Saturday, August 13, 2011

Devlin Chase: I'm The Author of This Book...Maybe

Devlin Chase: I'm The Author of This Book...Maybe

I'm The Author of This Book...Maybe

I was sitting at work yesterday, idly chatting with a colleague about the movie I Am Number Four, when the conversation morphed to discussing James Frey and his stable of Writers-For-Hire at Full Fathom Five.

Frey is, of course, the controversial author of A Million Little Pieces. After being famously outed by Oprah (for blurring the lines between fact and fiction) he penned a couple more mediocre titles under his own name before launching an audacious plan that, for some bizarre reason, has his name on everyone’s lips again.

That plan seems to revolve around conceptualizations, keen internet gossip, one half decent writer and that wonderful literary give-away “the Pseudonym.”

So, here’s how it appears to work: A writer, with what he considers a decent idea for a young adult novel / TV series / movie, approaches Full Fathom Five and pitches the idea. If accepted, he will then have to sign a contract that any half decent lawyer would tell you is tantamount to handing over a kidney you’ve just self-extracted with a spoon.

The writer then proceeds to write the required piece for a whopping fee of 250 Dollars, which is around 2000 Rands. To add insult to injury, it is paid out 50% in start up and the balance on submission of the final draft. According to the contract I found on the Web, the author is then to be paid up to 40% of what the piece earns upon sale to a production company / publishing house etc. In terms of publishing I can only assume this means 40% of royalties earned in a standard contract.

For a runaway bestseller it might sound like a good deal but, according to the contract, the author has little to no rights in terms of anything that actually happens to the project once it’s been turned in to Full Fathom Five. They hold the exclusive rights on how to market, sell, advertise or promote the work. They also have the right to assign a pseudonym, change it at will, and basically do whatever they like with the writer’s hard work. Any and all costs are deducted before the writer sees any proceeds for his work.

For a writer, however, the worst aspect of the contract has to be the confidentiality clause. Under no circumstances, ever (and I mean ever) may the writer disclose that he or she is the author of the work in question. To do so is to be slapped up the side of the head with a lawsuit and the promise of a breach of contract.

Still sound like such a good deal?

Most of the issues surrounding the contract sound dodgy at best but revolve around the ethics pertaining to the contract and the company the writer is dealing with. If the company is ethical and the writer is prepared to put in a great deal of work, then the deal is hardly unscrupulous. Most authors, after all, put their blood sweat and tears into their writing even before they begin the horrendous and horrifying process of trying to find a publisher. So what’s different about this deal?

I write very, very fast. This year alone I’ve written and published four novels. True, what I write is formulaic and genre-specific – airport and lazy afternoon reading at most. But it doesn’t mean I care any less about it than a writer who’s slaved for the past decade on his epic fantasy. I also write under a pseudonym already, so why wouldn’t the James Frey concept work for me?

Picture this:  I write a novel, submit and receive a contract from a company modeled along the same lines as Full Fathom Five. I sign their contract and hand over my work for a paltry 2000 Rands.  My contract states that the pseudonym to be used will be John Smith but the company opts to change the name to Jane Doe without consulting me (which their contract states they are entitled to do without my knowledge).

How do I then prove that I am, in fact, the author of the work penned by Jane Doe? The sad fact is – I can’t. The company owns all the rights to anything relating to the work I’ve done and I have no way of proving that I am the author in question. The book gets sold to a large publishing house and is on the shelves at my local bookstore. I, however, have no way of finding out how many copies have been sold and what monies are due to me in terms of my contract.  I have no control over the so-called “costs” which are being deducted and have no way of knowing if I’m being screwed over or not.

True, publishers could be fudging the numbers with their authors too. But, in this contract, the standard royalty is paid over to the company, which then deducts costs and finally pays me 40% of whatever is left over. My scenario, of course, looks only at book publishing. Selling work to studios and production companies is slightly different and usually entails a once-off amount. But it’s all the same in the end – the company has all its costs covered, keeps the bulk of the proceeds – and the writer ends up feeling thoroughly nailed up the ass.

So how important is it for an author to have his or her own name on the cover of the book? Everything is relative; I’m quite happy to use a pseudonym but I still have the luxury of being able to say that I’m the author.  To not be able to do so would probably suck – unless the money I’m raking in dulled the pain a bit (and I’m not that na├»ve to assume it wouldn’t).

In the end, the writer has to make the decision. It’s his work after all.

So there ends my rant – and yes, I am the author of this article…maybe.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just Gotta Fill That White Space

Having just finished writing the first draft of the second installment in the Vengeful Elements Series, I was feeling pretty good about myself. The labour of love was completed, the words on paper, when a friend posed an interesting question...'What makes you write?'
It took a while to figure out the answer to that one and I'm not sure I've even figured it out properly myself yet.
So, what makes me write?  It is the burning desire to get a story down on paper or is it just a case of being OCD and feeling the urge to balance out an empty space with words?
Personally, I want to entertain. I want the person reading my books to be able to set their world aside for a few hours or a few days and step into my world.
Or maybe it is that good old OCD that keeps my fingers typing and my brain making up stories - filling the white space.

So, what makes you write?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

To Love and (sometimes) Hate Writing

Every writer will probably tell you that there are times when they both love and hate writing...sometimes in equal measure.  While this is most likely true of people in all types of professions, I think it hits writers pretty hard sometimes.  There are those days when everything flows so smoothly; when the world seems to be in perfect order and the words just flow onto the page.  And then there are those other days, when everything seems to go wrong except, oddly enough, the writing.

Those are the days when the coffee gets burnt to the bottom of the pot and you have to waste a precious hour scrubbing the muck; the days when your other half fancies a cooked meal and all you really want to do is shovel a slice of pizza down your throat and carry on writing.  The cat decides he no longer loves you enough to avoid throwing up on any carpeted surface...and the list goes on.

Thankfully I haven't had too many of those days yet - well, except for the cat, although I'm sure he still loves me - but as my desire to write increases I'm sure that there's someone or something capricious enough out there to make sure I see my share.