Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wrongs and Rights

RIP Jeremiah Healy

My words this week are fragmented, but that’s the kind of week it’s been. To begin with, I was stunned to learn the devastating news that fellow author Jeremiah Healy took his own life a few days ago. Jerry was one of the good guys, one who made me feel most welcome when I attended my first US convention in Florida.

Severe depression is a terrible illness for all affected – and by that I mean those closest to the person as well as the one suffering. A bad way to put it, I know, but if someone you love is depressed, everybody around them suffers the agonies of knowing there is nothing they can do to make it right. My every sympathy goes to Jerry’s wife, fellow author Sandra Balzo. To quote her on the late Robin Williams earlier this week: “Severe depression is as far away from ‘the blues’ as Ebola is from a cold.”

We remember people by the size and shape of the hole they leave behind them in the world. Dammit, Jerry, you’ve left a big hole.

Jeremiah Healy and Sandy Balzo

Something For Nothing

It seems a minor point, after that, to move on to the subject I was intending to bring up this week – the subject of torrent sites and illegal free downloads. It bugs me, but not enough to go stalking those responsible, wearing a ghillie suit and camouflage cream. If a site offering freebie downloads of my books comes to my attention, I’ll do something, but I don’t go trawling the Tinterweb looking for them.

Likewise, I don’t add DRM (Digital Rights Management) to most of my ebooks. DRM is supposed to prevent the user from making copies of the work, but I’ve always gone on the theory that for those people tech-savvy enough to want to do it, bypassing DRM is no barrier, and for the rest of us it’s simply annoying. I recognize that this is a similar argument to not locking your doors at night, on the grounds that professional thieves will know how to break in anyway.

So, is it time I rethought the whole DRM thing and added it to my backlist titles? What is everyone else’s view on this?

Signing It All Away

And finally, months ago I was asked to contribute to an anthology for the benefit of a particular writers’ organization. I’d contributed to a similar type of book here in the UK, and when I received my invite I asked the editor if the same piece would be acceptable, even though it had been published previously. I received assurances that this was just fine.

But when the contract arrived from the publisher the organization was using, it demanded that I sign away exclusive rights for the entire term of copyright. Not only that, but also that I agree to indemnify the publisher against any legal action taken over the piece (the content of which was entirely non-controversial, by the way). I baulked at this, and eventually – as publication loomed – was told by the editor to re-word the contract to something I was happy with and they would run it by the publisher. I did this, adding ‘non’ to the exclusive part, and striking through the indemnity clause.

To cut a long story short, the publisher rejected my changes and my piece was pulled from the anthology. Disappointing, but preferable, in my view, to setting a dangerous precedent by signing away all rights to my work.

Again, what are your views? Should I stop being so precious and accept that sometimes you have to let go of work forever and set it adrift in the hopes that it does some good because someone else happens across it, or stick to my guns? Or should I look at it as good advertising?

That’s all from me, except for my Word of the Week, which is tristifical, an adjective meaning to cause to be sad or mournful.


  1. Very said news about your friend, Jerry. My prayers go out to his family.

    Changing gears, let me see if I get this magnanimous publisher's position right. It wanted you to give up your copyright AND indemnify it in connection with the donated use of your work in an anthology? I can sort of understand its concern over the latter, but the former strikes me as a just a grab of rights using a charitable purpose as cover.

    Again, sorry about your friend, my love.

  2. Very sorry to hear about Jeremiah!

    On the DRM front, forget about it. As you said, it's just a PITA for honest folks, and it's not even a speed bump for the pirates. The music industry, after YEARS of fighting it, finally realized that folks that are going to steal will steal, and for the rest, if you sell them what they want at a REASONABLE price, it prevents the creation of more thieves. The publishing industry is still re-fighting the same battle, but will eventually learn the same lessons.

    As for the publisher's contract, every author has to make up their own minds on these things, but my thoughts are that most current 'traditional' publishers have not only gone off the deep end with their contracts and stealing from authors, they've actually cratered the bottom of the Mariana Trench... Do not stop, do not walk, and especially do not sign these greedy, one-sided contracts, run away, run awaaaaaaaaaaay!

    But that's just my tristifical opinion.

    1. Hi Everett. Thanks for that, and for your views on both DRM and the publishing contract. I know the latter was over something small and simple, but once you've been conditioned to accept clauses like these in contracts for minor works, how long before it creeps in for full-length novels?


    2. Evka, Here's the rub for us writers: musicians can make money from their art by performing it live. To some extent, giving away recordings creates more fans, some of whom can be expected to buy tickets. All we writers have to sell is "recordings." No one is going to pay to hear us read our books aloud if they have read them at home. It is already next to impossible for a fiction writer to make a decent living. You are undoubtedly right that we can't fight the pirates, but we have to at least try to tilt at those windmills.

    3. I understand what you're saying, but, but...

      DRM is TRIVIAL to remove (and ANY DRM will be broken sooner, not later). All it takes is ONE pirate to break the DRM and redistribute it, and now there's a non-DRM copy for ALL the pirates to spread. So what's to be gained by causing grief for your honest readers? Adding DRM doesn't help to prop up pricing, doesn't slow down piracy.

      I'm completely sympathetic with where you're coming from, and I'm not saying things don't have to change in SOME way in order to support authors, but I don't think DRM is any part of the answer.

      But then, different opinions and horse races... :-)

    4. What a thought, Annamaria, that we'd have someone like Lee Child filling a stadium with screaming fans and reading out the best bits of his books to wild applause.

      But, at the same time, writers go to conventions, appear at bookstores and libraries, all in the hope of creating new readers and pleasing existing readers.

    5. I've wonders, Everett, if we'll ever see a move towards sponsored books -- 'the latest Jeffery Deaver, brought to you by Suzuki -- ride the winds of change' just as TV programs no longer just have ad breaks, but are actively sponsored by companies. Better an ad in the front of a book that you can skip past than blatant product placement within the story....

    6. Yes, Zoe, we go to those places, often at great expense to ourselves, with those hopes in mind, but one of our hopes is of selling books, not to encourage readers to pirate them. My husband, the marketing guy, used to say of loss-leaders, "We lose money on every transaction, but we make it up in volume."

    7. Ick, Zoë, PLEASE NO. I hate the way 'sponsors' ads are now so blatantly shoved into TV shows, it just completely breaks the ... hmmm... immersion in the story, it's like getting doused with a bucket of ice water right in the middle of good sex. Well... maybe not quite like THAT. :-)

      I don't know what the solution is, I just don't believe DRM is a part of it. No 'software locks' can help, they're too easily 'picked'.

      But the industry HAS to change, in some way. The last 200 years or more have repeatedly shown that you can't stop the changes wrought by advancing technology. You (society and the individuals) have to adapt, or you get run over or left behind. It's not always fun, but it is what it is.

      That said, I'm the first in line to support authors. I've been an avid reader all my life, and while I know the next 5-20 years are going to be a painful adjustment for authors, I deeply hope that a solution to the changes is found/developed sooner rather than later.

  3. Hi Jeff. Yeah, a sad -- one might almost say tristifical -- week.

    As for the anthology publisher, I politely told them thanks-but-no-thanks and have also declined to renew my membership of the writers' organisation. A shame, as they're otherwise a great and worthwhile bunch, but every now and again one feels the need to make a small stand on principle.


  4. How very sad about Jeremiah Healy and Robin Williams. There must be more research and other work done to successfully treat the disease of depression.