Mmegi Blogs :: Writers have responsibilities
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Last Updated
Friday 16 November 2018, 13:42 pm.
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Writers have responsibilities

Like most writers I know, dodging work is a big part of my day. I walk the dogs. I work in the garden. I play on Facebook, I stalk folks on Twitter…mostly Mark Ruffalo and Margaret Atwood.
By Lauri Kubuitsile Fri 16 Feb 2018, 16:04 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Writers have responsibilities








Occasionally, though, productive things come out of social media, productive things such as ideas for columns. Most of my friends on Facebook are writers, so we often talk about writerly things.

The other day a friend put up a newspaper article from South Africa where a writer was complaining about a publisher there who had ‘cheated’ them.

There were many things in the article that raised red flags for me.

First, the author said that the ‘industry standard’ for royalties was 11-35%, but in this case he was dealing with a university press and was getting seven percent royalties on sales.

He said that they were cheating him. As I’ve spoken of here before, the standard royalty rate with traditional publishers is 10%.

Educational publishers and university presses can offer less, a few trade publishers will pay more.

I have a book with an international educational publisher where I’m getting only 6% royalties. I accepted this because I knew that the book was being sold worldwide and would be sold to Ministries of Education that required that the publisher have a smaller profit margin.

So seven percent is not unusual, but 35% certainly is, unless it’s self-published, and in that case, since the writer would be paying, I would expect them to get 100%.

In the article, the writer also talked about a production company approaching him about making his book into a film.

He said they offered him R150,000, but the publisher stopped the deal because the writer did not have the right to sell the film rights, only they did.

This I also found problematic. I’ve had five of my books that had some interest from production companies to be made into films. In South Africa, most of these deals pass through DALRO (The Dramatic, Artistic and Literary Rights Organisation).

Even if they don’t, a serious film production company would first pay a certain amount, about R10,000-R20,000, to get the optioning rights.

That means for two years they’re the only people who have the right to make a film of that book.

During those

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two years, the production company will source funds and prepare for making the film. This is a lengthy process.

 Most deals end there.

If they get to the next stage, where the film is actually going to be made, a new more comprehensive contract must be discussed.

As an author, if you’ve signed a book contract with the publisher, you have likely signed away your rights to negotiate these sorts of subsidiary deals, the publisher will do it on your behalf.

A percentage of the optioning fee is yours and will be stipulated in the contract.

It seems quite unprofessional for a film production company to approach an author and want to pay R150,000 to make a film of their book. It is just not the way things are done.

So like I said, there were many things in that article that set off red flags in my mind.  Also too, the publisher admitted that the contract was not signed before the book went into production.

That is absolutely not on. No writer should ever agree to that.

 Contracts must always be read, understood, and agreed on before anything begins.

This publisher sounds problematic, I would be very wary.

The point of all of this is, writers must understand the business and understand what to expect and what is expected of them.

When this article was on Facebook, people were all upset that this writer was being abused, but was he really? I’ll be the first to admit there are predatory ‘publishers’ out there, quite a few in Botswana in fact.

Fly-by-nights who promise the world and in the end steal the author’s manuscript and their money, but most of these can be flushed out quite quickly.

A bit of an internet search, an email to one of their other authors, and you should be able to get the information you need. 

But too, writers need to act professionally, publishing is a business. Contracts are not playing.

They are legal and they are binding—on both parties. Writers have responsibilities too, make sure you know yours.

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