[ASC-list] Freelance rates continued

Rob Morrison rob.morrison at flinders.edu.au
Fri Feb 4 04:26:13 UTC 2011

When I started writing science and natural history books and science books for schools (30 years ago or so), the usual deal was 10% of retail. For a $20 book the author got $2. That was fine unless the publisher decided to remainder them, and then you got zilch. This happened to me when that fine Australiana publisher of Field Guides, Rigby, was bought out by Hardie's, which regarded books as akin to asbestos and cement pipes, therby destroying a good publisher overnight.

Publishers then moved to something like 17% of publisher's receipts, which we were told would be the same or better. It wasn't, and some unscrupulous publishers set up their own distribition arm as a separate entity. That meant they could "sell" the books to the distributor, with the "publisher" receiving hardly anything, from which we then got our miserable 17% of sod-all, while the "distributor" sold the books for full price, all of which they kept to swell the coffers of the parent business. 

More recently science books for reading programs have seen publishers offer a flat fee, specified wordage/age level/topic etc, take it or leave it, and they get the copyright. We are able to be identified as the books' authors, but the books show copyright is with the publisher. Because I have published nearly 30 books with one publisher, I have asked to keep my copyright and they have agreed, but I have lost copyright on other books with other publishers.

This all has some pluses and minuses.

On the plus side, and especially for new authors, the flat fee has something to commend it. Depending on the publisher it can be a reasonable amount if you take it as $ per word, and you don't have the uncertainties of remaindering, no sales etc.  It is also sometimes true that you will get an offer to do several of these books on a theme (energy, rocks etc) for different levels. You may miss out if the book then goes to America (Aust publishers have such a small audience here that they often need to work with USA publishers to get the audience there in order to make the print run pay). On the other hand, most of these books for reading programs are simply one of dozens in the the program, and no single one is likely to be a runaway best-seller (often schools buy the program as a job lot).

I say new authors because there is also merit in getting at least some of these boooks on your CV in order to try for a better deal with other puiblishers, especially if you are making a pitch on an idea of your own for a book. It gives you some extra presence as a published book author. This way you get some books on your CV and some guaranteed payment for them.

On the minus side, the loss of copyright means that you can't then claim on ELR# or PLR# or  copying fees# if bits are photocopied, reprinted etc, and those fees can be surprisingly good.

# For those who are writing and don't know about stuff marked # above, these VERY IMPORTANT things to ponder.

***1*** Register yourself with the Copyright Agency Ltd (CAL). I find them terrific. If your work (ie with your copyright)  is photocopied or copied in any way, they will pass on to you the details and collect your entitlement from schools, universities etc, taking a very modest percentage for doing so. All you have to do is register, check the statements when they come in, sign them, and then receive the cheque. NOTE that you have to split it with co-authors or perhaps your publisher if it is a book.  

Do this now evben if you have published in the past. I have received CAL requests for the whereabouts of authors of poems, puzzles, fact sheets etc who have appeared in the same books as my pieces. Cheques (sometimes for hundreds of dollars) await them, but nobody knows how to contact them.

***2*** Register any and all books for PLR and ELR (Public and Educational Lending Rights) - online;  downloadable forms etc. This is a Fed government scheme to compensate authors for lost sales when their books end up in  libraries (people who borrow them don't buy them). If the survey estimates you have at least 50 copies in libraries across Australia, you get a cheque each year for each of those books.

***3*** In any book contract, check carefully any clauses relating to reprinting/reproduction. Try to ensure that copying fees (technically reproduction) go at least partly to you, not all to your publisher. May be hard to do if you sign away your copyright.

I have published 43 books and, although most are now out of print (no further income from sales), there is a very welcome annual PLR/ELR cheque because many of these books are in public and school libraries. This is one of the sources of income denied you if you give up your copyright.  

Registrations for CAL and PLR/ELR are free.


Dr Rob Morrison
rob.morrison at flinders.edu.au
Phone: (08) 8339 3790
Fax: (08)8339 6272
From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au [asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of Ian Woolf [iwoolf at gmail.com]
Sent: Friday, 4 February 2011 12:41 PM
To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] Freelance rates continued

I've heard that there are many publishers pushing new contracts onto
freelance writers that ask for:

1) promises that you never write for a list of competing
2) that you indemnify the publisher if they get sued for the content of
your story
3) that you are selling them all copyright in every medium forever for
the same rate as they paid for first publication rights

Can anyone tell me if this has happened to them as a science freelancer?
How have you got around it to still make a living? Which publications
allow you to keep your own copyright to re-sell in other markets or
collect into your own books?


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