Ann Arbor Book Festival Short Story Contest 2009

My participation in the Ann Arbor Writers Conference and Book Festival is usually just once a year, in May whatever weekend the formal event is held. But organizers of the event are active all year pushing books and reading and literacy. They’re an amazing group.

So I’m pleased to plug their annual Ann Arbor Book Festival Short Story Contest and encourage you to enter and get your shot at the cash prize of $250 and the chance to be published in a to-be-determined journal.

Entries for original short stories have already been coming in since May 1, 2009, around the time Ann Arbor was revving (that’s with two v’s, not one w) up for the 6th Annual Book Festival. But don’t worry. You have until September 1, 2009.

From the notice on the AABF Web site, “Stories may be up to a maximum of 7000 words in length and should be submitted as double-spaced printed pages. The entry must be unpublished in any form.”

Do not put your name anywhere on the entry. But do submit a separate cover page that includes your identifying information with the submission.

Entry fee is $10 per submission. Checks may be made payable to Ann Arbor Book Festival or you may submit payment online.

Mail your entry and self-addressed stamped business envelope to:

Ann Arbor Book Festival
500 S. Main St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
c/o Kathy Robenalt

Or email it to aabf@aabookfestival.org with “Short Story” in the subject line.

Good luck. Oops, that’s bad luck. Break a pen (or a letter on your keyboard).

And don’t miss next year’s 7th Annual Book Festival. Stay tuned for more information.

Academic Writers: You Can Improve Your Publishing Contracts

Are you an academic writer? Have you signed a book contract?

Then
* Guess what #1: You’ve probably already been screwed. Academic contracts are the worst in the business.
* Guess what #2: You’re no different than most academic writers, who are driven by the tenure system to publish or perish and don’t realize the value of their written words.

Meanwhile, other authors, especially new, unpublished authors, are afraid that publishers will blow them off if they ask for changes because “there are thousands of writers” who will accept those same unreasonable terms.

Still others just don’t know they can say no to a bad contract.

But
* Guess what #3: You can improve your contract through negotiation. Ask for nothing and you get—nothing!  Ask for everything and you don’t get everything—but you get a lot more than if you don’t ask.

That’s the lesson I’m going to teach you if you attend my upcoming workshop as part of the Ann Arbor Writer’s Conference and Book Fair.

I’ll also give you a brief overview of the publishing industry, cover some of the main clauses that you will see in your contract, and give you valuable tips on how to negotiate a contract over the phone.

If you’re a serious writer, don’t miss it.

Five major steps to keep in mind if you want to maintain your dignity during contract negotiations:
* Speak up, including over the phone (write out your entire intro paragraph)
* Question the clauses in your contract
* Never sign a boilerplate contract without asking for important changes
* Determine your “bottom line”— the minimum standards you are willing to accept through negotiating, and
* Exercise the right and the courage to walk away from a contract that doesn’t meet your minimum standards.

Remember, when you accept the terms of boilerplate contracts without question, you bring down the curve for your brother and sister writers. But every clause you negotiate for the better is a victory for writers everywhere. Solidarity.

Date: Friday May 15, 2009
Time: 8:45-9:45 a.m.
Location: Palmer Commons at 100 Washtenaw Ave. in Ann Arbor
Room: Forum Hall

Then join me Saturday at the 6th annual Ann Arbor Book Fair inside the Michigan League on the University of Michigan campus. I’ll be at booth #30, selling books through my own Azenphony Press, and promoting my editing service and my next book, about the underground press from the Vietnam Era.

Check out the Ann Arbor Book Festival Web site for directions to Palmer Commons and the Michigan League. Or just Google “Ann Arbor Book Festival.”

And for full, clause-by-clause contract advising and help in negotiating, you would be wise to join the National Writers Union, where your  membership gives you free contract advising from NWU’s Grievance and Contract Division, the best group of contract advisers in the business. You can join online.

Know Your Book Contract: The Drunk Lawyer Clause

A few years ago I was the freelance editor of a four-volume set of books known as the Banned Books Series that were published by Facts On File, a major reference publisher. I was offered a modest advance—well, not too modest; it enabled my wife and me to make the down payment on our first house.

But that’s not the point I’m making. I was offered no royalty, just the advance, because that’s how book editors were traditionally treated. I told my agent I wanted a royalty also. I knew it wouldn’t be a major windfall; the writers deserved more for their efforts than I did as the editor. But, I said, “I know who I am. When the book comes out, when I see my name on the cover”—because I negotiated that placement—“I know I’ll be out there selling the book. My efforts will help the authors. My efforts will help Facts On File. I deserve a royalty.”

And I got it. Of course, it was only 1% or so, and it came out of the authors’ royalties (with their agreement) rather than from Facts On File. But I was pleased to know that I was the first editor ever to receive a royalty from Facts On File (if I am to believe the publisher). And I did promote the book, to everyone’s advantage.

But not because of the 1% royalty, which, in Yiddish, would be known as a pitzelach, a teeny bit. In the boilerplate contract was a clause, known as the resale clause, which said that the volume authors and I could purchase a minimal number of books, ten or so, at some modest discount, between 30 and 40%. But then the next phrase said, “but not for resale.” The sentence after that said, “Royalties will not be paid on books purchased at author discount.” This is a common clause in boilerplate contracts, especially academic press contracts, which are the worst in the business.

We know that boilerplate contracts are written by publishers’ lawyers, and that the contracts are generally to the advantage of the publishers. But this clause was destructive to both the publisher and the author. I’m sure it was written by a drunk lawyer because it harmed his own client. It treated the contributors to the book as competitors to the publisher. I said to my agent, “I want to be able to purchase books at 50% off or the best distributors’ discount, for resale, and with no risk to my royalty. If Baker & Taylor purchases books at 50% off I don’t lose my royalty. Why should I lose my royalty if I purchase for myself at 50% off?” Further, I argued, I knew I’d be walking into bookstores and libraries that their salespeople would never approach. I knew I’d be setting up speaking opportunities on my own dime. Why should Facts On File get the money?

Fortunately Facts On File was enlightened enough to see the logic. They allowed the revised clause. And I made it worthwhile for them. The set sold in hard cover for $140. Libraries loved the set. They still are a mainstay of Banned Books Month every year and in fact the second, expanded edition came out a few seasons later. For me, I would walk into a library, show the purchaser the set, walk out with a check for $140, and bank half of it. It was free money for the publisher because I found outlets their best sales force couldn’t find. Facts On File may have only made 50% of $140 but it was a lot better than 100% of nothing. And they did no better when distributors sold it. In fact, I was a distributor. That’s how they related to me.

The worst-kept secret in the publishing industry is that publishers don’t promote books. Are you ready to stand in for them? Successful writers know that they are not just starving artists; they’re also business people. Signing a contract is part of your business. But what do you know about the contract that is in front of you?

On Friday May 15, you have a chance to learn more than you ever knew there was to know about book contracts if you attend my workshop as part of the Ann Arbor Writers Conference.

Time: 8:45-9:45 a.m., so if you have a day job you can attend and still make it to work with only a little comp time required.
Location: Palmer Commons at 100 Washtenaw Ave. in Ann Arbor
Room: Forum Hall

Then join me the next day at the 6th annual Ann Arbor Book Fair inside the Michigan League on the University of Michigan campus. I’ll be at booth #30, selling books through my own Azenphony Press, and promoting my editing service and my next book, about the underground press from the Vietnam Era, so I’ll be available to answer questions about contracts as an expansion of my talk.

You can get directions to Palmer Commons and the Michigan League, as well as answers to all your questions about the Ann Arbor Book Festival, at their Web site. Or just Google “Ann Arbor Book Festival.”

For full, clause-by-clause contract advising and help in negotiating, I urge you to join the National Writers Union. For your membership, you can request free contract advising from NWU’s Grievance and Contract Division, the best group of contract advisers in the business. No exception. No group even comes in a close second. You can join online. Membership is worth it just for this one member benefit. I’m one of the CAs so you can request me if you want—but for the full contract review you have to be a member.

Learn how to negotiate a book publishing contract

This is my first blog entry, so welcome to my blog and all that. Beyond that, I’ve been way overthinking what I want to say in “my first blog entry.”

Meanwhile, I have an announcement that is of importance to serious book authors, especially in the Ann Arbor and Greater Southeast Michigan community, so let me debut there.

On Friday May 15, I will be speaking at the Ann Arbor Writers Conference on the topic of “Issues of Intellectual Property.” The title doesn’t really capture the subject matter.

Here’s the blurb from the conference Web site: “You’re looking at a real live book contract from a real live book publisher. You have no idea what it all means— except that it was written by the publisher’s lawyers for the sole benefit and protection of the publisher. In this session, you will learn about the major clauses in a typical book contract and how to negotiate a better contract.”

What I’ll do during that hour is explain a typical book publishing contract and give tips on how to negotiate with your publisher. I’ll go over the main clauses, tell you what they mean, what you can ask for, what responses you can expect from the publisher, and how to counter them.

If you are sending out query letters and manuscripts to publishers or, even better, if you already are looking at a publishing contract, do not miss this workshop. You’ll learn way more than you ever knew there was to know and there will be lots of time for QA both during and after the session.

Time: 8:45-9:45 a.m., so if you have a day job you can attend and still make it to work with only a little comp time required.
Location: Palmer Commons at 100 Washtenaw Ave. in Ann Arbor
Room: Forum Hall

The event is part of the Ann Arbor Book Festival, which culminates the next day, Saturday May 16, with the sixth annual Ann Arbor Book Fair. The book fair will be held inside the Michigan League on the University of Michigan campus. I’ll be there also, at booth #30, selling books through my own Azenphony Press, and promoting my editing service and my next book, about the underground press from the Vietnam Era, so I’ll be available to answer questions about contracts as an expansion of my talk.

You can get directions to Palmer Commons and the Michigan League, as well as answers to all your questions about the Ann Arbor Book Festival, at their Web site. Or just Google “Ann Arbor Book Festival.”

To learn more about the 2009 Ann Arbor Book Festival and to see me interviewed, tune in to Access Ann Arbor on Ann Arbor’s Community Television Network Channel 17 at the following times:

Monday 4/27              2:30 p.m.
Friday 5/1                   11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Monday 5/4                4:30 p.m.
Thursday 5/7             3:00 p.m.
Saturday 5/9              9:30 a.m.
Monday 5/11             6:00 p.m.
Wednesday 5/13      3:30 p.m.
Thursday 5/14          7:00 p.m.