Monday, November 21, 2011

The Right Stuff

Sooner or later published authors run into the queasy questions about rights, and a publishing contract might be regarded as a type of prenuptial agreement.  Most publishing contracts read like:  "You get this . . . and I get that . . . if this happens."

Years ago, a seasoned writer once told me, "Never sell all your rights to a publisher."  I've tried to live by that code, but it's not always possible.  Not now.  Not with the growing and dizzying array of publishing options available to writers these days.

In more recent years, I've found myself selling all rights to my work.  Instances include writing curriculum, writing certain columns, and on occasion, even creative work like essays and poems.  I've even written several books for publishing houses--most of which do not have my name on the cover--under this type of arrangement.  Although writing these books would add to my total "book count", I don't count them among my twenty-two legit titles, as the publisher owns all the rights, and I was basically a work-for-hire writer cranking out material that could add the publisher's coffers.  No royalties. 

Not that I mind.  Not at all.  If a publisher called me today and said, "We've got a book in mind, we want you to write it, and we'll pay you a flat rate to produce it," I'd probably jump if the price was right.  And I'd be very willing to do it if I knew I could crank the book out in a week or two (as I have been known to do in the past).  A few long evenings, maybe a couple of all-nighters, and Shazam...I'd have a book done. 

In the past few months I've also sold all rights to a number of shorter essays and poems.  My reasoning (though it could be faulty) is simple:  I feel I can always write more of them, like a well that never runs dry.  A publisher wants to buy a poem or essay (instead of giving me a subscription or sample copy), I'm usually game for a paycheck instead of another magazine to add to my piles of tear sheets and closeted history.

One caveat, however.  There have been times when I've wanted to use an essay or a poem in another book.  And then I find that (sometimes) I am writing a check to the publisher to purchase my own work

Makes me understand what the work of redemption is all about.  It's buying back the very thing I created. 

Writing and pastoring are a lot alike in that way.  Both can be works of redemption.

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