold the copyright in those stories as one womag market demands.

Yes, the rights the womag markets seek these days are different than those of a few years ago, but in many cases it’s a limited exclusivity period they seek, rather than a more detrimental All Rights or Copyright clause. And although this impacts upon what else I can do with my material (which is why Ten Teatime Tales 2 has been a little while longer in coming out than I first anticipated, but it will be out soon) those limited exclusivity rights haven’t stopped me from exploiting my body of work further in in the end. So Ten Teatime Tales 2 can happen because I’ve been careful as to whom I submitted my material and, therefore, which rights in my work I’ve granted.
I know from my own experience that when you sit down and write something that you hope will become your first published piece you don’t think about how many more pieces you will write, let alone might be published. But if you are a writer, and you write on a regular basis, you will build up a body of work. And sometimes new opportunities will arise enabling you to exploit that work further. But those opportunities can only be exploited if you’re careful as to which rights you grant to a magazine or publisher in the first place. And that includes those first early pieces that you successfully get published and push you down the road to writing even more material.
Good luck.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Publishing Dilemmas

Last week I was approached by two different writers, each with their own publishing dilemma. I hope they found my comments useful, but what the queries demonstrated was that when it comes to publishing your book you need to be clear what your dream is. Only then can you decide what is right for you.

The first writer had made the decision to self-publish her novel, having spent many years writing it and then even more time trying to interest a traditional publisher. She’d come to accept that to get what she wanted - a print book she could encourage retailers to take - then self-publishing, or independent publishing, was the way forward for her. It would cost her money, but it was what she wanted.

And then, out of the blue, an American publisher got in touch to say that they liked her novel and would like to publish it in eBook format, and possibly also in print format, albeit as print-on-demand.

Now she found herself in a dilemma: self-publish the book in print format and work to get it into the shops she wanted, or have a publisher pay to have the book published in eBook format, and made available as print-on-demand (in other words, sold via online retailers only).

The second writer had been trying to get her highly-illustrated children’s book published, and finally received interest from a publisher listed in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

However, after reading the contract it became clear that the publisher was seeking a financial contribution from her, because of the highly-illustrated element of her idea.

With such an explosion in self-publishing, more and more writers are willing to pay to get their books to market. And that’s not necessarily wrong, as long as you know what you’re getting for your money. After all, if you’re paying then you should be calling all of the shots. For many writers, that’s the beauty of independent publishing: being in complete control.

However, as I looked through the contract this second writer had been given, it became clear they weren’t getting what they were expecting for their money. And although she was prepared to make a financial contribution to this book, what the publisher was offering for that money didn’t give her what she wanted.

Meanwhile, the first writer was still mulling over her decision, but leaning towards her initial plan of going down the independent route.

I’ve commented on this blog, and in my Business of Writing articles in Writing Magazine, that whenever you get a contract, whatever it is for, you must make sure you understand it. That’s not just because it’s vital you clearly understand the implications of any rights you’re licensing to the publisher, but it’s also important that you fully appreciate what the publisher will and won’t do, and whether that’s what you want. Does it take you closer to your dream?

For some people, their dream is to see their novel sitting on a shelf in their local independent bookshop, or on a table in Waterstones. For others, they want to see their books in libraries, or in the hands of thousands of readers via their Kindle, Kobo or Nook reading devices.

Whatever your dream is, be clear about it. Only then can you decide whether the route to publication on offer to you will help you achieve that dream and whether it’s a price worth paying. Even authors who are traditionally published are making some sort of financial sacrifice - they may not be paying any money upfront (indeed, they may be getting an advance from the publisher), but they lose control of some vital decisions over their book’s progress (such as jacket cover, and how it will be marketed). They may also have to grant the publisher more rights than they’d like, for a longer period than they’d like, as well as negotiate that all-important royalty rate. (The author who accepts a 10% royalty rate is, therefore, granting the publisher a 90% royalty rate. A traditional publisher is, though, looking to recoup their upfront investment and costs that the author hasn’t had to stump up.)

Yes, the publishing world is changing. In the old days you were either traditionally published, or you succumbed to the charms of a vanity publisher. But these days it’s a lot more complicated than that.

And what is right for one author isn’t necessarily right for another. Indeed, I am both traditionally published and self-published. I make a decision on a per-project basis now. But I base that decision upon what I want from that particular project.

So the better understanding you have of your dream, the better placed you are to assess any publishing opportunities that come your way.

Good luck.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Press Trip Preparations

About ten days ago, I was on the outskirts of the small Welsh village of Garnant, at the foot of the Brecon Beacons, visiting the animal charity Greyhound Rescue Wales. The People’s Friend asked me to go out and pay them a visit.
Although only 100 miles away, Welsh roads are not known for their straightness or speed, so when Google and the AA suggested the journey would take me 3 hours, each way (and, as it turned out, they were right), I wondered whether this was do-able in a day. Then I realised the sanctuary was merely 30 miles from where I was staying with friends for the weekend earlier this month. Thankfully, windows fell into alignment that enabled all parties to meet on the same day as my already planned travels to Wales.
Every interview/press trip experience offers a learning opportunity, and this trip was no different. No matter how much preparation you do beforehand something will always go awry. But here are my top tips when planning interviews.
  • If you’re travelling a long way to interview someone, allow plenty of time for travelling, and factor in some comfort breaks. Ideally, find a comfort break about 15 minutes away from your final destination. That way, when you arrive, you’re already refreshed and raring to go. I find supermarkets useful here. the parking is easy, most have customer toilets and many have cafes too. Never rely on there being facilities at every venue you attend.
  • Perhaps avoid topping up with petrol, as I did, especially if it’s at one of those self-service-pay-by-credit-card stations. I don’t know what the customer before me had been up to, but the petrol pump I selected was covered in petrol. And there was no where to clean my hands. Upon arriving at the greyhound sanctuary I had to ask to wash my petrol-covered hands, because I didn’t want greyhounds licking them!
  • Use Google Street View to clarify where you need to go for the final part of your journey. I don’t use SatNavs. I’ve heard too many horror stories. But Google Street view is perfect to pick up local landmarks to look out for, especially if you’re using single-track lanes!


  • Check your equipment 48 (not 24) hours before you need it. I knew I’d need to take photos so I charged my camera’s battery and spare. But when I checked my dictaphone’s batteries they were dead, and I didn’t have any spares. Having checked this 48 hours beforehand, I still had time to buy new ones (and spares). It was a good job I did put new batteries in my dictaphone. It hadn’t crossed my mind that a dog sanctuary would play Classic FM through loudspeakers to keep the greyhounds calm and relaxed. (It works brilliantly, by the way.) Thankfully, my dictaphone still had enough power to filter out some of this background noise!
  • Put your subject’s contact details into your phone, AND WRITE THEM DOWN ON A SEPARATE PIECE OF PAPER. It’s not happened to me, but I know of one person whose car broke down, and when they went to call their interviewee they then discovered their phone was dead too! A passerby offered her his phone to call the breakdown recovery people, but the only place she had her interviewee’s contact details were on her phone … her dead phone.
  • Do some research before your trip. Find out as much as you can about your venue/interviewee. Not all the information may be correct, so it’s an opportunity for you to clarify this with the expert. It’s always useful having some questions planned in advance, to help get the conversation started.
  • If you use a dictaphone, type up your notes as soon as you can after your interview - while things are still fresh in your mind. Allow plenty of time to do this too. Once people start talking, it’s amazing how much information you’ll be given.
  • Thank your subject, and anyone else who helped set up the interview, for their time. Doing it again via social media can also help promote them to your follows. (I also took a bagful of old towels with me, which the sanctuary really appreciated - as anyone who’s ever had dogs will understand!)

  • Send a copy of the published piece to your interviewees, (and anyone else who helped you to arrange the chat). It’s another opportunity for you to thank them for their time and help.
  • But above all, enjoy it! That’s what makes this job fun - being able to chat to some really interesting people.


Good luck!