From the April issue of The Writer's Life.
by Mardie Schroeder and Ruth Leyse-Wallace.
After a colorful account of his history in publishing, contracting, and law (which included acting as in-house attorney for the publisher of the “For Dummies” series), March speaker Mark Reichenthal gave members and guests a lot to think about – which may or may not lead to consulting with an attorney. Mark stressed two main subjects in his talk.
1) Copyrighting: For $35 or $55, it’s the most powerful tool against anyone else having control over your work. Anything that’s fixed in a hard format is copyrighted. You own it. You control it. Go to copyright.gov and fill out the form online.
The government will walk you through the easy process. You can register for copyright after the fact, but it preferable to do it within three months of publication. Processing may take a while, but a certificate of copyright will be issued to the author. This will serve as protection in case the author ever needs to file a lawsuit for infringement of his work.
A title cannot be copyrighted, nor can facts, recipes, concepts, or ideas.
Mark cautioned that you must not assume you can use anything off the internet. Giving credit is meaningless – you must get permission.
2) Contracts: Whether written or oral, they are similar. An agreement is a bargain for exchange. Be careful what you sign up for in a publishing contract. Make a term contract (ex. 5 years) with reversion of rights and termination provisions. Remember that there is always a divorce at the end of the term. This protects your rights. Get everything down in writing. Understand everything in the contract.
If you sign with a publisher, it typically takes 12-15 months to publish a book. They will print, publish, and sell your work. You get a royalty percentage of the net profit. These are considered primary rights.
If you want to make a movie of your work, put it in large print, audiobook, or ebook format, or release it in a foreign language, this is a subsidiary right, and most of the time the publisher is not the one doing it. Mark cautioned against giving publishers rights they can’t do anything with.
The main differences between self-publishing vs. traditional are that you get the money and control but not the distribution in self-publishing, and in traditional publishing, you don’t get the money or the control, but don’t have to worry about distribution.
For more information, or to contact Mark with additional copyright or contract questions, see www.branfman.com.