Category Archives: Copyright

The Craving for Validation Can Really Screw Things Up

Writers–especially new writers–crave validation the way a cat craves catnip. I’ve seen the craving result in a few writers doing some incredibly destructive things from a business perspective. I myself did quite a few stupid things business-wise due to the validation crapola in my head until I learned from much more experienced writers that the crapola was there and that I needed to get rid of it.

Validation is NOT asking “Is this piece of writing any good?”  Validation is all about saying stuff like:

When thus-and-so happens, then will I be a REAL writer.

It’s the part about “then I will be a real writer” that messes writers up in the head. Badly.

Several wise old pros told me, “a real writer is someone who writes, day in and day out,” and I used to be inexperienced and stupid enough to scoff at that saying.  Surely there had to be more to being a “real” writer.

I don’t scoff anymore, because I’ve learned the hard way that there’s a core seed of truth to what those writers said.

A writer writes.

A painter paints.

A singer sings.

A coder codes.

Whenever someone quits doing the action (code, sing, write, etc.) that is the core of their dream, everything grinds to halt in a matter of time. Writers who stop writing will eventually become the topic of “What ever happened to so and so?” among readers.

Also, validation is NOT about setting goals.  It’s fine to have goals.

What I’m talking about here is having a mindset where a writer is totally dependent on a particular thing happening to feel like a “real” writer. This dependency results in neediness that can be manipulated by scammers, and a frantic urgency that results in bad business decisions that can postpone (or even wreck) the ability to make a living as a writer.

For quite a number of writers, “thus-and-so” is “published with a NYC publishing house.” The problem is the “When I am published by a NYC publishing house, then I will be real writer” mindset leads to a neediness that makes it hard for a writer to do the negotiating that needs to be done to get a decent contract.

Here’s something to think about.  These NYC publishing contracts are between a writer and a corporation.  We aren’t talking about two individuals working out a joint partnership here. Those people you meet from the corporation can be really really nice, but at the end of the day it’s the corporation the writer signs with. Editors and CEOs can be fired.

The craving for validation from corporations based in NYC can be used against a writer in contract negotiations. It’s just the nature of business–the writer’s book is a profit-and-loss statement for the corporation. If a writer wants to play doormat, that’s the writer’s problem as far as the corporate entity is concerned. Sometimes an editor will warn a writer if the writer acts too much like a pathetic wuss in negotiations, but for the most part the writer is on his or her own.

The other nasty part of this “NYC publishing house” requirement for being a “real” writer is that all the great middle-sized publishing companies get ignored because one is chasing after a narrow definition of being “real.”  There are some terrific small and middle-sized publishing houses out there, ones that are going to be big publishing houses 15 years from now.

Lastly, the whole mindset of  “when thus-and-so happens, then I’ll be a real writer” also makes it harder to keep morale up. Several old pros have pointed out to me that writing is disheartening enough as it is due to the rejection process; there’s no need to pile more anguish on by setting absurd goals for what is “real” as a writer.

A real writer writes, day in and day out.

Everything else is just a goal to aim for.

Terrific posts by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and David Byrne

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a terrific post this week on the business changes happening at light speed right now, “Writing Like It’s 1999.” Publishing contracts are changing FAST and it’s important to be aware of what is going on if you want to make a living in this industry.

Also, I found out from a comment by LP King on her post, that David Byrne did a great article back in 2007 on changes in the music industry entitled “Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists–and Megastars”. Considering that the music industry technology shift happened about eight years before it started in publishing, this is a terrific article to help get a feel for what might happen or be possible for writers. I made a cup of tea during a work break and read it in one sitting. Great stuff to ponder.

Scrivener’s Error: Blog on Publishing Law

I’ve discovered an amusing website for keeping up with publishing law news.  Lawyer C. E. Petit has a site called Scrivener’s Error where he blogs about many things related to publishing gossip, especially anything involving publishing law.  Well worth reading.

Also, be sure not to miss Petit’s rants about the terrible contract terms being offered to want-to-be-published newbie writers by James Frey’s book packager Full Fathom Five, especially his post on this from November 13th called “The Million-and-First Little Lie.”


For this commentary, I’ll be referring to the 2003 revised version of HOW TO BE YOUR OWN LITERARY AGENT by Richard Curtis.   Curtis is a NYC literary agent who has run his own agency since the 1970s, and been in the publishing industry even longer than that.   He’s also got some experience as a published writer as well.

The main goal of the book is to encourage writers to be more educated about contracts, marketing, what agents do, and the publishing industry as a whole.   He encourages writers to find an agent, but wants them to be able to tell if the agent is doing a good job or not.  And also, he’s aware there are markets (such as small presses), where it may be next to impossible to find a good agent to represent a writer.  So this book tries to fill in a few of the knowledge gaps.

I found the Appendix “Is It a Good Deal?” invaluable.  Here he has a checklist, from an agent’s perspective, of what he considers  a “poor,” “fair,” or “good” deal from a NYC publisher.  Rights granted, advance amounts, royalty rates–it’s all listed.   I would want to double-check with other resources such as Publisher’s Marketplace for more recent data, but the appendix is a handy place to start.

I also found very helpful the chapters where he goes through a publishing contract from an agent’s perspective (i.e. what he looks for). In particular the chapters on “Negotiation,” “The Basic Deal,” “Warranties and Indemnities,” “Permissions,” “The Option Clause,” “Termination and Reversion of Rights,” and “Royalty Statements” made this a book I wanted to buy to put on my reference shelf. Even though much is changing in the publishing industry, some fundamental issues have not.

This book alone is not enough to understand all that goes into a publishing contract, I’d still need to hire a literary attorney or agent to read over any NYC publishing contract I encountered. But now I know what questions to ask and what major pitfalls to watch out for.

Also, throughout the book are tales about the foibles of the publishing industry, which I found fun to read since Curtis has decades of experience to share.

For an excerpt, I’ll share some words of encouragement he wanted to give to writers:

So you mustn’t be discouraged if your first book or books don’t take off into the wild blue yonder….few blockbusters are first books.  Rather, they are the culmination of years of dedication to craft, and a number of flops or indifferent successes….Do what you can to make your book succeed, but after you’ve done all you can, go back and write another, and another after that, and yet another after that.

Cory Doctorow’s Publishing Experiment

Cory Doctorow has offered himself up as a guinea pig to test two areas of hot debate: 1) does offering a work as a free e-book lose or gain the author money in the long run, and 2) would an author make more money on a book by self-publishing or by going with a traditional publisher.

Here’s what he says:

I’m a contrarian on both of these propositions: that I’m losing money by giving away e-books, and that I’m losing money by using a publisher. I have a nice little Goldilocks gig going—not too hot, not too cold, just the right amount of DIY, independent publishing and just the right amount of professional support and administration from my publisher to sell. But I’m as curious about both propositions as anyone. While it’s fun to argue about whose intuition is more correct, I think facts on the ground beat a priori assumptions every time. So I’ve come up with an idea to get some facts in evidence, while making some money and raising a little hell.

So Doctorow’s third collection of short stories With A Little Help will be done using a self-publishing model, and he’s going to keep track of the sales numbers and actually share the data.

Data he’ll be tracking:  Profit & Loss, E-book, Audiobook, Donations to him, Print-on-demand trade paperback, Premium hardcover edition, Commission a new story for the book for $10,000 (already sold), Advertisements, and Donation of books.

He’ll be posting monthly to Publisher’s Weekly.  His first post is here.

Keep an eye out on what happens with this experiment in the next year or two.