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Serialised Fiction – Part Three

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So for this week’s entry, I’m going to tackle a subject that isn’t about writing.  Not the physical process of getting words down anyway.  This week I’m going to talk about that ever elusive contract.

Yes, the contract.  That moment that all of us, as writers, dream of, where our work gets picked up and takes that first step down the long road to actually being published.  Now, while I don’t have expert knowledge of the ins and outs of the whole publishing industry, I can however offer my views on that niche of it that I am currently entering.

Online publishing.

The Licensing Agreement

When I received the licensing agreement this week, it was exciting and terrifying in equal measure.  Here it was.  This makes it all feel much more official.  I am actually (hopefully) going to get my work published, in the public domain!  That’s the exciting part.  The terrifying part is actually reading the damn thing.

Yes aspiring writers, there will come a point (hopefully) when we all have to be prepared to give up a piece of work.  By that I don’t mean throw it in the trash!  Because of the way that this project works (i.e., serialised fiction) I believe (from what I have gleaned in what could laughingly be referred to as the “research” I’ve done in this area) that the agreement that I have is much like the agreement that a creator of a TV show must deal with.  Yes, you have your series picked up, but there are always conditions. 

Obviously, retention of intellectual rights to the property remain yours.  You created it after all.  But there is a point when you have to surrender some rights.  I know it’s your baby, and you’ve nurtured it, weaned, it, given it life, but then when you have to hand it over, it can be tough.  You have to sacrifice some responsibility.  This is what I feared amongst all the legalese.  But hey, dude’s gotta eat right?

Giving Up the Baby

So, how exactly do you give it up?  And what exactly does this mean?  Primarily for me (and I believe this stands for everything) the company retains exclusive rights to distribute any material for a standard period of seven years.  This means no sneaking off and getting it (or any related work), published on the side through somewhere else.  So ownership of the actual intellectual property remains with the author. Distribution rights lie with the company. This is all good, right?

Well, if you are writing a TV show, and it is picked up, yes, this is good.  Unless your show (which you’ve had a long term plan for) gets cancelled, then you have to wait seven years before you regain control over any kind of distribution rights, and therefore cannot do anything with the material, despite what your loyal fans may want.

In terms of what I’m doing, an online serialised story doesn’t have nearly the same kind of ramifications.  The ramifications that concern me are that the company retains not only exclusive rights to this piece of work, but to all my work.  Obviously this is why you have to read the small print.

While I wouldn’t in theory have an issue with this (I have several projects that could work on the site) my main project, that one that I’ve spent so much time pouring my very soul into (yes, its all very melodramatic) would most definitely NOT work in this format.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing!  Show me a writer who doesn’t want a multi-project deal, and I’ll show you a worthless liar!  Luckily, the project I’m writing does have a lot of follow up potential.  I’m unsure whether I’ve mentioned this before, but the way I’ve structured the project means that I could, essentially, write this thing forever, or until the readers get bored.  However, I do have this fear that by signing this thing, I may have to face the idea of giving up my original baby, which tears at me much more than having to write this online project in the directions my editors wish me to.

In Essence

So how do you proceed?  I’ll attempt to make some points…

  1. ALWAYS read the small print carefully.

    This was the part that terrified me.  I know it’s no ones favourite pastime to wade through legalese, but make sure you know exactly what it is that you’re signing.  You don’t want to just skim over it, sign it, then find out three months down the line that you no longer have the rights to your own work.

  2. ASK about anything that is unclear, or you’re unsure about.

    This sounds like a no-brainer, and you may be reluctant (as I was) to ask questions for fear of sounding like a moron.  But you want to make sure that when it says “the licensor retains any intellectual rights”, or something to that effect, it means more than you get to claim you created the world of the characters, while all the franchise/action figure/lunchbox tie ins are out of your hands, as are the profits that any of these generate.

  3. Make sure you know what you’re getting into.

    It’s no good signing something only to discover that you’re bound to something that you don’t want to be bound to.  If you are signing a multi-book contract, then congratulations! That’s fantastic! However, make sure that you know the terms by which this three book deal is being signed. If you only envisioned your characters in one story, without any continuation, and you discover the three book deal is for three books with the same characters, you’re gonna have a bit of trouble getting the other books done aren’t you?

  4. Find out exactly how the royalties work

    Again, I can’t speak for the whole industry, but I imagine this is pretty standard – you will only get paid royalties at a standard value rate.  By this I mean, you wont get a cheque at the end of every month for say, £3.57.  The royalties your work may generate (in my case, how much revenue it generates for the site, but generally the number of book sales) will accrue until they reach a particular value, and THEN you’ll be paid your royalties.  Yes, this may mean you may never see any more money after your initial payment, so be aware.