A friend of mine Stephanie Booth has been approached by a publisher to write a book and, being the nice person that she is, has floated the idea of a Creative Commons license.
She has a few concerns that she has as a writer and I’ll address my experience of them here, because then I can point other people here as well.
- What happens if they publish one run of the book and stop there? Can I self-publish it on Lulu or Blurb afterwards, or take it to another publisher?
In my experience the contract that you’ll sign in order to give the publisher the right to print your book and sell it will have a clause where the publishing rights will return to you if the book goes out of print and the publisher has no reasonable expectation of printing any more. Once the rights revert back to you then you have the ability to either sell the rights to another publisher, or more likely, publish it yourself.
I’ll mention the contract a fair bit, and all contracts are different, so it is really important that you sit and read it thoroughly. I’m not the smartest person when it comes to matters of economics and the law, but in my experience a contract is not that hard to understand, in that if you read it carefully it builds on itself and isn’t purposefully written in order to obscure anything.
- Can I blog the work-in-progress as I write?
As someone who turned a blog into a book, I would encourage it. I think that one of the things that helps my sales was that I already had a little community of people who knew me (through my blog) and that they then had a small but appreciable emotional investment in me. I know that I don’t need to tell Stephanie about the power of blogging, but if you can build a relationship with your readers they are much more likely to place cold, hard cash down for your product. If the text is going to be released as a free ebook, then you really do lose nothing. I know that some people have blogged a whole book, and then removed it after the book became a physical entity, which is another route you might want to consider.
Ultimately I wouldn’t worry about piracy, as there is nothing you can do to stop it if someone is determined enough.
- What about making an electronic edition available? (The publishing house only does paper so far)
This is where it helps to know about the contract. The contract will probably ‘buy up’ as many rights as they can, this can include braille versions, large print versions, audiobooks and, yes, ebooks. It is worth discussing this with the publisher if they intend to make use of ebook versions, if not then you are well within your rights to decline to sell the ebook publishing right to them – how they react to this is another question entirely. This then means that they have the right to sell the physical book, but that you retain the right to sell the ebook yourself.
Where it get’s a bit sticky is that who ‘owns’ the work once it’s been through an editor and copyeditor? Could you sell the copyedited work, or would you have to do your own copyediting – and how can you prove that you haven’t just copied the publisher’s copyedited text.
Personally I think that a publishing house is crazy not to get at minimum into publishing for the Kindle as the financial outlay is minimal if the book is already being published – and heck, it’s simple enough to do yourself if you have a bit of basic html knowledge. You might even be cheeky and hire yourself to the publisher in order to format the book into an ebook format yourself
- Can I publish it under a CC licence?
That is up to the publisher. What you are doing is trying to dictate the contents of the contract and so it depends on a number of elements, such as the desire of the publisher to experiment with such a model, if there is the ability for a publisher to make such a change to it’s other working partners, and even if the publisher has a culture of doing things a little outside of the ordinary. Not least it depends on how much the publisher wants your book, and more specifically having you writing it.
Persuading them that a CC license is a good thing is a topic for another day.
- What the heck, how about making it available for free on the web?
Both my books are available free on the web (at archive.org), in the name of experimentation you can download one for free direct from the kindle store, while the other is available for less than the cost of a pint. The advantage of the kindle versions is that they easily sync across all your kindle devices and are formatted a bit nicer than the plain text version. Once more, the advantages of a CC licensed book are far to lengthy to go into here, but I’ll just say that my publisher is very happy with my books being published under one.
Being under a CC license has not stopped the other rights from being bought by people in other fields – there is the radio play that the BBC produced and the upcoming TV series, both of which put some money in my bank. Along with the US version of the book that I assume didn’t sell too well as I didn’t see any money outside of the advance.
(As an aside, there is a technicality about having a kindle store ebook under a CC license, as the kindle store inserts it’s own DRM which is forbidden under the CC license – I like to think that I operate under the spirit of the license, if not the letter, by having the non-DRM plain text version available elsewhere).
- What happens if somebody approaches me saying they want to translate my book? Can they self-publish a translation?
It depends what particular CC license you publish under, in the case of my books a person can copy, remix and alter the work as long as they attribute the text to me and do not make a profit from it, while also sharing their remix under the same conditions.
As an example – let’s assume that a reader wants to translate my book into French – they can, and without needing permission so long as they adhere to the licensing mentioned in the paragraph above. However if they try to sell this translation for a profit, then my publishers can take them to court (for exploiting rights that they do not have – the right to make a profit in this case). As long as it is free, is attributed to me and is likewise sharable then the amateur has the right to do that.
If then a French publisher wants to buy the right to make a ‘for profit’ version, then they can (by sending my publisher cash that I get a share of) – and it won’t invalidate the right of the amateur. In fact, if the French publisher were smart they might employ the amateur to provide an initial translation.
In summary – In my experience, publishing under a CC license has not hurt my sales, and has helped build up a group of people who have come across my books where they might not have otherwise. Blogging the book also built up a community who were invested in seeing me succeed. Also Harper Collins, who are what I considered a monolithic corporation were happy to release my books under a CC license, which surprised the heck out of me. Although that may have had something to do with my excellent publisher Scott Pack.
My advice is to read the contract carefully, work out how much you want to negotiate for and make your feelings know.
And to realise that you won’t make a living wage out of a book. But it does make some nice money for treating yourself.
*Note – I am not a lawyer, nor do I have any special insight into the publishing world, so take this advice with all the due weight this disclaimer gives it.