Friday, May 02, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- WEbook Update

My recent post about collaborative writing website WEbook identified some significant concerns about its Terms of Use. A comment on that post from a WEbook staffer indicated that the TOU were about to be revamped.

Yesterday, WEbook members received a chirpy email announcement:

WEbook aims to be the best place for new and experienced authors to publish. To make that a no-brainer, today we posted our revised Terms of Use. In between the requisite lawyer stuff, you’ll find that authors and contributors now share 50/50 in the profits of published WEbooks. And there’s more. Write and receive reactions on anything you wish at WEbook without giving up any rights to your creative genius. If your work is picked by the community for publishing, you’ll have the choice. With WEbook’s platform, engaged community, and industry-leading royalties, we hope the choice will be simple.

That stuff about killing all the lawyers? Maybe we can let some of ‘em live.


The new TOU is here. For comparison, the old version is still available.

What has changed:

- Royalties are better. Before, WEbook paid royalties of 5% of net, allocated in truly byzantine fashion among collaborators, contributors, and non-authors who provided feedback.

The allocations process has been considerably streamlined, with project leaders receiving a set percentage and the rest divided among the actual authors on a pro-rata basis. Feedbackers have been cut out of the royalty picture entirely, unless the project leader decides to cut them in. This is good.

Rather than that measly 5% of net, WEbook now promises to pay "50% of the total Net Profit for a particular calendar quarter." 50% sounds great--but those two little words, "Net Profit," should strike fear into any writer's heart.

Here's how WEbook defines Net Profit: "...all monies actually received by WEbook from WEbook's sale of Copies of a Work published by WEbook less any applicable taxes; bad debt; returns; a 10% administrative and operational cost; and commission expenditures incurred by WEbook in making or deriving from such sales, licensing transactions, or other business dealings." Like all net profit clauses, this has the potential to considerably reduce the author's share--but unlike many net profit clauses, it's reasonably straightforward and the terms seem to be clearly defined. Collaborative or anthology authors' royalties under this new system will not be princely, but they will be significantly better than the pennies they got under the old system.

By the way, I hope the new royalty rate has been extended to the authors of WEbook's one published project to date, the collaborative novel Pandora.

- No more option clause. Before, WEbook demanded an exclusive and restrictive publication option on any work put up for public feedback and/or ratings, ending 180 days after the ratings phase concluded. Now they just reserve the right to consider publication of books voted into the top 10%.

- No more kill fee. Before, if an author chose to remove his or her work from the site after it had been opened up for public comment and/or ratings, WEbook demanded a 2.5% share of any income the author subsequently earned from the work. This provision, happily, has been eliminated. Members can now remove work at will without penalty--subject to WEbook's archival license.

What hasn't changed:

- Authors must still grant WEbook a sweeping archival license. WEbook still retains "irrevocable" and "perpetual" archival rights to all content ever posted on the site, and "has no obligation to Member to disclose any aspect of how, where, and when WEbook exercises and employs the Archival License." Years from now, your work could still be online--but you'll have no way, other than Internet searching, to find out where or how.

- Posting comments or feedback still involves a transfer of copyright. "Write and receive reactions on anything you wish at WEbook without giving up any rights to your creative genius," declares WEbook's announcement of its TOU changes. Sounds groovy--but if you decide to give reactions instead of receiving them, the situation is a little different.

Each time a member posts comments or feedback on a work during the writing stage (i.e., at any point before the work is opened up for voting), the member "immediately assigns all rights, title, and interest in and to the Feedback" to the author, if it's a single author work, or to the project leader, if it's a collaborative work or an anthology. Once a work is put up for voting, the rights assignment goes to WEbook.

In most cases, probably, this won't be a big deal. But I can imagine circumstances in which it might be--for instance, if you posted a review and then wanted to use the review elsewhere. Also, how many members will read the Terms of Use carefully enough to be aware of this provision?

What isn't clear:

- Must published authors still relinquish copyright? The old TOU made it clear that if WEbook decided to publish a work, authors had to transfer ownership of the work to WEbook. A copyright transfer makes a certain amount of sense for collaborative works, where authorship may not be directly attributable--but for single author works and anthologies, authors should be able to retain their copyrights.

WEbook's new TOU makes no reference to what rights authors will have to grant, saying only that if WEbook chooses to publish a work, "the parties will have to negotiate a publishing contract with a variety of other terms." Has WEbook re-thought its draconian copyright policy, or is it just no longer mentioning the policy in public? I can't help wondering what surprises lurk in the WEbook publishing contract.

I'd love to see one, by the way, if anyone would like to share.

Bottom line: WEbook has definitely made things better. But there's still cause for concern.

48 comments:

articles said...

thank you for the info

Anonymous said...

This is completely unrelated, but I saw operation teen author yesterday and its such a total scam, I was hoping you could check it out. They peg themselves as some contest type thing where you have to be 'really convincing' to be 'chosen'....but scroll down and you'll see there's a one time fee of $2495! And they're targeting TEENS!!

Check it out: http://www.operationteenauthor.com/

Anonymous said...

Hi there:

Thanks for your insightful review of the WEbook TOU. Impressed that you've captured it so well given how many hours I spent on it. As to your last questions, the publishing agrt will be negotiated with the controlling authors. So there's no hard and fast on what rights will need to be ceded upon publication. We very much hope WEbook and the financial upside will be compelling for authors and that these deals will be simple and fair.

I wanted to share a quick rationale for the feedback observation you make. While it might seem draconian to require these rights be assigned, remember that this is really in the interest of favoring the authors (vs. WEbook). Writing in this form could potentially expose authors to future claims by Feedbackers, and copyright law absent a contract to amend it, would give feedbackers authorial rights in their feedback. This would render this type of cooperative writing impossible. So this seemed a fair (and ultimately necessary approach). No egregious purpose.

Thanks for following us so closely and informing your readers so well.

Best,
Sue Heilbronner (WEbook.com)

Anonymous said...

The new WEbook TOU (and the old one) gives (gave) a creative commons license to the author of the feedback.

As indicated by SH from WEbook, transfer of rights in feedback is necessary to avoid complicted and debilitating copyright ownership disputes over content that ultimately gets published, which may include feedback.

Nothing devious!

Deb said...

This still looks hinky as far as the "creative commons license" for feedback is concerned. Royalty paying publishers do not, to my knowledge, address separate copyrights for editing functions.

Despite attempts to placate writers, this one is still Writer Be Wary in my book.

Anonymous said...

As someone who is just entering the overwhelming world of online writing (of which I admit that I have no knowledge of) I truly appreciate your insight and warnings. I have been a successful journalist for numerous years, hiding away in various newsrooms and have not kept up with all that is happening on the Internet. I love writing and have made my living at it and hope do so from the less stressful atmosphere of my home. Your advice will certainly go a long way in helping me as I muddle through this vast new, ever-changing world. Thank you

Anonymous said...

"...for instance, if you posted a review and then wanted to use the review elsewhere. "


Why would you ever post a review elsewhere? A review on the website is to give feedback to a particular piece of work. Please explain your reasoning here.

Anonymous said...

yeah, i have just joined webook and having reviewed their tou, in depth, you have voiced many of my own concerns.
having the copyrights completely diverted to webook upon entry for voting is a very scary prospect. there isn't even anything in it that guarantee's the writer will be given recognized authorship!
their first publication, "pandora" is for sale on ebay, check it out. under "authors" it just goes of on this spiel about the founder of webook!
i haven't posted any "projects" yet, but i think i'm going to request a copy of their barely mention publishing agreement before i do.
thanks again

Anonymous said...

I was wondering how WEbook's agreement with authors compares to most publisher's. That might make an interesting topic for a blog post.

Anonymous said...

I am very deeply grieved by reading WEbook's agreement with authors, compared to whatever business agreement.
It is as close to cheating anyone as it ever can be - without crossing the borderline of law.
Shame on Webook!

/Oscar

Anonymous said...

Call me Faultline.

I saw WEBook in a pop-up ad and got all excited! It's just what I've been waiting for!

Then I read Victoria Strauss's blog, and I feel relieved that I can read as well as write.

Steer clear of WEBook, anyone who wants to make a living from writing. I know what WEBook is hoping for. They want the next big breakout to go from bestseller to big blockbuster bigscreen sensation...

...and WEBook, not the author, will own all of the rights to the story. Do you know how ****** *** I would be if that happened to me? I might have only ONE good novel in me, and to give all the rights to THEM! HAH!

"I'd rather suck wax fruit."
--- Batty Coda

Anonymous said...

Faultline I agree completely with you, well, almost completely. This blog is very informative as I had the same initial reaction to the site when I first found it. Excitement, motivation, desire to finally have an online resource for writing and publishing, why it sounds so fantastic! Except that some things really are too good to be true and I decided to research before I bit into the hook. Its not worth our time, or the time of any aspiring writer to work with this. The best work is done the right way. Good old fashioned sweat and work, waiting for the publishers rejection letter only to see the word congratulations written on the top. That is why I agree.

What I don't agree with is that anyone could ONLY have one good novel in them. Anyone who can write well and turn it into a fantastic novel that pleases its readers can surely do it again. To all the writers of the world: Don't give up. The hard way is often the only way. If you can do it once, then you can do it again!

Sincerely-
Sunshine Monk

haykind said...

Much appreciate the information and effort taken to clarify the contractual terms. I find WeBook a fun place to 'write' but your comments indicate wise caution regarding posting of 'written' works. As a collaborative tool it's excellent but as a place where one would seek feedback on completed work it now seems more costly than many alternatives.

Anonymous said...

Thanks im always lazy at reading TOU and stuff like that and as being a writter is what i want to do in my life this was rly helpful. I currently have the longest amount of a novel I have ever written and am rly proud of myself. Though money for me is not an issue, but i just want my name out there. I agree with the fact writters can basically be "screwed" over by their TOU but if you were like me and just wanted your name out there then it shoudnt matter. but thankyou for informing people about what we should have read in the first place XD youre a good person!
xoxo Lily_Faye

cokebernstein said...

I think WeBook, like many writing groups is a good place to get some early feeedback on your writing ability. If you are a true writer, then I would hope that you thought more of your abilities than to say that you might only have one good book in you. While that may be true in the end, I don't think you should have that attitude going in. The best advice I ever heard was that "writers write", so don't sweat the fact that you might lose some rights on a piece or two, (call it getting your name out), if you really are a writer, then you do it for yourself simply because thats what you do and you will more than make up for it in the long run.

Sean said...

What happens if you get feedback on a work on webook and then have it picked up by another publisher, or self-pub through a place like createspace, are you still up a creak?

Anonymous said...

Stay away from webook... there are better, less greedy, online publishing sites that pay 50% of REVENUE, and writers keep copyright!

Anonymous said...

1 - Why does it matter if you lose rights to a comment? Feedback means you help the writer edit what they've written, as in, "I liked XY and Z, but with Z you have to edit this and that." I don't understand where this would be a problem, and making this a huge issue seems overly dramatic. Ask them why this is the case - I'm sure there's a good reason to avoid any possible troubles that can come up when people collaborate on a project.

2 - You are not, as far as I can tell, in contract with WEbook unless you submit to them for publication, which is different from posting your writing on their site. So if you just join to work on your writing or to give some feedback to something you really like, there's no obligation to give WEbook ANYTHING. Don't want to publish? Then just join to meet writers and help them out. Maybe you'll learn something about your own writing there.

3 - WEbook is constantly evolving. If you're concerned, send them an email stating your problem and see what they say. Maybe if there's enough worries, they'll change that too. If they do, update your blog again to reflect the latest changes in this new website.

Anonymous said...

Also, how does 50% differ from traditional publishing companies? I thought you got way less than 50% most of the time. Would love to see a reference to that, as said before.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the warning, I just signed up with webook. But now I know better than to put any of my already written work, up to be commented on. Really too bad, that you can't trust anyone, any more.

Again thanks for the heads up.

Anonymous said...

im currently on webook and its voting time again and theres alot of underhanded votes going on people who are friends turning and posting nasty stuff on your own work ill keep you posted of whats going on

Ray said...

So many of the same thoughts that I had after learning of WEbook through some process or another. I got all excited about the possibility of putting the two books I am working on up there for a peer type of review and comment process as it moved forward. I at first though was just cautious enough to want to read through all the details and came to many of the same conclusions you have noted here. I can understand a couple of points they make, but things are just vague enough to leave me not wanting to put my hard written material up there, just to be sure.

Anonymous said...

just thought id update you now there seems to be cyber bullying going on through we book and they still havent decided what to do with the voting scams on at the moment also ive had loads of emails saying they are leaving the site and removing there projects

Anonymous said...

In other words, if a author wrote a best selling book, and all rights go to WeBook after it was published, and then the book made it big on tv or the movies, WeBook would make millions off the book and the author wouldn't get anything from his/her hard work.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 11/12, there's no evidence that WEbook takes all rights for books it publishes, or that it requires authors to surrender copyright. As noted in my post, I have some questions about this--but I haven't seen a WEbook publishing contract, so I have no way to know what the answers are. Also, WEbook pays royalties, so no matter what, authors do receive compensation.

At the moment, the likelihood that any WEbook book will become a bestseller is remote, in my opinion, because WEbook doesn't seem to have the marketing or distribution setup that's needed to create bestsellers.

Anonymous said...

It's official. Webook is doing some very naughty things to the authors that have submitted their works for publication. Webook stated that they were going to consider top 10% of all works in contention.

As it turns out, this was not true. When voting first started, there were over 500 works up for vote. At the end of the voting cycle, webook eliminated all works that did not have 10 or more votes.

Instead of taking the top 10% of the over 500 books submitted, Webook only too into account the top 10% of remaining books above 10votes. This left just a little over 200 books eligible for the top 10%.

I would strongly reccomend that no one submit his/her work here. You will not get a fair shake. Webook's system is geared more favorably toward books that have multiple authors.

Many of us readers have witnessed first hand that some of the worst works out there made it to the top 10%, while less popular genres and authors went virtually un-noticed. Here is something interesting, a poster by the name of lightbrite was openly posting against what she considered "bad" work. She was also publicly posting comments on works that she voted for, for authors not to sign with webook. She said that she has seen the contract and it is not worth signing.

This is the link to her profile:

http://www.webook.com/member/lightbrite

Maybe she would be willing to share the information she knows about the contract.

Anonymous said...

omg i have posted on webook. but two of my submissions are already copywrighted. and i hold the copywright. what happens to them?

Anonymous said...

Apparently this just happened again. The voting results came in on 12/31 from a new voting cycle, and two works were selected for publication that did not even come close to being in the top 10%.

Here's an example. The submissions making the top 10% ranged from receiving 143 positive votes to 480 positive votes. The two submissions who were selected for publication by webook received 51 votes and 85 votes. That makes absolutely no sense.

Their FAQ says specifically "WEbook will choose its next published books from the projects voted in the top 10%." Link included for reference. http://www.webook.com/faq#how-can-i.

No response on the forum from the admins as to what the reasoning was. I messaged the admins asking for answers myself, as I'm a writer on the site. No response, either. People who have worked extremely hard and received the required number of votes to receive publication deserve an explanation.

If webook expects writers to use its resources, it needs to follow its own policy, otherwise what guidelines do we use. We might as well face the traditional publishing houses.

So if you are a writer considering posting your work on webook, its fine if all you want is peer review. But there seems to be no rhyme or reason for how to get published on this site. So use it at your own risk, and possibly wait for a competitor site to come along. I think webook needs one.

Anonymous said...

Dose we book still have staff shills, Paid per post/paid per submission writers on the projects to make it look like the community is large?

Mars said...

WEbook appears to be an unestablished writing site that does not stipulate all terms and conditions(especially those that protect your work as a writer).

There are many sites on the web who are willing to exploit writers and this looks like another one to be wary of.

Their 'online bookshop' boasts but 3 titles. Additionally, online tools for authors seem basic - to say the least - with no editing tools (possibly the most important writing tool). This is not something I would expect from an organisation serious about retaining quality authors.

This may be the new wave of vanity publishing presses.

For those interested in becoming published authors, get a good book on writing and publishing (many universities offer courses, and I recommend looking at their reading lists to get a current list of books detailing industry-preferred standards).

crazyladywriter said...

I joined WEbook several months ago and have put up quite a bit of my work on their site.
The feedback I have received from other members has been encouraging and helpful.
Members I have got to know online that write childrens fiction as I do have been very helpful. They have told me about other publishing companies looking for submissions that might be interested in my work. Subsequently, I have submitted several pieces of work to various sites and I am hopefully to be published shortly.
There are some great writers on WEbook who are being published independantly.They used the site for feedback and encouragement to finish their projects.
No one needs to have their work published by WEbook if they do not wish to. The inclusion of any work into the voting cycle is optional.
I have picked up so many tips from the site and grown in confidence.
Don't knock it until you have tried it!

Anonymous said...

Has anyone actually been published through them? What result?

Shelly Wutke said...

I just signed up on WeBook today. Thanks for the info, I don't think I'll go back.

Sam said...

Anonymous 12/31:

"Generally, WEbook will consider publishing Works that are voted in the top 10% of all considered Works on the Site. However, WEbook reserves the right to depart from this measure for Works that, in WEbook's sole discretion, are otherwise worthy or not worthy of publication."

That's from the Terms of Service, which you should really read. The FAQ is not going to tell you anything but public relations nonsense. If you want to know how a site operates, read the TOS. Looks like they thought the community was full of crap and decided to look elsewhere on the list. It's not like they're under some kind of obligation to publish everything the community thinks is good; that would be a business nightmare for them.

jbmoss said...

I am appalled at the amount of legalese considerations necessary to understand the hoops one is obligated to jump through without any control regarding the outcome of the process. After reading your description of the TOU and reading through the WEBook current TOS and TOU I am alarmed and simply want no part of WEBook. I find I must commit my soul to WEBook and have no idea where the lines will be drawn and what (or how to determine) my royalties.

I enjoy writing. I enjoy it a lot. I want to find a way to get my output, such as it is, to the market where others can decide whether they like what I've written. There are venues out there that I can use (http://www.createspace.com, for example) which provide an easy to understand royalty derivative and which permits me to retain all my rights of ownership. I am NOT saying that Createspace is the answer - I AM saying that WEBook, in comparison, is a joke!

Thank you VERY MUCH for your insight and considered opinion. When I read the TOU for WEBook, I Googled 'WEBook fees explained' and found your blog. Ain't the Internet wonderful? All one has to do is ask, and answers can be found. Unfortunately, there are some that want others to think for them. WEBook is a perfect solution for those people.

Thanks again - very much!

Cyndy Aleo-Carreira said...

I just noticed today that they seem to have a new set-up with agent involvement and first-page submissions... is it any better?

Victoria Strauss said...

Cyndy, I did a post on this service, Agent Inbox, last year. Check the comments for updates.

Anonymous said...

I am a writer and was checking out Webook's, but not so sure now. Is there anywhere that you can find good internet site to post your writing or get paid?

crosswaysnet said...

I checked out that "Pandora" book 'published' by webooks. Today it ranks 3,544,828 on amazon. My self-published ABNA quarter-finalist title "Avenhal-Return of the Taneen" ranks exactly 1,397,694 places HIGHER than Pandora.
I'm not exactly living James Patterson's lifestyle yet, and I'm still a third higher in the ratings than what webooks puts out.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the article - it was most informative.

Nearly every website I have come across sounds amazing, until your read the small print and realise that to join is free, but to actually do anything costs money - usually for every little thing.

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that there are no really good websites to write on or share with, since they're all after making cash out of you by subscriptions, rather than the business of publishing.

I guess I'm going to go back to The Old Fashioned Method and send manuscripts out to agents, etc ...

Anonymous said...

Surely there is a place on the web where writers and those who like to critique/edit writing can get together without middlemen who try to make money off of the process. Does anyone know of such a site?

Shawn said...

For everyone looking for a website where you can post your work and get peer readings, I strongly recommend writingraw.com. Everything is free, and the people that run the site (I'm not one of them, btw) are really just interested in letting new voices be heard. It doesn't really help you in the process of getting published, but I've found that posting excerpts from my first book has lead me to some good feedback and contacts. Just a thought, and good luck!

Shawn Inmon

Anonymous said...

Ha ha ha. Thank you for this, but really? Webook a publisher? Don't even waste your time, their voting process is a joke - always has been. It's an okay place to get started with your writing, but it is largely filled with teenage girls interested in nothing more than vampires, old men and bitchy children's story writers - this is who is voting on literary pieces. In all these years how many books have they published? I might be wrong but I beleive I can count them on one hand - also, many of those who 'made it' on Agent-in-box were brought in- none of them were active Webook members, had any other projects on the go, or friends, a real profile even - or any other kind of interaction with other Webook members - and all within three months of each other. Quite simply I completely outgrew this company, and I laugh when I read about the excitement of its new members. Don't waste your time, Webook completely sucks in every conceivable way for a writer who is not simply starting out.

Victoria Strauss said...

Just to note: WEbook has changed its focus from a collaborative writing website with a major publishing component, to something more like a writing projects/manuscript display/peer critique website. Services now include

- AgentInbox (which I blogged about in Nov. 2009)--a service that lets writers submit to participating literary agents

- PageToFame--seems to be an Authonomy-like peer feedback and rating service; top rated mss. are placed in a Literary Agent showcase where participating agents can see them

- Writing Projects--online writing that can be single author or collaborative.

Most of the objectionable terms in the Terms of Use are gone--I'm guessing because of the shift of focus away from publishing. WEbook now claims only a Site License and an Archival License on posted work--which allows them to display the work and to keep it on the site.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be too concerned about getting ripped off by WeBook's publishing contract - given their track record, the chances of anyone getting published through them is zip.

In addition, their PageToFame contest is nothing more than a ploy to keep you hanging onto the website while absolutely nothing happens, other than getting your dreams squashed as you grow old waiting for s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g to give.

The original announcement by WeBook: New York, N.Y., January 20, 2010 – Aspiring writers are just a page away from securing a $10,000 cash advance and a commercial publishing deal through WEbook.com’s innovative PageToFame competition. The first 3 rounds are rated by website members. The last stage of PTF requires submission of a full manuscript submission. At the end of the final stage, in addition to the readers’ ratings, a panel of industry leaders and literary gurus will select the author with the best story and award the grand prize of a $10,000 launch advance as well as assistance in securing a commercial publication deal. Although there is one grand prize winner, the competition is ongoing and continues for all writers to enter at any time. Those who reach
the final stage will also earn the right to secure representation by a literary agent or WEbook.com, in order to help score a commercial publishing deal.

THIS IS COMPLETE AND TOTAL BS. Of the 2000+ entries, only 6-7 writers made it to the "Final Round". That was over 6 months ago. WeBook's response as to when the prize money and chance at a contract would take place:

A little more than a year ago, when the first submissions to PTF were in the second round or so, we realized it will be hard and ultimately not beneficial for authors to conduct a fourth, full manuscript, round, and decided to replace that round with an agent showcase, which is a compilation of “winners” we periodically send to a select list of prominent literary agents who are active on the site. The only sticking point is the $10,000 prize, which was to be granted based on the early understanding of the process. We have consulted with an attorney on how we should proceed. Our legal obligation is still not clear. The best option for us would be to pay out the prize based on some formula: 100 to the author who received top score in round 3, or equally to all eligible winning authors, or any other formula that is legally satisfying. We feel that building and conducting a fourth round solely for the purpose of prize distribution is pointless. We may have no choice, but given our limited resources building a fourth round will take a long time.

So what happens to the people who made it into the Final Round and have invested over a year and a half of their lives hoping for a chance at a contract? We wait. And wait. And wait.

And the biggest crux of all - if WeBook selects a "winner" from Round 3, they have essential changed it from a "skills based" contest to a lottery of chance because Round 3 winners were determined by the website users. Not only that, but some of the "Final Round" writers were also Round 3 raters - they were rating the entries of writers who were competing against them!

Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed and confused. Does all this mean that we can't put our work on Webook anymore and take it off without sharing the work with Webook. All the life I gave to my work is now being taken away? I decided to withdraw some of my work and publish it myself on Amazon and now I can't access my We book account to participate in reviews, get to my work or anything else. That's not right. I have copyright copies of everything on Webook and otherwise. It's my blood and guts work.

Anonymous said...

Corey Whaley published his book through WeBook and has been quite successful, but something is going on now that I don't quite understand. I can't get to my site through either of my computers and another friend who like me has been on WeBook for years can't get on either. I'm glad I have copyrighted copies of my important work, but my friend does not. Is there anyone out there who is actually able to reach the site????

Anonymous said...

I just found WeBooks being published on Amazon with WeBooks as the author.