Monday, February 23, 2009

Lawsuits and Authors' Book Rights.

RIGHTS: In publishing, rights refer to the different types of format sales for a written work. Some of the rights that can be contracted from an author are the right to publish a massmarket paperback version, a hardcover version, an ebook version, and an audio version of a work.

The current controversy over whether text-to-speech is a right by itself, part of audiobook rights, or not a right at all isn't the first time that an author's right had to be defined.

In 2001, Rosetta e-Books contracted ebook rights to a number of books by famous authors including William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Parker.

Random House who had these authors under contract for paper rights declared that if a book contract did not mention electronic/digital rights, the ebook rights were automatically part of the paper rights so Rosetta could not publish these authors' ebooks. They sued Rosetta.

The final results of the lawsuit said that control over ebook rights belonged to authors and their agents, not with the paper publisher, and that the author/agent had a right to sell those rights separately. In other words, ebook rights were a separate right, not included with paper rights.

As media continues to evolve, lawsuits such as this will be needed to protect the author's various rights.


ASK ME A QUESTION! I'm always open to writing and publishing questions. Please ask. Either contact me through my blog, website, or via email at marilynnbyerly (at)




THE WRITING LIFE How an author maintains her confidence and mental health in the hard world of publishing.

THE BUSINESS OF WRITING "How Does the Google Settlement Affect You?" An article by a copyright and entertainment lawyer. A must read.

THE BUSINESS OF WRITING: The Ten Commandments of Courtesy The agent/author/publisher relationship.

A QUERY WORKSHOP Jackie Kessler dissects her successful query.

PROMOTION: A list of freelance publicists courtesy of "The Book Publicity Blog."

PROMOTION: A very informative blog on Internet promotion.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Authors Guild versus the Amazon Kindle 2

Last week, Amazon announced the new Kindle 2, the second version of their extremely popular ebook reader. One of the new features is the ability to read the books aloud with a computer voice.

Immediately, the Authors Guild expressed its unhappiness with this feature and demanded that Amazon disable it. Amazon laughed in response, and the Authors Guild threatened a lawsuit. The Authors Guild has also told its members to hold off assigning ebook rights in their contracts until this matter is settled.

During the last week, no trade blog, press article, or the Authors Guild has clarified this situation or has really defined what this means to writers and readers so I've put this article together to do so.

First, some definitions.

TEXT-TO-SPEECH, TTS, OR VOICE-TO-SPEECH: A computer program that reads text aloud with a computerized voice, or the audio version of that reading. TTS programs are on all computers these days and on many PDAs, cell phones, etc.

AUDIOBOOK: A human verbal performance of a book that is recorded digitally. This performance may be by an individual or a group of actors. Audiobooks are created by companies who contract the audio rights of the book from the author or publisher.

COPYRIGHT: The legal protection of the ownership of intellectual property including writing. For a simple definition, go here: For a more complex discussion of copyright, particularly publishing and copyright, check out this site by publishing lawyer, Ivan Hoffman.

RIGHTS: In publishing, rights refer to the different types of format sales for a written work. Some of the rights that can be contracted from an author are the right to publish a paperback version, a hardcover version, an ebook version, and an audio version of a work.


The major legal problem with TTS is that it has never been clearly defined through a lawsuit or some other legal means. Right now, no one can say with legal certainty that TTS is a right on its own, a part of the audio rights, or part of the ebook rights.

Amazon's stance is that TTS is part of the ebook rights so the Kindle can use TTS on all ebooks.

The Authors Guild's stance is that TTS is part of the audio rights so Amazon can't use TTS without a contract for audio rights.

Some authors are saying that TTS is a right by itself, and that, unless publishers have contracted that right, neither they nor Amazon have any right to use TTS with an ebook.

Many of the major publishers are taking no stance because the issue is so unclear, and they use DRM (digital rights management) to prevent the ebook from being read with TTS because they don't know if they have that right.

Some audiobook publishers are so leery of the unclear legal status of TTS that they refuse to contract a book that allows TTS in ebook format.

With all these problems, it's easy to see why authors and the Authors Guild are so upset by Amazon's grab for TTS rights on books. If Amazon succeeds, many authors may lose their lucrative audio rights without payment. If TTS is a right on its own, then Amazon will be taking an author's right they haven't paid for.

Also, TTS has improved dramatically in the last years, and in the near future, TTS programs should improve their quality until they are almost equal to a human reading. If authors don't fight to retain TTS rights now, they may lose a valuable right in the future.

Where does this leave everyone? In a serious mess.

The best thing that can happen for all the parties involved is that TTS rights will be finally defined legally.


A remarkable amount of nonsense and grandstanding has appeared over the web on this subject, and I'd like to clarify some of these points.

* This will make reading to your kids illegal.

No, it won't. Reading aloud to your children or privately to someone else will never be illegal. What is illegal is reading someone else's work for profit without permission. In other words, you can read A CAT IN THE HAT to your kids or a group of kids, but if you do that and charge admission without the permission of the Dr. Seuss' estate or publisher, it is illegal. It is also illegal to sell a copy of your reading if you do so without permission.

* Publishers and authors are just being greedy.

Asking for payment for work done isn't greedy. Authors, with just a few exceptions, don't make much money, and publishing has a very low margin of profit so the industry needs fair profit just to stay afloat.

* This is will hurt those with visual disabilities.

The publishing industry, both authors and publishers, allowed free audiocopies of books and large print copies of books aimed at the visually impaired long before various disabilities acts were passed, and it has remained friendly and accessible to the visually impaired.

Right now, many ebooks have TTS cut off because of the confusion about TTS rights so a legal clarification will make more books available for TTS through the rightful contractor of those rights.

* I bought this ebook. I can do what I damn well please with it.

No, you can't. An ebook is intellectual property. When you buy a copy, you are allowed to read it, but you don't have the right to copy it and give it or sell it to others.

Authors or publishers, however, will not chase you down and brutalize you if you read that book with TTS or print out a copy for your own personal use.

This current controversy is about Amazon's grab for rights most publishers and authors don't believe they've contracted. It's not about individuals using TTS.

ABOUT MARILYNN: I am not a lawyer, nor am I member of the Authors Guild. I am, however, a published author who has been interested in electronic rights for over ten years, and I have researched the subject of text-to-speech over the last several years.


"Cory Doctorow on the Amazon Kindle controversy." Doctorow does his usual "free books are good" spiel with little regard for the complexities of this issue.

"Legal ruckus over the Kindle." A fairly reasonable statement of the general facts of the case.

"Amazon Releases the New Kindle 2." Includes some legal issues.

"Book publishers object to Kindle's text-to-voice feature." Covers some of the legal issues involved.

"E-Book Rights Alert: Amazon's Kindle 2 Adds 'Text to Speech' Function." Authors Guild statement.

Copyright lawyer, Ben Sheffner, blogs on the controversy.

"Kindle Text-to-speech is a lot of talk." One of the better overviews of the legal questions involved. It also includes two versions, one by a TTS program and one by a human, of some text to compare the two methods.

"Know Your Rights: Does the Kindle 2's text-to-speech infringe authors' copyrights?" Ex-copyright attorney talks about the issues involved. The best overview I've seen.

"DRM White Paper AAP/ALA White Paper: What Consumers Want in Digital Rights Management," Discusses the problems of TTS for publishers and audiobook companies because it isn't adequately defined in a legal sense. No longer available online.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Writing the Same When You are Different

QUESTION: Why don't authors keep writing the same kind of book? Some of my favorite romance authors have switched to different genres, and I HATE it.

There isn't a simple answer. Here are a few.

* Failing markets. The writer's genre starts losing readers so publishers want fewer books, and fewer books are sold. This happened with historical romances several years back so established authors branched out into contemporaries, paranormals, and suspense novels to continue making a profit at their writing.

* Respect. Romance authors, in particular, get no respect from their non-romance peers, and this gets really old. Non-romances also have more professional cache.

* Authorial control. Romance editors exert more control over the final product than in any other genre so the final product is often more of a collaborative effort. At a certain point in a writer's career, this can get really old.

* Boredom. An author spends months writing a book that takes you an evening to read, and she then starts another book. If every book is exactly like the last as some readers want, this process can become boring. The creative juices dry up. If the author doesn't change gears, the readers will be the next to be bored.

* Innovations. Books, as a whole, don't stay the same. Romances have changed dramatically over the last twenty years, and woe unto the writer who doesn't change with it.

* Bandwagon Syndrome. Some authors see a trend become popular, and they absolutely must write to this trend.

* Changes in an author's life. Writing is an emotional process, and sometimes, things happening in an author's life make them change the direction of their writing. I have had friends going through an ugly divorce who could no longer write about everlasting love when their true love proved to be a cruel, manipulative jerk. One writer lost her young son to a sudden illness. When she started writing again, she turned to novels that expressed her faith in God.

As much as writers want to please their readers, sometimes, they simply must change direction with their writing.



My workshop, "Magic, Monsters and Amour: Creating a Believable Paranormal World," will be offered from July 6 - 31, 2009 at Writers Universe.

In July, I will also be teaching “Keeping the Reader Reading the First Chapter."

I haven't found a sponsor for my "The Big Question: How to Create a Powerful Novel from a Few Ideas and One Big Question." If you know of a group interested in this course, please contact me.

To learn more about these course, go to and click on the workshop links.


AGENT Eleanor Wood who represents sf, fantasy, suspense, and commerical fiction is interviewed at the Novelists Inc. blog

THE BIG EDIT Helen Ginger of the Blood Red Pencil blog talks about "The Big Edit" of a novel and how to look at the big picture like point of view and cleaning up the beginning of a novel. The first part starts here:

Monday, February 2, 2009

Real World Logic and Urban Fantasy, CRAFT

Werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural beings are becoming a staple in current genre fiction. One problem I've seen in many of the fight scenes involving these creatures is created by a flaw in worldbuilding.

Consider this scene from a contemporary novel: The vampire protagonist is in a dangerous part of a major city, and he's attacked by a large pack of demon-possessed humans. He fights them off until some of his vampire friends arrive, and all the demon-possessed humans are murdered. Fortunately, no normal humans saw the fight so the vampires' existence remains a secret.

What's the problem? Simple. How can a race remain a secret for long with widespread killings and the sheer number of combatants on both sides? Wouldn't the police become a tad suspicious if the murders kept building up? Wouldn't a medical examiner suggest that someone with superhuman strength ripped these guys apart? And what about that weird DNA found on the ripped throat of one of the victims?

The fight itself can be perfectly choreographed and written, but at its end, when all the bodies are lying there, and the vampires are leaving the scene, some readers will go, "Wait a minute. What about the police? What about...." If you leave that kind of question, the fight scene has failed.

In a recent urban fantasy novel, the human-shaped demons spent the novel taking human prey while the vampires were killing the demons and the vampire hunters were killing the vampires, yet the humans and the police were apparently totally clueless about the existence of any of these creatures and unconcerned at a body count that fit a war zone, not an American city.

For a race like vampires or werewolves to remain secret, they must have very small numbers, a large number of anything can't be kept secret, or the race rarely makes contact with humans, and they have rules about contact and punishment for failure to comply with those rules.

If they take prey, they must dispose of the bodies so no evidence of the death will ever be found. Their prey must also be on the edges of human society so that their loss won't be obvious. In other words, vampires should attack a homeless person, not the beautiful young Countess surrounded by friends, retainers, and family.

Vampires definitely shouldn't attack tourists in a town which supports itself with tourism. Considering the incredible national coverage and outrage caused by just a few tourist deaths in places like Miami and New Orleans in recent years, it's highly unlikely that dozens of tourists becoming monster chow wouldn't cause a similar outcry and intense scrutiny.

Real world logic applies even to supernatural characters. Make the fight and its outcome logical, or you've failed.


PROMOTION: Web designer, Tara Green, gives advice on creating a newsletter for your readers.

PROMOTION: “What You Need to Know About Off Site Sales” Basics about having your books availalble at a book signing or other event

Blog on creating a great plot.

EDITOR ETIQUETTE: Tips on working well with your editor