Posted tagged ‘contract’

Better than the sum of our parts

May 21, 2012

The stereotype of a writer is the starving artist pulling his hair out, scratching at parchment with a quill pen deep into the night by the light of a single candle, crumpling page after page at the typewriter and tossing them onto the floor, staring in despair at a blank screen with only a blinking cursor to mock him.

But writers need stimulation. Writers need other writers. From my earliest days as a wide-eyed member of Washington Independent Writers (RIP), I always came home from meetings energized, full of ideas and tips and leads. Even if we didn’t talk about a project or assignment of mine, I was inspired to plunge into it after sitting with other writers over soda and chips, discussing problems and solutions and hashing out whatever came up in conversation.

This afternoon’s ad hoc “no hype, no dues, no bull” writers gathering on Hope’s deck was the updated version. We talked social media, business cards, payment rates, promoting subjects, promoting ourselves, conferences, staff work versus freelance work, taxes, contracts, and more. I mentioned my class discussion about contracts and bafflement at the way they’ve seemingly morphed in the past year and asked whether others have seen the same trend.

Specifically, I mentioned my partial success at changing one magazine’s contract to reflect what I could realistically promise to deliver (see my post of February 29). The editors had agreed to insert the (italicized) term “Author represents and warrants that to the best of her knowledge” the article I was submitting would not be libelous or obscene and would not invade the rights of privacy, violate any law, or violate the right of any person, firm, or corporation and that any directions contained in it would not be injurious in any way to the user. Unfortunately, they made that change in my contract alone, not in anyone else’s.

Someone said she’d had a similar experience and had asked a lawyer’s advice. The term she’d gotten was “commercially reasonable efforts.” As in, you merely promise that you have made commercially reasonable efforts to ensure all of the above. Interesting! Almost everyone on the deck got out a pen and wrote it down: “commercially reasonable efforts.”

Now, we still have to get a meeting of the minds with editors. But my point is that a group of writers is stronger and more creative and more interesting and fun than the sum of its parts. Or at least equal to it. I’m inspired by new perspectives, a new setting, an exchange of views and experiences, and some good food. And we all learned something, too. Yay us!

Copyright 2012 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

Putting out a contract on us

March 28, 2012

I always enjoy the class session on contracts. Two, actually. In any six-week class, I devote 1-1/2 sessions to contracts because they’re that important. I haul out my big soapbox, warn the students that they’re going to get an impassioned rant (is there any other kind?), and go off.

They’ve got to admit it’s entertaining. The 1-1/2 sessions cover Al Gore inventing the Internet (kidding! no comments, please), publishers figuring out what to do with the new electronic box with its blinking orange or green cursor, Jonathan Tasini getting sand kicked in his face and teaming up with the UAW, this “et al” suing that “et al,” historians wailing about lost data, the Supremes adding one plus one, the writers winning the battle but losing the war, and corporate lawyers making up such phrases as “heretofore to be invented throughout the universe.”

In a big class especially, it’s fun to listen while students read the two sample contracts. I’ve warned them that one is worse than the other, but it might not be as easy to tell which is which as it was with the two sample queries earlier in the class. In silence they read suspiciously, carefully, parsing out the legalese. Then someone gets to the “throughout the universe” line and gasps. And I suppress a giggle.

I like lawyers. I lived with a lawyer. I watch lawyer shows. I like the lawyers I’ve worked with. But the ones who write freelance contracts? Uh-uh. Evil moneygrubbing rights grabbers! Ripoff artists! Obnoxiously ignorant, too, when they insist that this is work made for hire (and often follow that by insisting that if a court finds it isn’t, it is anyway).

Last week I explained the full ramifications of selling all rights. The look of horror on at least two faces was satisfying. When I explained this week why I feel so passionately about this, spending quite a while spelling out all the ancillary rights it’s possible to use and illustrating by anecdote all the potential those rights have even if you doubt you’ll use them, the dawning understanding on more faces was equally satisfying. As always, I enumerated the three reasons I (almost) never sign an all-rights contract: It’s bad for me, it’s bad for other writers (I don’t want to encourage the bastards), and I want to be able to come to class and tell my students that I didn’t sign. It does undermine my point a bit that I have to explain these days having signed a few, but there’s context to that, and I hope the greater lesson gets through. Certainly the many times I concluded, “I’m glad I kept the rights” and “I sure hope s/he kept the rights” must have sunk in.

It occurs to me that my 1-1/2 sessions on contracts come off a bit like Star Wars. There’s the classic good-versus-evil, underdog-versus-Goliath story, with heroes and villains and larger-than-life characters – and while in real life the little guys are losing to the evil empire, there is hope; there are rebels who win victories and push back with pluck and smarts. Maybe ASJA and Contracts Watch will win the day after all. I doubt they’ll blow up the Death Star on Times Square, but maybe they’ll, ah, put out a contract on it.

Copyright 2012 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.