November 16, 2014

How dare I? How dare you?

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.
Writer: Fine.

Possible future employer: We would like you to jump through every flaming deadline hoop we throw at you.
Writer: Okay.

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.


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.

I take full responsibility for allowing things to go this far. But I will not write for free anymore. I will not write without a contract I understand. I will not treat my skill with less honor than it deserves. I consider myself a worker of words. Sometimes I feel as if I deal with more shit than plumbers. But if I were a plumber, I wouldn't take a job for no money. (And I wouldn't let someone tell me that "alter" means "excerpt.")

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.



Tamsin Flowers said...

Yes. I can't tell you how often these sorts of things have happened to me...

Sessha Batto said...

well put - there are always those who want to use and abuse your work (and expect you to be happy about it) and until we stand up and say no, it will never change!

F. Leonora Solomon said...

Recently, more than usual if that is possible, you have just really been speaking to a lot of things that so much of us as writers face. As if our craft, our work is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat and not as valid or deserving of respect, monetary or otherwise. Thank you for underscoring this, and restoring all of our worth.

Jo said...

Ah, this is gross. Just gross.

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Preach it, sister!

I can't tell you how many times I've walked away from a contract when the other party wouldn't negotiate, while watching authors around me blithely sign the same contract.

My writing mentors have a big ol' sign in their workshop room that says YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN CAREER. And "career" is a big part of this for me. I'm looking at contracts now with an eye toward the future.

I didn't know, 10, 15, 20 years ago that I'd be able to publish all my stories myself someday. Not signing bad contracts means I have the rights back to more than a hundred stories, and you bet I'm publishing them, as standalones, as collections, etc.

There will always be publishers to some degree. (I have my own publishing company now.) But the major publishers are going to have to learn to work WITH authors. They're barely now starting to realize that while THEY (publishers) need authors, we don't necessarily need them.

Remittance Girl said...

Brava, Alison

I don't there's anyone out there who has been 'hired' to write and hasn't experienced this sort of stuff recently.

It is ironic that as platforms have emerged that require more and more content (and have generated more and more income), things have gotten worse and worse for writers.

I have come to the conclusion that the sort of treatment you are describing might lead me to hate writing as a vocation, so I just stopped participating in that world.

Writers want to be read, but not at any price.

Miz Angell said...

Amazing Alison. I haven't been in that position, as all the wonderful editors and publishers I've worked with I've met through you.

I now know why I'm going through the hell of getting my publishing certificate. So that I can get my own work out there, and so I can help others like me.

And it all started with you.

kikidelovely said...

How infuriating! I know we have to put up with some amount of crap...but please never stop daring. I dare ya. ;) Because it's your daring nature that makes you one of the finest editors and writers out there.

Giselle Renarde said...

I fell asleep during The Player two nights ago! (It was on at like 3 in the morning) I'm still wondering how it ends...

An editor (outside erotica--outside fiction, in fact) recently sent me a contract, noting that she knew she said she'd pay me but actually, sorry, no money for you! I signed because the piece was soooo specialized and I'll never use it for anything else, but "infuriating" is the perfect word, Kiki. I'm stealing that. I'm furious at being treated this way. Never again.

There are a lot of reasons I dove into self-publishing. This shit is a big part of it.

Alison Tyler said...

At least with self-publishing, you won't intentionally fuck yourself up the ass. Right?

It's sad that all these stories exist. But I'm hopeful writers will ultimately say, "Enough."