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A cautionary tale for aspiring novelists out there....

Phil Foglio is a great guy.  He's funny, he's genuine, he's awesome.  I first met him at my first Chicago Comic Convention back in 1992, where I became familiar with him and his What's New? With Phil And Dixie and XXXenophile comics.  He had also just finished an Angel And The Ape mini for DC, with Stanly And His Monster on the way, along with other fun stuff.

Foglio was one of the people who saw the Internet as a new way to be an artist and establish a revenue stream.  With his wife Kaja, they came up with the Girl Genius line of comics.  They update, they sell well, and Foglio hatched a deal to make Girl Genius novels.  It's with a small presser called Night Shade.

Now, keep in mind, self-publishing sucks.  Big publishers didn't like my take on Christianity in the books or that I was an unknown writer (most books published now already have the movie rights optioned, and that's often the deciding factor in whether or not it gets picked up).  Small publishers either wanted such a narrow niche that I couldn't fall within it or I didn't like the terms they were offering.  As a result, I have to hustle and promote my Hannah Singer books, I have no one helping me out.  However, I keep all the rights to my work.

Foglio is not so lucky.  From his Facebook page:

"So– Got a call from our agent, telling me that Night Shade Books, the American publisher of the Girl Genius novels, is folding. This made me sad. I became markedly less sad when my agent assured me that our sales were sufficiently good that any number of other publishers should be interested in picking us up, so– Hurrah! Well…maybe hurrah. You see, there’s the whole tedious business of disengaging ourselves from Night Shade, which has decided to sell our contract to another publisher in order to cover their debts. This other publisher, Skyhorse, is perfectly willing to buy Night Shade’s assets (our contracts). However, they will rewrite them and everybody now gets paid a flat 10% of net sales. Let me put this another way; If I was a monkey, I’d be throwing this."

(Side note:  you never negotiate net.  People will remove "expenses" first, which can be anything and everything, and calculate what you get on the tiny piece left.  They will even shuttle money around as "miscellaneous expenses" make sure the net they calculate from is nice and low.  If you wonder why movie contracts are so low and always talk about the gross, it's because anything else is asking to be ripped off.  -- G)

"However it gets even better. A certain percentage of Night Shade authors have to agree to this hose job before the deal goes through. Yay! We’re safe! You’d have to be an idiot to sign onto this! True– So let’s bring out a stick and threaten you! If they don’t get enough authors willing to eat this crap, then Night Shade has no choice but to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Then all the books in question go into a legal limbo. No one has the rights until the bankruptcy is resolved, which might take years- or possibly, NEVER! This has happened before to way better authors than us. This means that once said books go out of print, the authors can’t resell them. Can’t reprint them. Can’t sell any adaptation rights. Can’t write any sequels. And so, because a couple of wankers took two semesters of ‘Creative Writing’ instead one or two in ‘Business Administration’ before they started their little publishing house, a whole bunch of authors have the choice of deciding if they want to give their work away for free (scum who actually took Business Administration classes collapse in orgasmic joy when some fool agrees to get paid a percentage of ‘net’. Seriously, that’s insulting ‘amateur night in Dixie’ stuff) (Yes, I’ve been a freelancer for 30+ years, thanks for asking), or losing control of it, possibly for years, maybe forever."

I'm not sure how Foglio can get out of this.  I know I would hate to lose something representative of my creations through circumstances like this.  I hope it's not too late for him.

But it doesn't have to be too late for you.

Those of you in the creative arts?  Read those contracts.  Make sure there is a point where the rights revert back.  Because if they don't, the day the company gets gobbled up could be the day your work vanishes from the world.

Spread the word.

We must look out for each other.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Apr. 6th, 2013 10:39 pm (UTC)
I've worked with two small presses. One has been mostly a good experience, and now I'm developing some long-term plans and projects with them. The other... was not such a good experience. They looked good at first, but they overextended themselves trying to grow too quickly and the Great Recession took them down. So it goes.

I think the small presses that survive are the ones that have chosen to target a niche market of some kind, and that have put in the work necessary to learn that market and operate within it. If your own work is geared toward that same market, you can have a good relationship. If it's not, you're better off looking somewhere else.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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