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Protect Your Rights as an Author

Would you wear your diamond necklace and gold bracelets walking down the street in a bad neighborhood?

Would you say your book manuscript is more precious than gold? Certainly you put more blood, sweat, and tears into it than some crusty old prospector finding gold in the desert, but when you start shopping it around to agents and publishers, you may be venturing into a bad neighborhood. Writer beware.

Most new authors, dewy-eyed innocents as they are, are thrilled that an agent or a publisher is interested in their work. Unless they take the time to learn the business part of writing, they are vulnerable to the shiny baubles offered by the smooth-talking sharks and polished websites of the unscrupulous. Even well-known, reputable publishers may try to sneak in contract provisions detrimental to the author.

I am sometimes appalled at how little authors know about the provisions of their contracts. It’s as if these contracts have nothing to do with them or their work, and yet these contracts could spell disaster. Exorbitant fees, restrictive clauses, and provisions that might doom an author to perpetual loss of income are just a few of the traps for the unwary. Remember the story of Maria von Trappe? She sold all rights to her book on the Trappe Family Singers for $9,000 and never reaped a penny more, despite its transition to the stage and movies as The Sound of Music.

“Writer Beware” is a website resource begun by Victoria Strauss and A.C. Crispin in 1998 to help writers discern the legitimate from the fraudulent. Googling the name will bring up the official site at http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/authors/writer-beware as well as similar sites and blogs. On these sites, you’ll find information about fraudulent practices of agents, such as charging fees, promoting their own editors, blanket submissions, etc. You’ll also find out about deceptive or outrageous practices that an unscrupulous publisher might put over on an unwary but eager author.

Another website resource is http://www.pred-ed.com, which lists agents, publishers, awards, etc., with recommendations—or not—based on their track record.

As an author, you are a self-employed business person. Learn what you need to know to protect your business.

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How Authors Bypass the Barriers

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Outliers, points out that success is often a matter of timing and circumstance rather than effort and ability. This explains to some extent what is happening in the publishing world today.

Agents are swamped with manuscripts from established writers they already handle, while the number of reputable, well-known publishers and bookstores is decreasing. This leaves an impossible situation for an unknown author trying to follow the standard route of acquiring an agent to find a publisher. No matter how good his or her manuscript may be, the sheer numbers of submissions will almost guarantee the return of his query with a curt “Sorry…”, that is, if he hears back from the agent at all. Should he actually catch an agent’s and publisher’s attention, he will wait anxiously at their doors, hat in hand, for at least a meager consideration in the contracts and rights sales.

At the same time, thousands of authors, frustrated at the lack of response from agents and publishers, are self-publishing.

And why not? Self-published authors retain all the rights to their work. They bear all the expense but reap all the profit as well. Many well-known and best-selling books began as self-published books, including A Time to Kill by John Grisham; The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee by Robert van Gulik; The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield; Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen; The Elements of Style by William Strunk & E.B. White; and What Color is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles, to name just a few.

The Internet and Amazon.com mean that every self-published author has access to the consumer marketplace. The brick and mortar bookstores, requiring a distributor or wholesaler for their book purchases, and the libraries, requiring good reviews and a distributor or wholesaler for their book purchases, can be ignored and all marketing efforts directed to the end consumer. Every potential buyer with access to a computer can find and buy the author’s book. This is the true leveler for the self-published author and allows him or her to skip by the many barriers that have defeated self-publishers in the past.

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I’ll be speaking in April at Charlestown Retirement Village, Baltimore, about my book, The 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase. I’m looking for other speaking gigs as well. My second book in the 90s Club series, The 90s Club & the Whispering Statue, is completed and being edited.

High school or college reunion coming up? The 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase is a wryly humourous gift for attendees. Contact me for a 50 percent discount off the cover price for orders of 10 or more. Email: eileenmcintire@aol.com.

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