Posts Tagged ‘book contract’

Photo by Venkat2336 via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Venkat2336 via Wikimedia Commons

With FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN coming out in October 2014, last November marked Publication-minus-11-months. After signing the contract the previous month, I began November by dancing a jig, and promptly losing all the momentum I had finally managed to gain on the draft of my next book. I’d actually jumped on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon, albeit more for the camaraderie than anything else, and with the modified (and modest) goal of 15K words in the month. I had started out the month with a bang, putting down on paper a good 5000 words in the first week. But then my mind became split. I started allowing myself to think concretely about many of the marketing and promotion ideas I’d been collecting in a mishmash of a spreadsheet for over two years. I realized I would need to re-read my manuscript again, carefully, making any final edits before handing it over to the publisher. I understood that I would need to postpone the research trip to Lucknow that I had been on the brink of booking for January. In short, I re-adjusted my expectations and my plans.

Then came some requests from the publisher: an author bio, an author photo, a book cover memo, and my preferred month of publication between August and November 2014. Yes, I did get to choose. October. No point to August, it’s a dead month in terms of business, people have already bought their summer reads and realizing they’ve only made it through three of the ten books they’d lined up, folks are spending precious moments out of doors (I hope) and not trawling the Internet for book ideas. September is too crazy for most people, including me. Back to school and the start of all activities for children and parents alike. New schedules, readjustment to getting up even earlier, email to catch up on, etc. October is good. The dust has settled a bit. There’s time for a bit of buzz to build before people are doing their holiday shopping. People are more focused. So I went with that.

Author bio. A simple paragraph was cause for much revision and consultation with family, agent, writing pals and others. Where would this bio appear? On the book jacket? Inside? On the publisher’s web site? On Amazon? Then: What to put in, what to omit? What could read like a good, albeit short, story? What is relevant, what is compelling, and what is both? Neither?

In my case, the questions included whether I would use the word “dancer” along with “writer.” Do I consider myself a dancer, even as I teach kathak to young children? Then there was the question of whether to mention my own children. It’s irrelevant, really, from a professional standpoint. But I want to be accessible, human, not a photograph with a resume. Personally, I like seeing, in an author bio, a smidge of something personal. I can relate to someone who has children, or grew up in another country, or speaks French, or had another career in a previous life. I like an author with many dimensions. So the mention of children stayed in.

Author photo. Due to the aforementioned children, I’m usually the one behind the camera, not in front. Nothing in our massive folder of photos could come close to being an “author photo.” (I do have a fabulous shot of myself being kissed by a sea lion. I’m going to have to find a way to use that somehow. It’s just too good.) I asked a friend who has studied photography on the side and likes to experiment if she’d be willing to take some shots. (In exchange for a dinner that I realize I still owe her.) She was great. She set aside four hours, and at first I thought that was ridiculous, but we used pretty much the whole time. We chatted, tried various outfits, different settings in her studio. She made me laugh. It was relaxed and fun, and curiously satisfying to spend a little time doing something that was all about me. I could list out some bits of advice, but Randy Susan Meyers does it so well already, and with humor, that I suggest you just check out this post of hers. You’ll also want to think about whether the final photo should be in color or in black and white. Probably a good idea to have both options. My one mistake: I asked my mother what she thought of the picture I selected. Her response: I like it from the nose up. She went on to say something about neck wrinkles. *fingers in ears* La la la I can’t hear you!

Book cover memo. This is where one lists out one’s (possibly lengthy) thoughts on a book cover. This is a biggie. As we all know and have been guilty of, people of course do judge books by their covers. Different publishers will allow for different levels of participation and input on the part of the author. I’ll leave it at that. Thankfully, my publisher listened to me, while also providing input from the business side for which I was grateful. While I had strong feelings about what to avoid, I realized I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to see on there. I included in my memo a bunch of covers that served as examples of the clichés and uninspired designs I’ve seen on some book covers, and then several covers that I found compelling. I happened to be acquainted already with my cover designer who read the full manuscript, has traveled to the region in which it is set, and is familiar with kathak dance. These things were important to me. The tricky thing is this: knowing when to stand firm for what you truly feel and believe, and knowing when to bow to the opinions of those whose business and expertise it is to communicate through design (the graphic artist) and to sell books (the publisher, and possibly the agent as well). Listen to the designer; this is what they do. It can be hard, because no doubt you’ve been living with your book and imagining its cover for… dare I say it? Years. But this is one of the first steps in letting others take over. I hope I struck the right balance. One thing I do know is that I am very, very pleased with the final design for FPR. But it took work, a lot of collaboration, a very patient designer, and many iterations.

Writer Unboxed ran a great 2-part post on working smoothly with a graphic artist. Part 1 covers knowing what you want, finding the right graphic artist (which your publisher might do for you), understanding the basic graphics design process and other things to keep in mind as you get going. Part 2 covers budget, fee strategies, ownership, and other money matters.

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Signatures on tiles, nothing to do with contracts, but fun use of signatures. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Signatures on tiles, nothing to do with contracts, but fun use of signatures. Via Wikimedia Commons.

As I prepare for a book launch in October 2014, I find myself doing a significant amount of thinking, researching and planning for it. Even more than I’d anticipated. And as those in my family can tell you, I anticipate a lot. My oldest daughter says I’m a “just in case” person. As in, put a sweater in your bag just in case the movie theater is over air-conditioned. Which it will be.

For those who know they will have, or hope to have, a book published in the near future, I’ll be running a series of posts on the month-to-month lead up to publication. There’s no way yet to say whether my methods and actions will be successful, of course, but I try my best, and why not share the information? What to think about, what to research, what I hadn’t expected, what questions to ask oneself, that kind of thing.

To begin: Twelve months out from publication (which for me was this past October)

This is the month it all began. The main focus here was the contract. I’d been in discussion with the publisher already for several weeks. In October, they sent me their contract template, and we had some friendly back and forth during the course of the month to negotiate some changes and some additions.

I am fortunate to have a family member who is an attorney specializing in intellectual property, so I had some very experienced eyes look at the contract. I highly, highly recommend finding an attorney to look over your contract. There are literary attorneys who will do this for an hourly fee. If you have an agent, that’s a good place to start. But even an agent is not (usually) an attorney. I’m amazed at how often people sign things without fully understanding them. Of course we all click on “Agree” on those lengthy terms of use pop-up windows when we sign up for various services, but a book contract is of major importance and can come in the way of any future plans you might have for your book and its derivative products (translations, foreign editions, audio versions, etc.)

Some sites I found useful for learning about what to look for in a contract were the following:

This blog post by J.A. Konrath on “some of the more one-sided, onerous terms of a standard publishing contract.” (Note that he is very pro self-publishing, and very outspoken.)

These negotiation tips provided by the Author’s Guild.

This checklist of deal terms by intellectual property attorney Howard Zaharoff.

I’ve also heard great things about Mark Levine’s book, Negotiating a Book Contract: a Guide for Authors, Agents and Lawyers.

Some of the issues I was forced to think about were:

What rights I wanted to grant the publisher, and which ones I wanted to keep for myself. (Depending on the publisher, there will be more or less flexibility here.) Worldwide? North America? Print only? (Not often an option.) Translations? Film? Audio? Stage adaptations? Merchandising? Sales to book clubs? Abridgments in anthologies?

Publication date. Is there any time of year that makes the most sense for publication? Is my book a summer read? A more intellectual, fall-ish type of read? Could I tie its launch with a specific event? A holiday? Do I want people buying it as Christmas gifts?

Copyright. For example: Who owns the rights to the cover?

Liability and indemnification. In most contracts, it seems, this clause is highly skewed in favor of the publisher, and difficult to get changed. You as the author may need to accept that you will hold the publisher harmless blah blah blah, essentially shouldering the risk of having to pay for a lawsuit, legitimate or not, filed by some out in the great blue yonder who takes issue with something you wrote, claims your cover design was his or her idea, etc. There are a number of sites out there that summarize the concerns and things for which to be on the lookout. (For example here, here, and also here.) It was very useful to me to peruse them, and establish for myself what I was comfortable with, and what was a deal-breaker.

It took a certain amount of good natured back and forth to negotiate a contract that satisfied both sides, but we succeeded, and I’m glad for the process.

If you’ve been through this process yourself, do you have any thoughts to add?

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