Legal Issues in Self-Publishing: What Authors Need to Know
Self-publishing continues its exponential growth. More and more authors are choosing this route for presenting their work to the public, encouraged by impressive success stories, including accounts by bestselling writers who have moved over from traditional publishing to take advantage of greater profits and better control of their works.
But there is one domain that self-published authors rarely think about, which mainstream publishers have traditionally managed: legal issues.
If you self-publish, you are the publisher and thus assume all the legal responsibilities. At first this might seem frightening. But it doesn’t have to be, as I discovered in my interview with Paul Rapp, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights in Monterey, Mass. and teaches Art & Entertainment Law and Copyright Law at Albany (N.Y.) Law School. He also discusses copyright issues in publishing on Vox Pop on Northeast Public Radio.
Rapp says he is working increasingly with self-publishers and self-published authors. He cited the prominent legal issues that authors should pay attention to: The use of images, quotes, and other materials from copyrighted works, the use of public domain works, the amount of a published works that can be quoted, portrayals of real people in fictional works, the standards for portraying famous and non-famous persons, portrayals of real people in non-fictional works, and the importance of copyright registration.
E-Books Destroying Traditional Publishing? The Story’s Not That Simple
Publishers are finding that flexible pricing on e-books can help bring in new readers.
Publishers are finding that flexible pricing on e-books can help bring in new readers.
What counts as a book these days, in a world of Kindles, Nooks and iPads — and eager talk about new platforms and distribution methods?
Traditional publishers are traveling a long and confusing road into the digital future. To begin with, here’s the conventional wisdom about publishing: E-books are destroying the business model.
People expect them to be cheaper than physical books, and that drives down prices. But the story’s not that simple. For one thing, digital publishers have the same problem that record labels do: piracy. And there’s just not the same stigma attached to pirating an e-book as there is to holding up a Barnes & Noble.
It turns out, though, that some publishers are doing pretty well despite the piracy problem. “We’ve had an incredible year,” says Sourcebooks President Dominique Raccah. “Last year was the best year in the company’s history. This year we beat that, which I didn’t think was even possible.” Raccah adds that her company is doing well because of digital publishing, not in spite of it. “It’s been an amazing ride,” she says.
Change Is The Only Constant In Today’s Publishing Industry
Penguin and Random House, two of the biggest players in publishing, announced in October that they would merge. (AFP/Getty Images)
The publishing industry has been in flux for years. First chain stores, then Amazon, then e-books — many forces have combined to create dramatic change in the traditional publishing model.
Mike Shatzkin is the founder and CEO of the publishing industry consulting firm Idea Logical. He says one of the biggest changes happening in publishing right now is the planned merger of two of the biggest players in the field, Penguin and Random House — with whispers of further mergers to come.
Already, there’s a lot of debate about what that kind of consolidation will mean for the industry. Shatzkin tells NPR’s Audie Cornish that the size of the merged company will give it the clout — and the backlist — to create book sales anywhere it wants to. Even the corner drugstore might have a real bookstore — filled, of course, exclusively with Penguin and Random House titles, not just a rack of pulp paperbacks.
“Another way they might create additional distribution is through a subscription, e-book subscription service,” he says. “Before Random and Penguin merged, no single publisher would have had enough of the most commercial titles to make something like that work. They might. So they may be able to create distribution channels that are extra, compared to what we have now, and proprietary, in that other publishers won’t be able to get at them.”
Digital platforms are another big trend right now — websites where authors can publish their work and connect with their readers. Shatzkin says children’s publishers have been making good use of platforms. “For example, Scholastic, which has fabulous reach into schools, through teachers, is creating an e-book reading platform called Storia,” he says.
Storia will be a complete environment, providing services for the purchase and reading of e-books and tools for parents and teachers to oversee their kids’ reading. “So if a parent or teacher get a kid reading on Storia, you’re not going to be able to get a book to that kid except through Storia. And Storia’s not the only platform of its kind … and what that means is that power transfers to the platform owner from the individual title or author.”
Crowdfunding Books: The Latest Publishing Industry Trend
Traditional book publishers are struggling to stay relevant in a constantly changing industry. The rise of e-books and self-publishing has continued to have a strong impact in the publishing world, and now crowdfunding is the latest trend to join them. More authors are discovering the potential of crowdfunding as a tool to help them raise money to write and publish their books. Authr.com offers an easy to use platform exclusively for writers who are interested in gathering funds for their book projects and marketing their books once published.
A recent survey of a Self Publishing Books website found that 1.5 million books are estimated to be in print in theUnited Stateswhile 81 percent of the population would like to write a book. But success stories in the traditional publishing industry are reserved mostly for established authors and celebrities, and the daily struggles of thousands of lesser known writers and aspiring authors often remain hidden. As the book industry continues to change, more people are turning to self-publishing, and 78 percent of the books sold are already from small presses or self-published. Nevertheless, many writers still struggle to find the necessary support to write and publish a book.
Authr.com is one site that offers a platform for writers who are interested in crowdfunding their book projects. After creating a profile, writers can request funding from the public and present their book ideas. Then, the donations can be used during the writing and publishing process. The writer keeps all of these funds raised and Authr.com does not take any percentage of the monies collected during the campaigns. The platform also allows writers to convert their pages to sales forms where fans can pre-order the books. Marketing and promotion are built into the platform.
Publishing: The Road Ahead
With the closing of Spin Magazine’s print edition alongside the failure of the print edition of Newsweek (not to mention the shuttering of countless newspapers and magazines around the world) you’d be hard-pressed to say that publishing – particularly in the news space – is doing well.
Add in the merger of Penguin and Random House – a Napster-esque move designed to stave off the vagaries of a non-collusive market – and you’ve got an even bleaker picture.
In short, after centuries of progress, the old method of transmitting information via the printed page – not to mention the publisher’s tendency to control content with an iron fist – is crumbling. In its place we have an entirely new system and regime, one ruled less by a central authority – the editors, publishers, and printers of yore – and now ruled by the mob.
That’s not a bad thing. It lets people publish books that would have never seen a printing press and it gives an organization with seemingly bottomless resources – Amazon – the ability to define the rules to which all others must cleave. This new media has laid a book store chain low, bleeding publishers nearly dry in the process, and it has changed the way we consume media from a slow meal savored over time to an experience more akin to grazing or, more precisely, a bit of sushi on the go.
Here are my predictions for publishing this year. I love books and I hope not many come true, but we shall see.
You will stop buying paper books and magazines. If you’re here reading this, you’ve already stopped buying books. If you haven’t, you will. I got one book for Christmas this year, Building Stories by Chris Ware. We also bought some print editions for the kids. But a year from now? I doubt the Christmas list will even be on paper.
ComiXology Unveils New Content From Its Self-Publishing Portal
Following the completion of its initial private beta, 14 new titles are now available from comiXology Submit, the digital comic platform’s new self-publishing portal. The new comics releases, which include Too Much Coffee Man Favorites by Shannon Wheeler, are something of a herald of what’s to come from comiXology, as it “…aims to help comic book creators worldwide monetize their self-published works through comiXology’s digital comics platform available across iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows 8 and the Web.”
Here’s how ComiXology breaks down its basic Submit guidelines in its latest press release:
Those interested in being contacted when comiXology Submit becomes open to the public – from self-publishers with one or more comics and graphic novels, to webcomic creators, and even to creators with a short one-shot comic – can enter their contact information at submit.comixology.com.
Has Self-Publishing Come of Age?
Many people think of self-publishing as a new phenomenon, being resorted to by frustrated authors who haven’t been able to land a contract with a traditional publisher. However, as I point out in my eBook, The Plan that Launched a Thousand Books, self-publishing is not just for unknown writers and it’s not something new.
Self-publishing is a viable option for many, and presents a variety of new marketing and publishing options that writers didn’t have access to before. While you’ll forgo the advance that traditional publishers may give you, you’ll see a greater share of the royalties. Instead of a 10-15% advance (and potentially nothing more after that), you’ll see an on-going 30-70% of royalties from a self-published book.
But, keep in mind, that as a self-publisher, you are responsible for everything related to the book. That includes, at a minimum, cover design, editing, formatting, layout, proofing, publishing, marketing and publicity.
On December 9, 2012, CBS Sunday Morning ran the following video segment about self-publishing.
Given how accessible self-publishing options are these days, how do you decide which way to go or if you should publish at all?