Write Rights

March 23, 2011

Years ago, I belonged to the Southwest Manuscripters here in the Los Angeles South Bay. The group has been around for about 40 years and is very proud of the fact that Ray Bradbury is one of their founding members.

Anyway, I moved to Wyoming for six years and then back to Los Angeles, and I hadn’t been to a meeting in maybe nine years or so. So last night, just as I was about to roll out pizza dough for our weekly Monday night pizza and sit-coms, I remembered that it was also the third Monday of the month, Manuscripters meeting. So I put the pizza dough in the fridge, ran a brush through my hair and raced out the door.

It was a great meeting to attend. The speaker was Louise Nemschoff, an attorney practicing entertainment and intellectual property law here in Los Angeles.

Since I haven’t sold a novel yet, I haven’t had to deal with contract issues, but it’s been in the back of my mind. For non-fiction the issues were pretty minimal. I generally sold first North American rights, retained the right to re-sell previously published work, and advances and royalties weren’t an issue. For most of my work, I got paid a flat rate and was either paid when I was given the assignment or on publication. Not terribly complicated.

A novel is an entirely different story (pun intended). You put an incredible amount of time into this one piece of work, as well as a chunk of your heart and a little of your soul. So, clearly you want to be well informed before you sign those contracts.

At the Manuscripters, Ms. Nemschoff had about an hour to address a diverse group of writers, so the information she could share was of course somewhat generic, but what she did do was get me thinking about some important issues.

What rights do I want to sell? Will I have a say in the rights that I sell? What about electronic rights? (Something that wasn’t much of an issue in my non-fiction days.)  Will I own my pseudonym if I use one? What about advances? How much will I have to pay the publisher to buy copies of my own book? Will my publisher insure me against lawsuits? Is a “next book option” really a good thing for me? Do I want an agent? Do I want an attorney? Should I register the copyright myself?

Obviously, I left the meeting with a lot to think about. Probably the best advice given, although Ms. Nemschoff gave a lot of great information, was to join the Author’s Guild. I’ll be going to their website when I’m done here.

So what legal issues have you run across in your writing career? Are there things you wish you had known before you sold your work? Advice you were given that really helped you out? Questions you have that the rest of us might need to think about?

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