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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Long-Term Contracts Fading In Publishing?

Oddly as we reach a time where no book shall go out of print thanks to e-books, publishing deals are getting shorter.

Authors used to sign deals with book publishers that allowed publishers to retain a book’s rights until the book went out of print.  Today, “out of print” is being redefined based on sales totals, not based on whether a printed book exists in a store somewhere.

Further, authors aren’t necessarily tying themselves to one publisher or one publishing method. They are reserving the right to sell future titles to others or on their own.  When they sign e-book rights away some are setting a time limit, such as seven years.  Authors no longer have to feel a slave to a publisher.

Long-term contracts don’t always work out in life. Look at marriage.  51% of adults are married today.  50 years ago 72% of adults were married. People don’t see the need to marry and those that do marry get divorced half the time.

In sports, most long-term deals are good for the players, not as much for the owners who often spend for non-productive or injury-riddled years while getting some of the all-star seasons they’d hope to have out of an athlete every year.

In the office, no one has a contract but a few executives, and usually when a company wants to part ways  before the deal is expired, a big payout settlement needs to be made.

The longer any deal goes for the more likely one entity feels screwed.  Someone who signs a long-term lease today may have mixed feelings in five years when property values change or other shifts occur in the marketplace and community landscape.

But shorter commitments by an author to a publisher sound good to me.  It always seemed like a one-way deal, where an author was so glad to get published that he or she would sign away their first-born child.  The playing field is starting to level, although many publishers will need to revisit royalties on e-books.  Anything short of a 50-50 split with the author seems greedy and outdated.  As the market continues to change, no doubt, so will long-term contract lengths and terms.

Interview With Touchstone Novelist Nancy Bilyeau

1.      Nancy, what inspired you to write your upcoming novel with Touchstone? I've loved to read about British history, particularly the Tudor dynasty, my whole life. I have a home library full of books by Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir, David Starkey, and many others. I also like a well-done thriller. Historical thrillers are not easy to write, because you have to feed the research into a fast-moving plot. But I decided with my first novel to give it a shot, to fuse my beloved Tudor England with a genre I find absorbing and entertaining. So I wrote a thriller set in the 16th century. I deliberated for a long time over who my main character would be and whether my book would include "real" people or not (it does). I decided to write my book from the perspective of a Catholic novice thrust into a dangerous quest. The Dissolution of the Monasteries, the destruction of the abbeys and priories in England by Henry VIII as he broke from Rome, is a shocking period in history. I thrust my story into the middle of that. I was inspired while writing it by the feelings of economic fear and disintegration in our country--since I live and work in New York City, by the tension right outside my window. I told a friend, "I think I dealt with my fears of disintegration by writing about dissolution!"

2.      What is it about? In "The Crown," Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the sacred rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. She's arrested for interfering with the king’s justice,  and Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London. The ruthless Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, takes terrifying steps to force Joanna to agree to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may hold the ability to end the Reformation. Accompanied by two monks, Joanna returns home to Dartford Priory and searches in secret for this long-lost piece of history worn by the Saxon King Athelstan in 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain. But Dartford Priory has become a dangerous place, and when more than one dead body is uncovered, Joanna departs with a young monk to search elsewhere for the legendary crown. From royal castles with tapestry-filled rooms to Stonehenge to Malmesbury Abbey, the final resting place of King Athelstan, Joanna and Brother Edmund must hurry to find the crown if they want to keep Joanna’s father alive.  With Cromwell’s men threatening to shutter her priory,  Joanna has to decide who she can trust with the secret of the crown so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life.

3.      What do you love most about writing? I was a magazine editor and writer for a while before taking the plunge with writing a novel. I was an editor at InStyle magazine, and before that, Good Housekeeping, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone. I enjoy working on nonfiction stories, whether I'm the writer or I'm editing another writer. But there is such a deep thrill to writing a novel, to creating characters in my mind and setting them loose. I work hard on descriptions--I want to make readers feel as if they are in the priory garden or on the muddy London street. It's just terribly exciting to create my own world and then like a magician beckon others to join me in it.

4.      What advice do you have for struggling writers? I benefited a lot from workshopping. I read pages in a group led by a published author and that is very beneficial, to try out your work on others. Then I switched to online courses at Gotham Writer's Workshop. I read extensively in my genre. It always surprises me when people don't do that. And although a common piece of advice is "Write what you know," I think that has become twisted into "Write only what you know." I believe writers should try harder to master plot, to truly tell an absorbing story and not get so caught up in nailing that perfect moment of verisimilitude. Sure, that might get your short story published in a literary journal but if you want to write commercial fiction--get an agent and then a contract from a publisher--you have to tell a story in which someone is going to be eager to know what happens next.

5.      What do you feel are the key elements to writing fiction that sells? Strong plot, characters with emotions, sharp details, surprises. Originality without being too "out there." And research. I spent years researching my book. Even if it isn't historical fiction, writers need to dig up the facts that will make the writing fresh and interesting. Readers appreciate it!

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Planned Television Arts. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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