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How to keep your stories strike-proof

July 30, 2023
Posted by:
Ron Seybold

The easiest publisher to protect your book is you

Now that the actors have joined writers of TV and movies on strike, story invention is slowing to a crawl. Actors can still work on audiobooks, but just about everything else is shut down for the duration. The Emmys have been postponed, for heaven's sake. There are good reasons for striking to win fair benefits and pay. We're at a watershed. You might be at one as well.

Books will never go on strike or dry up. They can disappear, though. A contract with a publisher can give them the right to remove your book from sale or keep you from sharing it with the world. Even if it's acclaimed, it's still bound by sales. It's already happening to some TV series created by streaming services.

These publishers, if you will, of filmed dramas and comedies are yanking shows out of the world. The Rise of the Pink Ladies, a Grease prequel, earned two Emmy nominations and has just about vanished. I caught one episode on this week's Milwaukee to Atlanta in-flight showing. But it's gone from Paramount+. The sci-fi teen adventure movie Crater cost $53 million to make. It vanished from Disney+ after just two months.

The writers of these shows and movies, as well as the actors, can't even use them as credits, if they can't be seen. This will never happen with books, especially if you choose the right publisher. That's you, or the company you create, when you publish yourself.

What you want, you can deliver yourself

A publisher's deal is supposed to deliver benefits that a smaller entity cannot. High-level reviews. A sales force. Access to noteworthy authors who'll blurb your book. Audiobook production. When those things happen, the author is a winner.

But you can imagine how those things could vanish as completely as Crater did. The reviews are always there, selling the books. The blurbs are in place, forevermore. But when a publisher takes your book out of print, you lose all the momentum as well as the channels created for your labor of love. Your book only wins new readers because used copies are for sale forever, like they are for every book.

Savvy authors are rescuing their traditional books all the time these days. They buy back the rights. Some publishers specialize in taking such Out of Print books back into print, simply by creating a fresh cover for an ebook edition that was never produced on the first pass.

When you publish yourself, you can take command of the future of your creations. A hybrid publisher is likely to give you that command as part of their contract to produce your book. That's because you're investing in what you created. Be sure to invest in promotion help, too.

Your contract with your own company

Your book won't need to go on strike to protect its rights to entertain, enlighten, and educate. Authors build in that protection through contracts. Signing a book contract can mean preserving rights like audiobook creation, or translation rights. This preservation is a good reason to have an agent — or at least an experienced intellectual property lawyer, if you earn your own green-light, like one of my friends did. His publisher had never created an audiobook in its history, but it wanted to retain audio rights. That might have been a death sentence for the audiobook of the novel.

The easiest contract to negotiate is the one with the book's owner: yourself. Make your book strike-proof with the publisher who supports it more than anybody else. Jamie Brickhouse is a former Big Five publicist who released a memoir. He told us at a conference, "The only person who gets up every day and thinks about your book is you."

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