Tuesday, 28 August 2018

One story, two guvnors

A long time ago, maybe six summers ago, I wrote a story whilst walking on the Devon or Cornwall coast.

When I say 'wrote a story', I, of course, mean that my mind wandered as I trod the narrow cliff path, a narrative slowly taking shape in my mind.  I can't help it; I can't stop it.  That, to me, is writing.  All the rest is writing down: the slightly tedious heavy lifting, which rarely proves - but occasionally, wonderfully does - to leave a tale behind as elegant as you imagined.

In the case of that story the writing down didn't take place for some months, perhaps a year or so.  There are so many stories that I've written that are waiting to be written down.  Form an orderly queue, please...

That particular story became 'Litter Picking on the Moon', just shy of 4000 words, and it may be instructive for me to relate what happened to it after that.

I'll skip the fifteen rejections the story received, and dwell on its two successes.  The first was when I submitted it to PunkWritePoems Press for their anthology "Don't Open 'til Doomsday".  I submitted the story on 5 November 2015, and it was accepted on 6 February 2016.   Amazon shows the book as having been published on 27 June 2016.  I was paid on 18 July 2016, without any chasing, and a copy arrived around the same time and sits on my bookshelf.

All in all, a pleasure doing business with PunksWritePoems and Jason Bates, Founding Editor.  I tried to see what he's doing now on the interweb, without success, but did stumble across an interview with him from 2016, which included this nugget: "I work in aerospace quality management. It is the opposite of the creativity of writing and publishing. Everything is controlled by specifications and regulations."  No, I think you carry that business-like approach into your creative ventures, Jason.

Contrast this experience with my sale of "Litter Picking" as a reprint with Indie Authors Press for their anthology, The Chronos Chronicles.  It was submitted on 29 September 2016, and accepted 17 October 2016.  I responded the next day, confirming my PayPal address and querying the lack of a contributor (hard) copy of the anthology.  Jason was happy to post my copy of Don't Open 'til Doomsday from the US; Indie Authors are fellow Brits.

26 October 2016, I chase for a contract, receive a holding reply, and chase again March 2017, when it comes through (there's a family illness involved somewhere, so I'm mellow about the delay).  I turn it around in a couple of days, but do put this is in the covering email:

...I just wanted to raise an eyebrow at the length and complexity of the contract, in particular your taking 50% of future sales of the work - of a reprint, at that, for which you are paying $10 and not even providing authors with a print copy of the anthology.  Seems a bit lopsided to me.  When this story was sold the first time around the legalese was covered in the following seventeen words: "We are seeking first print rights. Compensation is one contributor copy and $15. No contract to sign."  Didn't see any reason to make it more complicated than that.

That's right: Jason Bates was happy to have our contractual relationship covered in seventeen words.  As was I.  But Indie Authors Press stipulated a contract of over a thousand words.  If you want to have a look at it, its here.  As you'll see, it contains some cracking legalese, but possibly it's most smoke and mirrors - or, perhaps, wolf in sheep's clothing - section is the one on subsidiary rights:

The  further  and  additional  rights  referred  to  in  this  agreement  are  hereby  defined  to  include  the subsidiary  rights  enumerated  below,  net  proceeds  to  be  shared by  the  Author(s)  and  the  Publisher equally  (50/50),  less  only  such  direct  expenses,  including  agent’s  commissions,  as  shall  be  incurred  by the  Publisher  in  disposing  of  such  rights: 
  • Abridgment,  condensation,  or  digest
  • Anthology  or  quotation
  • Book  clubs  or  similar  organizations
  • Reprint
  • Special  editions
  • Second  serial  and  syndication  (including  reproduction  in  compilations,  magazines,  newspapers,  or books) 
All  revenue  derived  from  the  sale  of  rights  not  specifically  enumerated,  whether  now  in  existence  or hereinafter  coming  into  existence,  shall  be  shared  equally  by  the  Author(s)  and  the  Publisher. 

All  such  rights  shall  be  disposed  of  by  the  sale,  lease,  license,  or  otherwise  by  the  Publisher  who  for that  purpose  is  constituted  the  agent  of  the  Author(s).  The  Author(s)  agrees  to  sign,  make,  execute, deliver  and  acknowledge  all  such  papers,  documents  and  agreements  as  may  be  necessary  to effectuate  the  grants  herein  above  contemplated.  In  the  event  that the  Author(s)  shall  fail  to  do  so, they  may  be  signed,  executed,  delivered  and  acknowledged  by  the  Publisher  as  the  agent  of  the Author(s)  with  the  same  full  force  and  effect  as  if  signed  by  the  Author(s).  All  sums  due  under  this Agreement  shall  be  paid  to  the  Author(s)  [by the  Publisher] who  shall  act  with  the  authority  of  the  Author(s)  in  all  matters  arising  out  of  this  agreement.  

Yes, you've read that correctly.  Not only have I got a publisher, I've got an agent who can market and monetize my story, take fifty percent, and agree to sales that I may not wish to make otherwise.  Given that this was just a short story, unlikely to be resold without my efforts, I was happy for it to go over the barricades a second time and wave a flag for my novel, 2084.  But if it had been a novel, no way I would have been signing up for those terms...

The Chronos Chronicles eventually stumbled off the presses on 8 May 2018, over eighteen months after submission, with the publisher sending hysterical requests such as:

PLEASE share the links to where people can buy the book. Not just ONCE, ALL THE TIME, ALL OVER SOCIAL MEDIA!  (Their emphasis)

But, as in any morality tale, there's a twist.  Payment terms as set out in their contact was three months after publication.  I've chased for payment this month - and was asked to confirm my PayPal address, first confirmed back in 2016.  Curiously enough, no payment has been made at the time of writing - which luckily constitutes a breach of contract that, in turn, under their clause XI.B, terminates the contract.  So, that's all that tosh about subsidiary rights kicked into the long grass.  If you can't play to your own rules...

It also absolves me, as author, of the responsibility to "self-promote the Work to the best of his/her ability".  Therefore, my sincere advice is, if you want to read 'Litter Picking on the Moon', follow the links to Jason Bates' "Don't Open 'til Doomsday" and support both common sense and publishers who wish to work with authors on a level playing field.  'Nuff said.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

We've joined a cult and we didn't even realise

I always like to base my thinkings out loud on fact, and can generally cite my sources, but I've struggled to find where I saw this nugget of apparent truth that I'm going to riff off.  But as this posting depends on its veracity I'm just going to assume that my recall is accurate and that somebody else has fact checked.  Hopefully somebody outside of the Trump administration.

And this fact is that people (I assume Americans, it normally is) would pay $30,000 to keep the services provided by the likes of Google and Facebook if the threat of their removal, nay disappearance, was to be waved in front of them.  Presumably between them and their screens.

Yes, you read that right.  $30,000.  All depending on whether I've remembered rightly but, to be honest, that was element of the story that stuck in my mind.

Let's just unpack that.  Social media - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin - and the services that the FANGS provide are now so entwined, enmeshed in our everyday lives that we would happily pay half our income on never having to see the words 'wait 28 days for delivery' again.  So that we don't have to go back to waiting to see a TV show when it's scheduled.  So we don't have to actually travel to a shop to buy a CD.  So that a cat video is never more than a couple of clicks away, assuming we don't get distracted by a picture of a friend of a friend's dinner.

Half our salary.  Even the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God only takes 10%, although apparently Alpha won't bat an eyelid at the 50%.

I'm not sure that I'd pay anything if the whole interweb thing turned out to be a vivid dream after an especially good Stilton.  As long as it was a level playing field and we were all in the same boat.  It would be irritating, sure, but if the web were removed for me. and only me..  Actually, isn't that the same as being burgled and having your laptop stolen?  Would I pay anything in that scenario?  Of course not: I'm insured.  Or maybe it would mean that I'm Julian Assange...

I've implied that Amazon, Facebook, Google and the rest have formed a cult-like status, and if that's the case, then that's probably to their credit, a reflection on us not them, and thoroughly deserved.  But the image that forms in my mind, more than a cult is that of the pusher.  They've got us hooked on their wares.  But if they were to stop giving it out for free, where does that leave us?  Sweaty, pale and shaky.  And wanting our toys back.

Now, I don't want to paint a picture of Zuckerberg and the rest leaning out of the window of an ice cream van handing out single cigarettes to school children as a reality (mainly because I suspect they have some fairly decent lawyers), but as a dystopian what-if thought experiment, it's worth considering.

Like, what if the good and great of the web (and Zuckerberg - hey, only joking) have already formed a shady cartel, meeting Illuminati-like, and there's a date red-circled in their diaries and on that date, everything gets pulled unless we stump up.  Half our income.  Half global GDP.  That's about $67 trillion.  A year.  That puts the schemes of most Bond villains in the shade.  And the scary thing is that it has a stronger basis in reality than most sci-fi visions, utopian or dystopian. 

In the 60's we all believed love was free.  But there was a price to pay.  The 80's made us think the markets would rise forever, but they just came toppling down from on high.  Why the hell should we think all that information and functionality slopping back and forth on the net for free will last forever.  I'm sure it'll end; I'm only curious how.


Postscript - found my source; now I can sleep easy...