Monday, February 06, 2006

Defining a Legal Relationship

I sit in the office in the dark, only the glow of the laptop screen and the faint grey dawn creeping in through the windows pierce the gloom. My music is the sound of the furnace doing the morning heat-up. It is the one time of the day when the house is toasty warm, almost too warm. There is no coffee yet, I might microwave some from yesterday if Dave does not make any before he leaves for work, or I might treat myself to one at Jupiter Coffee on the way home from taking the Sprout to school. There are many possibilities. And that is the thread of the day... Possibilities.

The contract must go back to the Publisher today and I still have not decided what changes I am going to request, if any. The more I read it, the more I feel that it is written not just allowing but encouraging them to rip me off. And I wonder, should I try to change that or just accept that my benefits from having a book published will be less tangible (fame and glory, fame and glory--and maybe some additional commissions, outright sales, or new gallery connections because I am a Published Author).

I tend to take the moral high ground--which can also be called biting one's nose off to spite one's face in the vernacular. Dave is more pragmatic. He is a perfect discussion partner for this issue, and still, I am unresolved! The contract was reviewed by an Intellectual Property lawyer and he put so much red in it it looks like a checkerboard at the beginning of the game. And that is why we have lawyers review things for us--so they can take the existing amount of skew and twist it back into our favor. There is no way in hell the Publisher will agree to even half of what he has proposed, but that is not the point. The point is to highlight the inequity of the deal. And he has. But we knew it would be inequitous. Turns out there is actually no such word inequitous, the word is instead inequitable meaning unfair. Maybe because it would cause confusion with iniquitous, meaning wicked.

One of the things that bothers me the most is that it is actually in their best interests to sell the book for under wholesale because then they only owe me pennies in royalties--they more than make up their losses from the distributor by stiffing me. So what checks are there in place to make them not want to cheat me? I mean, they don't know me personally, and if they are just looking at the structure of a deal and how much they can make on it, and they see that they can actually make more money by selling the book at a 54% discount than they can at a 50% discount, why wouldn't they jump at it? Yeah, so I don't make anything, so what? I hear Dave grind the coffee beans and I know that for yet another day I am saved from swill and effort.

Then there is the issue of Rights. It used to be that when a book went out of print the author would get all rights to it back--rights for a new edition, a revision, a whatever. But in the electronic age books can be published on-demand and thus never go out of print. This sounds good at first pass, but it also means by the structure of the contract that an author never gets the rights to the book back and the Publisher gets to do all revisions, new editions, anthologies, compilations, etc., at their sole discretion and whim. And the royalty structure is seriously diminished.

So what do I, the first time author, really get? The very small advance which does not even begin to cover the time it takes to write the book at a wage made by the grocery baggers at Publix, the knowledge that I will never see another dime in income--there will always be some Publisher's expense which is offset by my royalty (picture the Ebeneezer character from the Simpsons as the Publisher rubbing his hands together cackling with glee), and a book. They get us because we will do anything to see our names in print and they know that if we say no, there are dozens of people lining up behind us who will say yes. They (the iniquitous Publisher) encouraged me to read the contract carefully, take my time, all the while knowing that all I was going to get out of the exercise was a thorough understanding of how I was going to be screwed--there would be no changes. Now the question is, can I manage not to let the knowledge bother me?


Bill Paley said...

That very much depends on whether you want to be able to say on your resume that you are a published author, and that your artistry is on record. It might just be worth it in terms of increased exposure and sales...

Brenda Griffith said...
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