From an Author’s perspective…
To get the intro over and done with: the Productivity Commission is looking into Intellectual Property Arrangements, and has released a Draft Report outlining proposed changes. These changes include copyright and Parallel Importation Restrictions (PIRs).
First of all, what is Parallel Importation?
Put simply, parallel importation is a non-counterfeit product imported from another country without the permission of the intellectual property owner – also known as ‘grey goods’.
For example: a company launches a product. Country1 sells it at one price (Price1), and Country2 sells it at a different, higher price (Price2). A parallel importer can purchase the goods from Country1 at Price1, then import the goods into Country2 and sell it for less than Price2.
The aim is to create affordability in products, and is of benefit to the consumer by pushing down the cost of goods as Country2 sellers compete with the price-setting of the parallel importer.
How does this relate to books?
For example, if my Australian book, Runaway Lies, (edited, copyedited, proofread, cover design, marketed, etc by Harlequin Australia) was also available in the U.S. market for a cheaper price, then a parallel importer could purchase that U.S. version, import it, and sell it here in Australia, at a cheaper price than that set by Harlequin AU.
It’s a win for Australian readers, right? Um, maybe not so much. (We’ll call this Myth #1, and come back to it.)
Currently, the Copyright Act 1968 states that copyright is infringed by a person who imports an item into Australia (without the licence of the owner of the copyright), for the purpose of selling, letting for hire or by way of trade offering exposing for sale or hire, the article, or distributing the article for the purpose of trade or any other purpose that will affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright.
This means, at one point, the Australian Government saw fit to offer protections to Australian authors, publishers and the Australian culture. (We’ll call this Red Flag #1, because we’ll be coming back to it.)
What are Parallel Import Restrictions (PIRs)?
Currently, if an Australian publisher releases a book, booksellers must buy that book from the publisher (and their providers, e.g.; printers/book packagers). They are not permitted to purchase or import a cheaper version from overseas. There is an exception, and that is if the book is released overseas and still is not available in Australia 30 days after its release – or if it’s for a customer’s personal use, single copies can be purchased. Presently, Australian publishers have committed to having the book released in Australian within 14 days of an overseas release.
If we look at the international markets, Australia simply does not possess the economies of scale. That is, in the USA and UK there is a higher population, so more copies are printed. The more copies you print, the lower the item cost. In Australia, our population is lower, so our print demand is lower, ergo our item cost can be higher.
In the argument supporting the repeal of the PIRs, references are made to how getting rid of PIRs has worked in Canada and New Zealand. I have tried to find the data and reports to support this, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it just means I haven’t been able to find it yet. But I did find something else…
*Myth #1* – cheaper books for Aussie readers
In the March 2009 Productivity Commission Research Report into Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books, Section 4.2 Evidence on the price effects states (and I quote):
While the PIRs potentially raise the prices of books published in Australia, assessing the actual magnitude of any such price effect is not straight-forward. To start with, it requires an understanding of the foreign sources from which book imports might be feasible in the absence of PIRs. Even where this is clear, the next issue is whether books could be sourced from these markets at sufficiently attractive prices to make them competitive with locally produced books.
Many previous studies of PIRs have relied on comparisons of prices in Australia with those in other, developed, English-speaking markets, particularly the UK and the US. Participants in this study also provided such comparisons, and the Commission has augmented these with its own analysis.
Even so, gaining a clear indication of the effects of PIRs through such analyses is difficult.
Even the Productivity Commission couldn’t prove their claim that PIRs make books more expensive in Australia. In fact, the report continues to state that when data was compiled in the Participants’ comparisons of Australian and US/UK current list prices, p76 (and I quote):
Taken at face value, the comparisons suggest that prices of many titles in Australia can be competitive with, or lower than, the price of UK or US editions.
The Commission did compile its own data, which conflicted with the above statements, but then stated (p81):
Taken at face value, the data provided by the Coalition suggests that substantial reductions in prices could eventuate were Australia to remove its PIRs. However, the Commission notes that, in these circumstances, foreign publishers would not necessarily supply Australian retailers at the wholesale prices they currently offer to booksellers in ‘cheaper’ countries. In the absence of PIRs, foreign publishers are just as likely to want to engage in price discrimination as at present.
Overall, it was found to be a bit of a mixed bag. Some books were cheaper in Australia than the USA and UK, some were more expensive, and some were about the same.
But wait, in the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report 2016, they state (and I quote):
The Productivity Commission re-examined the restrictions in 2009. Price comparison analysis found that, in 2007-08, a selection of around 350 trade books sold in Australia were on average 35 per cent more expensive than in the US.
Again, I’m no mathematician, but does that mean roughly75% were of a similar price or cheaper?
So looking at all of this, the assertion that removing PIRs will result in cheaper book prices isn’t borne out by the very people making the claim. The Productivity Commission is recommending the repeal of PIRs, yet can’t actually justify it from their own reports – although it hasn’t stopped them from cherry-picking the 2009 report findings in their references in the 2016 Draft Report.
My understanding (and it may well be flawed) is that PIRs apply to Australian content. Stories written by Australians and published in Australia by Australian publishers.
This does NOT apply to stories written by U.S. writers, published in the U.S., and then imported into Australia (or authors and stories written and published elsewhere). In other words, parallel importation can occur legally on these books – and yet we don’t necessarily see those lauded priced reductions in the market place.
*Red Flag #1* – protecting Australian authors, publishers and culture.
So what happens if we repeal the Parallel Import Restrictions?
Simply put, booksellers and importers can source cheaper versions from overseas markets and sell them to the public here in Australia.
That’s great, right? Cheaper books for readers. Here’s the thing – as mentioned above, there is no guarantee that the outcome, will in fact, result in cheaper books for the readers. If the books are in, say, the US, and the purchase is done in the US, then the money goes to….the US. There would be a small trickle down to the AU publisher, and an even smaller trickle down to the AU author (as a foreign, indirect sale). Not only that, but you do risk the ‘Americanisation’ of the Australian culture. (Please apply ‘isation’ to any other country this would be done through, I’m just picking the US to prove a point).
There is a slight difference in language. If an Australian story is bought by the US arm of the publisher, than it’s ‘converted’ –we’re talking footpath vs sidewalk, favour vs favor, realisation vs realization, etc. So essentially you’re importing an Australian story with Americanisms. We’d be bringing in our own stories with a foreign influence in the language, and possibly even some of the cultural references…
But the slow transition to the adoption foreign cultural elements and assuming them as our own will be the least of our problems (although this is pretty major, in my mind). We then have the issue of Australian publishers receiving less reward (mind you, they found the author, they edited, copyedited, proofread, designed cover and marketed the book, so most of the costs were borne here in Australia). The Australian author then receives less.
Less income means Australian publishers can afford to publish less Australian books. Australian authors will receive less money, and less Australian authors will get published. If less Australian books are published through Australian publishers, you will see the decline of the Australian publishing industry. That means all those jobs and businesses involved in the publishing industry (and we’re not just talking about the big multi-national publishers) will slowly disappear. Thomas Keneally gives a great breakdown of what that truly means in this article in the Financial Review.
Eventually, you will see less and less Australian content in the bookstores, and more and more US and UK content. Incidentally, the US and UK are NOT considering repealing their territorial copyright – so why, in all that makes clear and logical sense, are we?
Basically, this will lead to job losses. This will lead to revenue loss to international markets. This will lead to a loss in an industry that doesn’t receive much in the way of subsidy from the Government (if any) – unlike cars, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, and this will lead to a level of cultural bankruptcy in Australia.
I have seen various remarks within the media about these arguments from authors as being at best emotional, and at worst hysterical. This shows a very clear ignorance of what is truly at stake here, but not only that, it shows a very clear ignorance of the position of a ‘creator’. When you are modifying laws to decrease an author’s earnings, when you modify laws that will effectively remove an author’s property from that author’s ownership without their consent, this is how it directly affects an author:
You take away my capacity to earn money for my family to:
- Put food on the table,
- Put clothes on our backs,
- Put a roof over our heads,
- And educate our children.
I work. I pay taxes. I support other businesses by doing my work and paying taxes.
This is important, not emotional. This stuff really MATTERS.
To try and put it into perspective: If the construction industry were able to import cheaper labour from overseas to replace the Australian labour force – despite there being people ready, willing and able to do the job here, there would be a hue and cry over the loss of jobs and revenue to the international market. Why is the book industry different? Why is it that the Australian voice, the Australian culture, is so underrated and undervalued?
New Zealand has already done this, and so far, I can’t find any reports, articles, etc, that states that New Zealand book prices have decreased due to this action (or decreased, period). That’s not to say there’s no evidence, I’m just saying that as yet, I can’t find it, and the Productivity Commission haven’t sited it, either. What we can see is that New Zealand book prices are more expensive than Australian book prices. We can also see that since PIRs were repealed in New Zealand, their book industry has shrunk. Drastically.
The proposed changes in the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report 2016 are not fair. They’re not innovative. They’re based on unsupported facts that are contrary to those presented by parties directly affected by the changes, and their conclusions are fundamentally, breathtakingly flawed.
Currently, submissions are still open, so please, if you want to see and read Australian books, written by Australian authors and published by Australian publishers in Australia, please submit your response. Submissions close Friday, June 3rd.
From an Author’s Perspective…
Term of Copyright
To recap: The Productivity Commission in Australia is considering making changes to Intellectual Property Arrangements. Some suggestions in the draft report have some merit. For example, the sharing of information from pharmaceutical companies to help advance research, instead of each company or research institution recreating the wheel. Some suggestions, I fear, don’t. One of the proposed changes looks at copyright, and I’m going to present my understanding of the whole scenario.
*WARNING: this is a very involved and lengthy post.
So, firstly, what is copyright? In Australia, copyright applies from the moment an idea is created. There is an automatic protection applied to all creative works. Please note, that’s not the idea itself, but the documentation, planning, preparation, implementation, production, etc of that idea.
For example, as soon as I start writing a novel, I have copyright of that novel. That means I own that novel, it’s my baby. I’ve spent considerable time and effort (and perhaps cost) in creating that story. That means I, as the owner, can exercise certain rights. For example, I can sign over those rights to a third party (publisher). These rights may include (but aren’t limited to) producing the work in print and digital format, and selling it in….say, Australia. I can specify that, because it’s my work. If a publisher then wishes to sell the ‘work’ in…Estonia, then I can sign over foreign rights, also, and receive recompense. I can sign over rights for the ‘work’ to be adapted into a TV series or movie (from my fingers to God’s ears), or a play – interpretative dance, if I wanted to. But that’s because it’s my right to do so. Copyright means I can sell it, perform it (and be grateful I don’t), publish it, adapt it and communicate it to the public.
So, that’s copyright in a nutshell. There’s a lot more to go along with it, and if you have a spare few hours, you can read the rest of the Copyright Act 1968 for shits and giggles.
At present, the Copyright Act stipulates that I own my work (you know, that work that I spent hours, days, weeks, months and years on) for the duration of my life, and for 70 years after my death. In effect, it’s an asset, that I can will to my family and heirs. Like any other asset – a diamond necklace, a house, a claptrap car that holds more sentimental value than monetary value…it is tangible property. So, if I die, and my contract is in effect with a publisher, those royalties that my ‘work’ earn will be paid to my heirs, and so on, until the end of the contract term, my rights revert, or seventy years pass.
From what I can learn, the Berne Convention set the minimum international standard to life plus 50 years (and Australia has signed this). As per the current AU-US Free Trade Agreement 2004 (and I dare you to read that for shits and giggles), we extended our copyright from author’s life plus 50 years to the term of the author’s life plus 70 years.
So, my first novel, Viper’s Kiss, has a copyright of 2010. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say my age was 30 (no, that wasn’t my age, we’re doing a hypothetical here). The average age of a woman in Australia is 84.3 years. That means, operating on best case scenario for me, that the Viper’s Kiss copyright is due to expire in 2134 (feel free to check my numbers, I’m a writer, not a mathematician).
Another hypothetical: I’ve written some books, it caught the eye of a Hollywood studio, and they decided to make a movie out of Viper’s Kiss. A few years down the track, there’s a remake, maybe even a computer game (yes, it’s a fantasy, but stranger things can happen). This means that I could quite reasonably earn an income from that book well into the future, and if I died, that income could be inherited by my heirs – like portfolio shares, or the rental and sales from a property development.
Important to note: once copyright expires, the ‘work’ effectively enters public domain, and others can copy and recreate the works without compensation to the rights holder.
Eg; Jane Austen’s works are in public domain, hence anyone can pretty much pick her novel, package it and present as their own work. (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, etc., but at least Ms. Austen is listed as a ‘co-author’).
The Productivity Commission has specified the following argument:
Numerous studies have attempted to estimate the ‘optimal’ duration of copyright protection. Landes and Posner (2002) argue a term of around 25 years enables rights holders to generate revenue comparable to what they would receive in perpetuity (in present value terms), without imposing onerous costs on consumers and suggests that a term of around 25 years is sufficient to incentivise creative effort.
Methinks 1) somebody has forgotten the minimum standard as set by the Berne Convention, and 2) somebody has neglected to truly look at the cost of books in the market, and author earnings. Certainly, print books attract a higher price, but bear in mind the author receives a percentage only of this price (I outlined ‘standard’ contract values in my previous Productivity Commission and Copyright article)…
Let’s look at print books. We’ll go with a standard of 5% (because it’s easier to work with, and some contracts fluctuate between 4-6%). Let’s go with Australian work, sold in Australia (calculating international sales can be diabolical). And I’ll be putting my hand up and saying yes, there are a number of mechanisms that factor into this, and costs, discounts, etc that can have an affect, but let’s keep it simple, for argument’s sake.
On average, an Australian adult working full time earned $1556.30 per week, as per ABS figures. I’m not even going to address the gender pay gap, as that will just make us all teary. Anyway, average annual income would be $80,927.60. Best case scenario, it took me about a year to write a book (let’s not count the weeks and months of editing, copyediting, proofreading, graphic design and marketing discussions and strategic planning performed by the publisher). If my book sold for full recommended retail price forever (and it doesn’t. It goes on sale, it gets distributed through third and fourth parties, etc), but for argument’s sake, best case scenario. For me to get an average income, at 5% of a standard recommended retail price of a book (approximately $29.99, give or take). That’s roughly $1.50 per book.
This pretty much means I would have to sell 53,952 books. The average print run in Australia is about 3,000 books.
I might need to legally change my name to JK Rowling. To put it plainly, this scenario is NOT AN AVERAGE REPRESENTATION. It’s difficult to obtain figures of numbers of books sold for bestsellers. I’ve seen varying reports of 3,000-5,000 within 24hrs on Amazon, to 4,000-9,000 in the first week to reach the New York Times Bestseller list – but nothing substantiated. Basically, you need to sell a LOT – and if we all reached bestseller figures, well, then, none of us would be bestsellers. BUT, seeing as most authors won’t reach the bestseller lists, it makes the average fall far shorter.
But wait, we now have e-books, with a massive potential for sales, right?
Did you know some books are actually sold at $0.99? (Some are even free, so I don’t class this as a sale, but giving the book away). So we might have higher royalty rates in the digital market, but the sales price is considerably lower. The Author Earnings website has reported on sales figures for some time, and are worth checking out, but their stats show average cost of Big 5 ebooks is in the $9.00-$9.99 range, and for indie/self-published authors its lower at $3.00-$3.99 range. If we look at Amazon pricing and royalty structures, it’s even more of a quagmire to calculate, but you get my drift. It’s going to take a looooooonnng time to sell the amount of books for an author to consider this a ‘just reward’ for the creator – as specified by a judge of the High Court of Australia in a 2009 case.
*Admittedly, this is looking at one single book as having the earning capacity equivalent of a year’s salary, which is not quite the case for most writers. My point is, writers love to write, and if they could make a good living out of it, they would do so. Most writers, based on sales, can’t live solely on their writing income.
We presently have a market that is chipping away at the price of a book already, and minimising the earning capacity (and cost vs value of books is a discussion best saved for another day). With the erosion of book prices in the digital market, and the slowdown of print book sales, authors are already facing a marked reduction in earnings. Fact.
The Productivity Commission is making the following recommendation:
DRAFT FINDING 4.2
While hard to pinpoint an optimal copyright term, a more reasonable estimate would be closer to 15 to 25 years after creation; considerably less than 70 years after death.
Copyright/Book writing 101 for the uninitiated: ‘creation’ is when I start writing the book. If it takes me about 1 year to write it, it can be another year or so before that book hits the shelves, whether that’s in-store or online (lots of editing, proofreading, cover design, etc). So, already I’m looking at 2yrs down out of my 25yrs.
Using my previous hypothetical and adapting it to the proposed change, my first novel, Viper’s Kiss, will have its copyright expire in 2035. At the grand old age of 55 yrs (and this is based on the earlier hypothetical, and by no means implies anyone aged 55 yrs or older is considered ‘old’), that book won’t be mine, anymore. In effect, something that I worked hard at to create will be taken from me within my lifetime. I will no longer receive the ‘just reward’ from it, and anyone else can use it as ‘theirs’, even if I keep producing books and readers want to find my earlier works…
Sorry, but that totally sucks. That would be like a builder designing and building a home, and after 25 years, the government hands the keys over to the public and invites them to move in. That would be like me taking an Elvis song, recording it and selling it as mine.
It would be like me breeding and owning a milking cow, feeding it, nurturing it, administering to it, paying vet bills, etc, and having the potential to create earnings into the future for me and my family- from it’s milk, and then from it’s meat, it’s leather, etc, and then after a certain time the government removes the cow and offers it to anyone who wants it, along with the future earning potential. Basically, depriving me of the reward that comes from the initial hard work. That. Sucks.
As I mentioned above, authors are actually earning less for their work, and now the government is wanting to introduce a mechanism that reduces the length of time we can receive recognition and reward for our work. In effect, reducing our earn-out capability by taking something that belongs to us away from us. This word has been bandied about in various blog posts and articles, and it’s a powerful word, so I didn’t want to use it without realising the full impact of it:
Pretty much all of the Australian states have a similar definition.
In essence, stealing is dishonestly appropriating property belonging to another person without their consent with the intention to permanently deprive that person of their property.
To be clear – I do not give my consent to have my ‘property’ removed from my ownership within my lifetime, and my heirs.
There are mechanisms where parts and/or all of my material can be requested for use.
Just ask. Don’t take – because it’s rude, it’s offensive – and it’s NOT FAIR. (Will look at the Fair Use proposed change in another post – it’s a doozy, and yes, it’s unfair).
I want the option to exercise my right of ownership, as I’m currently entitled.
So this is one issue I have with the recommendations made by the Productivity Commission’s draft report on Intellectual Property Arrangements. I’ll be looking at authors as consumers – the beneficiaries of this report – as well as Parallel Importation Rights, etc. – time allowing.
Please feel free to comment, and if you think I’ve misunderstood these conclusions, or that my conclusions are flawed (and yes, I took a very, very basic approach to some of the calculations), please feel free to educate me – because I think it’s important to understand this draft report and the ramifications for authors. Submissions to the Productivity Commission close Friday, 3rd June. If you’d like to make a submission, click here for instructions on how to do so.
The Productivity Commission is currently reviewing current IP laws in Australia, and has compiled a draft report with proposed changes. Intellectual Property (IP) also covers copyright, so there are somethings I wanted to address, from an author’s perspective. Time allowing, I’ll hopefully write a series of these posts addressing each point (be warned, it’s an involved and lengthy response).
The current copyright law in effect for Australia is the Copyright Act 1968. So…fair call, it’s probably way overdue for an overhaul. Technologies have been created that greatly effect copyright. For eg; video – now superseded in some domains admittedly, but recording television shows to video and hard drives wasn’t really around when this act was drafted. There are some exceptions that have beend added, but again, this is generally before digital publishing and e-books, or iTunes, streaming, blogging, torrent, etc.
What is copyright?
In a nutshell, because the Copyright Act 1968 is quite long and involved, copyright for an author:
- Activates as soon as I start writing a novel. I don’t have to register it with an agency, I can copyright it myself (using that c in a circle symbol), and voila, that piece of work is mine.
This means I can:
- sell it
- perform it
- publish it
- adapt it
- communicate it – because it’s my work, and I can do with it as I please. When I sign a publishing contract, I sign over certain rights (not all), for a certain period of time (not forever), and there is a mechanism (difficult to exercise with some contracts, admittedly) to obtain those rights back, if I wish.
Some things that can’t be copyrighted:
Ideas: ideas can’t be copyrighted. Your idea has to be tangible for it to draw copyright, and even then there are limitations.
Eg; if I have an idea for a book, it’s not copyrighted. If I write the book, then the words are copyrighted. I can create a story, for example, of a young girl torn between a vampire and a werewolf, but I can’t use any characters from the Twilight series, nor can I copy swathes of that novel and convert to my own means (that would be plagiarism, incidentally).
Facts: known facts are not copyrightable, but the expression of those facts can be. For example, if I write a book that includes facts about PTSD, this is not copyright infringement – they’re facts. The facts themselves aren’t ‘owned’ – but the medical reports, essays, articles etc. that those facts are written in are copyrighted material.
E.g.; a calendar is not copyrightable, as the calendar itself is a widely recognized work, and nobody knows the author of the very first calendar ever. Same with the time, distance and weight tables, etc. These are known facts, with no actual ownership attached.
Titles and Names: titles, names, short phrases and slogans can’t be copyrighted. That includes titles for books, movies, songs, or a character’s name, or even my own name. Some work can be trademark protected, e.g.; store/business names, but generally speaking, particularly with writing books, just because I use a John or a Matt or a Melissa doesn’t mean I own those names, or that nobody else can use them.
Please note: using a name in a work is different to using a character. I can write about a guy named Tony Stark, but I can’t write about the Tony Stark from Marvel’s Iron Man series. Not that I would, though, because I highly respect and value that team and their creative work. Author Paula Roe and I created a workshop, with notes on writing the Alpha Hero vs the Alpha Hole. Although we thought up this term (on a plane trip from a conference, as a play on words for A-hole or arsehole, ‘scuse the French), this doesn’t – and hasn’t – prevented others from using the term.
There are other un-copyrightable things – e.g.; fashion, works created by the U.S. Government (but AU, UK and other governments can and do employ their copyright protection to some works), but those listed above are what largely affects me as an author (or technically, a creator or inventor of literary works).
Now that we know what copyright covers and doesn’t cover (in principle), let’s look at some of the proposed changes:
I have to quote the Productivity Commissions Draft Report here, just so I don’t get it wrong. The Productivity Commission states (and I’m seriously trying not to laugh, because it’s so unfunny):
The evidence (and indeed logic) suggests that the duration of copyright protection is far more than is needed. Few, if any, creators are motivated by the promise of financial returns long after death, particularly when the commercial life of most works is less than 5 years.
Er, no. No, no, no, and hell no. I can’t begin to imagine how they came to this conclusion.
An author spends considerable time and effort writing their work. Fact. Some authors write on spec – this means they’ll write their story (or at least a partial manuscript which consists of the first 3 chapters and a synopsis), and send it to the publisher in the hopes it will be picked up. This means that while they are doing the work, they aren’t actually getting paid for the work. Some writers will attract an advance, if they’re lucky, which means they’ll get an up-front amount that will have to be ‘earned out’ through sales. If this is the case, they won’t see any royalties from a book until they have ‘sold out’ their advance amount.
Writing a book can take months (in some cases, years). When it’s completed, if a publisher does decide to publish it, a contract is drawn up, and the author signs over certain rights (not all) for a certain length of time (not forever). These ‘leased’ rights include digital publishing, and as far as I’m aware, in this current digitally advanced climate, the only time a digital book is NOT for sale is if it’s been actively removed from the retail space by the publisher (or retailer). A standard royalty rate for works can be from 6% of cover price for print copies (there are contracts that will offer more or less, and depending on whether it’s sold direct or through a third party or even another country) or 30% for digital copies (again, just a run-of-the-mill amount, this can vary). An author’s main source of income will be the sale of their books, and as you can see, a lot of books would need to be deemed a ‘workable income’ for an author. Many authors don’t reach that level, and subsidise their writing with full or part-time jobs, as their book sales aren’t enough to be their primary source of income.
As an author, I’m constantly instructed to ‘build my backlist’. Basically, this means keep producing stories. If a reader reads my latest book, they might like it enough (fingers and toes crossed) to go searching for my previously published books to purchase/read. This has happened to me (thank you, readers!), and I have done it to other writers whose works I’ve read and have decided I MUST read more. Invariably, these books may have been written more than five years earlier. Especially for a digital book, purely because it costs much less to store an electronic file than it does to print, freight and store a hardcopy. My own publisher often re-prints authors’ books, so it’s not unheard of to find a print version of a book that’s been written ten or more years earlier.
Another point raised on Page 114 of the draft report states (and I quote):
- literary works provide returns for between 1.4 and 5 years on average. Three quarters of original titles are retired after a year and by 2 years, 90 per cent of originals are out of print
Oh. My. God. Seriously? No. Wrong. Wrong. Dead wrong. I’m an author who wrote my books in Australia and have sold them both nationally and internationally. I still receive ‘returns’ for my first ‘literary work’ published in 2011. Admittedly, I’m still a relative newbie to the publishing landscape, and only just clocking up to that 5-year mark now, and yes, I earned far more in the early days when this particular work was released than I earn from this particular work now, but I find with each release of a new work, readers are going back for the old works (again, thank you, readers!). Five years and counting, Productivity Commission.
There doesn’t seem to be any consideration for the digital editions of works. Does out of print include digital versions? Because this is so wrong, I’m still reeling. In this day and age, books are produced in both digital and print formats, which means ‘literary works’ still provide returns, ongoing. I’ll let you know when it stops, but it hasn’t as yet. None of my works have been ‘retired’, but the Productivity Commission seems to believe this is the average lifespan of a book. On one hand, I’m giddy that as per their conclusion, I’m not an average author. On the other hand, I’m saddened and frustrated as I know many other ‘above average’ authors this assumption applies to, and the disadvantages inherent to all of us if the proposed changes go through based on inaccurate information are considerable to our potential ability to produce an income.
So, in my view, some of the conclusions the Productivity Commission has based their proposed changes on are severely flawed. Books are still viable after 5-7 years of publication, and still a much-needed source of income for an author.
This is my first argument (and there are many), against the proposed changes by the Productivity Commission – others including the proposed changed to the term of copyright and the Parallel Importation Restrictions – but I’ll leave those for another day.
Please feel free to comment, and if you think I’ve misunderstood these conclusions, or that my conclusions are flawed, please feel free to educate me – because I think it’s important to understand this draft report and the ramifications for authors. Submissions to the Productivity Commission close Friday, 3rd June. If you’d like to make a submission, click here for instructions on how to do so.
There are some sayings, some mindsets that are valuable, instructive, or just plain funny. Here’s mine for today:
This saying is attributed to George Player, a South African golfer, and it’s one that I and my family truly believe in. You can blame Rachael Johns for this post, as we were discussing this very thing recently, and to an extent laughing at our own naiveté with our twenty-twenty hindsight goggles.
If you want to accomplish something, if you want to succeed at something, then you are going to have to work hard for it.
When I started writing, I desperately wanted to be a successful author. I had visions of my success – not least of which was walking on the red carpet for the film adaptation of one of my novels, and having a cleaner – a cleaner, I tell you. I could pay someone to scrub my dunny.
There is nothing so frustrating, though, as to have a dream, and then expect it to happen – only it doesn’t. Even when it seems within touching distance. When you’re sending off manuscripts, and you’re getting rejections – and I’m not talking ‘we loved X, Y, and Z of your story, we just don’t think it’s a good fit for us at this time’ kind of rejection. No, I’m talking that little slip (they’re not even going to waste a full letter-length piece of paper on you!) that has a polite, uniform message on it that you hope was at one stage touched by a person, but you’re not sure…
It’s frustrating when you see others who started writing at the same time as you receive their first contract, who attended their first writer’s conference with you, achieve the success you want for yourself (and yes, we are most pleased for our successful writing colleagues, but it still chafes like the blazes, let’s be honest).
It’s frustrating, and it’s so tempting to jump the gun, to dive into that self-publishing pool, and swim, because we know, damn it, that the writer inside us is bursting to be read.
- Let me be clear – I’m not dissing self-publishing, or authors who self-publish, or those who are considering that route. I’m self-published. I think it’s a fantastic medium – and guess what, it’s also a lot of hard work. I love the concept, and some authors do it, and do it brilliantly, so no dissing self-publishing here.
At my first RWA conference in Brisbane, one author, C.C. Coburn, stood up, because there were a lot of folks, like me, who believed they were writers just bursting to be read, and were considering options because, hell, they deserved to be successful after all the work and effort they’d put into their writing, and she made a comment that has always stuck with me.
“You need to earn your stripes.”
She went on to say that those authors we admire, and who we all aspire to be, they worked HARD. Nobody was an overnight success. They learned their craft. They got rejected (or not), but each and every one of them worked on their craft, improved it, honed it, and that’s how they go to be so ‘lucky’. So each time I don’t immediately succeed, or if things don’t pan out the way I’d hoped, I think to myself, ‘this is me earning my stripes’.
So, for those who desperately want something – whether it’s a publishing contract, or great marks, a university degree, a six-figure salary, or world peace, hang in there. There is a path for you to walk, a journey you must undertake. Every rejection, every knock back, every failure, gives you the experience and lessons that prepare you for your greatness. Work hard. Get lucky.
What are you working hard towards? Feel free to share, no judgement here!
When creating character and story goals and conflict, there are generally two ways to go about it:
Protagonist and Antagonist wants the same thing (hero/heroine vs villain).
Variation: Protagonists want the same thing (hero vs heroine).
Protagonist and Antagonist want different things, but by one accomplishing his/her goal, the other does not (ie: in direct conflict and at risk).
Variation: Protagonists want different things (hero vs heroine).
I wish I could claim this tool, but I’m not that clever. I first heard this from Fiona Lowe, who had been inspired by Jennifer Crusie, and I’ve also seen Bob Mayer explain it, so I will pass this fantastic nugget on to you, and urge you to visit the sites of those authors for more information on the craft of writing. Again, there are so many different ways a writer can reach their goals, I’m merely recommending what I’ve found has worked for me in the past…
The Conflict Lock is a diagram that can help you create sustainable conflict for your characters, and draft out your plotline. Or, if you’re struggling halfway through the book, it’s a good way to find out whether you have enough conflict for a novel – or a short story. Or if your conflict is weak, it is a way to help figure out how to bolster it.
Simply put, a conflict lock shows you whether one character’s goal BLOCKS another’s.
So, how do we create the conflict lock?
Step one: Draw four squares
Step two: Label one row for Protagonist (Hero and/or Heroine), and one row Antagonist (Hero or Villain)
Step three: Label first column ‘Goal’ and second column ‘Conflict’.
Step four: Write in your characters’ objective in the GOAL column, and what is preventing your character from achieving that goal in the CONFLICT column.
If your protagonist’s conflict is born from your antagonist’s pursuit of his/her goal, and vice versa, then you have a CONFLICT LOCK.
Here is an example from my first romantic suspense novel, VIPER’S KISS:
My heroine, Maggie Kincaid, is mistakenly identified as the lethal ‘Viper’, and finds herself on the run, determined to clear her name. My hero, Luke Fletcher, believes – along with everyone else – that she is the Viper, and is in pursuit.
For Maggie to remain free, Luke doesn’t achieve his goal. If Luke apprehends Maggie, she doesn’t achieve her goal.
If you draw a line from my heroine’s goal to my hero’s conflict, you will see that what she is doing is the source of his conflict. If you draw a line from my hero’s goal to my heroine’s conflict, you will see that what he is doing is the source her conflict.
In essence – one cannot achieve his/her goal because of the direct actions of the other.
Good luck and get writing!
What is internal conflict? And what is external conflict? Why is conflict in storytelling so important? How do you create good conflict?
As covered in my previous post, Conflict Basics, there are two basic forms of conflict: INTERNAL and EXTERNAL.
Internal conflict is the struggle that occurs within your character, and is driven by your character.
They have a want, need or desire that arises from their experience (motivation), but in order to fulfil that want, need or desire they must face and conquer this inner demon. This is where they confront their self-concept and either grow or fall. Internal conflict is emotional, and it’s psychological.
This conflict is subjective; it belongs in the mind and heart of your subject (character).
External conflict is the struggle that occurs outside of your character – the external happenings that drive your character to act and react. In other words, external conflict is the plot. It’s the stuff that HAPPENS that makes your character DO.
This conflict is objective; it deals with things external to the mind and heart of your subject (character), for all to view.
Internal conflict stems from your character’s goal.
External conflict stems from your story goal.
Your character may have an external goal that can be on display for all to see, and then will have an inner, emotional goal that s/he may or may not be aware of. To really test your character, and to provide growth for your character as well as a compelling read for your reader, these goals provide the conflict.
External Goal: Heroine wants to find her father’s killer.
External Conflict: Killer doesn’t want to be found.
Internal Goal: Even if it’s just proving to herself, she wants to achieve something important.
Internal Conflict: She’s doesn’t feel good enough, smart enough, committed enough, to succeed.
Another way of phrasing it is subjective vs objective. Subjective is belonging to your subject, their inner emotional needs and fears. Objective is the object s/he is working toward, externally.
Why is conflict so important in a story? As mentioned before, without conflict, there is no story.
Conflict creates story, drama, tension, suspense.
Conflict makes things HAPPEN.
Conflict challenges your character and gives him/her the opportunity to grow and/or change.
Debra Dixon created a GMC chart in her must-have craft book; GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict. I’m merely paraphrasing here, but I thoroughly recommend you add it to your reference shelf. You can find this magnificent resource here.
In a previous post, the Four W’s of Character Development, we touched on the Who, What, Why and Why not. We’ve also looked at your character’s self-concept, as well as motivation. By combining all of these elements, we can start creating a solid Character Plan that can build a solid foundation for plotting your novel.
Looking at what we’ve learned so far, here is a basic Character Plan I use when I’m creating my character and starting the plotting process (we’ll add to this plan over the next few weeks, come back and visit for the full version).
By defining your goals and motivation, uncovering your character and story conflict is organic and therefore believable – and sustainable. When you start plotting and planning your story (regardless of whether you’re a pantser, plotter, or plotster), if you have no idea what your character wants, neither will the reader.
By creating good conflict, a solid obstacle that prevents your character from getting what s/he wants, you create a story where the outcome is in doubt. Readers want to see your character work hard for his/her goal, and the stronger the conflict, the harder your character must fight. The harder your character fights, the more we, as readers, cheer them on. By giving your character good, solid conflict, you can create a character that develops a believable journey to their own pure essence (character arc) – but that’s another post!
Good luck and get writing!
What is internal conflict? What is external conflict? What other types of conflict are there? How do you set up conflict in a novel? How do you sustain that conflict?
If you’re just starting out with writing a book, conflict is one of the most important – and most challenging – elements to grasp.
I love conflict (only in my books, of course). I love the way it can put your character through the crucible, and have them emerge as a purer essence of themselves. I also love the potential for drama in humour that conflict can create. Conflict is such a critical aspect of writing, and it’s such a huge topic, I’ll cover it over a number of posts. This first post will look at conflict basics – what it is, and what it isn’t, and the two main categories that conflict falls under.
So…what is conflict?
Simply put, conflict is the struggle between two opposing forces.
Think…Two people applying for the same job…Cinderella and the stepsisters fighting over Prince Charming…Taylor and Brooke wanting Ridge…or cops and robbers – one wants to apprehend, the other wants freedom…
Conflict then becomes the basis of suspense: which force will triumph?
Without conflict…nothing happens. We can pick up our bat and ball and go home, because nothing is happening. No crimes or mysteries to solve. No relationships to resolve. Police are superfluous. So are superheroes (I know, gasp).
Conflict drives the plot of your story. In the beginning, something happens and creates a story question. For example, in a romance, boy meets girl. Story question – will they somehow get their Happily Ever After? Conflict: Boy doesn’t like girl. In a murder mystery, someone dies. Story question – will the detective figure out who the murderer is? Conflict: Murderer frames another suspect for the crime. In a fantasy, the Least-Likely-To-Succeed must complete their quest. Story question – will they find their Holy Grail or enable/disable the prophecy? Conflict: The evil witch is sending her minions out to destroy the Least-Likely-To-Succeed.The conflict is the issue that immediately prevents that story question from being answered within that first chapter – and keeps us reading.
Good conflict creates doubt in the reader. Doubt creates curiosity, and with that comes suspense. If the conflict is simple, if resolution is easily conceived and thus easily achieved, then it doesn’t really create doubt – and we stop reading. If it’s obvious from the start that Boy likes Girl and Girl likes Boy – well, they will get their Happily Ever After. If it’s obvious who the murderer is…well, then there’s no mystery. And if the evil witch and her minions are disorganised and ineffectual, than Least-Likely-To-Succeed…succeeds. End of quest.
Note: Conflict is not an argument. It’s not based on a misunderstanding that can be cleared up if only your characters would really talk: You ran away because you left the iron on, and not because you’re afraid to commit? Ooooh. Great. Let’s get married. (End of conflict, end of story.)
So…how can you create conflict?
Well, as stated earlier, conflict is the complication that prevents your character from obtaining what they want. It’s the begetting of trouble.
For example: She wants children – but doesn’t have a suitable partner who can get her pregnant. No partner = conflict. Story question: Will she get her children? He wants the promotion – but so does she. Rivalry = conflict. Story question: will he get the promotion, or will she? Superhero wants to save the world – but supervillain wants to take over the world. Opposition = conflict. Will s/he save the world?
Over the next few posts, we’ll look at internal and external conflict, and the different variations of conflict, and ultimately how to use conflict with plotting.
For now, good luck and get writing!
How do you come up with a book title?
Well, as an author – I don’t. When I write my books, I use a ‘working title’ – so that I can refer to it as something instead of just ‘Book X’. It’s a little like naming a baby – and many writers will tell you they consider their various writing projects as just that – their babies, and they’ll take just as much care and effort as they would with naming a child.
I’ll spend some time trying to think up a title that is relevant to the story, that could possibly be seen in the bookstore and not cause me considerable embarrassment – and then I bin all those and try to look at my book as a publisher would – a book that will hopefully attract readers. Once the book is completed I send it to my editor.
The usual response is: Love the book, but we’ll need to change the title.
There could be a number of reasons for this outcome. There may be another book coming out within a close period of time with the same or similar title…or there may be something that’s considered ‘sensitive’ in the title…or, it might be really hard to get a cover that would suit THAT title…or the title I had could quite simply suck.
Most publishers will have an idea of what would appeal to a reader – or what could repel them. I know of one that has a list of key words of what could/should be used to encourage sales – and what should not appear on a cover. And that’s the basis of a title – something that brilliantly, effortlessly encapsulates the tone and feel of your story, that will make readers pause, perhaps pick the book up off the shelf (or more than likely, click on the thumbnail cover image) to read more, and then to hopefully (fingers crossed, praying fervently) buy.
Then there are those book titles that you wish you’d thought of, that bring forth an immediate reaction – perhaps it reminds you of an experience, or it may contain one of those mysterious key words that make you reach for the wallet as you heed that novel’s siren call.
Recently, I’ve had such an experience – and it was based purely on the TITLE. I’m a sucker for 80’s movies and T.V. shows – The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Magnum P.I., and (of course) MacGyver. I remember watching all of these, dancing to the soundtracks (I kid you not, I had the themes for both Magnum P.I. and MacGyver on cassette tape, and no, I’m not THAT old.)
I particularly remember singing into hairbrushes and choreographing dance moves with my sisters along to the songs from the movie Footloose. Uh-huh. You know what I’m talking about. Kevin Bacon. Who hasn’t parodied that scene with the disjointed bopping along a hall wearing earphones, regardless if it was intentional or you were just uncool and uncoordinated (mind you, the fact that Kevin Bacon did it implies an inherent cool factor).
So when I saw the title for this book come up, I had to have it. Yes. I want a book, purely based on the title. Because it made me remember great times with my sisters, sizzling hot summers, rocking tunes, fun movies, and if I grab this book, it’s like grabbing on to those memories. And Kevin Bacon (although I’m not allowed to grab on to Mr. Bacon). I call it The Kevin Bacon Book Effect. I’m making a buying decision based purely upon the fact that Kevin Bacon made me do it. And here’s the kicker – it’s not even released yet, but I can pre-order – and so can you!
Will Kevin Bacon make you do it, too?
For those who haven’t seen the movie, or fans who have and like to get their Bacon bits, enjoy:
For those who enjoy the music, and maybe some hot superheroes, too, enjoy:
Tell me: what is your FAVE Kevin Bacon movie/show/moment?
I’m going to be honest. I had grand plans of publishing a Top 10 list of Most Romantic Songs Ever – but I couldn’t sit through listening to all of them in one hit. So we’re going with the Top 5 – and then you can tell me your favourite songs!
This was an awesome Aussie band, and I still sniffle over the fact that these guys aren’t making music together anymore, because they were AWESOME!!! But anyway, back to the song. Love it. Not too schmaltzy, just enough.
Oh, speaking of schmaltz. I don’t think I can go to a wedding without hearing this song. It’s one of those over-played, could-be-irritating, but just stops short because it really is so lovely kind of songs. Or else I’ve had enough to drink by that stage of the wedding that it makes sense to get teary over how ‘beeeeyooooootiful’ the song is, the dancing couple are, and the flowers. Beeeeeyoooootiful flowers. Sniff. Oh, and we learned that Shania Twain looks beautiful all covered up. (The amount of shawls I went through only to finally discover I look nothing like Shania Twain all rugged up).
Well, Bryan Adams had to feature in this post somewhere – Heaven, Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman, All for Love, Run to You, Summer of ’69 – er, sorry, I get carried away with the legend that is Mr Adams. But, this is about romantic songs, and I know that when Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves hit the cinemas, my girlfriends and I swoooooooned over this song. It’s the reason I actually like Kevin Costner in a movie – despite the minor hiccup of having a Robin Hood with an American accent. Minor detail, really.
I know, controversial, another Kevin Costner association – that seriously wasn’t my intention. This is the song that you just have to belt out into a hairbrush – and your partner will just have to love you for it. Okay, maybe wearing earplugs – but I seriously believe that if you can sing this in front of your darling, and they still want to talk to you, then it’s the REAL THING.
Just before I announce MY number 1 Best Romantic Song Ever! I wanted to say – there wasn’t enough room to put Foreigner, Air Supply, Chicago, REO Speedwagon, Phil Collins, Elton John, Elvis, etc. I will agree, they have ro-MAN-tic songs that are croonworthy, so tell me all about it in the comments!
Okay, this is really one for the girls, but guys – here’s a secret handshake from me to you: play this for your darling, and you’ll have a great Valentine’s Day – because it will make her feel special, and then you’ll feel special…
But you could win a copy of the book by leaving a comment – what is YOUR Best Romantic Song Ever?
During my ‘start-up’ years, when I was entering writing contests and getting feedback from judges, I learned that there are some people who will respond well to your work – and some who just won’t ‘get it’. On the rare occasion, there will even be a few who downright hate it. But here’s the thing – contests are conducted in the spirit of anonymity. The judge doesn’t know it’s YOU they are reading, so they are responding to the work in front of them, not you as a person. They’re critiquing the work, not you.
Toughen up and get over it.
Then, as I graduated to finishing an actual story and submitted it to publishers, I learned again that the publishing world does not revolve around moi (I know, I was shocked, too). My first book (that I thought was just awesome) got rejected. Actually, I believe I’ve gotten the fastest rejection from that N.Y. publisher for an Aussie writer – ever.
I remember tearing open that tiny little envelope, heart-pounding, to read the “thank you for submitting your work, but…” line. I even tried to cry, then gave up because it felt forced. They hadn’t liked it enough to want to offer a contract. That’s okay. I mean, I was still breathing. The world was still turning. The sun was still shining, damn it. So, I guess life goes on.
I also realised that publishing is a business, they’re making a business decision. A publisher needs some sort of guarantee (however tepid) that the book they commission will sell, and sell well. They know what has worked in the past, what hasn’t, what they are willing to take a risk on – and what they’re not willing to take a risk on. So, business decision, not personal. So don’t take it personally. It’s that particular project they’re rejecting, not you.
Please note: manuscript may not have been so awesome…
Toughen up and get over it.
When I did finally sell my first novel to a publisher, I was ecstatic. And then the reviews came in. Much like a writing contest, there were some reviewers who responded well, others who just didn’t ‘get it’, and a few who downright hated it.
I will admit some of the not-so positive reviews can be hard to take, especially if you actually respect, admire and even like said reviewer. During my working years as an export agent, there was a saying in our department that has become a little mantra for me: Love it, leave it or fix it.
So I employed this attitude to reviews. I could either love it (hey, not so hard when they’re positive!), leave it – press delete, especially if it’s attacking more than the writing, like…me, personally. Or fix it. Yes, seriously, fix it. I found (duck head) that some of those reviewers may have actually had a point. That buried in the “I’m not adoring you right now” blurb, there was a little kernel that I could use to develop and improve my craft.
I’ve also learned that you will never please everyone, all of the time. Life is balanced, you have to have the negative with the positive, the good with the bad, the Yin with the Yang.
My mother used to always say, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. She used to also say “treat others like you want to be treated”. These days, though, there are a rising number of incidents online that show this message has somehow been lost with a minority group.
A troll is a mythical creature, mean, ugly, hiding under a bridge to try to stop others from progressing forward on their journey (think Three Billy Goats Gruff), and it seems the internet version is not so far from that mythical beast.
With the recent cases of Charlotte Dawson and Robbie Farah in Australia (two personalities I have a lot of respect for, they’ve worked darn hard for their success), as well as a close writer friend, the culture of trolling has been spotlighted.
Trolls are people who will say the nastiest of things in order to get a reaction – kind of like a bully. But these special bullies are anonymous, and feel not only capable, but compelled to make comments from a protective distance that is meant to undermine, hurt and possibly even defame their target. Note – they won’t say it to your face, or within physical reach. A troll is also similar to a two-year-old (sorry, no disrespect intended to the two-year-olds!) in that their opinion is the only one they’re interested in. You can’t reason or use logic on a troll, they ignore it in their strategy of inflaming and getting what they want – attention.
Kate Cuthbert, recently-appointed editor for Harlequin Escape and long-time reviewer, stated at the 2012 Romance Writers Association Conference (AU) to any writer dealing with negative comment: “Do not engage. Just…don’t. And if you’re thinking of doing it – don’t.” I happen to agree.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion (this is pretty much the essence of any blog!), but I think it reveals more of a person in the way they express that opinion. As the recipient of the opinion, you can choose to respect it, disregard it, or ignore it completely. Bearing in mind that the sole aim of a troll is to either get attention, or cause maximum damage, the only way that can be achieved is by actually giving them attention. When dealing with a troll, take a leaf out of the legend. Be that third Billy Goat Gruff, and push the troll off the bridge. Block them. Delete them. Move on.
Tips on Handling Rejection, Reviews and Internet Trolls
1. Do not respond. No matter how tempting it is to tell that editor that they’ve missed the point, here is what you really meant, or that reviewer that no, your character is really deep, they just glossed over the carefully woven backstory, or the internet troll that they really are rude, wrong, and ridiculous – don’t. Just don’t. You can’t retain your dignity when wrestling with muck.
2. Toughen up. There will be some folks out there who may not like what you do. There will be somethings that are said that will hurt. You can choose to dwell on it, or get over it. Get over it.
3. Respect a difference in opinion. You love your book, that reviewer didn’t. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, or you are right, or vice versa, merely that you have a different opinion. Books can never be viewed objectively. It’s a subjective material, to be interpreted and received differently from person to person, based on experience and attitudes.
4. Block and Delete. When faced with negative attacks (note: this is different to a negative review!), stop the person from getting to you again, and delete the comment. Don’t give it any attention, as that can quickly become toxic.
5. Commiserate. If all else fails, have a glass of wine, some chocolate, and laugh/cry about it with the friends who realise your true worth, and support you. Let them help you put it into perspective.
And whatever you do, don’t feed the trolls!