Author Topic: The pain of saying no to a trade offer  (Read 502 times)

David VanDyke

The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« on: February 12, 2019, 01:21:13 PM »
I was just offered a story contract by a big trade publisher. Yeah, not for a book, for a story, but still...

But the contract was for the full run of the copyright. Nonexclusive, but with the right of the buyer to resell and republish in any way, shape or form for full copyright.

Given that I'm still alive last time I checked, and assuming I'll live another 11+ years, that means the rights wouldn't revert, and it would go into the public domain around the year 2100.

The wouldn't negotiate--not on the number of years, not on a reversion clause, not on anything. I made it clear that I'd be open to some kind of counteroffer--no dice.

They were quite cordial, but it was a dealbreaker. I wouldn't give them all they wanted, and they wouldn't budge.

I felt like I was inside a KKR/DWS blog post...and there's a certain amount of psychic pain in refusing to give in and get a story published by a big publisher. I believed I was beyond that need for validation, but I apparently didn't know my own mind as well as I thought...

Yet I'm sure I made the right decision.

So, if there's a moral to the story, it's just what KKR has said: be willing to walk away if you believe it's the right decision. Long-term control of your own IP is more important than almost anything.



Never listen to people with no skin in the game.
 

Maggie Ann

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2019, 01:24:13 PM »
 :tup3b
           
 

LilyBLily

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2019, 01:28:50 PM »
Good for you.

Also worth noting, if a company will not negotiate with you in the slightest, that means it does not hold you in high regard. In both the long run and the short run, it's best to do deals with people who want to make you happy.
 
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notthatamanda

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2019, 09:30:54 PM »
There is validation to be had in knowing that they wanted it, and that you are in a position to say no.   :clap:

Any theories on why a big trade would want just a short story?  They must have had some plan for something to do with it, they weren't going to publish it alone right?
 

Llano

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2019, 11:59:40 PM »
Years ago I had an offer from a major cable network for an original screenplay. My entertainment attorney and I agreed the offer was far too low and I told him to tell the network to shove it. He said it's not good business to just walk away--better to make a counter offer they won't pay. We came up with such a price, about three times what they had offered, and he made the call. Less than an hour later he called back and said, "We should have asked for more."
 

Vijaya

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2019, 12:26:43 AM »

So, if there's a moral to the story, it's just what KKR has said: be willing to walk away if you believe it's the right decision. Long-term control of your own IP is more important than almost anything.


I agree. Be willing to walk away. But it still hurts. I'm curious though--can you distribute as effectively as the biggies? That's what I have to consider given that on my own, I'm lesser than a prawn. Perhaps this is why I'm not terribly attached to my IP. That and working on new stuff.

Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces, primarily for children
Vijaya Bodach | Personal Blog | Bodach Books
 

munboy

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2019, 01:02:37 AM »
It's always hard to walk away from making money.

Their right to resell is definitely a deal-breaker. Even though they're nonexclusive rights and you can sell the story to others, there's a large likelihood they'll be selling it to the same anthology as you're trying to get into, and with their connections as publishers, they'd have a better chance and they can undercut you on the price to publish.

The only positive I see from that is it would be getting your name out there to the readers of the anthologies they sell it to.
 

Bill Hiatt

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Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2019, 02:31:02 AM »
Perhaps if enough people say no, the trads will realize that their current demands go too far.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who wouldn't have the guts.

I could see myself giving in under the right circumstances. Luckily, I've never had to face that dilemma.


Tickling the imagination one book at a time
Bill Hiatt | fiction website | education website | Facebook author page | Twitter
 

bardsandsages

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2019, 06:16:40 AM »
But the contract was for the full run of the copyright. Nonexclusive, but with the right of the buyer to resell and republish in any way, shape or form for full copyright.

When you say "resell and republish" did they actually mean something like

"We want to publishing it in ABC Magazine this week. But we might want to publish it in DEF Journal next year. Oh, and in 2020 we are also going to publish it in an anthology and in 2021 we plan to publish it in a completely different anthology."

or

"WE want to publish it in the July issue of ABC Magazine, which will remain on sale forever in ebook format."

Without seeing the exact verbiage, I'm not clear on what they were actually asking for, particularly with the non-exclusive clause. When I buy short stories, I buy non-exclusive, perpetual rights for the specific project (because if I publish something in an anthology via POD, I'm not going to pull it off the market two years from now. It's gonna remain available for sale for however long the anthology continues to sell copies.

It's one thing if they need perpetual rights so they can publish new editions of an anthology. For example, if they publish the Best New Awesome People 2018 Anthology this year and in five years they want to republish that Anthology as part of a box set. You want flexibility to do that without having to try and track down each individual author five years later.

But if, on the other hand, they were looking at doing things like reselling movie or TV rights or reproducing the story in something other than the original project, then that would be a no go.
Writer. Editor. Publisher. Game Designer. Resident Sith.
 

Kate Elizabeth

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #9 on: February 13, 2019, 08:02:07 AM »
Good for you, David.
 

David VanDyke

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #10 on: February 13, 2019, 08:09:35 AM »
There is validation to be had in knowing that they wanted it, and that you are in a position to say no.   :clap:

Any theories on why a big trade would want just a short story?  They must have had some plan for something to do with it, they weren't going to publish it alone right?

It was for anthology use.
Never listen to people with no skin in the game.
 

David VanDyke

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #11 on: February 13, 2019, 08:12:30 AM »

I agree. Be willing to walk away. But it still hurts. I'm curious though--can you distribute as effectively as the biggies? That's what I have to consider given that on my own, I'm lesser than a prawn. Perhaps this is why I'm not terribly attached to my IP. That and working on new stuff.

Believe me, it wasn't the easiest decision. Publication might have helped me, but not as significantly as a book would have.

I was expecting a counter-offer rather than "no dice." I even said "I'm open to counter-offers." They flat said "my way or the highway." So, there was no room to wiggle.
Never listen to people with no skin in the game.
 

David VanDyke

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #12 on: February 13, 2019, 08:18:18 AM »


When you say "resell and republish" did they actually mean something like

"We want to publishing it in ABC Magazine this week. But we might want to publish it in DEF Journal next year. Oh, and in 2020 we are also going to publish it in an anthology and in 2021 we plan to publish it in a completely different anthology."

or

"WE want to publish it in the July issue of ABC Magazine, which will remain on sale forever in ebook format."


But if, on the other hand, they were looking at doing things like reselling movie or TV rights or reproducing the story in something other than the original project, then that would be a no go.

The first thing--and worse, actually. They could resell the rights to someone else entirely.

They wanted the right to resell the nonexclusive right to anyone, forever, in any format, for the life of the copyright. The only upside for me was that it was nonexclusive. Other than that, they could do whatever they wanted--sell it to another publisher for another anthology, translate it and sell it to some foreign publisher, make a screenplay of it and resell the rights to a media company, whatever, and I would have no say in it.

Now, it was not to be an outright purchase--it was advance+ residuals of 50% of net, which means if thy did do any of those things, I'd get 50% of net earnings.

So, was it a wise move to not cave to their boilerplate "sorry that's how we do things" demands? I dunno. What if they did resell it and it made money and got exposure? Believe me, these things ran through my head and are still running--but I'm simply not comfortable with no reversion clause and no sunset.
Never listen to people with no skin in the game.
 

Vijaya

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2019, 08:54:27 AM »
If you're not comfortable not being able to control what happens to the story, you did the right thing by turning it down, David.

A lot of the biggies don't negotiate and some of us are happy to grant them all rights even. I mean, when Highlights publishes a story of mine, upwards of 2 million kids read it. That's more important to me than the $$$. And some companies send you a cut when they resell to 3rd parties. Highlights is one. They don't have to, but they're classy that way.

Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces, primarily for children
Vijaya Bodach | Personal Blog | Bodach Books
 

bardsandsages

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #14 on: February 13, 2019, 11:42:00 PM »
The first thing--and worse, actually. They could resell the rights to someone else entirely.

Ah, no. You did the right thing. Any company that makes that big of a rights grab probably also engages in "Hollywood accounting" and the 50% net would have never materialized anyway after they deduct all of their deductions.
Writer. Editor. Publisher. Game Designer. Resident Sith.
 

martialartist

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #15 on: February 14, 2019, 05:35:09 AM »

Also worth noting, if a company will not negotiate with you in the slightest, that means it does not hold you in high regard.

It could also mean they have other options.
 

Bill Hiatt

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Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #16 on: February 14, 2019, 06:08:06 AM »

Also worth noting, if a company will not negotiate with you in the slightest, that means it does not hold you in high regard.

It could also mean they have other options.
The two things are not mutually exclusive, and they could be causally connected. Having a wide range of options leads to not needing to regard any one of those options that highly.

And that's really a large part of our problem as writers. A few A-listers whose work is practically guaranteed to wind up on the besteseller list will still be respected by publishers. Everyone else can increasingly be treated like dirt because of the perception that if a writer says no, there are plenty are others that will say yes.

And there are plenty of others that will say yes. Some successful self pubbers like David will say no, but an awful lot of people will be sucked in by the lure of that trad pubbed validation or for other reasons. Trad pubs may speak derisively of self-publishing in public, but they know there are a lot of good writers who self-publish. They also know there are good writers who won't self-publish because they are waiting for that trad nod. Between those two groups, there are more than enough people to fill those trad pub needs.

The only thing I see reversing that trend might be what happens when today's debut authors reach the point of being really successful. It used to be that high levels of success meant better contracts. But will that be the case going forward? Does a publisher who has that new A-lister all tied up in life-of-copyright contracts with no reversion clauses, exclusive licenses to all the worlds the author has created so far, and non-compete clauses really have to offer a better deal? Before, an author could have walked away, and in recent years that author could have self-published, but maybe now that author will be contractually tied down in a way that precludes it. That tied up = no bargaining leverage.

I'm not saying all publishers will behave this way, but I fear the pattern could become more and more common.


Tickling the imagination one book at a time
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David VanDyke

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #17 on: February 14, 2019, 07:24:48 AM »
There is an oversupply of good writers. There always has been. There's no incentive to value individual writers unless one has a "name" that will add to the trade's bottom line. I'm sure there are plenty others who will be happy to join the "Year's Best" anthology--but now we also know that the "year's best" needs a big asterisk.
Never listen to people with no skin in the game.
 

LilyBLily

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #18 on: February 14, 2019, 11:58:43 AM »
It's worth noting that different parts of the arts world have different standards regarding rights--and so do different countries. (The U.S. doesn't legally recognize droit moral, for instance.) Plenty of authors are used to selling all rights in one corner of the biz and to being offered royalties in another.

What is scary and repulsive is a rights grab from the kind of company one would expect to treat one fairly. This is an increasing trend, and we all would do well to fight it tooth and nail.

And rights grabs can come from all directions. I've had a potential service provider try to make me sign a contract making me that person's employer--thus making me legally liable for unemployment insurance and for paying half the employee's Social Security taxes and filing W-2s on the person's behalf. All for a beta read or copy edit. No way. Such work doesn't fit the legal definition of employment--not that employers haven't been cheating their way around that lately by hiring people through temp agencies or calling them contractors, yet demanding employee behavior from them.

Anyway, if something smells like dead fish, keep away.
 
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Cathleen

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #19 on: February 14, 2019, 03:04:52 PM »
Every time I consider querying--because I really would like to go through a large trade house editing cycle, for the learning experience--I picture something like this. Trade is getting hardcore on its rights demands.

So even though I had no problem with being a hybrid author under the old model, I guess the thought of all the money they didn't make off of Rowling (like her publisher didn't make some serious money off HP already) is enough for publishers to try to lock up all rights in perpetuity.

What it probably means is a sharper demarcation--fewer hybrid authors. Or at least fewer pubbing new work through the trade houses. I picture quite a few people satisfying their old contracts and getting out. Or worse, quitting the game entirely.

With B&N scaling back on their bookstore sizes, there's an increasingly small chance that a new author's work will be anything but a special order, with no shelf space at all. That was the big incentive, and it doesn't seem as likely going forward.

I think the idea of a trade contract is mostly a nostalgia thing. It's disappointing because I always pictured myself walking into a bookstore and buying one of my books someday. That was my real definition of success. And I don't think a trade contract is likely to get me that anymore, even apart from all the ridiculous rights grabs.

So, we learn to define success differently and move on. It just seems like anything else is engaging in dangerous wishful thinking. YMMV. :)
 

David VanDyke

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #20 on: February 14, 2019, 03:36:35 PM »
I think it also has to do with IP and valuation, as KKR has been talking about. They want all these rights that they may never even expect to exercise, partly so they can point to the rights as corporate value. My little pebble would be just a tiny part of the mound, but the mound adds up.
Never listen to people with no skin in the game.
 

Dennis Chekalov

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #21 on: February 14, 2019, 03:57:03 PM »
There is an oversupply of good writers.

Maybe, but when I watch new movies and TV-series...
Remakes, reboots, remakes, reboots, reboots' remakes, remakes' reboots...
And many of them are much worse than originals...
« Last Edit: February 14, 2019, 08:43:35 PM by Dennis Chekalov »
 

David VanDyke

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #22 on: February 15, 2019, 07:32:42 AM »
There is an oversupply of good writers.

Maybe, but when I watch new movies and TV-series...
Remakes, reboots, remakes, reboots, reboots' remakes, remakes' reboots...
And many of them are much worse than originals...

Good screenplay writers are a bit different from good genre fiction writers (what I really meant when I talked about an oversupply). Also, the decision as to what to produce, rather than the actual script, is almost never within the purview of the writer. A raft of people other than the writer make all those decisions, except in the unusual case where the writer has more control, such as with Babylon 5, where JMS wrote and controlled nearly everything. That's unusual, though. Most of the time, the screenplay writers are repeatedly clubbed into the boxes the directors and producers want them in--to my knowledge.
Never listen to people with no skin in the game.
 

Llano

Re: The pain of saying no to a trade offer
« Reply #23 on: February 16, 2019, 01:05:44 PM »
Good screenplay writers are a bit different from good genre fiction writers (what I really meant when I talked about an oversupply). Also, the decision as to what to produce, rather than the actual script, is almost never within the purview of the writer. A raft of people other than the writer make all those decisions, except in the unusual case where the writer has more control, such as with Babylon 5, where JMS wrote and controlled nearly everything. That's unusual, though. Most of the time, the screenplay writers are repeatedly clubbed into the boxes the directors and producers want them in--to my knowledge.

Funny you should mention JMS.

I used to talk to him on a forum, restricted to WGA writers. He once mentioned that he was just back from a meeting at Warners and had seen their feature slate for the year. Every movie on the list had a Roman numeral in the title.

He was at Warners trying to set up a picture they passed on. He gave us the elevator pitch and I nearly fell out of my chair. I told him I would buy a ticket right then. I check his IMDb periodically to see it was ever set up. It wasn't. (P.S. It was nothing like Babylon 5 or anything else he had ever written.)

There's no shortage of brilliant scripts in Hollywood. There are piles of them, well, these days there are hard drives full of them. But Hollywood isn't looking for brilliant, or original--they're looking for superheroes, remakes of remakes, reboots, or anything with a Roman numeral in the title.

There's an old story in Hollywood: Producer asks a friend to meet him for lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Producer slams an original screenplay on the table and says, "I just bought this fabulous script. Who can we get to rewrite it?"

By far the best product coming out of Hollywood these is on TV, primarily cable and streaming. There's a reason for that. In TV, writers (working as showrunners) are in absolute control. Directors are hired by the episode to say "action" and "cut."