Fun: Contract addenda

For those of you who aren’t familiar with her, Donna Barr is an amazing artist. She’s probably best known for The Desert Peach, a series of comic books about Manfred Pfirsich Marie Rommel, Erwin “The Desert Fox” Rommel’s “younger, cuter brother.” She’s a delightful and well-informed (read “opinionated”) speaker about the business of being an artist, too.

Several years ago, she wrote a delicious article about contract addenda that I’m reproducing here. (The link to the original is here.)

Binding, My Ass

What can the internet do? Shall we see? I once offered this language to an animation-industry artist, and after thinking a moment, she said, “They’d jump at it! No lawyers!” So here we go.

“THIS contract shall be binding on ALL movie studios, publishers and all other middle-men who sign contracts with me. If it’s between the quotes on this posting — and you sign a contract with me after this date — this contract is binding upon you. You are responsible to find and understand this contract in conjunction with any contract with me. This is a public blog. Hereafter:

“This is a contract binding upon all movie studios with whom I (as understood by the artist/writer/ Donna Barr, born in 1952 and Not From Earth) shall henceforth negotiate for use of my work:

If any studio shall wish to use my (see I) work in movie/s, for t-shirts and other tchatskis or internet shenanigans, send $4 million dollars to an off-shore account in my name and then go away and never bother me any more. If you wish to contact me again, every contact — in voice, flesh, pixels or throwing one of those fuzzy green tennis balls for my dog (I’ll get one) — shall be billed at $1 million per contact.

The same goes for any publisher (you know who you are) who wants my copyright. You’re lucky I don’t make this retroactive.”

For those of you who are getting those manga-based contracts that demand copyright, just remember this: if they can’t afford to buy your copyright, they can’t afford to sue you. I didn’t say “Take the money and run,” but you get the idea.

Hey, we didn’t start this. We just want to draw and write stuff and not end up on the street when we’re old.

(For those of you who are not my readers, this is supposed to be be funny.)

It’s Friday…

…so let’s have something totally silly.

This is an example of flowcharting as applied to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (No, I didn’t create this.)

Another tale of publishing cluelessness

At one point, I was trying to sell a book on a particular technical topic: a piece of software that I felt was significantly underrepresented in the book market. I hadn’t been able to sell the idea to anyone yet and I had ended up pitching it to the Dummies books people.

About the same time, I had finally made the decision to sign up with Studio B. I’m still with them and I think they’re incredible. I recommend them highly. So this would be the first book they represented me on. Cool.

With every other publisher, I’d been able to say “Okay, and then I wrote…” and poof! I could usually get a contract if they felt the book was worth doing. The Dummies folks said, rightly, that only about half the people who were accomplished authors could actually write in the Dummies style. I could understand that: it’s not as easy as it looks.

Auditioning for a Dummies book was not a thrilling experiment. The acquisitions editor I was dealing with kept losing track of things. I’d send her something and then a while later I’d get a snottygram from her asking why I wasn’t doing my bit and I’d point out that I’d emailed it to her a week ago. She frequently wouldn’t believe me until I forwarded the mail with the original mail headers, at which point she would go finally do her bit. She was clearly not the sharpest spoon in the drawer.

Another problem was the developmental editor, who left a great deal to be desired. The thing about Dummies books is that they have to be funny and lighthearted in a certain way, which is why they’re so hard to write. I had that down, but what I was not ready for was the really unhelpful suggestions from the developmental editor. The sample chapter I was writing was about dealing with graphics in this product, so I was unprepared for one of his suggestions near the end of the chapter: “I don’t know how you feel about this, but a good fart joke would go well here.” I’m writing a book about a tool used exclusively by technical writers and you want me to stick fart jokes in this?!? I thought. (No, I most decidedly did not add a fart joke there!)

I sent the revised chapter in to the acquisitions editor who, true to form, lost it and bitched at me a couple weeks later. When we finally got her to acknowledge that she had the chapter in her hands, she let me know that it was good enough for me to be a Dummies author (oh, yippee-skippee) and that she’d be getting back to my agent about a deal.

Shortly thereafter, my agency phones me up. The deal really sucked. It was about half of what I’d been getting with other publishers. My agent kept pulling out additional terms and clauses in a “But wait, there’s less!!” sort of mode. After two or three of these, I said “Tell me the good part.”

He said “Well, we are at the good part. This is why we don’t do a lot of deals with the Dummies people; they don’t pay very well.”


“Do you want me to make a counteroffer?”

“Other than the obvious? Yes, please, tell them they should double this and we’ll talk.”

Okay, fine, no deal. I wasn’t terribly surprised, nor could I quite say I was disappointed. I wasn’t keen on spending time working with either the acquisitions editor nor the developmental editor, so skipping this one wouldn’t be a big deal.

The next morning at 6:45am Pacific time, I get a phone call from the acquisitions editor in Indianapolis.


Without my agent on the line.

You need to understand that this is a gross violation of publishing ethics. Unless there’s a darned good reason, like we’re about to collide with another planet, the editor NEVER phones the author directly to discuss business when they’re represented by an agent. It is Simply Not Done. I also didn’t care for the fact that I’d been woken up about 2 hours before I had planned on being conscious, either. So I was definitely not in a mood to roll over and give way.

The acquisitions editor tried to push me hard about the fact that I’d turned down their offer. It was the best deal I could get from them she said. (This was a complete lie, as I knew two authors who had gotten much better deals recently and she’d been the acquisitions editor on those deals.) I’d be a Dummies author, she said, which would count for something.

I’m not in the business for the fame, I said. I want the money. And, I added, after 17 books in this field, I really didn’t think I needed to pay any dues.

But you’ve never written for Dummies before, she countered. There’s a risk you might not make it.

“So you’re worried about the risk and that’s why you’re not paying me?”

Yes, definitely, she replied.

“Okay, well, then let’s structure the deal this way,” I said: “You don’t pay me any advance, but you crank the royalty rate up to 15%. That way, you’re not out anything. If the book doesn’t sell, then there’s very little exposure, but if it does sell, which is what I’m betting, then we both make money.”

“Oh, we couldn’t do that!”

“It adequately takes care of your risk problem.”

“But we just couldn’t do that!” she said.

We talked for another 10 minutes with her trying to browbeat me into taking the deal and me saying that I wanted more money. I could get more money, she said, if I just made the deal directly with her and dumped my agent. (Sheesh, there was just no limit to the lack of ethics with this woman!) The call ended with her saying something that translated as “You’ll never write Dummies books in this town again!” and me saying something that translated as “Blow me.”

I hung up and then called my agent and was just frothing at him about the gross unprofessionalism of this woman and that she’d not only phoned me directly but that she’d suggested I cut the agency out of the deal. This didn’t surprise my agent at all, as he’d actually worked in a cubicle next to hers at another publisher and he actively wondered how she managed to keep her job. (I suggested that some people are like bullets: they sit around their chamber waiting to be fired.) He said not to worry, they’d get the book placed, and we’d do fine.

And sure enough, they did. They got me in to another division of the publisher. They paid me twice the advance I normally got, they got me about everything I wanted for royalty, and the book was going to be an in-depth professional book, exactly what I wanted it to be.

Ironically, late in the book process, the publisher closed down that wing and books were reassigned. We ended up back on the desk of the same clueless idiot I’d dealt with originally, albeit not doing a Dummies book. I never brought up anything about dealing with her in the past and neither did she. I at first thought that it was that she was going to be professional, too, but the more I worked with her and saw her in inaction, the more I think it’s because she simply didn’t remember.

The happiest footnote to this is that she got laid off about a year later. There was many a dry eye in the house at this news. There were quite a few smirks, too. She left the business and went into real estate, proving that she was as good an acquisitions editor as everyone had always thought.

And there was much rejoicing throughout the land.

How to keep idiots off the Internet

(It’s not Friday, but this is just too fun.)

This test won’t keep people with obnoxious opinions off the Internet, but it will help make sure that they’re actually literate.

A tale of publishing cluelessness

Since it’s Friday, let’s pause for something fun. I’d like to share a tale of publishing cluelessness. All the names have been removed.

In 1992, I got a call from an editor at Macmillan. (Okay, not all the names have been removed. but it was 20 years ago, so WTH? I don’t remember the editor’s name and I wouldn’t identify him if I did.) He had seen something I’d written for Windows magazine on hard disks and wanted to have me write a piece-for-hire for one of their books.

Just to fill you in, there will be many times when you have someone do a contributing piece for you in a book. You need someone to do a specific chapter that requires an understanding you lack or you may just get busy and need help to hit the deadline. This hole in your technical knowledge doesn’t have to be deep and profound; it can be something you don’t care to write about or even something you just don’t do nearly as well as someone else. (One of my co-authors still flips me attitude periodically over the fact that I can’t program the time on my DVR. Damn young whippersnappers, anyway!)

In cases like this, what you do is find someone who can write the chapter for you and you give them, like, $500 and an acknowledgment for their contribution to the book and a couple copies and the right to say “That chapter was mine!” on their resume (which can be very helpful both when applying for writing jobs and when breaking into publishing). In return, you get all rights to the chapter and you make your deadline. It’s done all the time, mostly with people who are new to the book-writing biz or they’re friends and they can be tapped for a favor. I’ve done it myself on a number of my books. It’s no big deal.

The editor explained they need to have someone write technical material on hard disks in the next few weeks for a book. They saw my article in Windows magazine and figured I might be interested. This was going to be hard technical writing where I had to dig out specs on a lot of different hard disks with many phone calls to engineers at various companies. I’d then build tables of the information and submit it to them on a tight deadline. It was a very substantial piece of hard technical writing he was after. Even though he was calling it a “chapter,” it was not your typical chapter-for-hire. This was real work.

Based on his build-up, which emphasized the fame that would accrue to me, I figured he was going to lowball me. Whenever fame comes up as a major selling point, it means “We’re not going to pay you much, so here’s everything else I can ring in to get you to say yes.” You may be willing to accept the fame–assuming there really is any–but it means that I should hold on tight to my wallet when they name the price. And Macmillan, at least the technical side, had a well-deserved reputation in them days for treating their technical authors very poorly. The words “cheap” and “abusive” kinda summed it up. (I have no idea what it’s like there now, so it could be lots better. I hope so.) I was running numbers in my head on how long this would take to write to see what it’d be worth to me while the editor was talking about the gig.

The editor had laid the groundwork for his pitch and said “We’re after 50 pages of technical material on hard disks by Friday after next and we’re willing to pay you”–there was a very slight pause for effect–“TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!”

Okay, I had expected that they were going to lowball me but this was preposterous. I exploded laughing.

And I couldn’t stop.

I mean, I really couldn’t stop.

After about 20 seconds, I thought “Okay, I was prepared to be a little schnarky if he got cheap, but this is really silly!” And I managed to damp the laughing down to the point that I stopped.

And then the absurdity of his offer hit me again and I was whooping and snorfling into the phone again.

I damped the laughing again and then started laughing again. After a couple more tries, I finally stopped laughing. All this lasted about a minute.

The editor said calmly “I take it that’s not enough?” This set me off laughing again, but I managed to stop and I said “Well, let’s see: typical technical writing takes 4 hours a page but I’m a hot shot so I can do it at 2 hours a page, this is hard technical material and you want 50 pages, which is 100 hours, so if you’re going to pay me $250 for this, on a real rush schedule, that works out to two dollars and fifty cents a page, so naaaaaaaaaaaah”–right through the nose on that–“naaaaaaaaaaaah, I think I’ll pass.”

The editor–who was treating me far more civilly than I probably deserved–said “How much would you do it for?”

I said “Well, you could add a zero to that number and we’ll talk.”

“No, I can’t go that high.”

“How high can you go?”

“A thousand dollars.”

“That’s a better number, but that’s still only $10/hour, so I think I’ll pass. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you and I’m really sorry I laughed so hard, but it was funny.”

And we didn’t do business.

Is there a moral? Two things. First, don’t do business with people who aren’t going to pay you decently. $10/hour at the high end might’ve been barely enough if I was hurting or had nothing on my plate and was interested in the work for some reason, but starting the offer at such an incredibly low number was just insulting. The other moral is that I can be a real jerk on occasion. The editor was very polite to me and I don’t think I deserved it after laughing at his offer like that.

But it was funny.

Repost: Manuscript Rejection Notice from 1920s-Era Movie Studio

John Ferrier wrote a lovely little piece for Neatorama that underscores the idea that things don’t change. This is a manuscript rejection notice from the 1920s:

Hollywood manuscript rejection letter

John adds that “The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company was in business from 1907-1925. It was noted for a series of silent Charlie Chaplin films. Pictured above is a manuscript rejection notice, presumably mailed to writers who contacted the company.”

Original article here.

Finches tweet with grammar!

There’s yet another animal with a syntactical language: finches. And they get cranky about other finches who speak poorly, too.

Waffles for writers

Here’s a great article for how to turn an obsolete typewriter into a waffle iron. You can make keyboard-shaped waffles. (This is just too cool!)

BREAKING NEWS: Evidence of “floor” in author’s office!

Researchers recently doing an archeological survey of the clutter in John Hedtke’s office have discovered evidence of a primitive wooden “floor” beneath all the clutter.

“It took months of painstaking excavation, but there are signs that the piles are all supported by a continuous, level surface. Lab results are pending, but the floor is believed to consist of oak, though the weight of all that paper has compressed it nearly out of recognition.

“Darn, I thought it was turtles all the way down,” the author said, when reached for comment. “I wonder if they’ve found my desk yet.”

(with thanks to Amy Thomson for permission to reprint)

The smell of books: now from Lagerfeld!

Karl Lagerfeld, who is a bibliophile as well as famous designer, is developing a perfume that smells like books.