Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers and industry news and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

February 27, 2015

Crescent Moon Press, Musa Publishing Close Their Doors


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware 
 



Crescent Moon Press has announced that it is closing. From a mass email sent out to authors late last month:

On March 31st  at 11:59 pm, Crescent Moon Press will release all author [sic] from contracts.  All rights will revert back to authors for their manuscripts. If your contract expires prior to March 31st, it will not be renewed. Final royalty payments will be issued as well as any necessary documents as soon as they become available. Please be patient as we work to close out our business affairs.

Artwork will remain property of the company. If you would like to purchase the rights to your artwork, please let us know.

This is not done lightly, nor is it done with a heavy heart. We have enjoyed our experience as publishers immensely, but the time has come to move on with alternate endeavors.
While I don't imagine that Crescent Moon authors will much appreciate the "have a nice life" tone of the last paragraph, many of them will probably not be surprised. Though the letter makes no mention of financial or other problems, reports by authors who've contacted me over the past year suggest that Crescent Moon has been troubled for some time.

The litany of complaints is familiar: poor communication, missing or non-timely payments, poor editing, finished books with lots of typographical errors. The publisher's response (made to me in email) is also familiar: The authors complaining were on a "witch hunt" because they couldn't deal with their poor sales.

Some authors have expressed concern about whether the general release in the mass email is sufficient to return their rights. In my (non-legal) opinion, it probably is--but it would be much better if authors received individual reversion letters, and if I were a Crescent Moon author, I would definitely request one. Final royalty payments (and statements) are still an open question.

Crescent Moon's website doesn't say anything about the closure; in fact, as of this writing, it is still "open to general submissions."

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Musa Publishing is also going out of business. From the email received by authors last week:

On January 21, we held a quarterly budget and planning meeting to address some of the many challenges 2015 will present. We came away with some proposals and tasks which we hoped would resolve some critical budget and staffing concerns. Since February 6, we have been in daily discussions as a team. We met again on Friday February 13 to formally agree on a plan going forward for Musa Publishing.

As you all know, the publishing market changes rapidly. Most markets have suffered and eBook publishers are no exception. The rising costs of doing business and reduced sales have hit us extremely hard in spite of fantastic books and enthusiastic efforts of staff and authors alike....

Because we are absolutely determined to pay our authors and staff; to remain debt-free and empowered to live out our founding values, this week Celina, Kelly, Kerry, Jeanne, and Dominique together made the painful decision that Musa can no longer remain open.
Musa authors may be experiencing whiplash from the abruptness of the closure: as of February 28, Musa will cease to exist. (Though in retrospect, the November closing of Musa's ezine, Penumbra, seems like a warning sign.)

Musa claims in the letter that "we are not in financial trouble." However, authors have been reporting issues with Musa for a long time (see the long, long, long discussion thread at Absolute Write). Complaints include rapid editor changeover, a lack of marketing support, brusque responses to author concerns, and overextended staff. (It should be noted that, although many authors have expressed disappointment with sales, Musa does not seem to have had a problem with missed or late payments). Some authors felt that Musa, which expanded very rapidly after its September 2011 opening and quickly built up a huge catalog, ultimately became little more than an author mill.

Apart from the abrupt notice, Musa does seem to be going about the closure responsibly. It has pledged to provide individual reversion letters and to send royalty payments and statements due, and has announced the closure on its website.

This is a very sad situation. Musa arose in the wake of a small press horror story (Aspen Mountain Press, where some of its founders worked), and began with the best of intentions. In the end, I think it simply tried to do too much too fast, and stretched itself too thin to survive.

February 24, 2015

New Life For Old Books (Mine!)

Posted by Victoria Strauss

One of the greatest things about the digital revolution is the opportunities it has created to give new life to old books. Years ago, books rarely came back into circulation once they were taken off the market--but the proliferation of digital self-publishing options, as well as the rise of digital publishers specializing in reprints, has changed all that.

I've written nine novels, but until recently, only four were "in print" and available. Today, I'm thrilled to announce that four of my backlist books are being re-released as ebooks by Open Road Media. This brings all but one of my novels back into circulation (that one, Worldstone, was badly in need of updating; I'm planning on revising and self-publishing it later this year).

The Way of Arata Duology

http://www.victoriastrauss.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/The-Awakened-City-Reissue-194x300.jpghttp://www.victoriastrauss.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/The-Burning-Land-Reissue-194x300.jpgThe Way of Arata duology (The Burning Land and The Awakened City) was originally published in 2004 and 2006 by HarperCollins Eos (now Harper Voyager). It's epic fantasy for adults, featuring diverse characters in an exotic non-Western setting.

Of all my novels, these are the ones of which I'm most proud, and that I feel best represent me as a writer.

From Open Road: A magnificent tale of intolerance, magic, and holy war, the duology explores deep questions of faith and humanity as it transports readers to the kingdom of Arsace, a troubled realm where the newly reborn Brethren cruelly enforce the strict dictates of their once-outlawed deity, Ârata.

The saga chronicles the Brethren’s unrelenting persecution and attempted destruction of the mystical Shapers, powerful renegade mages who escaped into the sacred Burning Land years before, when the Brethren themselves were the victims of a tyrannical atheistic government. It is the story of a traveler in both worlds, a devout Âratist priest and Shaper named Gyalo Amdo Samchen, and the remarkable journey he makes from disciple to doubter to lover of the mysterious Dreamer Axane, and ultimately, to man of peace.

"An involving novel that shines with intelligence…Combined with a solid plot and Strauss’ crisp, clean and literate prose, this is one of those novels that envelops readers, the kind of book that makes it a pleasure to linger in its imagined world." --Science Fiction Weekly on The Burning Land

" Like A Canticle for Leibowitz, Strauss’s The Awakened City explores deeply reflective themes like the true meaning of faith, the pitfalls of zealotry, and the very dangerous non-spiritual influences of organized religion…[A] highly intelligent, profoundly thought-provoking work." --Barnes & Noble Explorations on The Awakened City

For more reviews, excerpts, the original (gorgeous) covers, and a large amount of bonus material (including maps), visit The Burning Land and The Awakened City on my website.

Giveaways!!

If you buy The Burning Land, Open Road wants to give you a free ebook of The Awakened City! Just tweet with the hashtag #BoughtBurningLand by March 1(and be sure to follow @OpenRoadMedia so they can notify you if you win). Official rules are here.

To celebrate the re-release, I'm running a Goodreads giveaway! Enter by March 1 to win one of five signed copies of the beautiful original hardcover edition of The Burning Land.

Guardian of the Hills

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A historical fantasy for teens, Guardian of the Hills was my third novel, published by Morrow Junior Books in 1995. I had a lot of fun with the research, which included a visit to the fascinating Moundville historical site in Alabama.

Open Road keeps its covers simple, but the new cover is a vast improvement on the original, which I absolutely loathed (even though it was done by a pretty well-known cover artist). Take a look and see what you think

From Open Road: A young girl in Depression-era Arkansas discovers her Native American heritage when a series of strange and troubling spiritual events plague an archaeological excavation on sacred lands...An ingenious blend of historical fiction and dark fantasy, this is a page-turning tale that thrills and chills in equal measure.

"Mysterious dreams, suspense-filled legends, the terror that unfolds as the dig ensues, and the fine characterizations weave together beautifully to make this adventure fantasy a winner." --Booklist (starred review)

Guardian of the Hills was chosen as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age.

For more reviews and an excerpt, click here.

The Lady of Rhuddesmere

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Published by Frederick Warne in 1982, The Lady of Rhuddesmere is a historical novel for teens.

Lady was my debut novel. I wrote it when I was 17; it got me an agent who found me a publisher (a journey of nearly 10 years), where a wonderful editor helped me re-write it from beginning to end, and in the process taught me more about writing than I've learned before or since.

From Open Road: In this powerful young adult historical fiction classic, a young man serving a sad and secretive lady in an isolated English manor makes a shocking discovery that could destroy those he loves....Nominated for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, Victoria Strauss’s acclaimed debut novel bridges the gap between historical fiction for youth and adults with a chillingly provocative Gothic tale that sheds a stark, revealing light on human cruelty, ignorance, and intolerance.

“Riveting historical fiction . . . A compelling, suspenseful read, with fine accuracy and integration of historical detail.” --School Library Journal

For more reviews, an excerpt, and the (very dramatic) original cover, click here.

February 12, 2015

Editing Clauses in Publishing Contracts: How to Protect Yourself

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Editing clauses are one of those publishing contract areas where there should be a balance between the publisher's interests and the writer's.

Publishers need a certain amount of latitude to edit a manuscript to prepare it for publication. They also need to have the right of final approval--they don't want to be forced to publish a manuscript that the author can't or won't revise to their satisfaction.

Writers, on the other hand, need assurance that they will be a partner in the editing process, and that their work won't be changed in major ways without their permission.

Whether you're publishing an entire book, or a story in an anthology or magazine, the editing clause of your contract should ensure that content editing (the kind of serious editing that focuses on plot, pace, structure, style, and content) includes your cooperation (ideally, the editor will provide revision suggestions and you will carry them out yourself), and that alterations other than copy editing can't be made without your consent. If the publisher isn't happy with your revisions, or you don't want to implement the publisher's suggestions, the publisher's remedy should be to refuse to publish--not to unilaterally impose changes.

For copy editing, by contrast, the publisher usually has discretion. But you should have the opportunity to see and approve the copy edited manuscript before it goes to press.

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Red Flag Editing Clauses

Here's an example of an editing clause that should be a dealbreaker (this and other clauses quoted below are taken from actual contracts in my possession):
Publisher shall have the right to edit and revise the Work for any and all uses contemplated under this Agreement.
What's missing here? Any obligation on the publisher's part to seek your approval before making the edits and revisions. A clause like this allows the publisher to edit at will without consulting or even informing you. If you sign a contract with this kind of language, you are at the mercy of the publisher and its editors (and if it's a small press, those editors may not be very qualified). You shouldn't be surprised if the publisher takes advantage of it.

This clause is more elaborate, but has the same effect (this language is fairly common, by the way; I've seen it in many contracts):
The Publisher shall be entitled to develop, alter, edit, and proof the content, usage, format, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling of the Work to conform to the Publisher's style, the subject matter, and intended audience previously agreed upon by the parties of this Agreement.
Here's another bad one, which is explicit about the publisher's right to edit at will:
Publisher has the right of final approval of Author’s manuscript. Publisher will assign an editor to work with Author in making revisions. The Author agrees that Publisher can make editorial changes to the manuscript, including, but not limited to spelling, grammar and punctuation corrections, and abridgments of text without Author’s consent.
Less obviously a problem is something like this:
Publisher shall have the right to correct errors, and/or edit and revise the Work for any and all uses contemplated under this Agreement (collectively "Editing"), provided that the meaning of the Work is not materially altered.
Again, this is a very common formulation. Many authors skip right over it, because on a surface reading it appears to protect the work from major changes. Not so. "Provided that the meaning of the Work is not materially altered" can cover a huge amount of ground, including stylistic alterations, abridgements, additions, and all sorts of things that might not change your manuscript's meaning but could seriously change its tone and style. Plus, the publisher is not required to consult you or get your permission before making those changes--and if you don't like the changes, you may not be able to persuade the publisher to undo them.

This one throws the author a bone, in the form of notification:
Publisher has the right of final approval of Author's manuscript. Publisher will have the right to correct errors and revise the work for all purposes of this Agreement. The Author will be notified prior to any and all substantial changes.
But although this may prevent you from being blindsided by enormous changes in your finished book or story (or not--the publisher's definition of "substantial" may not be the same as yours), you have no power to dispute or refuse those changes.

Alternatively, the publisher may be willing to give you input into the editing process, but reserves the right to ignore your suggestions:
Publisher shall have the right to edit and revise the Work for any and all uses contemplated under this agreement. Author shall be consulted if substantial changes are made, provided that in any dispute over such changes, Publisher's decision shall prevail.
A related issue is a clause like this one, which may appear in addition to the editing language:
If the Publisher considers it necessary and in the best interests of the Work, the Author agrees to revise the Work on request of the Publisher. The provisions of this agreement shall apply to each revision of the Work by the Author as though that revision were the work being published for the first time under this agreement, except that the manuscript of the revised work shall be delivered in final form by the Author to the Publisher within a reasonable time after request for revision...Should the Author not provide a revision acceptable to the Publisher within a reasonable time, or should the Author be deceased, the Publisher may have the revision done and charge the cost of such revision against royalties due, or that may become due, the Author, and may display in the revised work, and in advertising, the name of the person, or persons, who revised the work.
This is a Revision clause. While it's appropriate for a work of nonfiction, which may need to be revised from time to time to keep it up to date, it does not belong in a fiction contract: novels, once published, are not typically revised. If you see a revision clause in your contract, negotiate with the publisher to remove or strike it. I've heard of at least one publisher that used a revision clause to unilaterally enforce unwanted edits--at the author's expense.

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What To Look For

Are clauses like the ones above a guarantee of malfeasance? Not necessarily. It's entirely possible that the publisher will be conscientious and ethical, that you will be a full partner in the editing process, and everyone will wind up happy.

Problem is, you have no contractual assurance of this. These clauses give all the power to the publisher--and in publishing, the letter of the contract is the bottom line. You should never assume that what the contract says could happen, won't happen. If the publisher has a dictatorial attitude, or employs not-very-competent editors, or is just a deadbeat--all of which, unfortunately, are pretty common in the small press world--you could find yourself with a badly-edited manuscript and no way to protest it or fix it. I have gotten hundreds of complaints over the years from authors who've found themselves in this position because the editing clauses in their contracts gave them no rights and offered them no protection.

So what should you look for? Here are several examples of better editing clauses, taken from various book contracts I've seen, including my own:
The Publisher shall make no changes in, additions to, or eliminations from the manuscript, except for typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors, without Author's consent. Any other edits will be requested of the author and agreed upon between the author and editor prior to preparation for sale.
Publisher has the right of final approval of Author's manuscript. Publisher may assign an editor to work with Author in making revisions. The Author will be notified prior to any and all substantial changes, which will be made only with the Author's approval and participation...Publisher may make corrections of typographical errors without Author's consent.
If the complete manuscript for the Work delivered by the Author is not acceptable to the Publisher, the Publisher shall give the Author a written request for changes and revisions for such work...After the Work has been accepted by the Publisher, no material changes may be made in such Work without the Author's approval. However, the Publisher may copyedit the Work in accordance with its standards of punctuation, spelling, capitalization and usage. The Publisher shall send the copyedited manuscript to the Author, who shall make any revisions and corrections and return it within two weeks of receipt.
The Publisher shall request that the Author work cooperatively with the Publisher to make the Work satisfactory to the Publisher, in which event Author shall use best efforts to do so...Upon acceptance by the Publisher, no changes shall be made in the Work without the author's approval, except that the Author authorizes the Publisher to make the manuscript of the Work conform to its standard style in punctuation, spelling, capitalization and usage.
From an anthology contract:
The Publisher will make no major alterations to the Work's text or title without the Author's written approval. The Publisher reserves the right to make minor copy-editing changes.
And from a magazine contract:
The Publisher will make no alterations to the Work’s text or title without the Author’s written approval in e-mail or hardcopy. The Publisher reserves the right to make minor copyediting changes to conform the style of the text to its customary form and usage.
What's common in all these clauses: the author's consent is required before serious changes are made.

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In Closing

What to do if the publisher that has just made you an offer has a bad editing clause in its contract?

Try to negotiate. Ask that the publisher add language ensuring that your consent is required for changes other than copy editing--a la the clauses directly above. Many publishers will be willing to be flexible. If they aren't, as hard as it seems, you may want to seriously consider moving on.

Don't be swayed if the publisher assures you that in practice, you will always be consulted, or says something like "That's just in there for the lawyers; we won't do anything without your consent." This may be true at that particular moment--but you have no guarantee that it will still be true at some future point. Again, never assume that what the contract says could happen, won't happen.

Obviously, with even the best contract language, things can go wrong. But if you sign a contract that doesn't protect your rights in the editing process, you are really making yourself vulnerable. Just another reason to be smart and careful out there.

For some tips on cultivating the right mindset when evaluating a publishing contract, see my recent blog post: Evaluating Publishing Contracts: Six Ways You May Be Sabotaging Yourself.

February 5, 2015

SFWA Opens to Self-Published Authors; Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Makes Contract Changes

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I have two pieces of SFWA-related news to share today.

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Members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) have voted to open membership to self-published and small press authors. From the official statement:
Specific details will be posted at sfwa.org by the first of March, but the basic standards are $3,000 for novel, or a total of 10,000 words of short fiction paid at 6 cents a word for Active membership. A single story of at least 1,000 words paid at 6 cents a word will be required for Associate membership. Affiliate, Estate, and Institutional membership requirements remain unchanged.

Self-published and small-press works were already eligible for the Nebula and Norton Awards, SFWA’s member-voted genre award, and will remain so.

SFWA will open to applications from small press and independent publishing qualifying members on March 1, 2015. Further information will be available at that time at SFWA's Membership Requirements page.
Voting members supported the change 6 to 1. This has been a long time coming, and I am thrilled that it's here at last.

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SFWA's Contracts Committee has issued the following announcement:
Several months ago, a number of members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) raised questions with the SFWA Contracts Committee about the contract then in use by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF).

The SFWA Contracts Committee and Gordon Van Gelder, Publisher of F&SF, have worked together over the past several months to resolve problems with the contract. As a result of the discussions, the contract has been revised to address issues involving the length of exclusivity requested and the registration of copyright. The Committee will continue to follow implementation of the new contract.

Mr. Van Gelder was offered an opportunity to make a statement, but declined. We would like to thank him for his professionalism and courtesy in working with the Committee.

Michael Armstrong, Chairperson
SFWA Contracts Committee
The Contracts Committee consists of Michael Armstrong, chairperson, Michael Capobianco, Victoria Strauss, Ken Liu, Jim Fiscus, and Michael Stackpole.

February 2, 2015

Who's Running Your Writers' Group? Why You Should Be Careful

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

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Joining a writers' group can be a terrific way to get feedback and support, and to make new friends. But what if that group isn't all it seems?

An alert Writer Beware reader drew my attention to what seems like a growing phenomenon: writers' groups sponsored by pay-to-play publishers.

A few examples--all from Meetup.com, where there are likely many more:

Onion Custard Publishing's Author Clinic is "looking to support authors who want to develop their ideas." Onion Custard also offers a suite of services for authors--all at a cost.

The Roswell Alpharetta Book Publishing Group for Authors, which helps writers "Network with other authors during your writing and publishing journey", is run by Firebrand Publishing, which provides "book publishing services at affordable rates."

PageCurl Publishing and Promotions runs two writers' groups, one in Seattle and one in Pennsylvania. Their aim: to "take the scary out of publishing." But not necessarily the cost: PageCurl offers publishing services at $45 per hour, as well as a la carte services and publishing packages starting at $3,500.

Grey Wolfe Publishing also has multiple groups, in Michigan and Missouri. They describe themselves as "a reliable pack of literary experts who will walk with you and protect you through even the darkest paths of the publishing forest!" One of those paths: Grey Wolfe's "all inclusive" publishing package, priced at $1,250. If you want, you can pay more...much more.

At Brisbane Self-Publishing Meetup, you can "Meet like-minded people and talk about your wins and challenges in getting your book published." The group is sponsored by Complete Publishing, "the new revolution in book publishing," which charges up to $6,500 AUD for a Premium Author Package (about $5,000 US). Not all that revolutionary--except maybe in your bank account.

The writers' group offered by Zimbell House Publishing has a "missions": "to help writers become quality authors." Quality authors can also buy one of Zimbell House's publishing packages, which start at $999.

The Greater Cleveland Writers Group is a large and well-established group that "exists to provide resources for novice to published writers in order to assist in developing, editing, publishing and marketing their work." Its MeetUP is sponsored by Cleveland Writers Press, which appears to provide some form of traditional publishing, but also sells self-publishing services.  

I've received no complaints about any of these publishing services. And I have no evidence that any of them are using these groups as a way to steer writers toward their paid services.

However, it's at least a possibility--and that potential conflict of interest is one reason why you should be cautious when a writers' group is sponsored by self-publishing service or pay-to-play publisher.

The other? The misinformation that such services and publishers often provide, whether about publishing or about themselves. Cleveland Writers Press, for instance, encourages authors to believe this common and pernicious myth:
Currently, the Publishing Industry basically ignores the up-and-coming author. Becoming a ‘published’ author is nearly a Black Art. There has been little interest in developing talented writers for decades.
And Grey Wolfe Publishing devotes an entire page of its website to explaining why its "unique 'hybrid' approach to publishing" is not vanity publishing. ("Hybrid," by the way, is one of the newest euphemisms used by vanity publishers, joining older deceptive terms like "co-op" and "joint venture".) So does Zimbell House Publishing. But if a company calls itself an "independent publisher" while at the same time requiring payment from authors, it's a vanity publisher, and no amount of verbiage about selectivity, partnership, expertise, or profound respect for authors can change that.

So be careful out there. Know who's running that writers' group you're thinking of joining--and if it's a publisher or a publishing service, be aware that it may be interested in more than just supporting you in your writing journey.
 
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