Wednesday, August 16, 2017

There Are Rights and Then There Are Rights...

by Janis Patterson

Early this year I was talking with a dear friend of mine, a very successful romance writer who is so successful that she has her own Kindle World. For those who don’t know what KW is, it’s sort of a legitimized fan fiction scheme. A world is based on a popular book/series. People who want to write in that world can – as long as they follow certain contractual restrictions. If accepted by a Kindle committee, the book will be published, with half the income going to the original author. A different concept, but so far, so good.

To a point.

As I said, I was talking with my friend and we agreed that it would be a fun thing for me to come play in her world. She’s a multi-NYT, USA bestseller, so it would have been good for me. I wrote a book – and had a marvelous time doing it, as her fictional world is set in one of my favorite places in the real world, so it was sort of like a mini-vacation. Then, while finishing the book, I thought I should take another look at the KW rules before submitting, as I had only glanced at them before.

What a shock. Copied from the KW ‘how it works’ page :

You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all of the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you grant Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all of the original elements you include in that story for the term of copyright. This means that your story and all of the new elements must stay within the applicable World, and you can use only this platform to write about them(Emphasis mine.)

Whaaaat? You own the copyright, but grant them exclusive license to the story and ALL original elements in your story for the life of the copyright? (That is 75 years after your death, in case you didn’t know.) And if you want to write more using those characters they not only have to be exclusive to Amazon, but to KW? Worse still, if Amazon decides to end KW, or pull your book from the canon, your characters and original elements are still under their control. They can vanish from public view forever and contractually you can’t do a thing about it.

Amazon goes on to say :  

We recommend that you do not incorporate an original character or elements unless you want them to become an exclusive part of that World. In short, Kindle Worlds is a place to be creative and explore a popular World, but anything you create will become part of that World. (Emphasis mine.)

And, to be fair, they do say :
If this is not right for you, Amazon has many platforms (including Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace) for writers who want to be creative with original ideas but do not want their work under this kind of license.

What I don’t understand is why would anyone give away their rights for what is pretty much perpetuity like this? Especially for just HALF of the royalties? Amazon even says bluntly that no rights will be reverted before the end of copyright. Period. I know there has been a trend lately among traditional publishers to hold on to (sometimes to the point of refusing to return them no matter what the contract says) or demand longer terms on rights, but I find this is incredible.

Needless to say, I called my friend and said that I would not be putting anything into her world, that I could not simply give away my rights like that. I do intend to publish the book, but I was very careful to scrub it of any reference to her world or her characters, except for the physical location, which actually exists and has been used in books for at least a century. I offered to send her a manuscript copy so that she could be sure that there was no overlap with her work, but she most graciously said it wasn’t necessary. (We have been friends for many years…)

So while I can only goggle at anyone who would simply hand over the rights to their characters and ideas as well as their right to publish anywhere they want, such a rights confiscation apparently is not illegal. The writer has to submit and sign of their own free will, which makes the contract (however unfair I regard it) valid. I don’t have the right to order anyone not to accept such an arrangement (not that they would listen to me) because it’s their business, not mine. All I can do is beg everyone to read the FAQs and the contracts very carefully and make sure they completely understand just what they are signing away and for how long. Then I would remind them that they should do the same with every contract offered them, no matter from whom it comes. If there is the slightest question, they should turn to their agent (if they have one) or talk with an intellectual property lawyer. Or both.

Unfortunately the publishing world – like the world of movies and TV – is just brimming with sharks waiting to gobble up the creativity of the na├»ve. You the writers are the only ones who can protect yourselves and your creations. Make sure that any choice you make is a good one.


Anonymous said...

Wow! I was thinking about writing in a Kindle World and now am totally rethinking it. It's always a good idea to read through contracts carefully before signing. You never know what you might be signing away if you don't.

I'm glad to hear that you and your friend are still friends.

Fran McNabb said...

Quite the eye-opener. Great topic. I, too, was thinking about KW. Now, I'm not so sure. Thanks.

Terry Spear said...

I was asked to write for one, but I was like you, read the contract, and said no thanks.

Radine Trees Nehring said...

Whoa--thanks for taking the time to give this information!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

As you point out, Kindle World is only one publishing venture that is offering a terrible contract. As times get leaner for writers, more publishers offer less. We must read our contract offers with utmost care and consideration. It's so easy to be cheated. My advice, don't be so grateful that you've been offered a contract that you accept terms that cheat you. Always insist on negotiation. If the publisher won't consider making contract changes, look for a different one or self-publisher if you are capable of it.

Earl Staggs said...

Good information and good advice for all writers. Thanks.

Morgan Mandel said...

For a prolific author, it could be a fun thing. As long as the person knows the rules about rights. Amazon probably promotes it well also.

For someone like me, it wouldn't work at all. I'm lucky if I get one book done a year, and I certainly wouldn't want to share the royalties. I'm wondering if Kindle Scout as weird restrictions also.

Morgan Mandel

Lori L. Robinett said...

I second what Jacqueline Seewald said. I made the mistake of being over the moon when offered a contract. There was no out. Now my book is stuck with a lousy publisher that quit sending statements and refused to pay the royalties owed. My only recourse? Hire a lawyer and wait . . .

Elizabeth Bailey said...

Definitely a case for caveat emptor! I publish with Kindle myself and haven't gone exclusive because I find it too restrictive. But good to know about this. I didn't even know about Kindle World, so thanks for that too.

Shirleen Davies said...

I discussed joining an existing KW group, then read the contract. I understand 5 or 7 years, but the life of the copyright didn't work for me. I can see how it would be good for some authors, I'm just not one of them. I publish direct to many vendors and use Createspace and Ingram Spark for print.

Pamela Beason, Author said...

Whoa! Thanks so much for posting this. Like so many here, I had been invited to introduce my characters in a Kindle World and was tempted, but now I probably won't go there.

historywriter said...

I'm a writer who has published three mystery novellas on Kindle Worlds and haven't regretted it. I did read the fine print, but I'm fine with it. Maybe it's the world that I chose to go into, the Lei Crime Kindle World. I knew the author and I love Hawaii. Yes, it was a lot of work researching it, knowing the characters in the world bible (I had read a few of the novels) and when I brought in my historical interests, it took even longer. But the payoff to me was bringing fans of Toby Neal's world, which are numerous,to my historical novels. Sales have gone up. One of the novellas was a finalist in a lit contest.

Kindle Worlds is supposed to have 10 years on the novellas. After that, I don't know. Each world also has its own rules. Newer ones are more lenient in use of characters you have created in the world in using them outside in your own work.

Having a novella for 1.99 is nice to show up on your line of books, which in my case, is historical fiction. I could actually feel the weight of my books on Amazon. Something changed with visibility. I was getting attention and though I get only 65 cents per book, the first time out two years ago, I sold nearly $150.00 worth in the first full month --one novella. Sales are steady along with my regular books -- between $60.00 to $90.00 a month. One of the novellas, Coconut Island, was consistently in the top 100 on all mystery/thriller KW for a year. A new one, which came in May, is in the top 100. This is passive sort of marketing. It's done and it just goes on its own. I also have gained typo hunters available to the group of writers, marketing help (there's a new launch of books today)that is unreal. My costs for FB events have been from $10.00 to $20.00 as we are a group. That includes doing a Amazon card or Kindle.

We in the Lei Crime are going to be part of a cookbook with a story by Toby Neal in it. It comes out in November and will support Keiki Cupboard on Maui which helps with schoolkids and school supplies. My bio and other books will be mentioned. Maybe because the stories are set in Hawaii that this makes for a successful Kindle World, but I'm fine with it. We are lucky to have such support of the author, a lovely person in real life.

Susan said...

Thank you all for responding - I appreciate your interest.

Historywriter, thank you especially for sharing your experience with KW. Simply because I don't like the contract terms doesn't mean that others shouldn't - I just want to make sure that everyone knows exactly what they are getting into, which you obviously did, and you made your choice from an informed position, which is all I ever wanted for every writer. You're happy with your choice, and I'm glad.

Happy writing and good fortune to all.

Susan, aka Janis

Irene Black said...

Thank you for the information. Just getting my toes wet for full indie publishing and appreciate all the insights I can acquire.