HowTo

Words for Writers: Media Kits

If you are a professional actor, writer, or creative of any kind, then you should probably have a media kit, both a hard-copy edition and one that is on your website and available for people to download. It is probably best to keep the digital version in PDF, so it is widely readable on many devices.

I have an entire segment of my website specifically designed to make life for people trying to contact me or my agent, or to write about me, easier. You can see it here. It’s a collection of bare-bones facts and links, and information like bios of various lengths, a list of publications and awards, and professional headshots. Sort of one-stop-shopping for everything-you-need-as-a-person-in-professional-media.

Why do it? It just makes it easier for them, but also for me. I am generally answering requests for interviews , to send along bios, or to send along photos from my smartphone. I have some of that stuff stored on my device, but most of the time it’s easier to say: “All of that is on my website, on the tab marked “media”; it’s all there for you! Please take whatever you want to use.”

It’s also important because it helps build a factual basis of your career for people who are looking for information about you. I have all the dates, award names, and proper titles listed there, too. Because websites like IMDB or Wikipedia can be edited collectively, sometimes the dates and things can get muddied. This is a place where everything is listed, and clear, and I try to make certain to keep it updated with each publication or casting announcement I make.

I also keep a list of most recent announcements on my main website page, so that people/interviewers/researchers can check in and get updated quickly.

So what is a media kit?

A media kit is basically a primer for people who are going to be working with you, and discussing your work with you; kind of a “Me And My Work For Dummies”. It can be a PDF file, or a hard-copy collection of print out pages and promotional items.

It should be updated with each new publication or performance announcement, to reflect a focus on whatever is the most important work for you to push at the time.

How is it (not) used?

Media kits are used to prepare people to be able to speak about you and your work, and discuss it with you, in a short amount of time. They’re generally used by interviews and chat show hosts who may not have time to do a lot of research about you, or as a jumping-off point for people writing profiles, or a host’s research team.

Obviously, in an ideal world, you want anyone who is interviewing you or working with you to have read everything you’ve ever written or seen everything you’ve ever been in. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible, so sometimes you have to help them fake it a bit. That’s the truth of the biz, and they’ll really appreciate the leg up. On top of that, it also lets you control what people focus on when you’re promoting your new work.

Don’t send a media kit in lieu of an actual conversation, or anywhere it’s unsolicited, like to an agent that you’re initially querying or to a producer that you haven’t already been in discussion with. A very simple rule of thumb is to never let the kit speak for you first. Have a conversation, then send the kit when they’ve agreed to have you on/work with you.

Where should I put it?

Media kits should be emailed or hardcopy mailed to any media outlets that are working with, interviewing, or hosting you. This can include: TV hosts/producers, newspaper reporters and interviewers, radio show hosts, chat show hosts, convention organizers, etc.

It should also be available on your website. You may also have a paper copy – I would suggest trying to keep it down to one slim folder. The paper copy has the advantage of being able to tuck bookmarks, short stories, and other promotional materials into it. However, resist the urge to overstuff it and over-saturating your message or confusing the readers. Stick to materials for the most important stuff, like the latest release, or the work that you’ve been invited to particularly discuss.

What goes into a media kit (and it doesn’t have to be ALL of this):

Media release: A press release about your most current project or work, if you have one. If you’re between projects, then you can skip this part or include your most recent release, as long as it’s not terribly out of date. Find out about how to write a press release here.

Sell sheet: No more than one sheet page with the vital information for whatever project you’re pushing. Say, for a book, it should include a include synopsis, cover art, short bio, publisher, ISBN, ordering info. how to get review copies, etc. For a film, this should be the poster, short bios on the filmmaker and leads, production stills, the pitch, how to acquire a screener, and release info.

Bio: A paragraph about you that mentions your most important accomplishments and your basic info. Mine is:

J.M. is an actor SF/F author, fanthropologist and pop culture scholar. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, on radio, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. Her debut novel Triptych was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards and was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2011. www.jmfrey.net | @scifrey

This is generally what also goes in anthologies and on convention websites.

I also have longer versions on my “For Media” page, in case they’d prefer something more in depth. I also have a link to my Wikipedia entry, which I can’t control but seems to be consistently accurate.

Photos: There should be just one headshot, a really professional photo of the caliber you’d want on the dust-flap of your novel, or on your IMDB profile.

I had professional headshots done. It seems like an unnecessary expense when an author shot just needs to be in focus, flattering, and not too cluttered. But having really high-res, quality photos make you look serious about your craft, successful, and most importantly, gives the media outlets lots of appealing material to work with – they’re more likely to publish your picture if it’s of publishable quality. It’s also important that your readers know what you look like so they can find you at events and appearances, or can recognize you as they pass by your table at a convention or when producers welcome you into a studio.

On top of all that, a professional photographer knows all the little tricks to create a really flattering photo, and we all want one of those! I also got a few different looks in my gallery – something casual, something a bit dressy, and some fun things: one with a toy UFO and some with my steampunk goggles to represent the two genres I am writing in at the moment. If my other books ever see the light of day, I will get photos with props for those genres done as well.

I was lucky enough to already have worked with a professional photographer as a model for one of his shows, so I knew I liked his work style and his products, so I knew who to contact. If you don’t know a photographer, ask a local actor’s agent where he send his clients, or contact a local art school to see if there is a student who works in photography who might want to make some cash.

Be prepared to spend $400 on average (photographer’s time, studio rental [with backgrounds and lights], and some photo editing), and spend about 2-4 hours in the studio. You’ll also probably have to do your own hair and makeup, unless the headshot professional includes it in their fee. Don’t get a new haircut the day of, in case you hate it; only go to makeup counters for the free make over if you trust them and have seen their work before. However, do go to your stylist for a great blow-out, and do make an appointment at a makeup counter if you know it will be awesome. You will also have to provide your own wardrobe, so choose solid colours with no logos, flattering cuts, and clean tailoring. Look at yourself from every angle in the clothing – does it give you saggy arm or can you see your bra through it? Be aware that the light will be much brighter in the studio.

Don’t let your clothes muffle you – your face is the most important element of the photo. If your clothes take away from that, instead of framing it prettily, then choose something else.

If possible, make certain that you have pics that are right-click-able so they can actually copy/paste them onto their own websites, etc. Make sure to name the file something like “J.M. Frey Promo Photo 7 by Jane Camera” so both your name and the photographer’s name are attached to the file.

Media pitch/topics talking points – What are the important themes of the work you or pushing, or what concerns and themes run through your whole body of work? What do you want to talk about with this book? What do you think is important to highlight? Where would you feel the conversation would be most interesting and important. Also, what else are you an expert in?

Yes, I am often asked in to talk about my books, but I also get asked to speak about fanthropology, gender and sex in SF/F works and communities, steampunk, Doctor Who, and cosplay. I state that these are my fields of expertise so people can find me if they need celebrity talking heads on those topics.

Interview questions: I don’t often do this, but I know some people provide a list of short questions and answers for the hosts. I do however try to see the questions list before I got in, so I have a basic idea of where the conversation is heading. This way I don’t waste precious time thinking about my answers or “ummm” and “uhhh”ing. It also helps you to rehearse little sound bites.

Business card, bookmarks, brochure, postcards, and other promo items, including DVD or Book , if it’s a physical kit.Send a digital file of the book or the film if it’s requested and safe.

Reviews: No more than one page, and preferably about the most recent work and by important people in your field. I try to have at least one great short review attached to each book. Short articles you’ve written, other short articles about you, or a link to an archive of said articles.

Notable previous appearances.

Excerpt or sample chapters (if applicable)

Social Media links

Contact information for you and your agent, press manager, etc.

TL;DR: Basically write 4-6 pages on how awesome you are, and the basic facts of your career, with reviews and contact information.

For those who are curious, here’s my most recent digital media kit.

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For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: Media Kits
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Words for Writers: Asexual Characters

I got a question via my Tumblr page about writing asexual characters and loves stories.

Warning! Frank discussions of sex and sexuality below!

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EDIT: Apparently I have to make this more clear. No, I am not asexual. No, I don’t know anyone who has self-identified (at least to me) as asexual. No, I don’t hate or fetishize asexuals.  No, I don’t worship Dan Savage; I admire his work and as we all know, all work is inherently problematic. I just included his definition of “GGG” because I feel that it is a good concept to promote.

Yes, I tried my best based on what research and knowledge I have about being asexual. Yes, I am happy to hear from readers about corrections or additions to the information. Yes, I am willing to learn more about the topic, and to help educate my readers as well. Yes, I invite you to write a response to this Nonnie if you feel that you can answer the question, as well. If you fee that you have an excellent, accurate, and more comprehensive information source for Nonnie, then by all means, please, link it. All of us writers would appreciate it.

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Big question! Before we get into the answer, a quick primer for readers who might not be familliar with some of the terms I’ll be using on gender, sexual, and romantic orientation:

 

Gender = the performance of sexual identity, either male or female, which includes conforming to societal norms, expectations, and modes of self-expression for said gender. (i.e. Boys play sports and Girls play House)

 

Gender Queer = the performance of a sexual identity that is neither all-male or all-female. Usually a mix of gender norms, expectations, and modes of self-expression.

Non-Gendered = the performance of no gender identity at all, or in specific.

 

Biological sex= presents the genitals of a Male, Female, or a biological combination of either.  “The plumbing”.

 

Genitals=/=Gender: For example, a biological-male human may not identify gender-male. Just because one’s bits fall into one box, doesn’t mean their mind does too.

 

Sexual= enjoys the physical act of sex, either with participant(s), or solo stimulation. Desires to have sex and derives satisfaction from sex.

 

Heterosexual= enjoys/prefers sex with participants of the opposite gender and/or biological sex

 

Homosexual= enjoys/prefers sex with participants of the same gender and/or biological sex

 

Bisexual= enjoys/prefers sex with participants of either gender and/or biological sex

 

Pansexual= enjoys sex with participants of any or all genders and/or biological sexes, etc.

 

Demisexual = enjoys/prefers sex with participants only after they’ve established a romantic/emotional/intellectual connection with the other participant(s). Uninterested in, or unable to achieve physical satisfaction from strangers or casual acquaintances. (Literally can’t do one-night stands)

 

Asexual= EDIT (from a submitter): “It is a lack of sexual attraction. It’s about attraction, not behaviour.” Which, I think translates as: Does not experience sexual attraction. Emotionally and intellectually does not enjoy, derives no satisfaction from, or has no interest in the physical act of sex.

This does not mean that sex disgusts or frightens an asexual, just that they have no desire (mentally, emotionally, physically, or a combination of all three) to engage in sex. This also does not mean that they won’t participate in sex at all; some asexuals may choose to engage in some sexual acts with a sexually active partner, because they enjoy the emotional/physical/mental closeness, and/or because they want to be Generous, Giving, and Game. That all depends on your character.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savage_Love#GGG)

 

Grey Ace=Enjoys, desires, and derives satisfaction from some specific aspects of sexual/romantic activity, but not to the extent of a sexual person.

 

Romantic= the non-physical/sexual part of a relationship. Emotional connection, admiration, affection. Love.

 

Heteroromantic= falls in love, and desires and derives emotional/mental satisfaction from being in love with someone of the opposite gender.

 

Homoromantic= falls in love, and desires and derives emotional/mental satisfaction from being in love with someone of the same gender.

 

Biromantic= falls in love, and desires and derives emotional/mental satisfaction from being in love with someone of the either gender.

 

Panromantic= falls in love, and desires and derives emotional/mental satisfaction from being in love with someone of any and all genders/mixes of genders/ non-genders.

 

Aromantic= does not, cannot, or chooses not to fall in love/ express romantic feelings or romantic affection for another person. It’s possible to still want a relationship or connection with another human being while being aromantic. There can be extremely close friendships, marriages, co-parenting, etc.

 

Notes: Being asexual and/or aromantic does not mean that a person definitively has no desire to be a parent, or to be without very close friends or family.

 

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I don’t know, and I can’t speak for every asexual person, but I assume that someone who is asexual and/or aromantic has the same desires to be close to the person emotionally and physically, to touch, etc. Affection is a universal desire in human animals, and people who do not respond/enjoy sexual stimulus probably still want emotional connection to other people, to be wanted and desired (even if it’s as a friend or family member), to be touched and praised, to be loved and cherished. Obviously the level of the desired contact, and the type of contact (mental, physical, and emotional) will vary by person, and each will have their own levels of comfort, and it will never be a clear cut mix of what, with whom, and how much.

 

Asexual/aromantic people are not cold fish or androids. They are still human beings, in all our three dimensional, emotionally messy, complicated glory. Someone can be both asexual and homoromantic, or a demisexual grey ace, or any glorious rainbow-saturated mix of all of the above.

 

So, the quick and dirty answer to your question is – write the romance and the character no differently than you would write it for a character of any other sexual/romantic orientation.

 

Write it exactly like a regular romance (hetero, homo, bi, or pan) except any and all sexytimes and any physical displays of affection would require Explicit Relationship Negotiation between both parties.  This could be a great character-building moment of dialogue and action, and the lack/misunderstanding of explicit negotiation could offer further moments for plot and character growth. Just… be aware of the Rape As Backstory and Forgiving Sexual Assault tropes. Remember, a non-heteronormative pairing doesn’t excuse sloppy storytelling and poor wordcrafting.

 

Unless they already know that your asexual character is such, the non-A partner would probably expect that there will eventually be physical contact and sexytimes, as with any other relationship. As their partner becomes more comfortable with them, and levels of consent are achieved, the romance will involve more sexual acts.

 

(S)he will probably expect to be allowed to hold hands, then progress to linking arms, to hands in back pockets and on the small of backs, leaning against one another on the sofa, outright cuddles on the sofa, being an octopus on the sofa, then kissing, then full-on-snogging, then bases 1 through 3, mutual masturbation, to oral sex, and accumulating in penetrative sex and happy happy orgasms for all!

 

(EDIT: Of course ALL relationships require consent and boundary negotiation at EVERY level of intimacy.

Nonnie was asking specifically about asexual relationships, so I highlighted the ways asexual relationships may need conversations about boundaries and permissions specifically. But of course all relationships of all kinds, featuring all orientations and genders should be filled with such conversations.

And yes, one can never generalize that for ALL people of a certain orientation absolutely follow a definition or categorization or stereotype. It’s a good place to start when developing a character, but of course the character has to be as wonderfully complicated and full of contradictions, preferences, quirks, traumas, scars, desires, and joys as real people.)

 

 

However, at some point in this process, your asexual character will become uncomfortable, the contact will become undesired, and they will not grant their consent to their partner. It’s possible they might “go all the way”, in order to be GGG – but there would probably be a lack of physical sexual enjoyment. This may exhibit as a still-flaccid penis, lack of vaginal lubrication, nipples not peaking, etc.

 

That’s not to say it was terrible or a sacrifice. It’s possible the asexual character found the encounter emotionally satisfactory even if they didn’t achieve any sexual satisfaction or a climax of any sort.

 

And how would the non-A partner feel about that? Hurt? Undesirable? Grateful that their A-partner is willing to push their comfort zones to give them sexual satisfaction? Content with the emotional/romantic satisfaction and willing to have a more sparse/non-existent sex life?

 

How do they negotiate this reality of their relationship? Is the sexual partner allowed to seek sexual, but not emotional fulfilment, elsewhere outside the relationship? Does the A-partner agree to give blowjobs or hand/footjobs? Will the sexual partner frot against the A-partner when (s)he gives him/her a massage? Is it a lot of cuddling and masturbation?

 

My best suggestion would be this: figure out your asexual character’s romantic inclination, and sexual inclination. Then decide on their romantic and sexual limits. Decide where the line is drawn for them, and why. Figure out whom they form romantic/emotional connections to, and why, and how they show it. Figure out where they say “no, stop” and where they do not give consent. Figure out how they react to another person’s romantic/sexual attention, and what they are willing to experiment with or be GGG about.

 

With that done, now you have a full understanding of how your asexual character can and will react in romantic/sexual situations with your sexual character, whether (s)he is the pursuer or the pursued.  And once you’ve fleshed out your sexual partner, you’ll also know how (s)he will react when they are asked to change what they’re doing/stop/go not further/understand that their partner is Ace.

 

From there, I’d say go about establishing the relationship the same way you would any other well written romance.

Best of luck!

(And if anyone would like to offer a correction/addition/addendum to anything above, please do so! I’m no expert, I can only explain things as I best understand them.)

EDIT: Further Resources

Asexuality on Reddit

The Asexual Visibility and Education Network

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For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

 

 

JM FreyWords for Writers: Asexual Characters
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Words for Writers: Publishing Sans Agent

I had a great email from someone asking for advice about signing a publishing deal with an indie publisher with no agent.  She was directed to me by a fellow writer because I did the same when I first published – Dragon Moon Press picked up Triptych, and I had no agent at the time.

With her permission, I’m posting my answers here because I think that it could be helpful to my readers.

First, I asked her who the publisher was and how she had submitted her manuscript. She gave me the name, and I looked them up and with some research found them to be a fairly reliable, fairly professional indie publisher of mainly ebooks.

About how and why she submitted to this publisher, she said:

“I am a member of Critique Circle, a writing workshop website and I noticed a fellow writer listed them as publishing one of her stories so I looked them up and submitted one of mine. I am a total newbie and while I am super excited I don’t want to go into this thinking rainbows and lollipops, right?! I just don’t want to do something wrong because I didn’t investigate first.”

My reply:

You’re very welcome.

From what I’ve gathered from the publisher’s site, they do what they say they’re going to do. They’ll publish your book.

Whether you want to publish with a publisher their size is entirely up to you. (I have – I published a novella with Double Dragon Books here in Toronto.) There are pros and cons to going with a publisher this size:

Pros: They’ll pay very good attention to you because there’s few of you authors to juggle, it’s a high royalty, and they probably have a loyal fan base already. They’ve got a publication schedule, they’re visible on FB, Twitter, and on their site. And they’ve probably worked with new authors a lot.

Cons: They’re small market. Now, that doesn’t mean amateur or crappy, just that they’re small and mostly online. That means that probably almost all the marketing will be up to you to do, and that your book will probably not be carried by any book store outside of special request. It will not be ordered for any libraries unless you donate a copy to your local (as I’ve done, and I recommend highly). As long as you take an extremely realistic look at this, it’s not a bad option.

[They indie publisher in question] seems forthright and honest, but I would always talk to other authors who are published with them to see if they are happy with their experience.

In the end if you read the contract and you are uncomfortable or unhappy, listen to your instincts or talk to fellow published authors about the sections you are unhappy with to see how they compare.

And as always, do your research.

As for not having an agent:  agents are great for getting you access to publishers who require submissions to come from representation. Publishers employ gatekeeping tactics like this because they just get so much stuff and they need help weeding the suitable projects out.  Agents are great for knowing the legal hoo-doo surrounding contracts and being able to get you the best deals, or being able to explain things to you that you don’t understand, or making sure your rights are upheld and protected. Agents are great for having the networking contacts and hob-nobbing skills needed to get your books to the right publishers, in the right magazines, included in the right blog tours and signing events, etc. Agents work in tandem with foreign rights and film agents, help arrange appearances and big marketing drives, etc. And most importantly, your agent will be your partner in your career, your advocate, your best and most trusted beta reader, and will help you decide what projects to focus on, will let you bounce ideas off them, and will make sure that your work is the best it can be.

If [the indie publisher in question] was a big-time super-corporate over-the-top-legalesse publisher, then I would encourage you to get an agent before agreeing to publish with them.

However, as this is indie press that is mainly online, I think you’re fine without one. The contract should be straightforward and easy to read, and as the drives around it will be smallish, you should be able to handle it all yourself.

At the same time, I would encourage you to read your contract very carefully and very thoroughly and know exactly what you’re agreeing to.  This is not meant to scare you; this is so that you are clear of the agreement you’re making and to be certain that you’re stepping into it with knowledge.

There were some questions that I had when I published indie, so I will tell you the answers in advance, in case you’re thinking of them right now:

In a small press, this is usually how Who-Does-What is divided up:

Publisher:

  • Provide an editor (either just copy/typos, or a full substantial editor, depending on the publisher) to work with you on polishing the book or fixing more substantive concerns if they exist.
  • Turn the manuscript into a “book” – i.e. register for the ISBN, typeset, etc.
  • Engage and work with a cover designer/artist. (You may or may not be asked for your opinion/ideas for this – usually the cover is ultimately out of the writer’s hands, so be prepared to not be involved. That said, it’s rare that they won’t ask your opinion, though.)
  • Work with you to create the back cover copy.
  • Publish the book.
  • Advertise the book on their site, in their newsletter, and through their regular channels, blogs, and sites. If they do it, they would also submit the book to their regular review channels (Publisher’s Weekly, a regular blog, etc.)
  • Make the book available for purchase at a variety of online stores, including their own. They may also put it up on Goodreads.
  • Provide books to you at the special author’s rate on your request.

Author:

  • Work with the editor to create and provide a clean and polished manuscript for the publisher to turn into a book.
  • Any and all other marketing outside of what the publisher usually does including: having a launch party (and paying for it), booking appearances at conventions (until you’re super famous and you have a PA and people are inviting you), getting any marketing materials (bookmarks, postcards, etc.) designed and printed, building and maintaining your website and social media networks, booking appearances at libraries, community centres, etc.
  • Buy boxes of books at the special author rate for resale at conventions, or to friends and family, or consignment to local book stores
  • Answering interview questions or participating in any marketing the publisher may have set up; setting up interviews with your local library, papers, schools, etc.
  • Research and submit the book for review with other bloggers or reviewers that the publisher may not have.
  • Set up Amazon author profile, make sure books are tagged properly, and maintain the book’s profile page once it’s up.
  • Possibly submit and maintain the Goodreads page as well, if the publisher hasn’t done it.

Both (together) usually:

  • Discuss and decide if the book should be submitted for awards or reviews, and where, and who will pay for what. Sometimes the publisher doesn’t have the budget to submit to awards with an entry fee (my publisher and I have each paid for roughly half of my submissions).
  • Discuss and solicit reviews from which to pull a front-cover blurb for the book.

It sounds scary, but with a checklist, it’s not so bad. As I said above, I’ve published two books sans agent.

The first was with Dragon Moon Press. I was querying small press publishers and agents simultaneously with that MS, and DMP said yes before any agents did. I talked over the contract with the acquiring editor, and also had a published friend look over it as well, and was comfortable signing it without an agent.

The editor and I both worked very hard on polishing and pushing the novel and it was rewarding for me. I enjoyed having so much control with the marketing, but decided that I wouldn’t do a second book with DMP because I was still interested in going bigger with the next project. And it is always possible that I may write another book that’s just perfect for and indie SF/F publisher like DMP and might approach them with it in the future. I’ve also stayed connected with them by publishing some short stories in their anthologies. They’re fantastic folk.

My review on Triptych from Publisher’s Weekly was what attracted my first agent to me. He contacted me and asked if I was seeking representation. I was very pleased with my experience with DMP, and they’re very supportive, but their marketing budget is not comparable to a larger publisher, understandably, and I had put quite a bit of my own money into making my novel visible. I am trying to make a career of writing, so I need to graduate slowly to bigger and bigger presses with their own marketing budgets, and put less of my money into marketing if this is going to be a viable income-earner.

Thus, I needed an agent. So, after a few rounds of phone calls with him and some other agents who had another of my manuscripts for consideration, I narrowed it down and accepted him as my agent.

(Since then I have switched to a different agent, simply because we work together creatively in a better capacity, and we have a better rapport than I had with the old agent).

If he hadn’t contacted me and offered, I was going to continue querying agents with my next project, explaining that I had one book out with an indie publisher that had done quite well critically, and that I was looking for an agent for my next MS to up my game.

The second sans-agent book I published – The Dark Side of the Glass – was with Double Dragon which is very similar, from what I can tell, to [the indie press in question]. That is – they published it, made it available online and in a print-on-demand store, and I email them to buy boxes of books at the author’s special rate.

Otherwise neither of us have done much more for the book – the marketing is 100% up to me with DD (beyond them just putting up on the store and making it available for purchase) , and I’ve sort of left this one to be a world of mouth book. I’m too broke to put any marketing behind it right now. It has been a satisfactory experience with DD, too (even though the first editor I was assigned and I did not get along at all); I just don’t have the resources to push the book as much as I’d like. But I do bring it with me anywhere I am going to sell my books.

I hope all this info has been helpful, instead of overwhelming or harshly realistic.

The summary is this:

If you are comfortable with reading and following the contract on your own, I don’t see why you can’t indie publish your story without an agent. However, if [the indie publisher in question] is not the size of publisher you’re hoping to land with this manuscript, then perhaps beginning to query agents or bigger indie publishers is the better option.

I can’t tell you want the first step of your career should be, but the fact that someone has offered to publish you is fantastic, and I offer my sincere congratulations!

It’s a hard choice for you, and I’m sorry I can’t do more to make it easier.

Agents, as far as I can tell, actually do like it when you can prove that you can follow through – and successfully publishing a novel with an indie publisher and being totally professional and baddass about marketing it is a great way to show that you can swing when you’re up to the plate. I think they may be much more inclined to consider your second project if your first is already out and is totally pro.

(Same way you should always mention in your query letters if you’ve completed a thesis; those things are way more complicated and difficult to finish than a book, IMHO!)

Feel free to ask any more questions.

–J.M.

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For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

 

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Words for Writers: Protecting Your Work

Words for Writers: Protecting Your Work

More Q & A Time based on some questions I’ve gotten recently.

Before I dive into this topic, I want to clear up a pair of definitions, which are very important for you as a writer to know.

Intellectual Property – (I often refer to this as an IP below) – This is the idea that you own. It is the world, the characters, the concepts, the narrative that you created. IPs are intangible in essence, but can be written down as a Manuscript, a Screenplay, a invention design, etc.

Book – A book is the product that the publisher (either a traditional publisher or you, as your own self-publisher) creates using your Intellectual Property. A book is a physical or electronic thing that is bought and sold, and has things like a cover, images, and typesetting. The content of the book is your IP.

So for example: I own the characters Basil Grey, Gwen Pierson and Kalp, and the concepts of an Aglunate and Unit, and the particular world narrative that I wrote; and Dragon Moon Press is the publisher of the book Triptych.

 DMP does not own the IP but does have the exclusive contractual right to publish books and ebooks of Triptych, as per the agreement we signed together.

If for some reason DMP decides it doesn’t want to publish Triptych any more, or I decide to part ways from them, then the IP goes with me and they have no permission to publish Triptych any longer, in any format, including a new one. However, I have no rights to say what they do with those copies of Triptych that already exist.

Simply put: The IP is mine; the book is theirs.

Also, before we get into this topic, you might want to swing by Gabrielle Harbowy’s blog post on TRUST ISSUES, which is a great primer. Alright, ready to go? Let’s dive in!

Right, on to the frequently asked questions!

 Q: How can I copyright my work?

The Government of Canada website says this about copyright:

“The general rule is that the author/creator is the first owner of copyright, subject to any agreement between parties that states otherwise. The owner can give, assign, or license copyright in parts or in its entirety. There are special rules for works created by employees that vest copyright in the employer, and for commissioned photographs, portraits or engravings that vests copyright in the person commissioning the work as long as the creator is paid for the work.”

In short: the minute you write it down, you own it. Unless you sell the intellectual property in its entirety ad infinitum. (I can’t recommend or not recommend selling your IP – this has to be a personal choice.)

Q: Yeah, but if I want to be really sure?

  1. Registered Mail: print your manuscript, package it up, take it to the post office and mail it to yourself via registered mail. Do NOT open it when it arrives, and put it in storage until such a time that you need to produce the package before a judge/court/legal council to prove the authenticity of your draft. The date on the package and the fact that it is unsealed means that whatever is inside existed on the mailing date. They will then open the package and review the content and compare it to whatever it is that is challenging your IP’s age, authenticity, and originality.
  2. Keep sequential drafts in your hard drive and on an external drive and make sure your copy of your writing software is legally registered to your name and address, in case someone needs to verify the fingerprint details of the documents. Always back this chain of drafts up with an external hard drive or a cloud drive, or a thumb drive, etc. (I do all three because I’m a paranoid bastard and my computer has a history of garbling files).
  3. Use the Writers Guild of Canada registry bank, or any similar registry run by a creative guild or union in your country. (A word of warning: this may cost money! Be prepared to pay an archival fee, and possibly an annual fee to keep it archived on top of that.) Each archival bank will have its own rules, so read them carefully.

 

Q: What about registering an ISBN Number?

ISBN (definition) numbers are assigned to individual books when the books are ready to become products that a consumer can buy. Both ebooks and print books have ISBN numbers.

ISBN numbers are for books, not IPs.

If you are going the traditional publishing route, your publisher will take care of acquiring and assigning an ISBN number to your book. You don’t need to worry about that in advance.

If you are self-pubbing, you can read about getting an ISBN number here.

Q: I heard that you can get zillions of dollars just thinking up ideas and selling them.

Some people do. Usually because they have gigantic names and can command that kind of fee. If you don’t have a gigantic name, a high powered agent, and command that kind of fee, please rethink your expectations.

Generally, if you are a new name, agents and publishers will only look at work that’s already complete. You need to prove that you can not only have awesome ideas, but that you can follow through and complete them, and actually write well.

Most people are so busy thinking up their own ideas that they have no time or desire to develop yours. And most people don’t buy a half-finished project. So you’d spend your time better writing your own ideas than trying to sell them with no work to show for it.

Q: What if someone options my book for a film?

This is a bit complicated. Technically speaking, if we’re going to talk nitty gritty economics of who owns what, when, it goes like this*:

i.      You write a book and therefore you own the Intellectual Property/Copyright

ii.      You lease that IP to a publisher on the agreement that they will make it into a book and sell it (this may or may not include clauses for foreign rights versions, alternate print runs and covers, audio books, merchandise, etc.)

iii.      The publisher pays for the right to lease the IP by giving you a cut of the sales (i.e. your royalties). If there’s merchandise based on your IP (example: teeshirts, posters, etc), then your agent may be able to bargain for a percentage of that, as well. But that depends on you/your agent/the publisher/etc.

iv.      Said lease may be in ad infinitum (meaning, forever) or for a set number of years, or until either of you invoke your Sunset Clause and renege on the deal (usually only done if the author is a complete harridan and bruises the publisher’s business, or if the author and agent agree that the publisher is no longer a fit for the book). There are all sorts of other clauses and subsets in here, so don’t take this as law.

v.      Right, so then you have a book out. And someone somewhere with some pull reads it (or reads about it) and decides they’d like to make a film out of it.

vi.      A production company approaches you/your agent/your publisher to obtain the permission to make a single film/TV series/radio drama/whatever.

vii.      You still own the IP.

viii.      The production company goes into talks with your agent/your publisher.

ix.      The production company leases the IP from you for the right to make an audio-visual production of your IP. Usually there’s an agreement with the publisher as well for cross promotion/optioning rights/etc. but as I’ve never seen that side of it, I’m not certain which way the money crisscrosses, or what sorts of deals the publisher and production company make with one another.

x.      You get an optioning fee from the production company for the right to lease your IP and make the production. Your agent/publisher might also work into your deal a percentage of box office/green-lighting fee/merchandise/ etc. They may also work into your contract the option to write the screenplay or work with the writer(s) as a co-writer or a consultant.

xi.      Generally, for every year that the production company holds a reserve on your IP, you get an optioning fee up until the project is green-lit. After the project is green-lit (that is, production officially begins), you will not receive another option fee. Sometimes instead of doing a yearly optioning fee, you may get a lump-sum and will sign a contract saying that you’re okay with that. As long as the production company wishes to hold the option to make the production, they can do as long as they pay you your fee. This means that they could hold it for decades and never make a production from it, and that is their choice. It’s legally allowable as long as they keep paying your optioning fee (though it can be frustrating for writers!) Sometimes there’s a times-up clause added to contracts stipulating that the option expires if a production isn’t made after a certain number of years. There is a very good reason for all this waiting – producers have to find the money to make the film and cannot be worried about you wandering away with the IP while they’re hitting up investors and granting agencies. They pay you to reserve the lease on the IP so they can have the time to get their team together.

xii.      THUS – your ownership of your IP is still forever your own, unless you sell it to the publisher/production company. HOWEVER, the production company/publisher ALSO has the right to copyright anything they make up/add to the IP. For example, J.K. Rowling owns the IP for Harry Potter, but Warner Brothers owns the visual representation of Harry Potter (i.e. pictures/videos/dolls/games/etc. of Daniel Radcliffe while he’s playing Harry Potter. I assume that Mr. Radcliffe gets a cut of those profits for leasing his image to WB).

 *This is based on what I’ve learned reading guild and union websites, my own contracts, and chatting with authors who’ve had their work optioned/producers who’ve optioned work. This may not be the exact path or reality for everyone. Always, always consult with your agent. Also, I might have misunderstood and therefore misrepresented some facts – in which case, please feel free to correct me so I can make this more accurate!

 

Q: Is some editor or agent going to steal my ideas or my work when I submit to them?

This is the number one question I get. Thing is, if an editor or publisher likes your idea, they’ll SIGN it, not STEAL it.

Editors and agents only make money when you, their author, makes money i.e. when your book is published and that book sells. Their job is to make their clients/authors money. They won’t ever make any money if it gets out that they’ve stolen someone’s ideas – they will be blacklisted and boycotted and will never work again.

Thus, it’d be pretty damn stupid for them to steal your ideas, wouldn’t it?  They are in the business of publishing books, not stealing them. So no, I wouldn’t worry about some editor or agent stealing your ideas or work.

That said, always faithfully and thoroughly research the publishers, editors, and agents you’re querying. If their vibe is off, don’t do it. If there are websites warning you off these people, don’t do it. If they ask for a fee up front, be wary. When in doubt, email some of their other clients and ask if they’re happy.

There are organizations that certify and verify agents/editors. You can look into them and see if your agent/editor of choice is on that list, if you so desire.

Q: What if I get plagiarized?

Take a deep breath. Contact your agent. They have solicitors on staff or are trained themselves to handle this. Be prepared to offer up proof – your drafts chain, that registered mail package, or print copies of earlier drafts that show the organic progress of your work. If you have no agent, inquire with author folks about entertainment lawyers they know and recommend.

Do NOT attack the person you think plagiarized you. Do NOT immediately contact the author you think plagiarized you, nor their editor, agent, or publisher.

Build your case of proof and follow the advice of legal counsel.

Be sure that you really HAVE been plagiarized before you ask for someone to look into it. Be aware that a zeitgeist can cause many similar novels to come out at the same time, or that someone might have just randomly had an idea like yours, or had been inspired by the same thing that inspired you, etc. It has to be quite specific for it to be plagiarism – the lifting wholesale of passages, or concepts, or characters. Read this definition of plagiarism for more details.

Also, book titles aren’t copyrightable unless they’re really super specific. For example: There were three different books named Triptych that came out the same year as mine did; there is a famous Karen Slaughter book by the same name that I was unaware already existed when I named my novel; there is a film of the same name coming out in the next few years. But we can’t sue each other because the stories, covers, genres, and narratives/plots/characters are all very different.

However, if I were to write a book about a young witch named Karry Rotter and talked about how she goes to Magic Day Care, then I’d be infringing on Rowling’s copyright as it’s clear that I’m deliberately recalling and imitating her work. Unless it’s satire.

Parody, satire, and transformative works (fanfic, mashups, social commentary, etc.) are protected by Fair Use laws. Read up on that if you’re uncertain what all of that means.

Some authors endorse fanworks (I do! I do!) Some choose not to comment on fanworks, and some actually ask fans to not create fanworks for personal or legal reasons – please be aware of who does and doesn’t endorse fanwork if you are choosing to do a fanwork based on their IP and be aware that you could be delivered a Cease & Desist if you disregard an author’s posted preference.

Q: Are print zines and collections more reputable than online ones?

One medium is not inherently more trustworthy than the other. It’s the people behind the publishing company you should be evaluating.

All I can say is “do your research”. Read up on them, check what some of their other published authors say about them, etc.

Q: Should I have to pay for reviews or to enter contests?

Generally speaking, money should always flow towards the writer. (Even when there are diversions in the stream to make sure your agent/editor gets their hard-earned percentage).

Some contests or review sites have fees to enter your work – this is usually just to offset admin costs, or the cost of mailing your books out. Read the fine print very, very carefully and see if it’s worth it. Ask friends or other writers who may have experience with that group to see if they think it’s legit. If you don’t know, email the contest/reviewers and ask them to please break down the fee you pay, and where the money goes.

In the end, if it gives you the wibbles, don’t do it.

 Q: How do I know who isn’t good to submit to?

Check out Preditors and Editors; read write ups on publishers/editors/agents on Absolute Write, DuoTrope (pay) and similar sitesMSFV, etc.; talk to or email clients/authors who have worked with those people before and ask if they’d recommend them; etc.

In the end, my biggest piece of advice is

do your homework.

 

Does anyone have any other sites they use to register their work, or research agents/editors/publishers websites or books that they’d like to share?

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For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

 

JM FreyWords for Writers: Protecting Your Work
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