I have been writing professionally for decades. And guess what? This type of interchange gets old:
Possible future employer: We would like you to write for free.
Possible future employer: We would like you to jump through every flaming deadline hoop we throw at you.
Possible future employer: We would like to own your work forever.
Writer: Sounds good.
Possible future employer: Here is a completely unreasonable contract we want you to sign.
Writer: Well, I have some changes I'd like to politely make.
Possible future employer: HOW DARE YOU?
Seriously. Some similar version of this has happened to me over and over again. When I was first starting out, an editor accepted a story of mine for an anthology. Then she announced to the writers that she hadn't been paid enough by the publisher to pay us for the stories. I thought, okay. Fine. I'll go with it for the credit. Then she sent a draconian contract stating she could do whatever she wanted with the story. Now, if there had been payment, maybe I'd have agreed. But as it stood, I balked.
And she responded: How dare you? You're lucky you even received a contract.
Ultimately, she made the contractual edits I requested—which basically said she could have the story for the book, but she couldn't do anything else with it. Reasonable, yes? Worth the drama? No.
A few years ago, I was working with another writer on a project. We jumped through every flaming hoop. Give us more. Faster. Explain. Pitch. Revise. When we received the contract, there was wording included that allowed the publisher to fire us, hire shiny new writers, and bill us to pay the replacements.
We said no.
HOW DARE YOU?
We walked. Possible future employers, I've learned, are surprised when you walk. But I have worn out my shoes walking away from miserable contracts.
Recently, I wrote a few articles for a website for free. Retroactively, I was asked to sign a contract. The contract stated that the site owned my articles. I thought, okay. Fine. I wasn't going to do anything else with them. The contract stated that the site could edit, publish, advertise, and alter my pieces.
After "alter," I added: "with author's approval."
And I received a "how dare you" type of email back. Seriously? You said my work has become your property. Which is pretty unfair. How dare *you* have a problem with my minor change?
The editor said "alter" really meant "excerpt" for Instagram, Twitter, etc.
I'm a writer, man. "Excerpt" is different from "alter."
Love does not alter when it alteration finds
Nor bends with the remover to remove
Insert "excerpt" and see how the poem flows.
I wrote back—yes, seething—and I said. No. I withdraw my approval.
Twice in the past year, I've subbed pieces to journalists who were asking writers for assistance. And I've had my words stolen. Both times the journalists used what I wrote in their leads. One gave me credit for a different portion of the article and one did not.
I'm done. I'm fucking done.
This post has been brewing for more than six months. I'm putting it up now to add to the "self-publishing" versus "real" writing conversation. Authors are often treated like second-class citizens. (That's nothing new. Remember The Player?) Self-publishing allows writers to put out the work they want, to design covers they adore, and to treat themselves with the respect they deserve.
Of course, there are fabulous, dreamy publishers, too. (Post brewing on this topic, as well.) But self-publshing is an option that did not exist in this manner even a few years ago. There will always be writers. But I'm not so sure that there will always be publishers. (You should have seen how confident our printer was several years ago, pounding his hand on the table as he said e-books were a fleeting whim.) I feel as if writers should pay attention to the opportunities as we enter this new era of publishing.
Let's see what gets altered in the future.