Going it without an agent? What you should consider before you sign on the dotted line.

Today, author and “recovering lawyer” Diane Capri is joining me on the blog to offer some advice for writers considering going it without an agent.

Much as I would love to think that it’s all cotton candy and roses out there, the writing biz, like any industry, does not work that way. Contracts are complex legal documents not to be taken lightly. The industry is changing, and it’s easier to find editors who are willing to accept unagented manuscripts. Many writers are now willing to go it without an agent, at least at first. Making the decision to publish without an agent means that the author will have to learn a new skill–or hire someone with expertise in publishing contracts.

Bottom line, we should understand the terms of the contract before we sign on the dotted line. Diane is lending us her legal expertise to point unagented authors in the right direction. Feel free to ask questions!

Q: As writers, we hear so many scary stories about authors who signed contracts without realizing what they were signing. It’s hard to tell what’s exaggerated urban myth and what’s an issue for genuine concern. For writers who go it without an agent, what should their main concerns be? Any red flags or big no-no’s?

A: There are many clauses in a publishing contract, and any writer who represents herself in negotiations should be aware of the most common ones. Copyright, royalties, advances, acceptance of manuscript, subsidiary rights, special sales, manuscript revisions, warranties, indemnification, termination of rights, options, and so on.  Pay particular attention to how unexpected events will be handled. What if the publisher goes out of business? When and under what circumstances can you retrieve your rights to this project and what must happen to get the rights back to you? A good primer is “Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide for Authors, Agents and Lawyers” by Mark L. Levine.

Q: A publishing contract is a legal document–and a very complicated one. What are some resources for writers who want to learn more about the legalese of contracts? Are there any key terms we should know?

A: In addition to Mark L. Levine’s book, you might want to review “The Writer’s Legal Companion,” by Brad Bunnin and Peter Beren. Writers organizations such as Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America and the Author’s Guild are also good resources for contract questions. You can find the answers to most common questions online, but beware of the source of information. Understand that the law varies and is very fact specific, meaning that changing even one small fact in a question can make a difference in the outcome.

Q: Do you recommend that first-timers (or even experienced authors) hire a lawyer to review their contracts? If so, how can writers find lawyers who specialize in publishing contracts? What should they expect to pay for these services?

A: The  easy answer is that I am a lawyer and I hire a lawyer to review my contracts. Realize that no one can anticipate everything and a fresh eye is often helpful. Unexpected stuff happens. All you can do is apply the best of your knowledge under the circumstances. Understand that the deal could go south and before you sign, always ask yourself what you’ll do if this deal does fall apart. Everyone needs a “plan B.”

If you have a reputable and knowledgeable agent, s/he should be able to negotiate your publishing contract. But it never hurts to hire aknowledgeable lawyer to advise you privately. Just be sure the lawyer you hire has current experience in publishing contracts from the type of publisher you’re considering because the business changes constantly.

Lawyers charge either a flat fee or an hourly fee. For a first publishing contract, a flat fee is probably the way to go. Prices vary based on location (everything costs more in New York than, say, Iowa), expertise (the more expert the lawyer, the more expensive she’ll be), and jurisdiction, among other things.

When navigating uncharted legal territory, generally it’s good to ask yourself whether the fee is worth paying under your specific circumstances. A $500 legal fee may not be the best idea for a royalty-only book deal with no advance. Only you can put a price on your project. No one knows the work and its value like the author herself.

About Diane:

Bestselling author Diane Capri is a recovering lawyer. She’s a snowbird who divides her time between Florida and Michigan. An active member of Mystery Writers of America, Author’s Guild, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime, she loves to hear from readers and is hard at work on her next novel. Diane’s books, including “Annabelle’s Attack” and “Carly’s Conspiracy,” are available wherever e-books are sold. See her Amazon author page for more info.

Connect with her online:

Website: http://DianeCapri.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/@DianeCapri
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Diane-Capri/187483551314626

A New Critique Service for Writers:

So I just received word that YA writer and my crit partner Kathleen Foucart has unveiled her new website and her critique service is now open for business. Kathleen and I met in graduate school and have been critiquing each other’s work ever since. She is a talented writer and an amazing person, someone who’s well-read and who has the patience to follow a manuscript from the seed of an idea to a fully grown and well-polished story.

In celebration of the launch of her new website, Kathleen is offering a chance to win one of two free first-chapter critiques (contest open now through Oct. 6). So make sure to pop over, find out more about the contest, and say hi. Read more here.

In other writing news, when I’m not grading papers or writing/editing for the magazine, I’m making my way through revising Pierce My Heart. Grading papers reminds me of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Those mops keep appearing and appearing and appearing. This semester, papers seem to do the same thing. Thank goodness for pastries and coffee; they’ve seen me through plenty of cram sessions as a writer, a student, and a teacher!

I’m pondering jumping into the next round of A Round of Words in 80 Days. Kristen Lamb is offering a “Blog to Build Your Brand” workshop in October and November, and I’ll be doing that is well. It’s going to be a busy rest of the year, but hopefully 2012 sees me querying manuscripts. I’ll be querying Pierce My Heart, at minimum.

Side Note: The Autumn Reads Amazon gift-card contest is open through Oct. 8, if you’re interested.

And now…

This Week’s Dash of Awesomesauce: Cool posts from around the Web

Remembering 9/11: 10 years later

Our lives are full of meaningful dates, of birthdays and anniversaries marked on calendars and celebrated with cards, cake, and champagne. And then there are the days we don’t choose, dates that imbed themselves into our hearts in ways we never would have chosen. Among them: Sept. 11, 2001, the year terrorism left its mark on the 21st-century American psyche.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I walked into German class in my rural, Western-PA high school; the teacher had turned the TV set on. Smoke poured from skyscrapers. The media played the clip of a plane flying into the building repeatedly; each time, it made less sense.

I’d just been to NYC for the first time that April, a small-town girl dazzled by the Big Apple. Students and teachers watched in shock as the second plane hit. As the first tower began to crumble, the teacher turned the television off.

Thank god. I’m glad I didn’t have to watch what happened next on live TV, but I did see it in the coming days: people running for their lives through NYC as skyscrapers crumbled around them.

We’d never expected it. But I lived in the middle-of-nowhere, PA, and we were far enough away from the Pentagon and NYC that we felt isolated and removed.

Until Flight 93 crashed in a field less than an hour away.

Small byways that flowed through town crammed with tractor-trailers as they shut down the interstate. They closed the small regional airport that welcomed a few flights each day.

And parents flooded the schools to collect their confused children. We all knew something was wrong, but the youngest of us had been shielded. The oldest of us were in denial or shock.

My mother arrived to bring us home. I refused to go. I wasn’t about to let a terrorist steer my life from a place of fear. My brother, a year younger, stood by my side, following my lead as I told my mother we weren’t going home.

Everything in our small-town world had changed.

Not long after my mother left, they let us out of school. The normally quiet roads were full of traffic from the interstate. That was the first time it dawned on me. We weren’t just living through a tragedy. We were experiencing an act of war, something I’d only read about in history books or witnessed on documentaries. Another date that will live in infamy.

American life changed. We lost people we won’t get back. Dec. 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor. Sept. 11, 2001: a tragedy so grave, we only need to say a date.

I attended a remembrance ceremony on campus today, brief and clear and beautiful. No matter how many candles we light, speeches we give, or memorials we dedicate, those memories don’t fade. The loss remains. I’d like to honor the lives we lost, the innocents who died, and the brave men and women who risked their lives then and continue to now in order to save us or to keep us safe.

There aren’t enough words. To those we’ve lost, we miss you. To those who fight, we thank you.

Shout-out to Robin Ludwig:

So my new WordPress site is officially up and running. I’m still over on LiveJournal as well, so you can keep up with me at either site.

I’d like to take a moment to thank Robin Ludwig for the awesome header she designed for the site. Her turnaround was superfast, and I might have squealed in delight (just a little) when I saw the result. Robin designs all sorts of things, so keep her in mind if you have any design needs.

Today, hubby and I are celebrating our second anniversary, so we’re doing the classic dinner and a movie. Which means that I’m making this one a short and to-the-point post.

Have a great evening, all!

Hmm…Technical difficulties:

UPDATE (6:36 p.m.): It looks like I’ve worked out all of the kinks from the transfer of my LJ blog posts. If you are reading and notice any issues, please comment on this post and I’ll make any necessary corrections.

Update: So, I just imported my LJ blog posts, but it seems some data/formatting got lost (or added) in translation.

So please bear with me while I work through some of the little quirks I’m currently experiencing. I’ll have to see where everything went wrong. One post has the same comments repeated over and over, and others have some other issues…That just won’t do!

If you’re reading the blog between now (4:45 p.m. on Fri. 7/29) and later today, please excuse the mess. I’m still unpacking and getting settled in!


Fairy Tales: Not just happily ever afters

I love fairy tales, so much so that I actually took a class in graduate school that focused solely on this subject. Something about them gets me really excited.

It’s not the happy endings. Because not every fairy tale has a happily ever after. Sure, in the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, Ariel gets the prince. But in Hans Christian Andersen’s version, she sacrifices herself and becomes sea foam drifting on the waves. Maybe we want every fairy tale to end happily, but they don’t always.

In retrospect, I think what draws me to fairy tales is their archetypical nature, their motifs, their psychological implications. These are seemingly simplistic stories told over and over, oral traditions that we’re still retelling, whether in bedtime stories, picture books, YA novels, movies, poems, even songs. They cross borders; some version of Cinderella appears in many cultures across the world. The “trappings” of the story change, but the archetypes are all intact.

Why do we need fairy tales? What draws us to these particular stories? I’m fascinated by the possibility that fairy tales have been, in a sense, cautionary tales. They tell us what to be or what not to be if we are to succeed. Gullibility, dishonesty, rudeness, ignoring the rules—these things result in punishment or worse in the world of the fairy tale. But honesty, cleverness, beauty, submissiveness, these traits most often ensure the victory of the protagonist. Cinderella might be submissive, but she gets the guy. Her sisters, more rude, less beautiful, are ultimately the losers of the tale. In the German version of the story, Aschenputtel, the stepsisters cut their toes off to fit into the shoe; at the end, they have their eyes pecked out by doves. In Snow White, the evil queen is punished, though her punishment depends on which version you read. (Anne Sexton gives an interesting interpretation in her poem “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” comparing the aging queen’s—and our own—desperate vanity to Snow White’s virginal beauty. “Beauty is a simple passion/but, oh my friends, in the end/you will dance the fire dance in iron shoes,” she wrote. Fairy tales aren’t always the whitewashed, sanitized versions that often spring to mind—maybe that’s why we keep exploring them.

They might be cautionary tales; they might be explorations of the human psyche. I’ll never be able to say they’re just stories. Because nothing is ever just a story. They’ve lasted a long time, long enough to evolve with us. Many of us are now appalled by Cinderella’s submissiveness. As feminists, we might even see her behavior as damaging. So the tales change, perhaps demanding more active, self-aware heroines; a happier, Hollywood-style ending; or simply a new lens through which to view the stories. Because they’re oral tales, they will always change along with society. One generation adds in new angles, and the next generation removes or adds as necessary. Whether written or spoken, we keep on telling fairy tales.

So what is your fave fairy tale? Why do you love that tale? One of my favorites is Bluebeard. If you haven’t read it, check it out here. It’s certainly a cautionary tale, reminding young women, especially, to trust their instincts. I guess it could be about obedience, too, but I think there’s something more going on. It’s also a horror story, a shiver tale. It’s creepy, eerie, goosebump-worthy, not so much a bedtime story as it is a fireside tale meant to scare the crap out of us. Each time I read it, I get something new, but I always get a chill.

I love a lot of different fairy tales for many reasons. Mostly, I just enjoy exploring them and wondering what it is that attracts us to them.

This post certainly isn’t a scholarly paper, though I really apologize if it sounds like one at times! This morning got me thinking about fairy tales and my ongoing interest in them. Must’ve been the fog and bird songs.

I’m looking forward to hearing what your favorite fairy tales are, and why. What do you think keeps drawing us back to these stories?

Summer Travels:

In the last month or so, I’ve taken a break to focus on some traveling with the family.

The first stop for hubby and me was Wilmington, N.C., where we lounged on the beach, went shopping in the historic downtown area (if you ever go, check out the Cotton Exchange for some excellent local shopping), and enjoyed some excellent food. We don’t have much in the way of variety when it comes to cuisine in the town where we live, so it was nice to enjoy everything from Vietnamese food to fondue. I grew up in a family in which food is really important, so when I travel, some of my fondest memories are of the great food I get to sample. In Germany, for example, they have Eis Cafes—entire restaurants devoted to ice cream. Seriously. It rocks. And while the food at that little teahouse in Santé Fe, New Mexico, certainly wasn’t anything to write home about, the dining—ahem—experience certainly was. So I’m now on a fondue kick and spend my spare moments fantasizing about hosting a fondue party. Local peeps, break out the fondue forks!

Because I am a sunshine-lover, now that it’s sundress-and-sandal weather, I have a hard time keeping my ass glued to a seat indoors any longer than it takes to pound out another scene. My crop of lettuce, herbs, radishes, and arugula is already sprouting up a bountiful harvest, which, coupled with the leafy greens and radishes my dad gave me from his Pennsylvania garden, means my husband and I have a continual supply of salad fixings.

Last weekend, I went back to the “home country” of western Pennsylvania for a wedding. I’m always struck by how beautiful the landscape is there. It’s been marred by years of misuse—acid mine drainage from the coal industry has tinged the waters a sulfuric yellow-orange, and boney piles (hill-sized mounds of coal waste) pock the landscape. But there’s this soft beauty in the trees that reminds me of who I am and why I became a tree-hugging, Yaris-driving, nature girl in the first place. Knowing the beauty of the land but witnessing the frailty of that beauty and how hard it is to rebuild brought out in me a longing to protect it. And I do find hope in the number of wind turbines now visible there—in the heart of coal country, where my ancestors, were, in fact, coal-miners, renewable energy is now taking root.

I found my first inspiration in the forests of home. That’s where I wrote my earliest stories, where I became an artist. Long before I ever used a computer to record my stories, I sat in the woods of ferns and maples and wrote in spiral-bound notebooks. I wrapped myself in a quilt and watched the sunset from the front porch swing, surrounded by the pink blaze of rhododendrons. I dreamt of the places I’d go and the person I would become. Sometimes, before anyone else woke up, I’d creep downstairs and stare out the kitchen window, watching the mist as it draped and curled along the ground. I found more stories from the land than I ever could staring at a screen. I’ve gotten to see the beauty of landscapes and cityscapes in so many places, and each time, I take a little bit of it with me, tucked away in the back of my mind, to fuel another story. But it’s nice, every once in a while, to go back to where I first realized I wanted to be a storyteller. More than anything, what I learned from my roots was the importance of connection, of unity. I came to believe that everything in this vast universe is connected. One thing impacts the other. They say each man is an island—that may be so, but he’s still touched by the sea; the light of the stars still reaches down toward him.

Summer sunshine makes it hard to stay indoors, when so many stories are buzzing among the leaves. I have a manuscript to finish this summer, and come August, when teaching resumes, there will be a finished draft sitting on my desk.

Who knows how many of those pages will be written sitting on my balcony, where I’m moved by the poetry of the trees?

Hyacinths and celebrating the magic of spring:

Spring is here, tentatively, minus a weekend of dreary weather and this morning’s freakish snow. For once, I actually didn’t mind seeing those snowflakes too much, probably because by the end of the week, it will be April, and I’ll be one step closer to sandals, sundresses, and the magic of springtime.

My ritual for Ostara was simple, but I did bless these flowers (see photo below) in the name of the goddess, wanting their blooms to be a reminder of the healing power of nature and of the season of rebirth. I dedicated the then-closed blooms in honor of Persephone and Ostara (one, a woman who lives in both the Underworld and the world of the living, a vegetation goddess and reminder of the rebirth following darkness; the other,a fertility goddess whose name later became associated with the Christian holiday Easter). I thought of the sadness and hurting going on in the world, and I sent out energy of love and healing. A photo of my new spring blooms and the remainder of this entry are posted below this cut:

Pen names, secret identities, and Superman

Do you use a pen name? If so, why? Are you staunchly in support, adamantly against, or somewhere in between, shrugging your shoulders and saying, “It depends?”

Dirty secret revealed: I use a pen name. Initially, I didn’t, partially because, to be honest, I couldn’t think of a name to which I would feel as connected as the one my parents bestowed upon me. Names are powerful things; who we are gets wrapped up in our name. Maybe our name even has power over us, as works as varied as Joss Whedon’s Angel (remember Jasmine, Angel fans?) to Ursula le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea have suggested. You know that feeling you get when someone says your name, your turn, only to find they’re talking to someone else? The names we’re born with us become part of us.

When I got married, I didn’t take my husband’s last name. It was a feminist thing, but also a career thing. I had published journalistic writing under my “maiden” name. But it was also my name. It wasn’t merely my family name, my father’s name. It was my name. I owned it, and I was proud of it. It was the name on my high school diploma, my bachelor’s degree, and my master’s. My education is important to me; it’s shaped me in wonderful ways and opened up doors in my life that would have otherwise remained closed. As the granddaughter of a coal miner, I understand how far I’ve come, the sacrifices my ancestors made for me to have those opportunities, and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Perhaps I felt changing my name would distance me from my accomplishments (silly, I know now—those are just pieces of paper, records, symbols, not the journey itself). Maybe it was the feminist in me, railing against the system. Point is, my name meant a lot to me.

So when I considered using a pen name, the idea at first felt strange. But after much debate, I figured I should, if only for practical reasons: my real name is common, the URL is taken, and it’s also the name of an accomplished musician. I also wanted the freedom to write what I wanted to write without worrying what my boss would think. This way, I don’t have to worry about awkward looks over the water cooler if I suddenly decide to write naughty erotica—which isn’t what I write, but hey, a girl likes to keep her options open… It also leaves me free to discuss magical topics without worrying about creating awkwardness at the day job. I am a very private person. I am not ashamed of my faith and will tell you if you out and out ask. But yeah, sometimes the day-job me wears a mask. (Though unlike Clark Kent, I actually need the glasses, just one of many differences setting me apart from the Man of Steel.)

So I decided to use a pen name. I went back and forth. I thought and thought about it and mulled it over some more. Finally, I came up with the last name Madigan, which has a lovely sound to it, yet is easy to pronounce. It feels like part of me. It also means “mastiff,” and I’m a total animal-lover, and it’s Irish, so I like that it pays homage to my family’s Irish roots. (Note that I chose the name before I knew what it meant. Initially, I wasted wayyy too much time pouring over books of names and their meanings–and bear in mind that those books can often contradict one another.) One of my best friends helped me choose my first name. I liked the ring of it, simple but unique at the same time. And it wasn’t taken by anyone in the genre. So off I went.

And yes, just like my “real name” (Hint—it’s not Kal-El.), my nom de plume is a part of me. I can feel it entwining with my heart, becoming a part of my identity. Janelle Madigan. Yep, that’s me.

So I support pen names. If it’s good enough for Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), it’s good enough for me. On her blog, Kait Nolan offers a couple very valid reasons for using a pen name: one, privacy, and two, writing across genres. And Rachelle Gardner offers a list of reasons why you might want to think of using a nom de plume.

Conversely, Kristen Lamb offered a strong and reasonable case against pen names. In many cases, I find myself inclined to agree. If you have no real need for a pen name, why go to the hassle of having to explain to all two-hundred of your Facebook friends that you’re actually writing under x name and they can also friend you under your pen name or become a fan of your Facebook page? Don’t even try to explain it to grandma. She’ll just be confused.

Many female authors use their maiden names, and I suppose any of us could use a family moniker. But please don’t make it your pet’s name and the name of the street you grew up on. Unless it really works. Like, Sadie Stone. I’d pick up one of Sadie’s books. But, Rocky Elm or Cookie Sunset, don’t go there. Now, it’s getting late, and I’m getting silly…

So where do you stand? Are you using a pen name? Do you write in different genres under different names? Would you consider writing under a name other than your “real” one?

Crazy questions people ask Wiccans:

I’ve gotten some good ones in my day. When you say you’re Wiccan, people’s reactions range from dismissive to insulted, from “Are you nuts?” to “You realize you’re letting the devil into your soul, right?”

I’ve heard a number of good (and some not-so-good) questions over the years; some said in insult, others only out of confusion. Here are a few I’ve been asked. If you walk a pagan path, feel free to chime in with your take. What are the craziest questions you’ve been asked? What’s the worst reaction you’ve ever gotten? Is there any time you’ve been open about your faith and then wished you hadn’t been?

And for those of you who aren’t Wiccan, what questions do you have? I won’t get offended, unless you purposefully insult me or accuse me of being evil. Then, I’ll be offended. Who wouldn’t? If you have an honest question, feel free to ask!

Disclaimer: There are many different traditions within Wicca. It’s a very personal religion, and everyone has his or her own view. Still, my response to the answers below should give you a better understanding.

Common questions: