Jose-Luis Moctezuma

“When I am stuck, I walk. I don’t wear earbuds or headphones when I walk, nor when I travel by train or bus, because I want all of my senses to be centrally alive to what’s around: the music that lurks in the crevices of city sounds, forest sounds, desert sounds. I am reminded of John Cage’s art piece A Dip in the Lake: Ten Quicksteps, Sixty-two Waltzes, and Fifty-six Marches for Chicago and Vicinity, a map with colored lines and vectors that reconstruct the city transversely from without in the layering of aleatoric drift over cartographic direction. To this end, unstructured walking, the pure derive of walking, can become something like a divinatory practice, chance-based yet ritualized.

But ultimately, when I am in the mire of composition and need to rethink the mechanics of a specific poem, I turn to other mediums to break the wall of a different kind of silence, the silence of hearing only your inner doubts and skepticisms and not the dynamic self-belief of the world outside. I put a record on, Daniel Schmidt’s In My Arms, Many Flowers, for example, or I watch a film like Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, and I gain an angular perspective into how images might function and translate across mediums. That’s when I glimpse the subjectivity of the poem from a different slant of light, the poem singing in a language I hadn’t heard before, somehow enriched by having momentarily forgotten its existence.”
—Jose-Luis Moctezuma, author of Place-Discipline (Omnidawn, 2018)

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Book Marketing: Reach More Readers Through Guest Posting

Providing useful, inspirational or entertaining content on popular blogs in your niche can be a great way to reach your target audience, especially when you are just starting out. Nina Dafe shares tips for how to do this effectively and which mistakes to avoid.

Reach more readers guest posting

If you took the decision to become an authorpreneur and write a non-fiction book, it’s more than likely because you realize that they are a great way to:

  • Position yourself as an expert in your field
  • Increase your authority and credibility
  • Give you a larger platform to share your influence, thought leadership and message
  • Increase your followers, subscribers and fanbase
  • Expose you to your ideal clients – keeping you booked, busy and making bank.

However, none of this is possible if nobody knows that it (or you) exist! The truth is, “if you build it they will come” is only true in Hollywood. A literal field of dreams, if you will.

If you want to create more impact and ultimately sell more books, you will need to attract more attention to you and your brand. This means becoming more visible through networking, PR and marketing.

A great place to start is mastering guest posting by becoming a guest author, blogger or contributor on another person’s platform.

blogging

Having now been featured in over 40 platforms, including Thrive Global, HuffPost, Bustle and the TEDx blog, here are some tips for getting started with guest posting based on my experience:

Pre-pitch

Before you even submit your guest post, there are a few things that you should do to make sure that you give yourself the best chance of success, including:

1. Research

First and foremost, do research to make sure that the platform that you want to guest blog on actually accepts pitches and/or submissions – as not all blogging platforms do. I can’t tell you how many pitches I’ve received, even though I don’t accept guest posts on my blog!

Once you’ve established those basics, you’ll want to get clear on who the platform’s demographic is and whether it ties in with yours. So research:

  • Who the platform’s target audience is
  • What the audience’s interests and/or pain points are
  • How your expertise can help them
  • Whether your topic has been covered before

Next, check their submission guidelines to see how they prefer to receive guest posts. For example:

  • Is there a word count?
  • Are there particular topics that they like/dislike?
  • Can you promote yourself within the article or do they prefer that be confined to your author bio?
  • Do they prefer submissions to be emailed or sent via a particular platform?
  • Do they prefer that you pitch your guest post idea or send a fully-fledged article?

2. Network

As the saying goes, “people only do business with people that they know, like and trust”. With this in mind, another great step to take before sending your pitch would be to find ways to connect with the editor of influencer so that you can establish a rapport. More on this, later!

Linking together

During your pitch

Now that you’ve laid all of that groundwork, you can formulate and send your pitch.

Here are some common mistakes and how to avoid them:

1. Having unclear subject lines

If you are sending your guest post via email, you’ll want to make sure that the email subject line is not vague. Make it as clear as possible so that it doesn’t get lost in the pile of emails that the editor or influencer is reading every day!

This can be done by following any instructions that they may have about this in their submission guidelines. If there aren’t any, I like to make it clear that I am sending a pitch and what it’s about, as in the example below:

[Pitch] 3 Networking Mistakes and How to Avoid Them According to Experts

2. Starting with your bio/qualifications

Although counter-intuitive, resist the urge to start by introducing yourself and your history. Editors and influencers are busy people, receiving thousands of emails a day. Do them (and yourself!) a favor by getting straight to the point of why you’re contacting them.

Your short, professional author bio should go towards the end of the pitch instead. Also link to your media bio and/or the “press” page of your website, if you have one, so that they can check out your expertise and previous PR experience to build credibility.

3. Failing to establish a rapport

Yes, you want to be brief but you also want to be human and relatable to create a rapport. You can do this by complimenting the editor/influencer that you are writing to and establishing common ground. My favorite way to do this is by mentioning:

  • When we met each other, either online or in-person previously
  • A mutual friend
  • My favorite past articles, programs, talks and their impact

This is why I mentioned the importance of networking pre-pitch earlier. It’s also important to maintain this rapport post-pitch- but we’ll get to that later.

Laptop with crumpled paper, blank notepad and pencil on old wood

4. Waffling

Once you’ve gotten their attention by establishing a rapport, shoot your shot and pitch!

As I said before, keep it brief. Get straight to the point by providing a quick summary of your guest post. Headings, subtitles and bullet points are your friends when it comes to avoiding waffling and making your email more inviting to look at and read as well.

5. Not being unique

If you did your research thoroughly, as previously mentioned, you’ll know if your guest post topic has been covered on the platform before and in what capacity. Use that knowledge to set yourself apart by crafting a unique pitch.

In other words, try to present a unique and different perspective in your guest blog post.

Post-pitch

Have you heard the saying “the fortune is in the follow-up?” That’s because it’s true! Here are some helpful tips to know about it:

1. Timing is everything

As previously mentioned, editors and influencers are very busy people. This means that pitches can fall through the net. If this happens to you, you’ll want to find a way to follow up so that they don’t forget about you, lose interest or think that you’re being a pest.

Most guest blogging guidelines will mention if and when you can expect to hear a response to your pitch. Contacting them during this time will place you firmly in the pest category – don’t do it!

My rule of thumb is to contact 1-2 weeks after that time. If no response time is given, 1-2 weeks after sending is also a good time to send a follow-up email in general.

If handled correctly, in my experience, 9 times out of 10 they will thank you for following up and/or apologize profusely before actioning it.

2. It’s a good relationship-building tool

A little known fact is that, because editors and influencers are such busy people, they tend to use the same experts for particular topics. Sending a good pitch and demonstrating your expertise within a guest post is only half the battle of building a good relationship with them and becoming a regular contributor, though. This is why what you do post-pitch is so important for building that know, like and trust factor.

Thank you note

Here are some of the ways that I do it:

Say thank you
When alerted that your post has been accepted and/or published, send a thank-you email. You can also go the extra mile by sending a thank you card, gift or some of your merchandise.

Give them publicity too

The best relationships are mutually beneficial. Editors and influencers want publicity for their platform too. You can reciprocate and help them achieve this by sharing your post:

  • On social media, tagging them and/or using relevant hashtags
  • With your email list (forwarding it to them so that they know you did it, of course!)

Be an asset

Another way to reciprocate is by finding ways to be an asset and add value outside of guest blogging. My favorite way to do this is by:

  • Asking how I can be of service and finding ways to do so
  • Connecting them with other content creators who would also make great guest bloggers for their platform
  • Building and maintaining the relationship by continuing to follow up (see my bio for details about 7 ways you can do this without even having to leave your bed!)

So, to summarise…

Mastering guest blogging is one of the BEST ways to share your expertise, gain authority, market your non-fiction book and, ultimately, sell more copies. However, your greatest PR success will come through remembering that:

  1. People only do business with people that they know, like and trust; so-
  2. How you conduct yourself with editors and influencers pre and post-pitch is just as important as the pitch itself.

Have you thought of using guest blogging as part of your book marketing strategy? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Nina DafeAs an international bestselling author (of The Art of Unlearning: Top Experts Share Personal Stories on the Courage to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone), Nina Dafe mentors heart-centered, visionary Christian women who want to banish the blocks keeping them from crushing their business goals once and for all.

She is also an international speaker, talk show host, and award-winning blogger whose writing has been featured on multiple platforms including Thrive Global, TEDx, HuffPost, She Leads Africa, Bustle, Relevant Magazine, and Radiant Health Magazine. Named one of 101 women of influence by Monique Melton, you can find out more about Nina and her 7 tips for getting collaborations, referrals, PR and speaking opportunities (leading to increased credibility, subscribers, followers, customers and more) without even leaving the bed at Faraboverubiescollection.com!

The Booksellers

“A good bookseller absolutely is another kind of discoverer and thinker of history,” says Kevin Young in this trailer for The Booksellers. The documentary, directed by D. W. Young and executive produced by Parker Posey, explores the history, personalities, and business of bookselling in New York City.

Reach Out to Me

Many writers know me in New Orleans. I’ve served on literary boards and coordinated festival events, and now I am a Poets & Writers Literary Outreach Coordinator. So, what’s that? Through a grant from the Hearst Foundations, Poets & Writers launched a pilot initiative in 2019 called the United States of Writing in three cities: Detroit, Houston, and New Orleans. Each city has a literary outreach coordinator to help spread the word to writers about the resources Poets & Writers has to offer and to contribute to and strengthen our literary community.

Although my job is less than part-time, I am very busy trying to encourage writers to apply for Readings & Workshops mini-grants, which provide funds for literary events in New Orleans (as well as in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Seattle, Tucson, Washington, D.C., all of California, and New York State). I try to attend as many literary events around the city as possible. Sometimes I make myself known, other times I’m in the back enjoying the event quietly. When I can’t get to an event, I try to make sure I tweet about it on Twitter, @NOLApworg, or post events on P&W’s Literary Events Calendar.

I enjoy reporting about literary events in New Orleans to the P&W staff and to you all through this blog. One thing is for sure: Literary scenes are not one-size-fits-all. Regional culture influences local literary scenes in cities across the country. Detroit is not Houston. Houston is not New Orleans—and you know what? That’s a good thing! Every city contributes to the national literary landscape, and I am committed to working in a way that is authentic to New Orleans.

My job is also to find out what I don’t know. So if you have a question, an event, or a recommendation, or if you want to organize a gathering in New Orleans, let me know. I’m here for you, New Orleans.

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.
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Literary Community Outside the Box: Part Four

This month I have been featuring a variety of platforms that contribute to the literary community, including the work of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, and blogs and podcasts such as Icess Fernandez Rojas’s Dear Reader and Terrell Quillin’s Bootleg Like Jazz.

Today I want to shout-out the work of Mary Wimple and her workshop and reading series Words & Art. I’ve known Mary and her partner Chuck Wimple for more than ten years and have had the pleasure of seeing Mary kick major can as a poet performing her work all over town. Mary is soft-spoken, so when you get a chance to see her in action, it’s dynamite. Her energy carries over to Words & Art. The series is all about community and is accessible for any writer with a passion for the arts.

The format for these events is so inviting: Mary will host a writing workshop of sorts, really it’s an art appreciation field trip to a local gallery or museum. Participants will discuss the artwork, work on writing prompts, and discuss the effect of the art on the writing. From there, Mary will set up a future date for a reading that features poetry and prose pieces based on the artwork from the exhibit that was visited. Anyone interested in reading (even if you didn’t attend the workshop) just needs to check out the submission guidelines and submit work to Words & Art by the deadline to be considered. Selected readers will be notified about a week before the event and the public is invited to attend. I attended one of these events a while back and it is powerful work. If you love art and writing, then this is a space for you.

The next deadline for submissions is February 1 and the reading will be held on February 13 at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

Chuck Wimple reads for the Words & Art reading series.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
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The Regrets

“She’s finally met the man of her dreams. There’s just one problem: He’s dead.” Watch the book trailer for Amy Bonnafonns’s first novel, The Regrets, which comes out next week from Little, Brown.

Literary Variety

As a Detroiter who lives in the world of poetry, I see an abundance of poetry workshops, open mics, and other events that come about regularly, and there are even more happening as we approach National Poetry Month in April. As I learn more about the poets in this city, I also learn more about where writers of other creative writing genres thrive. I want to take this opportunity to highlight two spaces—one that makes room specifically for storytellers and another that has been home to a variety of artists.

The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers was founded in 2012 by Satori Shakoor, and the monthly series features one of the oldest literary art forms: the oral tradition of storytelling. I find myself impressed each time I attend an event. From the smooth production to the storytellers that I am introduced to, I always know I will be served up a unique offering of creativity. I highly recommend their events for novice writers and seasoned writers alike. You can see their next event on February 14 at 8:00 PM at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. 

The Scarab Club is neatly tucked between the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Wright Museum in Midtown Detroit. The over one hundred-year-old building is home to visual arts in the form of paintings, tapestries, and mosaics built directly into its walls. You can also enjoy the visual, literary, and performing arts of local artists through their eclectic programming. Recent events have featured poet Naomi Long Madgett, comics artist and journalist Laura Kenins, and author and editor Maya Schenwar. The exhibitions and events of this historic space are always inspiring.

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.
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Anna Wiener at the Strand

“I was employee number twenty, and the fourth woman.” In this video, Anna Wiener reads from and discusses her debut memoir, Uncanny Valley (MCD/FSG, 2020), with editor Laura Marsh at the Strand Book Store in New York. For more about the book, read Wiener’s installment of Ten Questions.

Empowering Authors Around Copyright With Rebecca Giblin

Your author career is in your hands. Publishers are not charities and even if you have an agent, you need to know about the importance and value of copyright so you can make informed and empowered decisions about your writing. If you’re an indie author, you still need to understand copyright, because when you sign up with online distributors, you are making choices around licensing.

In today’s show, I interview Rebecca Giblin about a recent study on publishing contracts, what clauses to watch out for, why this is so important for authors, plus the potential impact of AI on copyright.

In publishing news, The Bookseller reports that Penguin Random House has withdrawn its ebooks and digital audio titles from unlimited access subscription models,“to preserve a diversity of content in the marketplace and the actual and perceived long-term value of our authors’ intellectual property.” Plus, I’m interviewed on The Kindle Chronicles Podcast about audiobooks and how things have changed for authors over the last decade.

In the futurist segment, This Time Tomorrow Podcast on 5G; plus, a Chinese court rules an AI-written article is protected by copyright [Venture Beat], Google’s AI language model Reformer can process the entirety of novels [VentureBeat], and Hollywood is now using AI tools for analysis and companies are developing AI for scriptwriting [The Guardian]. I talk about the implications of this for creatives and why we need to double down on being human.

supportonpatreon

Today’s show is sponsored by my patrons, those wonderful people who support the show with a few dollars a month. Knowing that you enjoy the show and find it useful keeps me coming back to the mic every week after all these years! If you’d like to support the show and get an extra Q&A audio every month (as well as the backlist), go to: www.Patreon.com/thecreativepenn

Rebecca Giblin is an author and Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne, specializing in copyright and technology regulation. She is Director of the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia (IPRIA), and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow leading the Author’s Interest project.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Why Rebecca is passionate about helping authors with copyright
  • The difference between the ownership of copyright and the authorship of copyright
  • How dangerously easy it is for authors to transfer ownership
  • When and why reversion clauses matter
  • Other important clauses to negotiate into publishing contracts
  • What authors can do to protect and increase their income
  • The potential of the selling direct model
  • The possible impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on copyright law
  • Getting authors to value themselves

You can find Rebecca Giblin at AuthorsInterest.org and on Twitter @rgibli

Transcript of interview with Rebecca Giblin

Joanna: Tell us a bit more about your background and how you ended up focusing on authors and copyright in particular.

Rebecca: I’ve always been absolutely obsessed with books and that obsession started when I was really young and I actually grew up in a house that didn’t really have any books in it. So I would do all kinds of things to access them.

I would read all of the local libraries and my school libraries. I would go down to the local charity shop. I knew when the soft touch volunteers were working and I knew that I’d be able to negotiate a really good rate. I think I used to be able to get them for about 1 cent each back in the ’80s.

So I’ve just had a really lifelong abiding passion for books. And so it’s probably quite natural that as my research career has progressed, there’s always been this really strong theme of work around literary culture, and protection of authors and also libraries and the broader public interest in access to books as well.

Joanna: Fantastic.

Tell us a bit more about the Authors Interest project in particular and why it’s so important.

Rebecca: This project stemmed from a growing concern that I had, which is that, while authors are always put at the forefront of debates around copyright law, very often they’re actually being used to further other people’s economic interests.

The thing is that copyright is structured around protecting the owner of copyright rather than the author of copyright. And countries have different ways of dealing with this. Some particular countries in Europe have greater protection of authorship. Common law countries, like the UK, and Australia, and the U.S., we have far less.

But this is something that I really wanted to do something about. I wanted to make sure that when authors’ interest were put within these debates, it was actually going to help them actually further their very valid and important interests instead of always protecting other people.

What I really wanted to stop was authors benefiting from policies just only on a theory of trickledown economics. I wanted direct change to actually help authors in what is a really tricky time for them in the history of the book industry.

Joanna: That’s fantastic. I want to pick up on something you said then, which is, things benefiting the owner of copyright, not the author of the copyright. I think many people might be confused.

Many authors often don’t understand what they’re doing when they sign a particular contract.

Explain the difference between the author and then the potential owner of the copyright.

Rebecca: Usually the author will be the first of their copyright and the copyright is created automatically. As soon as you write something down on a piece of paper and it satisfies some very minimal hurdles, then copyright magically springs into existence.

And then, often the author will either transfer that entirely or license it as a condition of being able to get the work produced and available.

In the case of books, very often they enter into a contract with a publisher and they sign away or license certain rights. And those contracts can be phrased in all different kinds of ways.

Too often publishers require authors to hand over the entire copyright as the cost of access, which is the kind of contract that I would say almost nobody should actually sign. And you should think really carefully before you do that. Although there might be valid reasons to in certain circumstances.

But, more commonly you will be asked to give an exclusive license of your rights. And very commonly there will be a broad license over many kinds of uses and typically for the entire term of the copyright. So that’s your entire lifetime, plus another 70 years.

An exclusive license of that kind is in essence exactly the same as transferring ownership of those rights. So, that’s why the contracts are so important because, while you’re the one as an author that starts off with the copyright, you can very easily transfer all or almost all of that with just a flick of a pen.

Joanna: It’s so funny because I’m primarily an indie author, but I do see quite a few contracts. People send me things.

I saw one recently and someone said, ‘This is okay, isn’t it?’ And literally there was a clause that said, ‘All languages, all territories, all formats existing, and to be invented, for the term of copyright.’

And I was like, ‘Seriously, did you not spot this? This is like the second clause. This is really big. Do you not understand what is going on here?’

To me, that is an obviously bad clause. But you’ve done a study of publishing contracts from the archive of the Australian Society of Authors.

What are some of the things that you’ve found that authors should watch out for in contracts?

Rebecca: Unfortunately, the kind of clause you just described is all too common. And this is why authors need to be really careful and they need to be a little bit savvy because their copyright is their business and their means of making a livelihood here.

What authors should be making sure that they do is, even if they do have to sign over a broad right as a condition of getting that distribution deal, or that contract, or whatever it happens to be, they should be very thoughtful about making sure that there are appropriate reversion clauses in that contract to allow them to get those rights back.

So the kinds of reversion clauses that are really common that people might’ve heard of are out-of-print clauses, for example. So you might’ve signed over all your rights for the entire term of copyright, but there can be a clause that says if the book goes out of print sometime during that period then the author can get their rights back.

Also, really important, what we call use-it-or-lose-it clauses. These are for circumstances where the publisher has taken some rights, for example, rights in foreign languages, like you talked about, or foreign territories, but then they don’t go on to actually exploit those rights.

There should be a clause there that you negotiate in order to make sure you can recover those rights in that eventuality. And that’s particularly important I think for hybrid writers who probably have got some skills and some capacity to make use of those rights in the event that the publisher doesn’t actually do it themselves.

That might be self-publishing on a platform internationally and to those foreign territories. Or it might be working with one of the emerging services for the fairly economical generation of an audiobook or whatever it happens to be. So, really absolutely vital.

What we found is that very often the out-of-print clause is really inadequate or outdated. You want to make sure that you get one that’s based on objective criteria. It shouldn’t just be based on technical availability and say something like, ‘Well, you can get your rights back if the book’s not available in any form.’ That’s not adequate.

It needs to have some kind of objective criteria that might say, ‘All right, so you can get your rights back if sales have been below X amount in the last two accounting periods or X number of unit sales.’

It needs to have something very clear there so that everybody understands their rights and responsibilities.

And for those use-it-or-lose-it clauses, what we were horrified to find in our research was how few contracts actually had those. Now, this is the kind of clause that reputable publishers are usually pretty happy to negotiate in if you ask for it, but they still tend to not to be there just upfront.

It’s really important that authors know to ask for those and negotiate them in. And this is where doing a little bit of reading and Googling, doing your due diligence and finding out what they should ask for is really, really important.

You might not feel like doing it at the start when you’re really excited about your contract, but you’ll absolutely wish that you did maybe three years later or five years later when those rights haven’t been exploited or the book’s gone out of print and you desperately want to do something else with it.

Joanna: Exactly. And many people are so bowled over with the emotional happiness of, ‘Yay, somebody wants me,’ that they forget the reality down the line.

For example, territory. It’s so funny because I’ve always been very globally-minded. I’ve sold books now in 136 countries, which most traditionally published authors will never sell books in that many countries because the books aren’t available in those countries.

If people sign a World English contract, which is very standard, there’s just no way that those books are going to be available in countries like Namibia or Thailand, and that’s what drives me nuts about this World English idea.

Whereas an Australian publisher, for example, where you are, absolutely sign a contract in Australia for all formats if you like.

But an Australian publisher just doesn’t have the necessary reach into all English-speaking markets. Would you agree?

Rebecca: There are some that do. There’s a couple that do a very, very good job of that, and there are others that really don’t have much of an international sales force at all. So that’s another really important question to ask.

Look at what rights they’re asking for and ask them to justify that.

If they’re asking for the world rights, then be asking, ‘What is your plan for selling my book to every country in the world? And where’s the clause that says if you fail to do that, I get them back.’

Those are all just really sensible questions that nobody’s going to take offense at. It’s not the kind of thing that costs you a contract. It’s just ordinary business savvy.

Joanna: Then the use-it-or-lose-it clause is also interesting. I think the biggest thing that this is relevant at the moment is audio rights because most publishers seem to have taken audio rights, or authors have signed over audio rights.

But many of them, I would say most of them, are not actually getting those books into audio.

Publishers can put that clause in, but what is the time limit? Is it three years, five years, 10 years for saying if you don’t do it in this amount of time?

Rebecca: That has been a big change over the last few years. It used to be that authors used to be able to hold onto their audiobook rights much more commonly than they can today. And this is a really troubling one because we know that books tend to sell the very most in the first months after publication and certainly within the first year.

If you don’t have an audiobook ready to go on publication, then that means that there’s a certain number of lost sales that you can expect.

Publishers who don’t actually invest in making that book available upfront, they might be quite behind the curve and they’re just waiting to see whether there’ll be enough copies sold to actually justify it. Whereas if you had held the rights yourself, then you might have done something a little bit differently.

So there’s a very big mix. There are some publishers who are so obsessed with audio and so worried that if they give the rights back too soon, then this might be the one that got away. Maybe it will grow big just after you get the rights back.

They don’t want to have any kind of a time limit on the audiobook rights at all. And there are others that take a more reasonable view and say that, ‘Look, if we haven’t done anything with them after a year, realistically, given we know how books sell and how most of the sales happen in the first year, we’re probably not going to really do very much with it. So if you’ve got another plan then, sure, you take it.’

There’s very big variability on the audiobook question.

Joanna: Definitely.

I think generally the rule is to work with a publisher for what they are really good at, and then try and keep everything else so that you have the chance to do it yourself, or work with other partners in those areas.

Rebecca: That’s right. Many publishers are great at this and they don’t try and take rights that they don’t have a plan to exploit. And that’s something really welcome that we found in the contracts.

Not everyone was trying to take worldwide rights. We saw quite some contracts that just asked for Australia and New Zealand rights. And if the publisher really only has a plan for selling in Australia and New Zealand, then that’s the appropriate thing to do or the UK, or wherever it is that they happen to have their strong footprint.

But at the very least, if they do take broad rights, then they need to be willing to put clauses in to return those to you in the event that they don’t use them. That’s just absolutely crucial.

Joanna: Fantastic.

You mentioned that copyright is the means of making a livelihood. And you’ve noted the decline in author incomes, and of course, many of us are concerned about the dominance of some of the players, technical or publishing-related in English-speaking markets.

What are some of the things that authors can do to protect and increase their income that you’ve found?

Rebecca: Given that the overall book market really isn’t growing very much, I think one of the key interesting questions is to figure out how authors can get a bigger share of that pie.

We also have to bear in mind that, for traditional publishing at least, there isn’t very much pie to go around. If you look at a breakdown of the economics of traditional print publishing, it just doesn’t make any sense, financially it doesn’t make any sense.

Now, the majors, yes, are very often doing very well. They’ve had a huge amount of industry consolidation. They’ve reduced their costs to the bone. They often don’t pay their employees particularly well either. So, there are some efficiencies there.

And we’ve had in the UK Simon and Schuster and Penguin Random House have had profits of around 16%. So they’re going gangbusters.

But, at the other end, the independent publishers, they’re facing rising costs, particularly salary costs or labor costs. And that’s within a market that’s not particularly growing.

I think coming into this question, we have to acknowledge that many parts of the industry are already struggling very much to stay afloat. So where does that extra money come from?

One of the really interesting answers to that question comes from Cory Doctorow and his ‘Shut up and Take my Money’ platform.

You might be familiar with this already, Joanna, but he came up with this platform a couple of years ago thinking about the same question where he set up, got permission from his publishers basically to be able to sell his eBooks online. And he sells them to anyone anywhere in the world. So, he holds the rights to do that.

He doesn’t have to worry and say, ‘Sorry, you’re in Bulgaria, I’m not allowed to take your money because of territoriality.’ He can take the money from anyone. That’s why it’s called ‘Shut up and Take my Money’ because he was frustrated at his books not being available to people.

By doing that, he’s actually pocketing the 30% that Amazon would usually take or the other online retailer would usually take, as well as the standard 25% also that the publisher would give him in royalties.

So, that’s a really interesting way that he’s come up with effectively more than double his royalty rate, by taking on the role of the retailer there. So that’s one possibility that I think has really interesting potential for the future.

Joanna: Obviously a lot of us indies have been selling direct. I’ve been selling direct since 2009. I use payhip.com which is fantastic and gets around all the EU digital tax stuff. I recommend that platform to people if they are interested in one that’s available everywhere.

Rebecca: This is one way for traditionally published authors to try and get their cut to something that would mimic an indie’s cut, while taking advantage of the marketing platform and breadth of the traditional publisher.

I think that’s why it’s interesting, maybe more for your traditionally-published authors than the indies who are already been over this for a long time.

Joanna: It is interesting. I think selling direct is definitely one of the things that many of us are doing, those of us who are not obsessed with ranking for example, because, of course, for direct sales, no one sees the ranking on Amazon or any other platform, and it doesn’t get measured by anyone’s bestseller list.

But I get like 92% of the money. It is definitely a way forward, and we won’t get into it today, but of course blockchain has a lot of potential for enabling this. I think on or off it, you’ve talked to as well, but we’re very hopeful for a blockchain potential for stamping copyright and selling direct through the value chain.

Exciting things in selling direct ahead!

Rebecca: Ideally you would be able to have your cake and eat it. You would be able to get the 92% and you would be able to have some kind of ranking that could be ascertained, like as a way for people to see, ‘Okay, this book is selling,’ which could also be facilitated by a blockchain kind of solution.

Joanna: Definitely. I think there’s so much to come in that area.

Let’s talk a bit about the future and AI, because you talk about publishers not making money, and I think, what we’re seeing a lot of journalists-type platforms, news platforms are using AI writing software now. We’re talking about nonfiction here.

I just sent you an article from Venture Beat reporting that the Tencent robot Dreamwriter AI had been granted copyright on an article in China, which, as far as we know, is the first AI piece of writing that has been granted copyright.

Now, it is in China, but the U.S. patent and trademark office has also called for comments on the impact of AI on creative work. [AI Trends]

What are your thoughts on AI qualifying as a work of authorship?

Rebecca: I look at it as a really interesting question for us copyright nerds, because we’ve always had this rule, right around the world. China was the first one, I heard that has departed from this, that you need to have a human author.

This was the Foundation of the Berne Convention, which Victor Hugo put forward and first got up in 1886. You’ve heard about it much more recently over and over with this monkey selfie, which just is the copyright case that won’t go away.

When the monkey stole the camera from the photographer, who owned the copyright and the resulting photos? And the answer was, there was no copyright because the monkey can’t hold copyrights because they’re not a human.

It’s the same thing with the machines. And there are some interesting laws in place already.

In the UK for example, there has long been a provision that says that the author of the computer-generated work is taken to be the person who basically put the arrangements together for the creation of the work.

So it might be the programmer who developed the AI software in the first place, but that only takes us so far because now we’re talking about deep learning and neural nets. And there is nobody really who made the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work.

It really is left completely to the machine in a way that was not envisaged when that law was passed in the UK. So, we’ve got real issues to grapple with here and we need to be thinking about what we want to achieve with copyright.

There’s two major things really which we can, as a shorthand, we can call them incentives and rewards.

We want to incentivize the initial creation of cultural and informational works so that society can have access to knowledge and culture. We also want to incentivize there being continued investments in their continued availability.

On top of that, we want to recognize and reward creators for their contributions of personality and labor that gave us that amazing thing.

If we think about these rationales, then maybe we don’t always have a reason to give full copyright to an AI because maybe the AI doesn’t need to be recognized for their contribution of personality in the same way that a human author might.

But perhaps we want to give some lesser incentive right. So there are all of these kinds of considerations that we’re thinking about at the moment.

Joanna: It’s interesting because I was having a bit of an existential moment around this news article, mainly because in it it says, ‘The articles’ articulation and expression had a certain originality, and it met…’

Rebecca: It didn’t though, did it?

Joanna: ‘…And it met the legal requirements to be classed as a written work.’ So, to me, it was less around the fact that it got copyright protection than the fact that they considered that it had some kind of originality.

The fact is that a lot of people are already reading articles in financial papers and sports and things that are written by AI.

If I was a big publisher, and if I had control of that much IP and I could read my entire backlist into an algorithm. Let’s say I’m a very large romance publisher with a huge number of reasonably formulaic books that have been very popular over many years. People can infer what that publisher might be!

If I could read all of those books into a deep learning algorithm [like Google’s Reformer] for it to output certain books, then I could pay people to just clean up at the last minute. If I’m not making enough money, wouldn’t I do that?

This is an existential question: will authors be disintermediated by AI writers in the same way that many journalists have been?

Rebecca: You telling me that has triggered this memory in me from, I think it was two years ago.

There was a neural net that was asked to learn how to write titles for romance novels [from 2017]. And I think the results of that suggests we’re a little bit further away from having to worry about authors being disintermediated in that way.

I remember some of them. One of the titles was, ‘The surgeon’s baby surgeon.’ There was another one that was, ‘The husband man.’ These are the kinds of titles that the neural net had come up with, which made me feel like maybe the title writers were not going to be out of a job very quickly.

But, this is a really important, deeper question because there is going to be a time where the results are not just funny and embarrassing. They may well start to compete on broader platforms than nonfiction and basic sports writing and finance news. And then what is it that we do?

Then the question becomes, do we permit that as a matter of copyright? Because those contracts that we were talking about, they don’t actually permit, unless the whole copyright’s being taken. I can’t think of any that I’ve looked at that would permit the rights holder to use the work for that particular use, that might be a right retained by the author.

So they would need to get permission or there would need to be some kind of copyright exception. And then we need to get into all of these questions about, well, when should it be permitted for people to learn an AI system on somebody else’s IP when it’s something like a novel?

We can see that there’s a real spectrum here. If somebody comes along, they train the algorithm on Stephen King’s catalog and then you ask the neural net to write a horror novel from just that catalog, really taking his tone and vocabulary and expression.

If your result, let’s take this very far into the future and more sophistication, the result is a good imitation and people will happily substitute it at a lower price for the higher price genuine Stephen King.

That’s a situation where I think the author needs not just have a right of compensation, but they need to have a right to be able to veto that.

But then if we take it to the other side, let’s say we’ve got a neural net that’s trained on every novel in human existence, then it gets much trickier because there’s not going to be any one individual author’s tone taken or voice taken.

It would be also quite difficult, I think, to understand what contribution access to any single book actually made. So these are going to be really vexing and tricky questions as well.

Joanna: And again, it brings up for me the idea of blockchain and micropayments, because what you could say is, okay, we read into the database X, let’s say 100,000 books. All of them qualify for a micropayment if they are used in another work down the line.

That’s the type of thing that, again, could be tracked with the potential blockchain technology out there.

But, as you say, it’s impossible right now in the same way that I can’t track when I write a novel, I know that some of my influences include Stephen King, and Dan Brown, and John Connolly, and people who I’ve read are in my brain in some way. But I couldn’t tell you what percentage of my influences come from who.

I think this is fascinating. You and I like to geek out about this stuff. I know some people are listening are like, ‘Oh no, the AI is coming for our jobs.’

But, I always say to people, look, the main thing is to be human and to build a personal brand and make people value you. There will always be artisan products, in the same way, we’ve got mass-produced everything, but we also have artisan-produced stuff which people will pay more money for.

That’s the future I see; mass-produced on one level and then artisan on the other.

Rebecca: I think that’s right. I genuinely think that, while we’re going to see huge increases in the use of AI for developing fact-based works, we’re really, really far, if they’ll ever breach that, to getting any kind of readable literary fiction from these algorithms.

I think that there is something really special in the human brain, the human mind, and the connections that it makes, and that for a neural net to produce something like that in any kind of foreseeable future, it’s going to be a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years kind of situation.

The amount of time that you’d have to spend wading through all of the muck to find it would make it unfeasible when there are so many terrific writers out there producing great work that is much more easy to find.

I’m maybe a little bit less worried about that from taking over fiction writers’ jobs. But definitely those remaining jobs that still exist in journalism and freelance writing, I think that there is definitely a risk that these kinds of technologies are going to be taking over more and more of that work and leaving less and less sort of side gigs for writers looking to supplement their main writing income.

Joanna: I totally agree. I think the blogging content places, the prices on that have gone down so much. It’s very difficult to make money doing online content writing and stuff like that. I think that is what it will go first, especially to those places that already have a lot of content to read from.

A company launched just before Christmas (Dec 2019) “publishing high-quality content in 100 languages within minutes in every vertical and category with natural language generation.” [AI Trends]

Big corporates will use this kind of company to develop internal content based on what they already have with AI writers. So, I agree with you.

Last question, because you’ve mentioned there, I agree with you that there are terrific writers producing great work, which were your words there.

But the problem, and this may be why publishers won’t use the AI.

The problem is that those authors are undervaluing themselves so much. It’s actually cheaper to get a human to write something than it is to use AI to do the work.

The reason a lot of these companies are using AI writers is that it’s cheaper to use the AI writers. But if it’s cheaper to use a human writer because the author undervalues themselves so much that they are willing.

I know people who have signed these contracts for the life of copyright all formats for not even an advance, for just a small percentage of revenue. And that might even be just a tiny amount. They might not even make a couple of thousand dollars from their work at the time. What are your thoughts on that?

How do we get writers to value themselves?

Rebecca: We’re really at this point now. You can be shortlisted for Australia’s most prestigious literary prize and gross well under $5,000, so a couple of thousand pounds. That is absolutely a possible thing to do in today’s book market.

That is cause for some despair and lots of thinking about what we can do about it. There are two issues here.

There’s absolutely sometimes the question of creators undervaluing themselves, creative labor is seen as being really desirable. Lots of work has been done in this in the field of cultural economics. We know that people will, if their choice is to paint a picture or paint a fence, then they’ll paint the picture for much less money than it would take them to paint the fence.

And there’s also, because it’s so desirable, then there are lots more people in the queue. And also it’s very difficult for anyone to predict in advance which book is actually going to sell.

And so the publisher, if someone wants more money, can very easily just take the next person in line who is going to take it. So we’ve got all of these really troubling labor dynamics there that can result in a lot of the value being extracted from the author and being transferred somewhere else.

But we’ve also got these bigger structural problems, at least in the traditional book industry. I’ve talked already today about how little money there can be for some segments of that.

I’ve been very geeky already, so I’m going to keep going. We’re really dealing with this unfortunate monopsony or oligopsony situation here. And those are big words that just talk about buyer power.

We’ve got book markets, for example, that are very heavily controlled by Amazon for lots of reasons. And they have buyer power or monopsonous power, they call it in antitrust or competition law. That allows them to really squeeze the publishers that they work with and the authors that they deal with directly to charge all kinds of fees to the publishers, to reduce their margins, to insist on certain kind of percentage of sales and so on.

Then, in turn, those publishers feel they need to pass that squeeze downstream and they squeeze their employees, they consolidate, they reduce the money that’s spent on marketing. But a lot of their costs are fixed costs, so there’s not a lot of room left to squeeze. And the one person who is the most negotiable tends to be the author.

In the second sense is where the publishers are really getting squeezed, we find that that squeeze is being passed down to creators, and that’s why we’re seeing such dramatic reductions in the size of advances, I think, over the last few years, because everyone else is squeezed in many cases and so the author gets squeezed as well.

I think one of the crucial things is going to be to address those competition issues that give those big buyers along the way. And the big buyers are Amazon and the big buyers are also the big publishers.

This is in the book industry, but also other kinds of creative industries. I think it’s going to be crucial to reduce that buyer power, re-introduce competition, and hopefully allow there to be some more money left at the end of the day for the creator.

Joanna: Absolutely. And, as we’ve discussed, really getting authors to be more empowered and knowledgeable about what they can ask for in contracts so that they have the potential to make more money themselves if the publisher doesn’t exploit those rights.

Rebecca: Absolutely. And I’m very sympathetic. I would often much rather be doing my own writing than thinking about copyright as well.

I understand why people don’t want to think about it. It’s complicated, and it’s frustrating. But, as a writer, if you spend a couple of hours doing some research around contracts, there’s a lot of terrific resources online, very reputable people talking about what you should be asking for, what you absolutely shouldn’t be signing up to, and how to ask for something different.

A couple of hours of investment is going to be knowledge you’ve got for your whole life.

You’re going to be doing the right thing by yourself and your work if you make that investment. So I do really recommend it.

Joanna: Absolutely. And of course, you’re a reputable person! so, where can people find you and everything you do online?

Rebecca: Well, we do have a blog, none of it is authored by an AI, we write it all ourselves. So that’s at authorsinterest.org. And you can find me talking about random things on Twitter at @rgibli. I love having conversations with people about all of these issues on there.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Rebecca, that was great.

Rebecca: Thank you. It was lots of fun. Lovely talking to you, Joanna.

Maggie Glover

“We are all writing about each other // in chorus, an out loud wince…” Maggie Glover reads poems from her debut collection, How I Went Red (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2014), and speaks about her writing in this interview with Lisa Grove for Poetry.LA.

Jessica Andrews

“I walk along the beach and look at the sea. I call a friend. I take a train journey and sit by the window. I drink a small glass of red wine. I go to the cinema. I ride my bike fast, so that my hair streams out behind me. I cry. I read Eimear McBride. I make soup. I listen to Nick Cave. I go swimming. I sit in the sun with my eyes closed. I wash dishes. I read Jenny Offill. I write in my journal. I dance to Northern Soul. I drink coffee. I have a long, hot shower. I read Hannah Sullivan poems. I call my mother. I take photographs of different textures of light. I make a shopping list. I feel hopeless. I look at pictures of Louise Bourgeois paintings on the internet. I pick flowers and put them in a vase on my desk. I write whatever comes into my head. I drink a glass of cold water. I daydream. I read Anne Carson. I look at the sky. I tell myself, you are good enough, over and over again. I think about the past. I brush my teeth. I make a cup of fennel tea, sit at the table, take a deep breath and then write.”
—Jessica Andrews, author of Saltwater (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020)

Writer Photo: 
Writer Photo Credit: 
Seth Hamilton

Isabel Allende

“It’s a story that stands by itself, I just had to type it.” In this interview, Isabel Allende speaks about her new novel, A Long Petal of the Sea (Ballantine Books, 2020), and her history and friendship with Book Passage founder and president Elaine Petrocelli. A Long Petal of the Sea is featured in Page One in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

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