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The Authors Guild Fair Contract Initiative

Updated 7-30-19. Book Authors: Study the contract alerts the Authors Guild has spelled out in its Fair Contract Initiative (Eight Principles of Fair Contracts became more than that!). The main contract issues are spelled out briefly below, with links to the full Authors Guild argument on each issue.

Advances Should Remain Advances.

Authors, Keep Your Copyrights--You Earned Them. (You too, academic authors!)

Claiming the Royalties You Deserve.

Controlled Digital Lending Is Neither Controlled Nor Legal.

Delete the Non-Compete.

End the Discount Double-Cross.

Half of Net Proceeds Is the Fair Royalty Rate for E-Books.

A Manuscript’s Acceptability Should Not Be a Matter of Whim.

Option Clauses Shouldn't Hold Authors Hostage.

A Publishing Contract Should Not Be Forever.

Stop Forcing Authors to Take Unlimited Financial Risks: Warranty and Indemnification Clauses.

 

With links:
Advances Should Remain Advances (3-16-15)
The Authors Guild Fair Contract Initiative: A Preview (AG, 6-17-15)
Authors, Keep Your Copyrights--You Earned Them (AG 8-13-15) 'Most trade publishers do not ask for an outright assignment of all exclusive rights under copyright; their contracts usually call for copyright

to be in the author's name. It's another story in the world of university presses. Most scholarly publishers routinely present their authors with the single most draconian, unfair clause we routinely encounter, taking all the exclusive rights to an author's work as if the press itself authored the work....the copyright grab remains endemic among university presses...And yet every author we know of who requested to retain copyright was able to get the publisher to change the agreement. The problem is that most academic authors—particularly first-time authors feeling the flames of "publish or perish"—don't even ask.'

As AG member Bert Krages recently wrote: "Signing over your copyright is a bad proposition, even if the contract has a provision stating that the copyright will be returned to you once the book goes out of print. The reason is that if the press sells or otherwise transfers ownership to another party, that party will own the copyright free and clear of any obligation to return it to you or pay you royalties. On the other hand, if you retain the copyright and license it to the press, then even if another party assumes ownership of the contract, that party is still obligated to comply with the terms of the publishing agreement. Publishers don't have a compelling business need to acquire the author's copyright. A license gives the publisher every freedom it needs to profit from publishing the book."
Claiming the Royalties You Deserve (AG, 2-26-18)
Delete the Non-Compete (AG 8-27-15)
End the Discount Double-Cross (AG, 11-15-16) Publishers routinely use contract provisions to slash authors’ royalties to mere pennies per copy sold. So-called “deep discount” clauses stipulate that a publisher’s sale at a discount of over 55%, for example (a number that appears to be the new standard), the author’s royalty suddenly drops from, say, 15% of list price to 15% of the far smaller amount the publisher actually receives. With a clause like this in effect, why would any rational publisher maintain a higher wholesale price when a lower one would deliver 25% more to its bottom line—entirely at the author’s expense?...The documented decline in authors’ incomes stems in part from these unconscionable reductions in royalty payments. Scroll down on Authors Guild page for what you (or your agent) should hold out for on a book contract.<
Graffiti Artists Have Moral Rights (AG, 3-2-18)
Half of Net Proceeds Is the Fair Royalty Rate for E-Books (7-9-15) See Checking In on the Digital Royalty Debate (Rachel Deahl, PW, 12-6-13) "By finding ways to keep their top authors in-house without raising the e-book royalty rate above 25%, the big houses have, in effect, killed the debate. And this comes at a time when most publishers’ profits have improved because of e-books. Richard Curtis, a literary agent and founder of the e-book publisher E-Reads, repeated an oft-said refrain when he noted that “the 25% [e-book royalty] rate has been the chief cause of publishers’ return to prosperity.” Argue for 50%, not 25%, on ebook royalties.
A Manuscript’s Acceptability Should Not Be a Matter of Whim, (2-24-16) Avoid fuzzy-wuzzy contract wording that allows easy rejection of a manuscript--certainly not if it means the author must return the advance. At the very least the author should have a chance to revise to editorial specifications. If the publisher isn't sure it will like a book once it's delivered, it should consider an option agreement.
Option Clauses Shouldn't Hold Authors Hostage (AG, 9-23-15)
• Publishers’ Payment and Accounting Practices Need to Keep Up with the Times,
A Publishing Contract Should Not Be Forever (7-8-15)
Stop Forcing Authors to Take Unlimited Financial Risks: Warranty and Indemnification Clauses (AG, 12-18-15)
Controlled Digital Lending Is Neither Controlled Nor Legal. (AG 1-8-19) (Authors Guild, 6-17-15)

The Authors Guild Fair Contract Initiative: A Preview  Read More 

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Net Neutrality: What is it and where do things stand?

What's Net Neutrality all about? I hope the following items make things clear. Let's start with Net neutrality is here. What it means for you ( David Goldman and Jose Pagliery, CNN Money, 6-13-15). "Net neutrality is a set of rules the FCC approved in 2010 to prevent fast lanes on the Internet.  Read More 
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The truth about book sales and authors' income

Updated 8-19-18) Warning: The news is not good but this is just a sampling.
Why Authors Are Earning Less Even As Book Sales Rise (Adam Rowe, Forbes, 8-11-18) Book publishers incomes are rising "partially due to rising digital audiobook and ebook sales," but authors' incomes are declining, says the Authors Guild, about this article: "The disparity between book sales and author salaries isn’t news. But seeing the statistics laid out simply on the page can help develop an understanding of where the money is going." Quoting the Forbest article: "Overall, revenues appear to be holding steady, as traditional publishers double down on the latest trend or format (which are political tell-alls and digital audiobooks, respectively, if anyone's wondering)....But thanks to the effects of price points set by the largest publishers in response to Amazon, industry corner-cutting, and book piracy, those authors behind the stories that power the publishing industry are earning increasingly less for their efforts."
• "Only 39% of authors supported themselves exclusively through writing-related work," according to The Wages of Writing: Key Findings from the Authors Guild 2015 member survey. Author incomes are down, hybrid authorship is up, and authors are spending more time marketing than ever before. (Hybrid authorship is the practice of self-publishing while also being traditionally published.) Authors spend more time on marketing, less on writing books. Traditional publishers’ promotional budgets have all but dried up,  Read More 
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30+ sites for fact-checking political debates and other occasions for lies, rumors, hoaxes, misinformation, and inaccuracy

to keep on hand during the next political debates (and other occasions for doubt). Assembled by Pat McNees for her Writers and Editors website

FactCheck.org (Annenberg's excellent nonpartisan political fact checker--monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates,  Read More 
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Channeling rage to produce change

"Bearing witness is not a passive act," said [Terry Tempest] Williams.* "This story took such a toll," she said of the work she did in the Gulf. "There are certain things I wish I hadn't seen. Flying over the Gulf of Mexico, as far as you could see, from horizon to horizon, was oil.  Read More 
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Memoirs of war and conflict: A reading list

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung. "Twenty-five years after the rise of the Khmer Rouge, this powerful account is a triumph."~PW
What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché. “Why would a naïve 27-year-old American poet, who speaks Spanish brokenly and knows nothing about the isthmus of the Americas, accept the invitation of a near-stranger to join him in El Salvador, on the brink of war? And why would this rumored lone wolf/communist/CIA operative/world-class marksman/small-time coffee farmer invite her? Those questions animate Forché’s dramatic memoir about her transformation into an activist for peace, justice, and human rights. Forché vividly recounts how she became enmeshed with the mysterious, politically charged man and with clergy and farmworkers as violence ensued, in a fierce narrative punctuated with short prose poem vignettes that she notes are ‘written in pencil.’"—The National Book Review
With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge. "He ... turns the extremes of the war in the Pacific—the terror, the camaraderie, the banal and the extraordinary—into  Read More 

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Essentials of self-publishing

Practical tips and insights, pros and cons, do's and don'ts, of self-publishing. Self-publishing is thriving, but if you are going to do it, go into the venture with your eyes wide open and be willing to hire the professionals needed to help you do an acceptable job. Here, from a special issue of Pasatiempo, are key passages  Read More 
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How to shape a book

by Pat McNees (updated 11-20-16)
Developmental editors help authors find the right shape for their book. You can also learn a lot about structure from the following pieces, among others:
Telling science stories…wait, what’s a “story”? (Bora Zivkovic, A Blog Around the Clock, 7-13-11). " In the Inverted Pyramid approach to journalism, the first couple of sentences (the “lede”) provide the next most important information, and so on, with the least important stuff at the end. In many ways, it is the opposite of a narrative – the punch-line goes first,  Read More 
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Authors' options in the changing book publishing game

In January 2015, SPJ and ASJA hosted an event focused on New Options for Authors in the Changing Book Publishing Game. Nell Minow and Tom Allen spoke at the beautiful Fund for American Studies in Dupont Circle. Here, by request, is the handout, helpful links from my Writers and Editors website.  Read More 
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Media perils and liability insurance 101

by Pat McNees, updated 6-12-19

First of all, freelance editors and writers are often sent boilerplate contracts that include clauses requiring liability insurance--which might make sense if you are rebuilding a wing of a building, but rarely make sense for a writer and certainly not for an editor. My advice (gained from others' experiences): Cross out that clause and tell the client that it isn't relevant because (if true) you don’t have employees, work onsite, travel on behalf of the client, see clients in your home office, operate heavy equipment, endanger the general welfare, and so forth. (H/T to Ruth E. Thaler-Carter for the wording.) If you raise an objection based on common sense, the client is likely to tell you just to strike the clause. If they don't and the fee is low, it probably won't make financial sense to sign the contract, or at least I would not do so. See also what Will MacPheat reports, in the Comments section.

Meanwhile, here's the best round up of information I have come up with for if you DO find yourself in a situation where you need to buy the insurance. Media perils liability insurance (or publishers liability insurance) may provide you with protection for such traditional claims as  Read More 

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