Friday, February 29, 2008

What Was I Thinking?

Detail from a painting by Frances Anne Hopkins (1838-1919)

Public Archives of Canada.

BTW, I live at the site of the biggest fur heist in Canadian history.

Bear with me for another internet joke. I promise not to inflict these too often.

An old cowboy sat in Starbucks sipping his coffee when a young woman sat down beside him and asked, "Are you a real cowboy?"

"Well," he replied," I've spent my whole life working cows, going to rodeos, fixing fences, bailing hay, doctoring calves, so I guess I am a cowboy."

She said, "I'm a lesbian. I spend my whole day thinking about women. As soon as I get up in the morning I think about women. When I shower I think about women. When I watch TV, I think about women. It seems that everything makes me think about women."

The two sat sipping in silence.

A little while later a man sat down on the other side of the old cowboy and asked, "Are you a real cowboy?"

The old cowboy replied, "I always thought I was, but I just found out I'm a lesbian."

Everything makes me think about writing.

The picture attached to this post makes me think, not of voyageurs exactly, but of writers.
Writers congregating in genre canoes, writers about to set out to search and trap the wily book deal, sharing information about rapids and portages. Tales of endurance, deprivations, and warnings of danger. Mon ami, avoid that lake...Mon cher, I've heard that he is an honest factor...

So maybe I'm a writer after all.

I have to set the WIP aside for the nonce to write a promised short story.
But I've just finished a scene that would stand alone as such.
And therein lies a temptation.
I've heard that... it's wise and best to avoid flogging chapters from an uncontracted-but-hope-it-will-be work.
Credits are one thing; the complications of rights, another.

What's your take on the question?


James Goodman-Horror Writer said...

Well, I would say there are a couple of considerations with the question. Do you plan (or at least have high hopes) to submit your current WIP to the publisher who is doing the antho? If so, there should be no complications, because you will be using characters they’ve already contracted for. Most of the contracts I’ve received ask for first dibs on any stories containing characters for the work I’m submitting.

This of course could give you a leg up in the submission process with the new work, but if you’re planning to submit elsewhere…yeah, I think you could run into serious complications with the rights to your work…

Just my 2 cents. :D

BernardL said...

Great joke!

Yes, you are a writer.

I don't know. :)

Bernita said...

Looks like serious complications then, James.
Oh well.
Lazy think, I guess.

Thank you, Bernard.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

It happens all the time in spec fic, but I think it's often established writers with works under contract using magazines to promote the coming book. I wouldn't do it for a first book.

Bernita said...

I think so, SS, a bit bass ackwards.

Josephine Damian said...

Bernita: I cannibalize old completed failed works for shortpieces all the time. These bigger works will never see the light of day. I don't believe in a writer re-vamping entire old MS once they've gotten a new work published.

I also drastically change the scenes from these failed MS so that they work as fully realized stories. I think the question is, If it's really different, even if it has the same characters of new work, or a WIP, can it be held up as part of the larger work?

I know in screenwriting, if you change MORE than 1/3 of the work, then you have to re-register the copyright because it's considered something different.

Ric said...

Seems to me, it would be helpful in selling a first work (and signing an agent) if you added a tag line in the query letter that says, "Chapter 4 previously sold to the New Yorker."

Gets you over the newbie bump quickly.

If a prospective publisher has a problem with it, simply rewrite it enough to be new.

IMHO, seems like you would win more than you would lose.

Charles Gramlich said...

One scene from "Cold in the Light" is a revised short story that was published with a different ending and different title. It's a short scene so I never considered it to be an issue.

Bernita said...

I'm all for cannibalization of unsold work, Josephine.
Seems postitvely wasteful not to.

Ric, "the New Yorker?"
That would make a difference, I agree.

"a revised short story that was published with a different ending and different title"
Charles, revision makes a new work and a big difference.

ChristineEldin said...

Love the term "genre canoes!"

Bernita, There are agent and editor blogs out there (I've seen you there!!) I would ask a professional. Best not to take chances, imho.

Bernita said...

Chris, have you ever know even the professionals to agree on a topic?

raine said...

Yup, you're a writer.
Love the joke.
And I haven't a clue as to how to answer your question, but will be lurking for the answer.
Big help, yes? ;)

Bernita said...

Raine, it's possible that the word count in relation to the WIP total might be a factor.
Of course, there's the assumption that rights would have reverted by the time the WIP found a home.

Vesper said...

Great joke!
I'm thinking about writing all the time (not writers mind you) - so what does that make me? :-)

I have no idea of the answer to your question, but if you stop by my blog you'll find some trinkets there to cheer you up. :-)

Shauna Roberts said...

Loved the joke. Don't know the answer to the question, although as Sex Scenes... says, in spec fic, stories that meet with a good reception sometimes later are expanded into books. I believe it's not just with established authors, either.

Bernita said...

Vesper, I think it means you share my obsession with words.
Thank you for the lovely trinkets!

Bernita said...

The time factor may be a consideration there, Shauna.
I am so tempted, partly because that chapter is a very nice scene and my idea for the short story is really gross.

Jaye Wells said...

I would imagine it depends on the content of the story. If you're talking a about a scene that would appear in the novel, then it's not advisable. If you're talking about using those characters and the world and writing a separate short piece about them, then I think that'd be fine. The publishers buys rights to that novel, not the characters. Authors do that all the time when they're writing in anthologies for other houses. But I'm not an expert by any means when it comes to legalities, so caveat emptor.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Jaye.
I'm fairly certain it's not advisable in this case.

Billy said...

First, I love the idea of "genre canoes."

I've seen dozens of acknowldgements in the front matter of novels that say "a different version of this book first appeared as a short story in such and such a magazine." If the publisher is cool with it, then I would not automatically rule it out. Judgment call.

spyscribbler said...

I've seen it done well, and it did interest me to buy the book. There was a slight variation between the two.

But from a business/rights standpoint, I haven't the foggiest, I'm afraid. I suppose you'd have to ask the short story publisher. I don't think it would make much of a difference to a prospective publisher; it's only a chapter. I recall lots of novels where the first chapter had originally been a short story.

Bernita said...

I've seen those too, Billy, which is why I put up the question.

"it did interest me to buy the book."
That, of course, seems to me to be the main benefit from such a move, Natasha.

Carla said...

Great joke!
I'm afraid I don't know the answer to your question, though. Would you be able to write a different scene that would fill the same place in the novel? If so, then you could try selling the original as a short story. If it does sell, you could replace it with the alternative in the novel and you've got a novel plus a short story publication credit; if it doesn't sell you could put the original back in the novel, and you haven't lost anything. This depends on an alternative scene being possible, but only you can judge that.

Bernita said...

Hmmm, hmmm.
That's a good thought, Carla.I shall think on it.
Thank you.

Xenith said...

I'll delurk because I know this one, at least for SF/F. I've heard rumours that other bits of the publishing world are the same but who knows :)

The short answer is, read the contract.

The standard clause for a SF magazine (I pulled this from the SFWA's model contract at should say something like:

"This use of the Work by the Publisher entails the assignment of First (whateverarea) Serial Rights, for publication in the English language anywhere in (whateverarea. It is also understood and agreed that the Publisher may use this Work only in the above-mentioned magazine and that all rights not expressly granted herewithin reside exclusively with the Author, including but not limited to electronic rights."

And something like

"The Author agrees not to publish or permit others to publish this Work in any form prior to its publication and appearance in the above-named magazine."

And something about them having the first bite at asking (and coughing up more money) for other rights.

You're selling serial rights for that story to a magazine. A book publisher is not interested in serial rights to a short story. The magazine also has no hold on that story once it's appeared in their publication.

There might be a clause about electronic rights with a restriction on the publishing the story elsewhere while the story is available electronically. This can tie up a story indefinitely, which might make it tricky. This is not a good clause to have in a contract though. There should be some limit on it. (If you do come across such a clause and want to sell to the publication, you could ask them to change it.)

Now, some publications try to grab all rights, which might complicate things. If they're asking for all rights and not paying you a lot of money as compensation (say 5 figures & a free car), this is probably the sort of contract you want to walk away from. Also, work for hire has different rules, because the company who is doing the hiring owns the rights.

If you want to be sure, google on "serial rights" and you'll find a lot of people asking a similar question and getting similar answers from people who are actually experts in the field :)

(You can substitute anthology for magazine in there)

writtenwyrdd said...

I firmly believe that a section of a novel can make a great short story. Back when, I read Lois McMaster Bujold's short story that was the original in the Miles Vorkosigan series. Many years later, I stillr emember that story when I ran across the book and read it. I have seen other books like that, too. So long as you aren't shopping the short with the novel going out at the same time, what's the difference?

writtenwyrdd said...

I have to say that I think a revised short becoming a chapter in a book isn't publishing the same story, because now it's a novel. but I'm not a lawyer, and I am sure xenith's points are excellent ones.

Xenith said...

I went to write something about whether a story incorporated into a novel was still considered the same story but realised I had no idea :) So I stuck to what I did know.

Bernita said...

Very kind of you, Xenith.
Thank you so much!
Contracts are frequently as much about eventualities as they are about the present, are they not?

Written, I think all rights to Bujold's short story must have reverted to her in the interm or an arrangement with the previous publisher must have been made.

SzélsőFa said...

I loved the joke, can not answer the question, but am reading the answers. Perhaps that way I'll have a clue as to the question.

Bernita said...

Szelsofa, I think the answer is it would probably be unwise for me to so so.

Chumplet said...

We had this discussion just yesterday on the Absolute Write forums. The first serial rights road seems to be the way to go.

Here's the thread:

Bernita said...

Sandra, thank you so much for the link!
Still, an anthology is not the same as a magazine.

Sam said...

That is a cute joke (still laughing)
I would love to sell a book just by subbing chapters. It does happen, so I don't see why you shouldn't try!

Travis Erwin said...

I have seen that joke before but it always makes me smile.

Lana Gramlich said...

Great joke!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Travis and Lana.