Saturday, September 01, 2007

Standing up for a change

Authors are famous for sitting down. At our desks, with endless cups of coffee and the occasional doughnut or chocolate bar, typing away (rather messily) on our computer keys.

Occasionally we fire off letters or e-mails. The older I get (well past thirty-nine, thank you), the more outrage it takes to generate a protest from me. I’ve learned that a) if you aren’t careful, people misinterpret what you say and b) hardly anything ever changes, anyway.

Well, now I’m mad. Mad enough to stand up, tipping over a few cups of coffee with my usual klutziness, and possibly working off a chocolate bar or two in the process.

Here’s what happened. In addition to writing family-oriented love stories for Harlequin, I sold a paranormal romance to an ebook publisher called Triskelion, which went bankrupt. Okay, that means I lost whatever royalties they owed me. I can handle that.

Then I made a discovery that outraged me.

My contract contains a standard clause stating that, in the event of the publisher’s bankruptcy, all rights in the book revert to the author. That means I regain control over my own work, right?

Well, no. I discovered that federal bankruptcy courts routinely void these clauses. They contend that bankruptcies are adjudicated under federal law, while contracts are signed under state law, and federal law takes precedence.

In other words, a federal judge – not the publisher – intends to sell my rights and those of the other authors to the highest bidder. We don’t get that money; it goes to the secured creditors, most likely banks.

More importantly, the purchaser may be somebody I would never choose to do business with. He might rewrite my book and ruin it, or stick a pornographic cover on the front and advertise it on a porno site – with my name on it.

Sure, publishers aren’t supposed to behave that way. But what kind of clout do I have, when I never agreed to sign with this guy in the first place? He might not even be a legitimate publisher, just somebody looking to make a fast buck with Internet downloads. At the expense of my reputation.

Given the power held by federal judges, this situation can only be rectified by an act of Congress. So I’m asking everybody to write his or her senators and congressperson urging them to sponsor a bill barring bankruptcy judges from voiding these contract clauses for authors, illustrators and composers.

If you’re interested, just Google “find your U.S. senator” or “find your congressperson.” Our representatives maintain on-line message forms that are easy to fill out. If you’d like to borrow some formal wording, I’ve posted a statement on my website,

Glad I got that off my chest. Now I can paste my rear end to the desk chair where it belongs, and go back to writing my next book.


Estella said...

That is awful! I will write my congressman and senator right away.

Kara Lennox said...

It's bad enough we have so little control over so many things, but this takes the cake.

Jacqueline Diamond said...

Dear Estella and Kara,
Thanks for posting! I'm going to keep spreading the word to other authors and groups that might have some influence.

Heather MacAllister said...

I had no idea. I'm just stunned.