Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Should writers be paid/paid better?

I read with interest what Lydia blogged about: Carolyn Keene, the author of the Nancy Drew series, apparently doesn't exist. The publishers hired ghostwriters to write the novels. They were paid only $125 for each book and were required to give up all rights and maintain confidentiality.

There's no Franklin W. Dixon either, it's a pseudonym for the authors of The Hardy Boys.

Now, I feel terribly sorry for the ghostwriters involved here because Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys have sold millions of books worldwide. AND we do know there's a bit of that going on locally too. Some publishers of anthologies are NOT PAYING their short story contributors, citing it's a priviledge just to be published. Is this right or wtong?

Also, down South, Russell Lee actually collects emails on True Singaporean Ghost Stories from all over. Does he pay these people? After all, the stories came from them, not him. Anyone knows?

Now, let's say if I were to start an anthology under Dark City, and I were to collect the dark stories centering on KL from a bunch of different writers (actually, I was thinking of doing that) - how much should each writer be paid? (Bearing in mind there will be 12 stories.) By percentage of the take or a one off?

Yvonne Lee has wonderful updates on the media section of her website, The Sky is Crazy (see sidebar.) She's now appeared in Prestige and Female Singapore. Congrats to Yvonne for having over 40 media appearances now, the most of any Malaysian author!!


bibliobibuli said...

not ghostwriters - there is another term but i can't remeber what it is, probably contract writers who work for a company and the publisher contracts a series of books out to them. it is a very common phenomena. the opah mehta book that turned out to be plagiarised was written in this way.

Ted Mahsun said...

I think the term Sharon's looking for is book-packaging. (More info here.)

Things have improved though since the early days of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. But I don't think it's as good as being published on your own merits, since being published under a book-packager requires the author NOT to talk about his or her book!

theeternalwanderer said...

Indeed, I dearly wish that all writers can be paid much better than what they're being paid for today. While money isn't everything, how can a writer find the inspiration to write when he's worried about paying the bills and sustaining himself and if he/she has a family, support his family?.

When I decided to be a writer, I already knew and am prepared for a tough life ahead. One reason why I didn't want to get into a relationship now is because of this.

I consider short story writing to be more my forte instead of writing long novels. But I am quite discouraged when I read the terms publishers have concerning published short story works for anthologies. All rights to you work belongs to the publisher and you don't get a paid a single sen!

What's the point of me writing a 2000 word story when I don't get paid for it? I just wish publishers would realise this. I know publishers are also in a spot as well, especially if no one is buying the anthologies. For me, I don't really care about royalties as long as I do get some money out of it.

My sister, who published the Book Project 2, was not able to pay the writers because of no one is buying the book. She thought the venture had been a failure and she's avoiding book publishing from now on.

The problem about writers not getting paid is because we don't have our own union that can make this sort of demands. I doubt publishers would like that very much either.

So how?

theeternalwanderer said...

The problem about writers not getting paid is because we don't have our own union that can make this sort of demands. I doubt publishers would like that very much either.

Slight error in the para above. I didn't mean to say writers are not paid at all. Some don't and some do get paid. I meant that writers not getting paid well or getting paid peanuts.

Lydia Teh said...

EW, I read somewhere that the Book Project 1 sold about 3,000 copies. I'm surprised that BP2 is not selling, why launch into BP3 then?

But then again, not all writers/publishers are put off by slow sales of inaugural titles. Perhaps when the series are in place, demand will pick up.

Publishers should pay writers for anthologies. If they're not able to, they should at least give sufficient no. of book copies to make it worth the while. Say, if the going rate for an article is RM200 and the book will be retailed at RM20, then they should 'pay' 10 copies to the writer.

Argus Lou said...

That's a good idea, Lydia. Yeah, if my story is published in an anthology, I wouldn't mind receiving 10 copies of it instead of RM200.

I solemnly promise: When I'm old and reasonably wealthy, I will publish young good writers' short stories and pay them a token sum besides giving them 6 copies each.

I heard that one Malaysian publisher received a RM20,000 grant from a foreign organization but didn't pay any of the writers. Does it cost more than RM15,000 to pay an editor, produce a book and print 3,000 copies?

Yvonne Lee said...

Hi Xeus! Thanks for commenting on my website. Yes, Lydia suggested that perhaps I could be listed in MBR as the author (here) with the most interviews/highlights in a year! Anyway, it's all work and yes, necessary work in order to sell a book.

On the topic of whether contributor should be paid, I think, yes and no.

Yes if the writer is an established name and the publisher is clearly selling the book very well. But if I'm contributing for a charity cause, then I don't mind not getting paid.

On the other hand, if one hasn't got anything published before and this is the only way, well, why not? Sometimes, money is not everything, especially if you're new in the field.

For many first timers, to be published itself is more than enough.

I remember vividly too how my husband used to asked me how was it that I could write for free. I used to contribute frequently to "Letters to the Editor" way before I became a paid writer and now, an author.

In many ways, that 'writing for free' effort was a stepping stone to better things.

Xeus said...

Sharon and Ted, you are right. But isn't it terrible as a writer to sign that sort of contract before the book hits it big, and THEN find out the book is a bestseller and you can't reap the profits?

Eternal Wanderer, I'm a short story writer (so far), and if you look inside Dark City, you'll see the rights belong to me. So it's what you negotiate upfront. Intellectual property will always belong to the writer.

It's also possible to not be a full time starving writer. Like me, you can have a full time job and write in your spare time. (I'm also married.) So you can have your cake and eat it too.

Xeus said...

Lydia, that's actually a good idea. Since everyone is bugging me about Dark City 2 and I've only written 1 chapter (busy writing Billy Lang first), I was thinking of collecting an anthology under the same title with stories from other writers.

BUT I will vet through it very carefully and only good and professionally written stories will make the cut.

I'm thinking of shared percentages.

Xeus said...

Hee hee, Argus, we all know who that is. So would you be willing to contribute to DC2 for a percentage? Or a token sum?

Lydia Teh said...

Series for Dark City : good idea. Will give Russell Lee a run for his money. The ghost story collection I contributed to : if I remember correctly, the editor got 5%, the rest is shared out equally.

Argus Lou said...

Lydia, would you like to help me beta-read my first 3 chapters of a children's novel set in Malaysia?

Yvonne, would your daughter and you be interested in reading it, too?

Would very much appreciate all your comments, critiques and observations.

Argus Lou said...

Yvonne, I used to write 'for free' too when I was a teenager -- letters to the editor. Then I progressed to paid opinion and other pieces in NST, Malay Mail (God bless its lost soul) and Utusan Pelajar. So writing for free is for when we were green and 'horny' to see our names in print.

I think the important thing is for a publisher to first set high standards and then pay the writers a token sum each for an anthology.

Xeus, I'd certainly want to submit stories to your Dark City 2, and ask for RM150 per story and 4 copies of the book (wow, so demanding, hor?), and not ask for percentages (too 'leceh' for us to keep track of). But you might reject all my stories and I'd boo-hoo-hoo for a week...

Xeus said...

Everyone is welcome to contribute, Argus! You can submit that erotic tale of the horny old man and the nurse :) That's a good twist. I liked that one very much.

I have an idea to ask Malini that when she runs the stories for the Star, would she put a footnote that I'm collecting stories for DC2 and the Star readers are welcome to submit to me. All chosen stories will be paid, of course. Think that's a good idea?

Lydia Teh said...

Xeus, yeap, the plug at the end of the serialisation is a good idea. It's better if you provide a url to your website so readers can check for more info.

Argus, I'd love to read your children's novel! Send it in.

Argus Lou said...

Aiyo, Xeus, must you tell the whole world I wrote an erotic story involving an old man and a nurse?! How can it be included in DC2 - sure to get banned! Or I can tone it down, take out the terrible descriptions, you think?

Yes, it's a good idea to tell StarMag readers to send in their short stories. Who knows? You might unearth another Xeus, heh heh.

Lydia, thanks for volunteering to read my first 3 chapters of the children's novel. I will email them to you as soon as I've included some adjustments. Much appreciated.

Xeus said...

Aiyah, writers must be proud what! Besides, you are a pseydonym :), Argus. Can tone down a little lah, but not too much,