Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thoughts on Writing for Anthologies

Contains CZ's story
"Only the Moon Will Tell"
Collected here are a few words of wisdom when it comes to writing for anthologies. This post talks a little bit about contracts, but don't construe this as legal advice. It isn't. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV.

If you're about to enter into a publishing agreement, do your due diligence. If you aren't sure about your contract, and you don't have an agent, hire a literary attorney. I'm posting this because the anthology market is a fun and unique niche in the industry. That said, I've had both good and bad - very, very bad - experiences in writing for anthologies.

Consider this post a friendly, casual heads up about some of the things you need to know and be watchful for before you dive in. Everything here is based on my own personal experiences.

Let's get started by defining an anthology. It's basically a collection of short stories or novellas by various authors. Notice I said various authors. If you have a collection of short stories or novellas by a single author, it's simply called a collection.

There are two main types of anthologies. The first one is the kind where you write an original story based around a chosen theme, such as 18 Bloody Awful Ghost Stories, Hot Hung Hunks, or Naughty Spanking Werewolves, or whatever. This represents a standard anthology, regardless of genre. A publisher or editor will put out a call for a specific kind of story or theme. You write the story, send it in, and hope to be accepted. You're typically paid on publication.

The second kind of anthology is rare. It's when an already established author puts out a call to buy short stories using the established author's previously published and copyrighted characters and their pre-existing world, their pre-designed story bible, and any other pre-existing story elements as per the submission call. These calls are often themed as well, and you're typically paid on publication.

[For example: Bess. S. Author wants you to write a 500 word story using her John and Anna Romancero characters, set in their hometown of Happyland, USA. In order to fit the anthology's 4th of July theme, stories should revolve around the characters visiting the town's annual fireworks show in the park.] 

With that kind of pre-existing character/world anthology, you can expect the contract to be strict about what you may or may not do with the author's characters and other story elements. For instance, it will say you do not have any legal right to continue to use the characters, story world, bible, story elements, etc. outside of the anthology. Often, you can't combine any of your previously published characters with the anthology author's characters. But most importantly, if your story is selected and published (or even if it's not) you will never be able to publish that story elsewhere. In other words, you can't use it for anything other than that specific anthology call. Publish the story elsewhere and risk being sued. Like I said, these calls are extremely rare.

Unless you're writing for that rare kind of anthology that requires you to use someone else's copyrighted characters, world, etc., never - yes, I said never - sign a contract for an anthology that asks for exclusive rights to your story.

There is no reason a standard anthology needs your exclusive rights. You might think a story won't matter to you once it's published. You may believe that you already made your money off of a story when you signed on, and the publisher (or in some cases, the editor) sent you that one-shot $10, $75, or $100 payment* on publication. You might think you will never read or use that story again. I'm here to tell you, you will more than likely come to regret that decision later if you sign over exclusive rights. I've done it, and there has always been a major headache attached to doing so.

Down the road, you might find another anthology where your story fits. Or you might want to use that story in your "greatest hits" author collection. You might want to make a bundle out of it with your author friends. The point is you might want to publish that story again, and if you've signed away exclusive rights, depending on the contract, it will probably take the legal equivalent of the jaws of life to pry you (or buy you) out of that contract.

Another thing to watch out for is a contract that forgoes a concrete rights reversion time frame in favor of a clause that allows the publisher to determine whether or not the book is "out of print" or "no longer in sufficient demand". Neither of those terms, or anything similar to those terms, should be used to determine whether or not you can request your rights back on an anthology story. These clauses are vague and can easily be manipulated to keep a dead book "in print". Also watch out for those contracts that automatically renew annually, but offer the writer only a narrow, vague window of time in which to request rights back each year.

Another thing to pay close attention to is what format the anthology will be published in. Is the book going to be published in print and ebook? As a bundle on Amazon?  In audio book format? Avoid anthology contract clauses that grant the publisher rights to publish you in "technologies in development/not yet developed/discovered", "forthcoming technologies", "future technologies", or anything of that sort. What does forthcoming technologies mean for you? Long story short, given the rate in which new publishing platforms and technologies are cropping up, your book could be considered in print indefinitely.

Ideally, an anthology contract should be for non-exclusive rights. Sometimes there will be a clause that says you must wait a specific amount of time before you can republish your story. This is fairly common. It gives the publisher of the anthology a chance to make money off the book before you publish your story elsewhere. However, before you sign that non-exclusive contract, make sure the time frame stated in the contract is crystal clear. Six months is good. A year is good. Anything over three years, negotiate your way into a shorter time frame or don't sign at all.

In addition to non-exclusive rights, if you can get the publisher to add that the rights "automatically revert" to the author (after a clearly specified amount of time), so that no contact with the publisher is required for the rights to be returned, all the better. I've worked with two publishers that have those clauses, and I'd happily work with them again and again. What's great about an anthology contract that requests non-exclusive rights with an automatic reversion clause is that you don't have to wait for the publisher to send you a rights reversion notice in order to republish your story after the time frame is up. On the opposite side of the fence, the publisher doesn't have to stop selling/ take down/ unpublish the book they invested in (your story and everyone else's with it) just because you wanted to publish the same story elsewhere. Instead, you can both look at it that you fulfilled your obligation to the publisher. If you're contracted to receive royalties, you'll continue receiving royalty payments on the anthology if it is still in print/ for sale/ selling. In the meantime, you have the right to republish your story elsewhere. Everyone walks away happy.

About anthologies and getting *paid. I prefer to work with publishers that offer a one-shot payment for an anthology story. Most editors state in the submissions call whether a project is royalty paying or a one time payment. With royalties, you stand the chance of earning more than a one-shot payment, but you also stand the chance of earning pennies. I once received a 4¢ royalty check for my cut of a paranormal anthology. Unless I'm looking at a book bundling deal (for example, e-book bundles currently sold on Amazon), when it comes to the average anthology story, I mostly look for calls that offer a flat rate payment (most often paid on publication) along with a few author copies.

Anthologies are good for sharpening your writing chops, and they are good for getting in a little paid exposure. They also give you a chance to dive in on a subject or theme you might not have taken a risk on writing about otherwise. If you're not ready to commit to writing a full novel, consider submitting to a few anthologies. It can be valuable and rewarding experience.

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