Authors and publishers alike are more concerned than ever about protecting their material from those who would steal it and attempt to peddle it as their own. But this whole problem goes way beyond that. Today, we have to keep a close eye on the Internet, negotiate publishing contracts even for magazines, steer clear of unethical agents, often fight for payment or the return of our manuscripts—to name just a few. I don’t want to give the impression that it’s a minefield out there, but the professional author must both understand and be able to fight for his or her rights. This blog is being written to help you do just that.
I have been threatening to write about this for years, but it wasn’t until I sat down and started laying it out that I realized how much more I needed to include than I had originally planned. My intention is to both make you aware of the potential problems and also provide enough information that you can respond professionally and appropriately in almost any situation you come up against in your dealings with agents, editors, publishers, and even other authors. Some topics covered here may not be what you expected, but they are included because they relate to ethical/unethical situations in which writers may find themselves. In those parts we will focus on the problem situations or possible rights violations to look out for.
After years of working with writers, teaching classes on copyright law, and answering specific questions dealing with rights and permissions, I am well aware of what kinds of questions and problems typically plague writers. This blog is written to meet those specific needs without making you wade through a lot of extraneous material.
I would suggest that you read through this material at least once a year for general background information and to increase your knowledge in these important areas, so you will be better prepared to defend your rights. Then also use it for reference when specific problems or questions come up.
In all my years experience as a writer and working with writers, one of my biggest frustrations has been in watching writers who were so ignorant of their rights that they let editors/publishers take advantage of them, or were so afraid of losing a contract that they were willing to accept any terms or treatment. The result of such ignorance or unwillingness to act has had a profound affect on writers everywhere. Publishers and agents are not going to change their policies unless the majority of the writers they work with let them know that slow response times, unfair contracts, late or ignored payments, and reusing material (print or electronic) without payment or credit are not acceptable. Together we can accomplish much more than we can do individually.
Tomorrow come back for the help you’ll need to recognize the problems and to act in a way that will protect your rights and the rights of your fellow writers.