Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book contract

This past week, I signed my first book contract. Yes, someone actually paid me to publish my book. The book in question is Fire, which you've seen me talk about a lot if you follow my blog.  In the process, it has been renamed Heirs of Fire.  So, it looks like the book will definitely be published, by a real publisher.  Since it is a small publisher, they can move more quickly than a large publisher, and it will likely be out sooner rather than later.  I'll hold off on naming the publisher until they announce it themselves (I make a point not to steal other people's thunder).

For now, though, I thought I'd talk a bit about the contract.  I'm not going to discuss the actual terms of the contract, aside from saying that I'm overall happy with it.  Rather, I want to talk a bit about what I was looking for in the contract, and what points I made sure I was clear on.  Whether I was concerned about the right parts or not, only time will tell.

Indemnity clause. This is a clause that says that if the publisher gets sued because you plagiarized someone, you're the one who has to pay. The better versions of this clause say you only have to pay if the suit is successful. More worrying versions would have you paying legal fees when anyone sues, whether they're successful or not.

Rights clause. This is the clause which says how long the publisher has rights to publish your work, where and how he can publish it, and whether they're exclusive. You want to make sure the rights have a limited term, only covers places you're willing for them to publish, and if they're exclusive, don't prevent you from publishing somewhere you want to be able to publish.

Royalties. Aside from making sure the amount is satisfactory, you want to compare this to the rights, and see if there's a way for the publisher to sell your book where you wouldn't get paid. You also want to see if there's any way for the publisher to give away your book for free without paying you. The second one is less worrying, as there's not much evidence that giving away books actually cuts into sales, but if that's part of their marketing plan, make sure you're okay with it.  The other thing to make sure of is that you don't have to cover the publisher's expenses before you get royalties, such as editing, or printing, or cover art costs.

Advance. I don't worry too much about this.  The idea of the advance is that it's a pre-payment of royalties.  Just be careful if the publisher stipulates circumstances where you're required to give back all or part of your advance.

Reversion of rights. What happens if the publisher ends up not publishing the work after all? That's why you need a reversion of rights clause. This isn't as important if the term of the rights starts as soon as the contract is signed, but if it doesn't start until the book is published, or that term is particularly long, that could be a problem if the publisher never gets around to publishing your book. You'll want the rights to return to you so you can try somewhere else. You should make sure that the reversion of rights clause names a time period, rather than saying it occurs when the publisher decides not to publish, since that can allow them to sit on your book for years. If the term of the rights is especially long, you may also want reversion of rights to you if the publisher ceases to offer your book for sale. You need to be especially careful here, since the publisher may consider "offering for sale" to consist of "making available for order through a limited number of bookstores in another country," as one author discovered to her horror. That's why I prefer a limited, not-too-long term of rights, since it avoids complications like these, and your book won't be unavailable for too long. And if you are happy with them, you can always negotiate a new contract when the term ends.

Right of First Refusal. This means that the publisher gets the first chance to look at your next work, before you can send it to anyone else. It's best to avoid this altogether, but if you do end up with it in your contract, make sure it requires your publisher to respond within a set time period (months, not years), so they can't sit on your book forever, preventing you from publishing it anywhere.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

In-laws and nephews

Kristin and I spent this past weekend visiting her brother and his family in Alberta, including three nephews whom I was meeting for the first time.  Although they consistently called me Uncle Donald, I was unsuccessful in dubbing them Huey, Duey, and Luey.

We spent a day at the Royal Tyrrel Museum, in Drumheller.  This is set among the badlands in Alberta, and is the home of a large collection of fossils, ranging from the Cambrian period all the way through the last Ice Age.

The next day we went to Banff, a town in the Canadian Rockies, which is well-known for its hot springs.  And its touristy small-town vibe, with lots of shops crowded by tourists over the long weekend.  There's also a beautiful hotel, called the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, that you probably can't afford to stay at.  After a hike up the falls, we ate in town, and then went to the hot springs, which was actually a pool fed by the hot springs.

A few pictures for your enjoyment:

I have way more pictures of these prairie dogs, outside the Royal Tyrrell Museum, than I have of anything inside the museum.
The lower falls, on the hike.

The upper falls, which is as far as we hiked.


My brother-in-law, his wife, and three boys--5, 4, and 5 months--on the way back from the hike.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review of Terry Mancour's Spellmonger

I've decided to start reading, and reviewing, some of the novels available on Amazon.com's Kindle Lending Library.  This allows Amazon Prime members to read some books (one per month) for free on their Kindles.  The catch is that a lot--probably most--of these books are self-published e-books, using Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing.  That's sort of the reason I'm doing this.  Anyone can self-publish a book, and most of them are junk.  That said, 90% of anything is junk, so while there may be a lot of bad, self-published novels on Amazon, there are bound to be some good ones.  And as long as Amazon is letting me read one free once a month, I might as well take a chance on some of them.

First up is Terry Mancour's Spellmonger.  Now with this one, I may not be taking that much of a chance.  It's #7,325 in paid Kindle e-books, and has over 50 reviews, with an average rating of four stars (and while it's possible for self-published authors to game the review system, most of them seem fair, rather than the undeserved gushing of friends and relatives).  Additionally, Mr. Mancour has already published a novel (Star Trek The Next Generation: Spartacus).  So, I may be taking a chance, but not that much of one.

The first thing you notice about the novel, aside from the simple but functional cover, is the hand drawn and less functional map at the beginning.  I puzzled over this a bit, but I usually don't spend much time looking at the maps in e-books, so it was hardly a deal-breaker.  So I went straight to the opening scene.

The novel is high fantasy, with a noir voice.  The cynical, sarcastic first-person POV adds a lot of humor to the story, and it gave the novel a lot of its flavor.  The story started where most epic fantasies start: a small, rural community.  And the novel opens with a bang, with invading goblins gurvani attempting to burn the place to the ground.  At which point Minalan, the titular spellmonger, and former warmage, comes to the rescue.  It's a good opening, introducing the main character, his apprentice, and a bunch of villagers whom we instantly forget about.  Soon the lord of the valley arrives and the main plot begins.

The gurvani are coming by the thousands, armed with magic-enhancing Irionite, and the people must prepare for a siege: gathering allies and moving into the lord's castle.  Meanwhile, Minalan tells us about his life and background, weaving his backstory into the narrative. Unlike most novels of this type, the ally-gathering happens fairly quickly, and most of the novel is spent on the siege, and the clever ways Minalan and his allies use magic in order to escape complete destruction.  And it really is about how the magic is used--fairly little is done by the mundane folks.

That's one of the great weaknesses of this novel--all the important stuff is done by Minalan and a couple of his allies, all magic users.  Nothing of import is done by any of the mundanes.  They're mostly cannon-fodder and obstacles to overcome.  And there are some characters who seem like they'd have a lot to contribute, especially the mercenary leaders, but I can't remember anything of note they did outside of support for the magic types.

Another weakness is the half-hearted characterization.  There's a cast of hundreds, if not thousands, but most of them aren't important, and because they aren't, Mancour doesn't bother giving them more than a cursory introduction.  The three apprentices of the competitor spellmonger aren't even given names until just before their critical scene.  The main love interest shows up twice before the two stumble into a relationship, without any build-up to make us believe that they are actually in love.  The ruler of the rural valley goes from wise and good to petty and vain to sort of redeemed without much in the way of transition.

And for all that Minalan is the main character, he's not really that likable.  He's something of a lecher, so much so that it's hard to believe that he's decided to settle down when he does, and he has a prickly personality. He antagonizes the lord of the valley and his fellow spellmonger, but apparently they deserve it, since they're awful people--which we know because he tells us, not because of how they behave on-stage.

But for all its faults, Spellmonger still works.  It's well-written, and the presentation is professional.  The story is interesting, and the pieces come together in the end, with only a couple of plot holes.  Overall, it was worth the time to read--and really, I measure value more by the time than the money.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Review of The Avengers

The Avengers came out this past weekend, and I talked Kristin into seeing it for our date night on Friday.  We had already seen all the lead in films--Thor, Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Captain America--so we were familiar with all the heroes.  It was fun.

It was very much a comic book movie, with all the team-ups and intra-team fights you expect from a comic book movie.  In fact, that was Kristin's biggest complaint: it had all the team-ups and intra-team fights you expect, which made it kind of predictable.  There was Thor vs. Iron Man, Thor vs. The Hulk, Black Widow vs. Hawkeye.  There were Iron Man and Captain America vs. Loki, Thor and The Hulk, Captain America and Black Widow, and Captain America and Thor vs. the aliens.  And, of course, the big battle scene at the end against said aliens.  There were a few other points of predictability.

All that said, it doesn't matter.  It was still great fun.  The action was exciting.  The characters, each of whom is strong enough to carry his own film, nevertheless worked well together.  They all had a chance to shine without anyone overwhelming the others.  The dialogue was as funny as you'd expect from Joss Whedon, and the action was exciting.  All in all, it was definitely worth watching.