Monday, February 28, 2011

What's an Idea Worth?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you'll know that I'm fascinated by the bizarre things that happen at the outer fringes of the publishing universe.

Well, here's one: on eBay, someone is attempting to auction off his or her story idea. Starting bid? $3,000,000. Alternatively, you can buy it outright for $10,000,000.

No, I did not accidentally attach any extra zeroes.
I am selling my story that I have been creating for 10+ years. (not constantly writing, but of piecing everything together in a cohesive manner) It can be compared to stories like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Matrix, Indiana Jones and other titles in those categories...

I will share my story with someone in person only and not over the internet. My story is too valuable to be spread publicly and will give a lot of new ideas for movies and book series that should belong to the buyer...

This story will bring in endless fame and money to anyone who takes it. I do not have money to hire a Ghost Writer and I do not want to die with this story untold.
So what exactly is this amazing story? The seller gives no clues other than the above. Apparently, would-be buyers must make a leap of faith. Don't worry, though--
If you win the auction; we would meet in person, you would sign a nondisclosure document so i can be protected if you back out, I would share the story. Then you would choose to keep the story or refuse it. If you refuse it you would get a 100% refund.
Well, that's a relief. Just wire it to my Swiss bank account.

It's always possible that this is a joke or a hoax, but after 13 years with Writer Beware, I've learned never to underestimate writers' ability to be delusional about the value of their work (and that includes me, though on the opposite end of the spectrum). But while it's just remotely possible that your completed manuscript might be worth a multi-million dollar advance (yes, I know, but it does happen on rare occasions), convincing yourself that your idea is worth a boatload of money is mere folly.

Ideas aren't worth anything. It's only their expression that has value. This is why ideas aren't protected by copyright: they are the basic building blocks of creative endeavor, and as such must be available for anyone to use. Give a dozen writers a single idea, and you'll wind up with a dozen different novels of a dozen different qualities, each of which might or might not find publication, depending on a wide variety of factors and variables.

In the meantime, if you've got a spare $3 million, the auction has two days to run.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Deadline for Claiming Cash Payment Under Google Book Settlement Has Been Extended

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A couple of weeks ago, I reported that the parties involved in the Google Book Settlement had applied for an extension of the deadline for authors to file claims for cash payments for works scanned by Google without permission.

On Feb. 18, the Court approved the extension. Claims were due by March 31, 2011; they will now be due one year after the date on which a court order is issued approving the Settlement. In other words, the new deadline doesn't have a fixed date, and you'll need to keep your eye on Settlement developments. (Don't worry; I'll continue to report as necessary.)

A couple of other deadlines are unchanged: to remove your works from Google's Participating Libraries and Research Corpus databases, you must make a request on or before April 5, 2011. To remove your works from Google Books, you must make a request on or before March 9, 2012.

Questions you may have:

The Google Book Settlement--what's it all about? Several years ago, Google entered into agreements with a number of libraries to scan the books in their collections, creating a vast database  now called Google Books. The books were listed online, along with publishing info and, for books still in copyright, limited "snippets" of text (for public domain books, the entire text was available). Claiming the scanning was fair use, Google argued that it didn't need to seek copyright holders' permission. Authors disagreed, and in 2005, a group of publishers and the Authors Guild filed suit to stop the scanning.

In October 2008, the parties in the suit reached a settlement that didn't address the copyright question at issue, but did give Google the green light on digitization--and on monetization of its database--in return for payments to authors whose in-copyright works had been scanned without permission. As a result of challenges, including objections from the US Justice Dept, the Settlement was amended in November 2009. A Fairness Hearing was held in February 2010, at which the presiding judge, Denny Chin, had a chance to hear statements of challenge and support. A final decision on the Settlement is still pending.

I thought the Settlement was approved. Nope. The Settlement is still under consideration and is not final. There's no guarantee it will be approved, or if approved, that it will remain in its current form.

Who's covered by the Settlement? All holders of a US copyright interest whose books were published on or before January 5, 2009. The Settlement defines this as any books that were either registered with the US Copyright Office or published in the UK, Canada, or Australia as of that date. Books published after January 5 are not part of the Settlement.

I'm not a US author. Does the Settlement affect me? Possibly, if you hold a US copyright interest (a copyright protected by US law). If you're a German author who sold US rights, for instance, you may be affected.

What's the cash payment? The cash payment is money Google has agreed to pay for in-copyright works digitized without permission on or before May 5, 2009. (Note the wiggle room between the Settlement cutoff date and the digitization date, allowing Google plenty of time to digitize books published by the cutoff date--just one of the many concessions by the Authors Guild that granted Google privileges far beyond those it originally claimed when it began scanning.) The payment for books is $60.

I'm covered by the Settlement. What do I have to do to get my cash payment? You need to register with the Google Book Settlement website, and claim your books or inserts by filling out the Claim form. You must do this by the new deadline: one year following the court order approving the Settlement. (Assuming that there is one.)

What's the Claim form? It's an online process available at the Book Settlement website. You can start here. You can also download a paper form if you don't want to make your claim electronically.

I opted out of the Settlement. Does the new deadline affect me? No. If you opted out of the Settlement, you're done. You don't need to worry about any more deadlines. (I opted out by the first deadline. Here's why.)

I want to opt out. How do I do that? You can't. The final deadline for opting out was January 28, 2010. If the Settlement isn't approved, or if it has to be amended again, you may get another chance--but for now, opting out is no longer an option. (Nor is opting back in, if you opted out and have changed your mind.)

Damn. I didn't opt out, and I don't want my works to be included in Google's databases. Is there anything I can do? Yes. You can direct Google to remove or exclude your works by filling out the Claim form. To remove your works from Google Books, you must fill out the Claim form on or before March 9, 2012. To remove your works from the databases of participating libraries and from the Research Corpus, you must fill out the Claim form on or before April 5, 2011.

Be aware that if you direct Google to remove your works, you may not be able to reconsider and get them back in again.

If the Settlement isn't approved yet, why do I need to do anything? It's entirely possible that the Court may instruct the parties to amend the Settlement again, in which case all the deadlines will change (again). Or the Settlement may be struck down, in which case there will be no deadlines. As of now, though, nothing can be assumed--which means that even though the Settlement hasn't been approved, you need to proceed as if it had been, including complying with deadlines.

What about Google's new eBookstore? How's that related to the Settlement and to Google Books? Google Books is the giant digital book database that Google created in part by unauthorized scanning, and also by negotiating permissions with publishers and authors.

Google's eBookstore, rolled out with great fanfare at the end of 2010, is a separate commercial enterprise. It's where Google sells digital versions of that portion of the Google Books database it currently has the right to sell--including public domain works, works where permission has been granted by the author, and works where permission has been granted by the publisher.

The books covered by the Settlement are not currently being sold in the eBookstore. Google doesn't yet have the right to do that. But if the Settlement is approved, they will be.

Help! Google is still illegally scanning! My book was just published, and it's already on Google Books and in the Google eBookstore! Google has admitted liability for scanned books only through January 5, 2009 (and the Settlement covers only books published on or before that date). Books published after January 5, 2009 appear on Google Books or in the Google eBookstore by permission--either the author's (if the book is self-published) or the publisher's. In other words, if you discover your recently-published book on Google, your publisher put it there. (Hopefully your publisher holds your electronic rights--if not, you really do have a problem.)

The legalese is making my head spin. This whole Google thing is such a hassle, and anyway, I'm busy. What if I just ignore it? That's always an option. And believe me, I sympathize. I didn't ask Google to scan my books, and I also didn't ask the Authors Guild to include me by default in this enormous, complicated Settlement that is engineered largely to Google's benefit, and obliges me not just to fill out forms and pay attention to deadlines, but to compose these lengthy blog posts.

But like it or not, if you're a US copyright holder with works published on or before a certain date, and you haven't opted out, you are part of the Settlement--even though you never asked to be. If you ignore the Settlement, it won't go away--but what will go away are your options for controlling how a giant corporation to which you never granted any permissions makes use of your intellectual property.

There are a number of decisions you can make as to how, or whether, Google uses your works. The only wrong decision is to do nothing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Blog Post: Beware of Pay-To-Play TV Talk Shows

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

This guest post by author and essayist Kim Brittingham addresses an issue I've been getting an increasing number of questions about lately: pay-to-play TV talk shows. Kim takes an illuminating look at the phenomenon euphemistically dubbed "branded entertainment," and explains why these infomercial-style shows--which charge fees of up to several thousand dollars--aren't a genuine path to media exposure.

The same cautions apply to radio, by the way. There are many shows on regular and Internet radio that charge appearance fees, or want you to pay for turning your interview into a podcast, or use some similar ploy to remove money from your pocket. The amounts are usually smaller--a few hundred dollars, rather than a few thousand--but the principle is the same. Whether it's radio or television, you should never have to pay a fee to be a guest on a show.

-------------------------

By Kim Brittingham

If you're an author -- whether you sold your book to a publisher or self-published it -- you'd probably jump at the chance to talk about your book on national television. Who wouldn't?

But beware of predatory producers of "branded entertainment" TV talk shows that are little more than glorified infomercials. They know how badly you want to promote your book to a large audience, and they'll use that desire to try and separate you from your money, to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Not all the news-style or talk shows you see on television are legitimate. What do I mean by "legitimate"? I mean programming that isn't paid advertising.

Most of us have seen those early morning infomercials on cable, selling everything from vacuum cleaners to shapewear. They're just long commercials, often orchestrated to look like "real" TV shows, sometimes with a host, a stage set inspired by the Today Show, and a clap-happy studio audience.

Most of us recognize that those audience members are paid actors, as is the host, and the guest is a representative of the product or service they're talking about and trying to sell.

Infomercial creators know that when people see products (such as books) discussed on news or talk shows, people take those products more seriously, or give them more weight, than if they merely saw them advertised in a commercial.

Most of us know commercials are paid for; we assume most stories on TV shows have been chosen by the show's producers because they offer some value to the viewing audience, whether it's information or just plain entertainment.

But there's a new generation of infomercial out there, and some are calling it "branded entertainment". Branded entertainment talk shows are essentially "packages" of lots of little infomercials strung together to look like an ordinary TV talk show.

One example is The Balancing Act, a show that airs daily on Lifetime between 6:00 and 7:00 AM. The content on The Balancing Act is built around sponsor products. In other words, every segment you see on the show is a commercial. Somebody paid to put it on the air.

This kind of paid advertising does leak into "legitimate" television now and then, but the difference is this: legit shows derive most of their content from unpaid sources.

You certainly won't find a show like Today or Good Morning America charging authors a fee to be on their show. Take note: it doesn't work that way. But it is how "branded entertainment" works.

So here's a warning. If you published a book, self-published or otherwise, you may get an e-mail or phone call about being on guest on a TV show -- and at first blush, it may seem very exciting. But if the show reaching out to you is a branded entertainment product, don't be too flattered -- because what you're really getting is a sales pitch.

But how can I tell it's not a legitimate TV show? It's on a major cable TV network. It has a real web site. There are even celebrities on this show!

Just because it's on a "real" TV channel doesn't mean it isn't one big advertisement. Remember, traditional infomercials are aired on real TV channels too.

And branded entertainment products often incorporate celebrities. It's possible those celebrities bought time on the show just like every other sponsor, but it's more likely the show paid the celebrity to make an appearance, to give the show an air of legitimacy -- just as The Balancing Act features fitness expert Denise Austin.

Even if you don't know in advance, you can tell pretty quickly what kind of show you're dealing with when you get the "producer" on the phone. Your impulse may be to be polite until you're sure--but as soon as your hunch is strong enough, simply ask: "Are you trying to sell me something?" (A better question, perhaps, would be "Do you charge your guests any fees?" In order to make what they're selling seem less like paid advertising, the show might give the cost of the spot a name, like an "appearance fee". They also do this to make authors who are inexperienced with the media think this sort of thing is normal. It's not.)

When you return that producer's call, here are several red flags that may indicate a sales pitch is forthcoming:

"Tell me about you." If the producer wants you to tell her about you or your book, be suspicious. Most legit TV producers will already have done their homework on you and your book, and they'll be inviting you on the show based on that information. If the producer is actually a salesperson, she probably doesn't have time to gather background on the hundreds of suckers she's baiting in a single day, which would explain her need to put the burden on you to fill in the blanks.

My, but she's chatty. Is the producer taking a long, relaxed time to discuss the show, describe its history and background, tell how happy she is to be working there? Is she laying out an impressive picture for you? Be suspicious. Most legit TV producers don't have time for chit-chat. Furthermore, a legit show doesn't need to impress you. They have a huge audience, and trust me -- if you don't want to be on the show, there are thousands of other potential guests who will. No legit TV producer needs to sell you on their show.

Ridiculous time slot. Does the show air in the middle of the night, or before 9:00 AM? This could indicate a branded entertainment product. Branded shows pay the network to air their show. It's cheaper for them to buy time in off-hours. And most networks have "real" entertainment filling regular day and evening hours anyway.

They tout their work with self-published authors. I'm not trying to be a jerk here, but the fact is, most legit TV shows don't feature self-published books. Unless there's an extraordinary story attached to the book or the author, it's extremely rare. So if the producer brags about how they give a platform to self-published authors, be suspicious. (I'm sorry -- not my rules!)

A saleswoman who called herself Brenda Felton attempted to sell me a spot on The Balancing Act for $5,900. I laughed at her.

It's true that an author gets something in exchange for her $5,900 "appearance fee". She gets to be on The Balancing Act. Yes, it's national television. But it's Lifetime -- not NBC, not MTV, not FOX. Furthermore, it's 6:00 AM on Lifetime. It's one appearance on one episode. Is it worth $5,900? I don't believe it is.

You might think being able to say you've "been on national television" will be a boon for your resume, help get you on other television shows. But if nobody's heard of The Balancing Act -- or perhaps worse, if they know what kind of show it is, and when and where it airs -- it might have the opposite effect, maybe even make you look foolish. Besides, how impressive can it be when anybody with $5,900 can get on the show? It doesn't exactly set you and your hard work apart.

There are proactive steps you can take to promote your book, and I encourage you to give it your all. Consult with established, respected sources of information, such as Writer's Digest and SheWrites, for ideas. At the same time, stay alert to dodgy, pseudo-media opportunties from pay-to-play TV show predators.

Kim Brittingham is an author, essayist and video host. Her first book, a memoir titled READ MY HIPS: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large is coming in spring 2011 from Random House. Find out more at www.kimwrites.com.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Borders Bankruptcy

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The publishing news of the week--maybe of the year--is the collapse of Borders, the USA's second largest bookstore chain. On Wednesday, Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the Southern District of New York. (Chapter 11 allows a company to re-structure its business, with the aim of re-launching it.)

Word of Borders' financial difficulties has been circulating for months, and there's been widespread speculation that the chain would fail. The end came over the past few weeks, as Borders began delaying payments to creditors (it reportedly owes publishers and vendors more than $260 million, with the Big Five publishers topping the list at $25 to $41 million each), and its attempts to round up new financing crumbled.

Borders has established a Case Administration website to follow the proceedings, on which it states that "Borders' business operations continue as normal." Well, not quite. Some publishers have stopped shipping to Borders, in response to its suspension of payments. Also, as part of the re-organization plan, Borders will shutter 200 of its more than 600 Borders and Waldenbooks stores--approximately 30% of its business (a list of the closings can be accessed here). Liquidation sales begin tomorrow. Down the line, it's possible that there could be even more closings. (That's on top of over 200 store closings in 2009, and 45 in 2010.)

If you bought ebooks from Borders, you'll still be able to access them, at least for now (Borders contracted with a separate company, Kobo, to power its ebook business). According to Borders' reorganization FAQ, your Borders gift cards are also safe. (You might want to hurry up and use them, though.) What if you self-published an ebook through Borders' Get Published program? Get Published is outsourced to a service called BookBrewer, which has posted a news item on its website assuring authors that their royalties will be paid. (Borders' POD publishing service, Borders Personal Publishing, was transferred to Lulu.com some time ago.)

I've seen a lot of speculation that Borders is one more casualty of the ebook explosion, another canary in the coal mine of the shift to digital. Undoubtedly, that's part of the story, as it is for the difficulties that booksellers of all kinds are experiencing right now. But Borders' troubles apparently go much deeper. Overexpansion, poor Internet and digital strategies (they outsourced their commerce website to Amazon until 2008, and were slow to expand into ebooks), management shakeups (of Borders' current senior management, the one with the longest tenure has been with the company only since August 2009), and a succession of top executives whose experience was in the supermarket or department store business, rather than with books or publishing, all played a part. (At one point, Borders was being run by a CEO from the grocery world, who re-organized Borders stores according to supermarket "category" marketing models.)

Will Borders survive? It needs the industry to support its reorganization efforts, but publishers are reportedly skeptical of its turnaround plan. According to the Wall Street Journal,
Whether it can restructure and emerge as a stand-alone company is unclear. Many Wall Street bankers and lawyers who have studied the chain believe it may not be able to avoid liquidation. It is expected to report more than $1 billion in liabilities in its bankruptcy petition, said a person familiar with the matter.
The bad news doesn't end there. Australia's REDGroup Retail, which owns Borders Australia, the Angus & Robertson book chain, and Whitcoulls, New Zealand's major book chain, also failed this week, amid charges of financial ineptitude and lack of bookselling expertise. Debts are reported to be in the $150-$170 million range. REDGroup's collapse is unrelated to the Borders US failure--the Australian Borders stores were spun off and sold some time ago--but it's still an ominous sign. It has sent shockwaves through the publishing world down under, and has infuriated consumers, whose gift vouchers are only being honored if the consumer matches them dollar for dollar.

In Canada, the nation's largest book distributor, H.B. Fenn, has also begun bankruptcy proceedings--a move that was apparently a surprise to publishers on both sides of the border. Again, debts are said to be in the millions.

What does it all mean--for writers, for customers, for books, for publishing? There's plenty of speculation--John Scalzi has some thoughts on the impact of the Borders closing on authors, and BackSpace founder Karen Dionne and Teleread's Jason Davis examine some of the possible implications for book publishing, especially print.

However, as always with major events of this sort, no one can really say for sure. All that can be known right now is that it's a sad day for the book business, and especially for the many people whose jobs will disappear along with those closing stores.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Deadline for Claiming Cash Payment Under Google Book Search Settlement May Be Extended

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

This just in from the Authors Guild. My bolding.

----------------------

Authors, publishers and Google have filed a stipulation asking the Court to extend the deadline for filing claims to receive an upfront payment -- a "Cash Payment" -- in the Google Book Search settlement. The current deadline under the settlement, which is being reviewed by the court, is March 31, 2011. If the extension is granted, authors and publishers will have until one year after the Court approves the settlement to make a claim for a Cash Payment.

Under the settlement, only those rightsholders whose works were scanned by Google on or before May 5, 2009, are entitled to claim a Cash Payment. Payment for the unauthorized digitization of entire works will be at least $60. (This payment is separate from the settlement's revenue-sharing arrangements.)

If you are not claiming a Cash Payment, you may file at any time.

Follow the filing instructions here: Google Book Search Claims.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Guest Blog Post: Book Review -- "The Street-Smart Writer"

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Today, author Marian Perera reviews a book I often recommend for writers who are interested in learning the basics of self-protection in the shark-infested waters of writing and publishing: The Street-Smart Writer, by prolific author Jenna Glatzer and publishing attorney Daniel Steven.

----------------------

by Marian Perera

When writers are curious or concerned about literary scams, they can check out websites and discussion boards, of which there are several – such as Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors. Or they can pick up one book: The Street-Smart Writer, by Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Steven.

Subtitled “Self-Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World”, this book is both a good introduction to and a comprehensive overview of just how many ways writers can be taken – not only by outright scammers, but by well-intentioned people who nevertheless lack relevant experience or resources. It was released in 2005 but is just as timely today, with one exception that I’ll mention later.

The book touches on all types of literary scams, from agents to screenwriting to contests, but it also goes into detail to show how scammers profit even if they charge nothing upfront or only want small payments. These modest sums can slip under the radar. But a ten here and a twenty there can add up to thousands of dollars, depending on how many writers fall for it.

I also enjoyed the deconstruction of scammers’ claims, some of which may well be true. For instance, a scam agent may say, “Hey, I’m sending your work to Random House today!” Sure, could be true, but it means nothing — you could send your work to Random House, too. Doesn’t mean it’ll get read, doesn’t mean anyone’s shown interest, doesn’t mean a darn thing.

The warnings are backed up with plenty of horror stories – such as the case of a magazine called Zatz, which took copyright, paid nothing for articles and defended this on the basis that "real writers could always produce more." According to the magazine’s Vice President, “If your main priority is eeking [sic] out every bit of cash mileage from a piece of writing you can, than [sic] you are scarcity conscious and no kind of artist.”

My favorite, though, was the writer who created a fake contest where, for a five-dollar entrance fee,  contestants would be sent a chapter to edit. There was a modest grand prize for the winner – and major potential savings for the writer, who was hoping to have her entire book edited that way.

From five dollars, to the five million that Edit Ink raked in, scams come in many forms and sizes.

The Street-Smart Writer is informative and blunt, but also fair – for instance, it describes when and how self-publishing can work for writers. With plenty of examples and suggestions that can be followed up on, it’s helpful for writers in any field, whether they’re entering short stories in contests, querying agents, or checking out CreateSpace.

Most important, though, it advocates a mindset of caution and healthy skepticism, encouraging writers not to be either rushed or intimidated into anything.

Information on what to avoid is balanced out with advice on what to do – subscribe to Publishers Weekly, check agents’ track records, assess contracts. Every aspect of writing and publishing – conferences, contests, seminars and e-zines – is mentioned if not evaluated. I especially liked the part on blacklisting, whether this threat is made by a legitimate person or by a scammer when writers speak out about their experiences.

Finally, there’s an entire chapter on the legalities of the business, from plagiarism to parody, and an appendix of forms that includes a sample literary agent’s contract, film option agreement, publisher’s contract, and so on, to give writers a basis of comparison.

The only vanity presses not mentioned are those that are branches of legitimate publishers, such as Harlequin’s DellArte Press and Thomas Nelson’s West Bow Press – but these are relatively recent developments that post-date the book's publication. The Street-Smart Writer is helpful, meticulous, upbeat (despite the horror stories), and a good way to render most scam sharks toothless.

-------------------

Marian Perera studies medical laboratory technology (final year of college!) when she isn’t writing. Her first novel, a romantic steampunk fantasy called Before the Storm, was just released in paperback. She blogs about writing, publication and every step between the two at Flights of Fantasy.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Book Giveaway--The Arm of the Stone

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

One of the important negotiation points for life-of-copyright publishing contracts is including provisions in the termination clause that oblige the publisher to take the work out of print when sales or royalties drop below a minimum level.

Why is that important? Well, when your book has fallen so far into the backlist that your publisher no longer even includes it in its catalogs, and sales have dropped down to practically nothing, there's no reason for the publisher to continue to hold your rights. Much better for the book to go out of print, and for you to revert the rights and do something else with them--self-publish as an ebook, for instance, to take advantage of the exploding ebook market, or try to market them to other publishers.

That's what I did with my Stone duology (The Arm of the Stone, first pubbed by Eos in 1998, and The Garden of the Stone, first pubbed by Eos in 1999)--and I'm thrilled to announce that both novels have been bought by Phoenix Pick, a small publisher that specializes in re-issuing previously published books by established science fiction and fantasy authors. The books will have brand-new cover art, and will be available as trade paperbacks and as ebooks.

Arm has just been released, and is available at Amazon, among others. To celebrate, I'm giving away three signed copies. To be entered in a random drawing, please email me at victoria [at] victoriastrauss.com with your name and mailing address, and "February Contest" in the subject line (your info won't be shared, and you won't be added to any mailing lists). All entries must be received by midnight, February 28, 2011. US and Canadian residents only, please!

Garden will be released next month, and I'll be posting another giveaway then.

For ebook enthusiasts, the publisher will be giving away free downloads as soon as both books are available. I'll post an announcement then.

Please feel free to post this giveaway on Twitter, Facebook, etc., or to feature it on your own blog. Thanks!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Alert for Poets: Oprah Wants You (But You May Not Want Oprah)

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Oprah. The mere mention of her name sets writers' (and let's face it, publishers') hearts aflutter. Oprah, maker of best sellers. Oprah, whose most offhand endorsement can generate massive sales. What author hasn't daydreamed about that kind of exposure? What author hasn't wondered how their life would change if their book became an Oprah pick? Well, other than Jonathan Franzen.

So I'm betting that legions of poets are thrilled by this call for submissions at Oprah's website.
Poetry—it has the power to excite, encourage, and even sustain us during difficult times. How has poetry made an impact on your life? O, The Oprah Magazine is teaming up with guest editor Maria Shriver for our poetry-themed April issue, which hits newsstands March 15. Send us your original work or a favorite poem that's especially meaningful to you—Maria will review submissions, and some may appear in the magazine or on Oprah.com this spring.
Sound tempting? Not so fast. There's a problem: the Terms and Conditions for original submissions, a.k.a. the fine print, to which you consent in full simply by sending in a poem. These appear (in very fine print indeed) below the entry form.

According to Item 2, poets won't be paid. "Neither Harpo [Oprah's company] nor any of its affiliated companies or entities are obligated to use or pay you for any Submission." (My bolding.) For many poets, perhaps, not such a big deal--I'm sure plenty of people will be willing to pass up money in order to be able to add Oprah's magazine to their publication credits.

But that's not all. Again, my bolding.
4. All Submissions shall become the property of Harpo, may be edited for length, clarity and/or functionality, will not be subject to any obligation of confidentiality, may be shared with and used by the staff of Harpo and any of their affiliated companies or entities and shared with legal authorities if Harpo believes it warranted. Neither Harpo nor any party with whom Harpo shares the Submissions shall be liable for any use or disclosure of any information or Submission that you submit.

5. Harpo shall exclusively own all known or later existing rights to the Submissions worldwide with the unrestricted right to use the Submissions for any purpose in all media now known or hereafter discovered without compensation to the provider of such Submissions.
What this boils down to:

- Simply by submitting your poem, you grant Oprah's company and anyone in or affiliated with it the right to use or disclose your submission and any information accompanying it, without limit.

- Simply by submitting your poem, you grant Oprah's company all rights to your entry, exclusively and worldwide, presumably for the full term of copyright.

Run away.

Recently, a lot of anger was stirred up in the writing community over a contest launched by new publisher First One Publishing, which featured very similar rights grabs. Will any of that outrage be directed Oprah's way? It will be interesting to see.

Just another reason to read the fine print.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Update on Strategic Book Publishing / Writers Literary Agency / Robert Fletcher

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Many of you may already be familiar with the names in the title of this post. If you're not, have a look at this Alert on the Writer Beware website, and at my September 2009 post about the Florida Attorney General's civil lawsuit against Fletcher, his companies, and some of his business associates for deceptive business practices.

For those of you wondering about the status of the lawsuit, it's still active, and proceeding through the courts. Lawsuits of this kind often progress very slowly, especially where defendants seek to delay the process by filing jurisdictional disputes, motions for changes in venue, and the like. We will be posting updates as we receive them.

EDITED MAY 2014 TO ADD: The lawsuit has been settled, with Strategic and Fletcher ordered to pay restitution to authors. A full report is here