|Submitted by Paul Elard Cooley on Mon, 05/16/2011 - 10:28|
Although I've hinted at this before, I think it's finally time to come clean.
Based on the strength of an outline alone, and the success of Tattoo, a publisher offered me a contract for Garaaga's Children. As you might expect, I was a little more than overjoyed. That is, of course, until I saw the contract.
The contract was an intellectual property agreement. What does this mean exactly? Basically it means that the publisher in question wanted to license all the characters, stories, and etc for Garaaga's Children for a time period. They would publish all the stories and give me 70% of the profits. In addition, they reserved the rights to hire other artists and writers to work in my world and with my characters. All of this was acceptable. Up to a point.
The points I had issue with were two-fold. One was fudiciary, the other more sinister.
First, let's discuss the fudiciary. The royalty rate was 70%, true, but it was NET, meaning after all publisher's expenses had been recouped. This sounds fair, but let's discuss this for a second. Ever hear of Babylon 5? The popular sci-fi television show that spawned movies, comic books, and etc? Well, the creator of that show, Michael J Strazinski, made the mistake of signing a similar contract. To this day, he has yet to be paid because the television studios continue to insist the show hasn't paid of itself. That is despite the fact it's brought in over a billion dollars.
If you're smart, you'll ask the question "what expenses? Can you tell me what the fuck all this is going to cost so I have some idea of whether I'll ever get paid?"
Usually the answer is "whatever costs are necessary." They're not going to be itemized. They're not going to tell you what they think they'll need to do in order to put the project together. Legal, artistic, even fucking phone bills could be listed against the price of the book. In fact there's really nothing keeping the purveyor of the contract from adding their rent to the bottom line.
If there's no way for you to actually determine in advance what those expenses are going to be, you need to be wary. Very wary. I'm not saying the particular outfit that offered me the contract was out to get me or screw me. I'm just saying the fact they weren't willing to even estimate the costs was a bit disconcerting. If you don't have any idea how many books you have to sell to see your royalty, then you have no guarantee you will ever be paid.
Enough about cash. Let's talk about the intellectual property stuff. Now, it's very common for studios and the like to license characters and even specific universes. Just look at DC, Marvel, Firefly, Buffy, and the like. How that usually works is in a partnership capacity. Owners of characters and universes are unlikely to let someone take their properties without some say about how they're used. Imagine if someone put out a Superman porno because, well, they licensed the character and therefore could do what they liked with it. While I would find this hilarious, I doubt DC would for obvious reasons.
This contract prevented me from having full control over my world. In fact, it stipulated that if the company deemed my own work was unacceptable, they could readily replace me. Replace me. Replace the writer and creator of the whole fucking project. So if I didn't write the stories that fit THEIR vision of MY universe, I could be pushed aside and collect no money for the work I'd done.
Since I'm building a universe where many storylines and characters collide, I was worried about rights drift. In other words, what if I had plans for the Fiends universe to intersect with Garaaga's? Some of you smart fiendlings are already catching connections between the two and we're only on the first f'ing story. What happens if they intersect?
Again, I have no proof the company in question was trying to fuck me over. But I've learned from some very hard lessons not to trust someone with a handshake. Especially when you don't know them.
I asked for a renegotiated contract. I was told that was the only contract I would recieve and therefore the company withdrew their offer.
When you get a boiler plate contract from someone, you should always look over it very carefully and ensure you strike out items that could potentially fuck you over. No matter how ethical someone might be, you never know if that company will get bought or some other kind of license transfer may occur. If that happens, the entity that takes over may not be so ethical. The law is the law and you very well could get fucked and have your income seriously destroyed by it.
If the company had been willing to renegotiate, then I would have played ball with them or at least tried to come up with something that made sense for both of us. But since I was never given that chance, I put the experience behind me and have moved forward.
I do have to say this, though. It was pretty much the final straw in using a "traditional" publisher. Two contracts with less than stunning payment for my hard word was enough to convince me I was done with that model. For better or worse, I take all the risks now and reap all the rewards. I am a fool. I am stubborn. I am headstrong. I would still love to see my books on the NYT sometime in the future, but if it requires me to forego cash and control, then I'm willing to let it slide. Whether or not you choose to is your business.Share