Writers’ rights with Moral Rights – a quick guide

A reader asked the other week what ‘Moral Right’ meant. It’s an interesting area for writers.

Wright_SydneyNov2011Moral right differs from copyright. You own copyright on anything you create, by default. The copyright holder, alone, has the right to copy the work, but also has the power to grant a license to others to do so. When you sign a publishing contract, you – as copyright holder – are granting them a license to reproduce your material. Usually the copyright holder receives a royalty for each copy sold under that license. However, copyright is transactable – you can sell that copyright, along with the licenses, to somebody else. Then they get the royalties from the sales of the work.

That’s how the Beatles’ back catalogue ended up with Michael Jackson, for instance. It’s also how the film rights for The Hobbit ended up where they did, because apparently Tolkien sold that particular right in 1969 to pay a tax bill.

Moral right is different. The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, issued in 1928,  defines it (article 6) as: “Independent of the author’s economic rights, and even after the transfer of the said rights, the author shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any distortion, modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to the said work, which would be prejudicial to the author’s honor or reputation.”

In other words, you have a right to be associated as author of your work – and a right to object to derogatory presentation of it, even if you’ve sold the copyright or signed a contract in which the copyright is owned by whoever’s commissioned the work.

The thing is, that right has to be actively asserted, which is why you often see the line ‘The author’s moral rights have been asserted’ on the imprint page. Sometimes, it may reflect only partial assertion of that right, and will say so – ‘The author’s moral right to be named as author of this work has been asserted’.

Publishers are well aware of it – which is why many include a clause in contracts stating that a line like this will be on the imprint page. It’s important. Copyright can be sold; moral right cannot, and it is reasonable that authors are not subjected to derogatory presentation of their work, even if it’s reprinted later.

Although most nations have signed, or recognise, the Berne Convention, the specifics of moral right in law differ from country to country.

My advice? I’m not an attorney or lawyer, but I figure asserting moral rights is part of the writing deal. Check out the precise details in your jurisdiction. If in doubt, consult your lawyer on it.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

 

And now, some shameless self promotion: My history of New Zealand, now available as e-book.

Also available on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/nz/book/bateman-illustrated-history/id835233637?mt=11

Buy the print edition here: http://www.batemanpublishing.co.nz/ProductDetail?CategoryId=96&ProductId=1410

The dark secret behind better book sales

People buy books for a lot of reasons. The main one is the emotional response they get from reading. And that’s true of non-fiction as well as fiction.

The way books should be sold, cover out (the best way to display them). I wrote this one...

The way books should be sold in shops, cover out (the best way to display them). I wrote this one…

But that isn’t the only reason. Why buy this book and not that? Why buy at all? A lot of it, it seems to me, flows from word-of-mouth. And that in turn boils down to one factor – discovery.

I would say ‘discovery’ and ‘quality’, but I can’t help thinking that Fifty Shades of Grey rather gives the lie to the notion that ‘quality’ is a factor.

Discovery is everything. Sometimes readers take a punt on an author they know nothing about, but have just stumbled across. But that still demands discovery. If your books aren’t known at all, they won’t sell – which sounds like one of those idiot ipso-facto statements, except it happens to be the biggest hurdle any author faces these days. Discovery. Going from zero to almost-zero.

It’s hard. Social media equips everybody with the same tools. It’s hard to be heard above the ‘noise’.  Everybody’s self-publishing, spamming themselves across Twitter.  Why should a potential reader click on this one – and not another one? Or any of them.

Combine that with the new age of e-convenience – where a lot of book-buyers buy even hard copy books from the comfort of their home PC – and you’ve got a lot of weight riding on whatever internet presence you can scrape up.

Advertising outside that paradigm helps. Sometimes. But that’s hard too. Back in the late 1990s, my books were being advertised on TV, in major print journals – even the Woman’s Weekly (it was a bloke book on engineering – the idea was that wives would buy it for their husbands). But even under that old model it was hard. Publishers back success. An established author will attract a good deal more advertising clout from their publisher than an unknown one.

That, I think, is why J K Rowling’s last ‘Harry Potter’ novel was splashed all over Wellington buses at around $6000 a shot, and my non-fiction history books weren’t.

Can you do anything to tip the odds? Sure. My take:

1. Professionalism counts. Sometimes, that also means paying for professional skills where your own skill set lacks – proof-editing or cover design, for instance.
2. A solid and positive social media presence. You’re an author. Your social media presence is your brand, and it takes a lot of effort to build up. Don’t break it by doing something stupid – like blurting what you really think of Politician X, or ‘flaming’ people, or pulling sock puppet tricks.
3. Actually, despite the way Fifty Shades of Grey burst upon us, quality DOES count.
4. Hard work pays off. No really.

And, of course, there’s always that indefineable – dumb luck. You can set everything up, get everything geared to go – and still, things have to go your way. But that’s life generally, isn’t it.

Thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

 

Shameless self promotion bit: My Bateman Illustrated History of New Zealand is available as e-book from Amazon. Go on, you know you want to …

It’s also available on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/nz/book/bateman-illustrated-history/id835233637?mt=11

Nook coming soon.

Buy the print edition here: http://www.batemanpublishing.co.nz/ProductDetail?CategoryId=96&ProductId=1410

Where now, book publishing?

In 2012, New Zealand domestic book sales contracted 7 percent. In 2013, it was 15. That’s a compound drop, in just two years, of just over 23 percent against 2011 figures.

Spot my title in the middle...

Spot my title in the middle…

Small wonder the big international houses have been fleeing Auckland in droves – or reducing their presence to branches of their Australian office.

The New Zealand experience isn’t unique; there’s been a worldwide downturn in print books. It’s been a ‘perfect storm’, in fact – a combination of reduced discretionary spending on the back of the general financial crisis, coupled with the explosion of e-book readers, mostly in the form of hand-held tablets and phones. Their rise wasn’t entirely coincidental with the downturn – readers didn’t have $500 to fork out annually on books, but they did have $99 for an e-reader and $3 each for the titles that go with it.

For New Zealand, though, the issue was complicated by the implosion, a couple  of years ago, of the Whitcoulls chain. The chain was purchased and has been reconstructed under new ownership – but for a while it looked as if New Zealand might lose a third of its book retail  outlets. That provoked some heavily risk-averse decision making in publishers’ editorial offices; the change was palpable.

On top of that has come the typical Kiwi rush to technology – an explosion of e-readers, coupled with a thoroughly requited love-affair with online shopping. Book retailers here can’t compete with Amazon or The Book Depository – it’s an issue of volume coupled with the fact that overseas purchases don’t attract local sales tax.

One of the casualties has been the old publishing model. The New Zealand market was always miniscule – pushing up the cover price on books and making the overseas sales model always an ill fit anyhow.

Growth, when it comes, is going to have to pivot on the new principles of book publishing and selling – nimbleness, presence through multiple channels – electronic and print – and an ability to adapt quickly. It’s going to demand innovation, lateral thinking, and creativity.

History dead? Not when books like this sell so well.

History dead? Not when books like this sell so well.

It’s a case of the quick or the dead. Anybody remember Kodak?

I’ll blog later on where I think society has gone – and what that means for books, including how they’re published.

As for me? I’ve been told history is dead as a genre here in New Zealand – yet my history of railways sat for three months at No. 3 on the Whitcoulls best seller list last year.

At a time when some publishers are shutting their doors, I’m getting approaches from others wanting me to write for them. I have four titles coming up in the next twelve months.

Still, as far as I am concerned the need for innovation has never been greater. And I think that’s not just true for me – it’s true for all writers. More soon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More writing, publishing, science and other stuff. Watch this space.

Write it now: the twelve steps to traditional publishing

Although traditional publishing is in upheaval these days, there are lessons we can learn from its processes. The new age of e-publishing hasn’t changed the need for quality control – which trad publishing has had down pat for decades.

Part of my list.

Part of my list.

The traditional publishing process breaks down into twelve broad steps. They vary a little from publisher to publisher, but the intent is always the same; quality control. The steps typically go like this:

1. Manuscript (MS) submitted.
2. MS read and confirmed for quality – or returned to the author for amendments.
3. MS sent for proof-editing. Most publishing houses operate a ‘virtual’ editorial process – they’ll have a stable of contractors who are brought in as needed for this work.
4. Proof-edited MS checked back with the author to confirm changes. The author needs to avoid the temptation to re-write at this point (and will likely incur costs if they do – this is built into contracts).
5. MS line-proofed.
6. MS sent for typesetting. Usually the design will be run past the author for comment although most contracts give final say to the publisher.
7. Typeset MS proof-checked by publisher and run past author for final comments.
8. Typeset MS line-proofed.
9. Index usually implemented at this stage (if there is one).
10. Typeset MS checked again and sent for printing.
11. Printer provides proofs (lasers, ozilit or, these days, more usually high-quality inkjet) – these are carefully line-checked.
12. Any amendments implemented – book then printed.

Usually a handful of initial copies are sent before the main delivery – and it’s about this stage that the author finds a typo. Nature of the beast.

The main focus is on change control – on making sure that amendments are contained, and that they’re always proofed. Repeated proofing pays dividends, although in these cost-conscious days, not all the proofing steps are always applied.

Traditional publishing has gone down this track for good reason. It’s quality assurance. It gives a professional edge, and in this age where one of the biggest challenges is discovery, there are lessons therein for self-publishers.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More writing tips, science geekery and more. Watch this space.

Creating your own literary ‘ear worm’ – like Tolkien and Rowling

Ever had a song stuck in your head – usually, the catchy riff or chorus the composer deliberately engineered for the purpose? They’re called ear-worms.

Weta's 10-metre high Gandalf above the Embassy theatre, Courtenay Place, Wellington.

Weta’s 10-metre high Gandalf above the Embassy theatre, Courtenay Place, Wellington, December 2012.

It’s apparently been discovered that the way to kill them – for a third of us anyway – is to listen to Thomas Arne’s eighteenth century ditty God Save The Queen.

Truth be told, I’m not sure that dislodging mental wheelspin with something horrible is a discovery. Back in the 1970s, for instance, Kiwi gentlemen knew that if they became transfixed by posters of the latest glamour pin-up de jour (Farrah Fawcett or, given that New Zealand was still 98.5% British back then, Caroline Munro), all they had to do for instant antidote was glance at a picture of our Prime Minister of the day, Robert Muldoon.

For writers the problem is the exact reverse. We have to figure out how to create a literary earworm – a concept or idea that keys so deeply into popular psyche that it sticks. I hesitate to call it a ‘book worm’. It’s one of the keys to sales.

To my mind the guy who did it – in spades – was J R R Tolkien. Not intentionally. What he was consciously doing with his Middle Earth mythos was creating a new mythology for Britain. And for a long time, nobody noticed – he couldn’t get the Silmarillion published, and Rayner Unwin was dubious about the viability of The Lord Of The Rings. A judgement borne out by dismal early sales figures.

But then something happened. In 1965 – after nearly a decade of bobbing along in mediocre-sales-land – it took off. The break-through came with a guerilla edition produced via copyright loopholes in the US. Tolkien hastened to get an authorised ‘second edition’ pushed into the market. That sold like hotcakes.

But even the pirate edition wouldn’t have taken off if it hadn’t keyed into what society wanted, just then.

Tolkien’s rusticated Hobbit society – and his faerie imagery with Tom Bombadil – harked to ‘Merrie England‘ and, to some extent, the arts-and-crafts movement of the nineteenth century. But by chance it also keyed directly into the values of 1960s counter-culture, which drew from similar inspiration. Mix that with epic-scale setting, the huge operatic scenario of good and evil – imagery that ran to the heart of western culture – and he had a winner.

The Lord of the Rings, in short, became a literary ‘ear-worm’. J K Rowling did much the same thing – using, in this case, classic ‘magic’, blended with much the same epic-scale themes – with Harry Potter.

So that’s how it’s done. The problem is that in both cases, luck played a role. But, as I’ve said before, that’s always part of the calculation.

Have you ever read something that stuck in your mind – that impressed you hugely? And have you ever read a book that’s left you stone cold – the ‘anti-earworm’ of literature?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More writing and publishing tips, science, history and other stuff. Watch this space.

Essential writing skills: mastering word count

Welcome to 2014 and a new year of writing tips – quick essential skill tips on Fridays, longer posts Saturdays, and sometimes other stuff during the week. I’m going to cover a fair number of things in coming weeks and months, including editing techniques and ways to publish.

Where it all began - the newspaper office that gave me my first break as a writer.

Where it all began for me – the newspaper that gave me my first break as a writer. Click to enlarge.

First off – word count. Those who’ve been reading this blog for a while know it’s one of my little hobby horses, and it’s a good way to start 2014 because to me, everything keys from it. Sort of. I’ll explain. As a writer I often bewail the focus these days on word count. Despite the profusion of word-o-meters built into software, it’s not actually a goal or even a measure of completion.

It’s a tool. Editors commission through word count, journalists write to it – and authors, certainly when writing short stories and features – are frequently paid by the word. Publishers contract books on the basis of the word count, because it’s a gauge of scale that allows them to calculate costs. There’s some flexibility in that, but not a lot.

For authors, word count is a tool in a different sense. It’s a way of controlling structure. Any writing – irrespective of scale – must have a proper structure, meaning certain lengths of material in the correct places; and word count is a way to meter the proportions – keeping them under control. If you’re writing a 70,000 word book and the ‘beginning’ billows to a third or more, it’s probably out of whack structurally. And yes, readers will notice. So will editors.

Writing to meet specific word count, in short, is a key skill authors must master – one of the many skills. But it isn’t an end point of itself.

More soon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: Tomorrow,’write it now’; next week – more writing tips, science geekery and more. Watch this space.

Write it now: celebrity book signing sessions

Over the years I’ve done a fair few book signings. You sit in a bookshop or public venue with a pile of books, while people you don’t know – who often put you on a pedestal – queue up to meet…you. And get you to sign a book for them.

Wright_Illustrated History of New Zealand 2Most people I’ve met at these events are friendly, chatty, and welcoming.  Engaging, and I’ve spoken to some interesting and kind people along the way, all of whom have had wonderful stories of their own. I recall one delightful experience, particularly, in which I got chatting with one couple who were very enthusiastic about art deco (as, indeed, am I).

Some authors are cautious about the number of books they sign. I’m not. It’s a personal touch – and that’s great. Sometimes I’ll drop into the local bookstore and sign their stock – which adds sales potential. Signing the book also, I suspect, makes it less likely the store will return it to the publisher under ‘sale or return’ arrangements.

Still, for me these are always nerve-racking moments. Partly because I don’t regard anything I do as special, or that I should be important because of it.

But it’s nerve-racking mainly because I sometimes get asked to inscribe my books, and  I can’t hand-write. Not legibly, anyway.

It’s like this. As a kid, I was left handed, which was why I wrote backwards and upside down in a sea of spattered ink. Alas, despite heroic efforts with every tool at their disposal – humiliation, class ridicule and many ingenious punishments – the teachers were unable to get me to write with the Proper Hand. Thus proving, apparently, what a stupid and worthless child I was. Of course, it could have been that the New Zealand school system was run as a barbaric exercise in conformity, enforced by weak and sadistic bullies who got their personal jollies out of punishing children entrusted to their care. But I digress.

The upshot was that I left primary school with worse hand-writing than I’d gone into it with, and I’ve never bothered trying to fix it. I can read the stuff. But it gets awkward when I fill out forms – assuming I don’t misread the form in the first place. And so when somebody buys one of my books and asks me to inscribe it, I’ll happily sign my name, but I don’t want to mess up their purchase with hand writing.

I remember one time a reader persisted – would I please, please, inscribe a particular phrase. I didn’t want to let them down, I did my best…but there’s no backspace with pen and ink. Sigh.

I did think of getting  a rubber stamp made, but it wouldn’t be the same.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: More writing tips, humour, science posts and – well, you’ll see. Watch this space.

Some of the hard realities of writing

I didn’t do National November Writing Month, though I was happy to cheer from the sidelines. I’ve been writing professionally for decades, it’s thirty years since I wrote my first book for publication, and every month is NaNoWriMo month for me.

The way books should be sold, cover out (the best way to display them). I wrote this one...

The way books should be sold, cover out (the best way to display them). I wrote this one…

Fitting in writing obligations around everything else that has to be done in a day, including sleep, is a perennial challenge all authors have to meet.

It’s getting more challenging as the publishing industry tightens. Not least because quality MUST NOT get compromised for speed. That’s one of the realities of writing. It’s one authors have to know, understand and accept if they’re to get ahead. It’s also true for self-publishers.

Put another way, the age of authors being able to casually rise from their beds at ten thirty, drift across to the typewriter after a leisurely brunch and tap out a few words, then maybe go fishing for the afternoon, are gone. Uh…damn.

The money isn’t in it. Actually, the money was never in it, except for a lucky few.

Trad publishing is getting tight – which means authors have to write smart, and the onus is on more than ever to produce quality in ever-shorter time, to meet a specific commercial market.

Self-publishers are under pressure too. If you write something that works, readers want more – and in that sense the life-cycle of e-books is short. Yes, they’re available forever – but readers always look for something new. Soon. It’s up to the author to provide it.

Everybody, basically, has to learn how to churn out stuff at the same rate as Barbara Cartland. Without compromising quality.

It means working smart, it means working professionally – it means working hard.

It’s a challenge. But I’ve got some pointers as to how to do it. Soon. Who’s in?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: more writing tips, more humour, more science – watch this space.

Seven real rules for writers

It is thirty years this month since I wrote my first book for publication. And after thirty years in the business it’s long been clear to me writing is a hard nosed profession. It’s rewarding. It’s a lot of hard work. But writers also have to be realistic – and tough about the realities.

Part of my list.

Part of my list. These books did not happen by accident.

The reality, especially these days, is that traditional publishing is in upheaval. It’s fighting to stay afloat – which means opportunities for lesser known authors are limited. Meanwhile, everybody and their dog is trying to self-publish via the internet, creating a flood of ‘noise’  that swamps the good stuff. It’s harder than ever to be discovered. Harder than ever to sell

That dictates the approach, and the questions authors have to ask when concocting a book these days have little to do with the art of writing.

When I come up with an idea for a book, I ask these questions – first:

1. What is the target audience? Specifically.

2. Why will they buy this book as opposed to any other?

3. Is anybody else doing the same thing?

4. What point of difference can I make in this book to set it apart?

5. How can I make that point compelling for buyers?

6. Which publisher or agent will look seriously at this idea?

Often I’ll extend that to the practicalities:

7. What price-point and presentation will best work for this book?

Publishers have their own expertise in this field, but it helps to conceptualise the book around the way they think – and publishers don’t necessarily publish because a book is brilliant literature. They publish because it’s going to sell – and questions of packaging, price point, presentation and target audience are the first ones on the list.

This is true for fiction and non-fiction alike. Or for a feature being pitched to a magazine, or a short story. These days, if I can’t answer those questions – and, maybe, get some hard data behind them – then I don’t write the book

What? What, you ask –but surely you write where the muse goes? Yes, writers write because they must – and it’s fun. But if it is to be more than a pastime, more than hobby entertainment with ambitions of publishing, it also has to be run as a professional business, with a bottom line. And that business is getting very difficult these days.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: More about writing, more humour – watch this space

Sixty second writing tips: writing is writing

I often find, while chatting with people via Twitter or my blog, that a ‘writer’ by definition means ‘novellist’. I get asked about progress on my story.

Actually, the majority of the writing I do is non-fiction. Right now, I’m writing a non-fiction biography of a mineral, Dava Sobel style.

I also do a lot of other writing, none of it fiction.

To me it all classes as writing. And I think the onus is on writers to be good at all of it, even if they become adept at a particular kind.

Everything inter-links. Understanding how structure works for one kind of writing, for instance, feeds through into good structure for another. Styles interlink.

Breadth of output lends wisdom, it deepens the writing experience and can help make your own favoured or specialist genre shine.

Your thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013