Tag Archives: contracts

The Kiss of Death

One might think this is a euphemism for a vampire’s love bite, or perhaps the last sarcastically sensual act of a femme fatale. However I’m talking about the kiss of death as a writer. Now it can be interpreted several different ways but I have managed to be the kiss of death quite a few times.

What I mean is this: you get an acceptance from a publisher/editor for a piece in their magazine and then you either find out that the magazine is folding with the issue before the one that would have your story/poem in it, or they say, “We loved this story and would have published it, but we are closing down the magazine.” And then the story never ever sells to anyone ever.

If I had a credit list of all the publications that have said they would take the story but so long, I would have sold another six pieces of fiction. Perhaps the worst/best example of this was a new SF magazine to which I sent a story for their inaugural issue. I received a letter back saying my story had been “excepted.” As opposed to “accepted” which means to include, except means to exclude. I thought the story had been rejected but as I read through the letter, the opposite was true. I guess that was the first sign of a doomed publication.

I signed a contract, and they sent me a cheque, and…the first issue never came out. But I still had a contract that said it was theirs until printed. After a year I contacted SFWA and asked the contract committee to help. So they told me to send a letter to the publisher indicating that since the magazine seemed to have ceased to exist that I was withdrawing the story. It was worded differently but didn’t leave my story in limb forever.

When there was a spate of magazines that said they would have published this or that but they were closing down I began to wonder if I was the kiss of death and by accepting my piece they had doomed themselves. Of course, that is nothing but ego and the belief in a power I don’t have. The truth is that many writers would have found themselves in the same boat and that many magazines come and go like the flow of the tide.

Funding disappears, editors get sick, quit or get different jobs (since often editing a magazine is a part time job or a labor of love), or are disorganized, and reader interest may flag for any number of reasons. These all affect the longevity of a magazine, whether it’s online or in print.

A successful magazine takes constant advertising, through ads in other magazines, books, websites as well as promotions: buy a subscription and get a discount, buy this magazine at this convention or launch and get two for the price of one, etc. Magazines have to become known and that means more than just by word of mouth though reviews and other editors, writers, readers or publishers may help, a magazine can’t become complacent because there is always more competition.

Of course a magazine has to deliver what readers want as well but the ongoing, marketing, advertising, printing and distribution is a constant issue to  deal with. These aspects are truly what can be the kiss of death to a magazine, not the author with eldritch power.

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BC Election Day

I’ve been fairly quiet about the election. Although I’ve paid some attention to it and the usual, unfortunate name calling that’s happened, I haven’t said much, because I know which way I’ll be voting.

The NDP and Liberals are neck in neck and it will be anybody’s game. The Green party could possibly take a seat or two and there is a possibility, though slim of a minority government. Still, there will be enough representation of both sides to balance things, I hope.

Politics is much like the boxing ring. You put your gloves on and go out there and pummel your opponent as close as you can to a pulp. Then afterwards, you stand before the cameras and clasp your opponent on the shoulder, shake hands and say nice things about fighting style. Just like politics.

So Campbell bashes James and James bashes Campbell. It would be nice to see less of this and more of what is going to happen. But politicians are known for hollow campaign promises anyway. We can thank Gordon Campbell for tearing up hospital worker and teacher’s contracts (teachers don’t even have a contract right now).

We can thank him for raising the cost of our universal free medicare. Only Alberta and BC pay for what the rest of the country gets for free and Campbell more than doubled that cost while at the same time removing some services. Podiatrists and optometrists are no longer covered because gee, I guess it’s only old people who have foot and eye problems and as one of Campbell’s cronies once said, they’re a special interest group. Campbell took massage, chiropractic and physiotherapy off of the list. We used to get 10-12 visits each a year. Now, only if you’re on subsidized assistance will you get 10 combined visits. Because, obviously it’s much better to go and pay money to pharmaceutical companies rather than heal the person permanently.

If you’re big business, you’ll love Campbell. He’ll cut things like teachers rights and tear up contracts of the little people but he’ll make sure he arranges that money he’s saved to go to business. Because big business always needs help. I could go on, rant, rage, but there is no point. I’ve never trusted Campbell and I will not start now.

Someone ludicrously said he looked like a premier whereas Carol James didn’t. How ridiculous is that? That comment was one step away from being sexist. She doesn’t look like a premier because she’s a woman? Doesn’t wear a suit? What? But then, there is one thing I know. No matter how fickle a politician is the voters are just as fickle. Okay, fickle isn’t the right word but short term amnesiac memory is. Voters forget so quickly and only remember all the candy that is tossed out right before an election. Many are just like kids, believing the campaign rhetoric.

At least one hopes a politician will fulfill some of their promises. But the one thing that BC voters do; if they do remember the bad stuff and are unhappy, then they will willingly change their spots. Easily influenced? Yes. But unlike Alberta that will vote Conservative no matter what is done to them, British Columbians are willing to try on a new shoe. Did I just contradict myself? Perhaps.

But one other thing I’m voting for is the STV. It may or may not work but proportional representation does sound appealing and we won’t know if we don’t try. So, don’t forget, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.

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Writing: Rights & Contracts

I decided to withdraw my poem from being published in the online magazine Sotto Voce. Often one is paid little to have a poem published. I’ve received everything from $5-$100 for poetry. Of course, I would like to get more rather than less but I’ll sell a poem for $10 if the magazine looks respectable. What I won’t do though, is give my poem away for free.

Likewise, I do read contracts and do take them seriously. Sotto Voce stated they had exclusive rights to put the poem on their website for 120 days. Okay, not a big problem and fairly standard. They also said that at the end of that period all rights revert to the author, but then went on to say they took the nonexclusive right to keep the poem in their archives, as well as using it in a print, audio or other format, should they so choose.

Keeping something in a magazine’s archive is becoming more standard and some magazines will take it down should you resell the piece. Others may not. I could live with that but the nonexclusive rights on print, audio and other were bothersome. Most publishers may ask for the nonexclusive right, which often means first refusal on a print anthology (or whatever they specify) but they will at that time negotiate to pay for that right. Some magazines may say, we take print and anthology rights.

Their use of having an open-ended nonexclusive right in which they informed me that they would not pay additionally bothered me. It also meant that should I try to sell the poem to a print magazine I could jeopardize that sale because it might have been printed already. Given the vagueness of their all-encompassing, nonexclusive rights, I wasn’t sure that I would be notified if they used it elsewise.

Normally, each right is a separate thing: world rights, first North American rights, electronic rights, audio rights, print rights, etc. It’s a hodgepodge and can be very confusing and many publishers will try to lump it all together to get as much as they can for the price of one. I usually ask if I’m not clear, and contracts are often weird legalese. Since I neither needed the modest pay nor the publishing credit (though it’s always nice to have more) and because I was uncomfortable with this contract and didn’t like the exclusive nonexclusive rights they seemed to be taking, I said no after consulting with other writers (just in case I was getting overly picky).

Often contracts can be adjusted. When I receive a written contract I will sometimes write in or cross off something. So far no one has said no to those changes. There is leeway in most cases. Sotto Voce didn’t seem to want to do this and their contract was online with places just to fill out. Not much room for adjusting it. If they had paid more I might have gone with selling the poem to them. But not for peanuts.

Harlequin also had a fairly specific contract that asks for all rights (print, online, audio, ads, etc.) for a period of time. However, they are paying a whole lot more and the contract has a clause that should they go to other formats or languages, reprint, digital, etc. that those fees will be negotiated. I asked the editor about some parts of that contract but decided to go with it, although Harlequin doesn’t specify how long they keep those rights before releasing them. That bothers me and in retrospect I maybe should have put a limit. It might not be too late.

Contracts really do take experts and the wording is often vague or misleading. There are lawyers that specialize in such but we little writers don’t tend to go that route for small sales. There are agents who also specialize in understanding contracts and if you’re selling a book, they can help with the nuances of the rights. As well, many small publishers don’t always realize what they’re asking for and sometimes need educating. In the past I’ve had to mention this to a few new publishers. In the end, it’s up to each person as to what they’re comfortable with selling or giving away. And to me, it’s not about the money so much, but about respecting the writer and the writing.

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