Let’s talk about publishing: contracts

New small presses explicitly targeting the furry market have been springing up over the last few years, while some of our older presses have been producing more titles. Meanwhile, the number of furry authors has grown steadily. Submission calls that might have received only a couple dozen submissions even three years ago receive three or four times that in mid-2016.

As fantastic as this growth is, the furry publishing scene is still tiny. Not only do writers know each other, writers tend to know publishers and vice-versa. For the most part, we’re all friends with one another, and we’re all figuring out this “creating a market” thing as we go. As far as I know, all the editors and publishers in furrydom became editors and publishers by fiat; some of us might have worked at college presses, but I’m not aware of anyone who worked for a major fiction publishing house or periodical, even as a slush reader. A lot of business gets conducted in…let’s call it a relaxed fashion.

As it turns out, “handshake contracts” are surprisingly common in the literary small press world, particularly poetry journals that pay in contributors’ copies rather than money, to the point where there’s a de facto industry standard for it. But when money changes paws, it’s important for both parties to nail down exactly what they expect of one another.

So let’s talk about contracts. What a publishing contract should do is fairly straightforward:

  • Define the rights the author grants the publisher. In most cases, these are first publication rights—the story hasn’t been published anywhere else, including archive sites like Fur Affinity—with limited exclusivity: after an amount of time given in the contract passes, the author can publish the story somewhere else that accepts reprints. A six-month period of exclusivity is typical. (Note that magazines buy serial rights, but books and anthologies buy rights to a geographical region: North American rights, World rights, etc. You’re free to sell the book again to other publishers outside that geographical region; this is why novels often have different publishers in the US and Europe.)
  • Define the amount the publisher is paying for those rights, how they’re paying it (check, Paypal, doubloons, etc.), and when they’re paying it. If you’re being paid by the word, the total amount you’re being paid should be specified here. Some contracts specify payment on acceptance; many specify it on publication. In either case, the contract should give a window (“within 30 days of publication”).
  • Cover appropriate electronic and subsidiary rights. If the contract allows the publisher to archive your work indefinitely on a web site, do you have the right to withdraw it after a certain length of time? If this is a novel, are you granting the publisher rights to produce the ebook? (Some authors, like Kyell Gold, self-publish their ebooks.) What about any other subsidiary rights, like audiobooks?
  • Give the publisher a deadline, so they can’t sit on the work indefinitely (“if the publisher fails to produce Great Furry Stories within one year of the execution date of this contract, rights revert back to the author”).
  • Guarantee approval over content editing changes. The publisher should be able to fix spelling errors without running them by you, but not change your grizzled Vietnam vet protagonist to a twelve-year-old kid.
  • In furry, it’s not unheard of for authors to end up paying for art out of their own pocket and have the publisher repay them. If you do this, get the reimbursement amount of the art in the contract, too, even if it has to be a single-paragraph addendum.

What a publishing contract shouldn’t do is also straightforward: it shouldn’t take any more rights than necessary, and it shouldn’t leave anything significant undefined. If the answer to “when do I get paid” or “when can I sell reprint rights to this story or put it up for my fans on FA” isn’t answered by the contract, there’s a problem. And it shouldn’t ask you to assign exclusive rights in perpetuity. (Carefully consider assigning even non-exclusive rights in perpetuity, especially for a flat rate.)

The SFWA Model Magazine Contract runs 8 pages, but there’s extensive annotation explaining each clause—and a few somewhat unusual clauses. In practice, most publishing contracts, at least for magazines and anthologies, don’t need to run more than a couple pages.

If you’re concerned about a clause in a contract, ask. If you’d like a clause changed, bring it up with your publisher and explain why. Contracts are negotiations, not “take it or leave it” propositions. And if a publisher insists on a clause you’re worried about, bring it up with the Guild. We may not be able to negotiate on your behalf, but we can let other members know about potential issues.

And one more thing. Contracts should be signed before work starts. Before the publisher sends the author any money, before the publisher starts going back and forth with the author on editorial changes, and for the love of Judy Hopps, before the publication goes on sale. If your story is a month away from publication and you haven’t seen a contract, ask the publisher. Better yet, ask when it’s two months away.

I suspect the advice in this column may make some publishers tear their fur out, and I’m sorry. But I’ve been sent contracts when—or even after—books and magazines went on sale. Sometimes I’ve never received a contract. As far as I can tell, my experience isn’t unusual. The more the furry publishing scene grows, the greater chance being lackadaisical has of causing serious problems for publishers, writers, or both.

Because we are all friends with one another, this subject can be hard to talk about. But getting contracts right helps everyone, publishers and writers alike.

I’ll talk about other considerations for publishing in other articles, including marketing, production and editorial. These are good for writers to know—and it’s good for writers if publishers know them, too.

Book of the Month: Gods With Fur

July 2016’s Book of the Month is Gods With Fur, a new anthology edited by Fred Patten and published by FurPlanet.

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Art by Teagan Gavet

From the very beginning, mankind has found the divine in the shape of animals from across the world. Deities such as Ganesha, Coyote, Anubis, and The Monkey King—even Zeus took to the wing from time to time. In ancient Egyptian deserts, misty Central American rainforests, and across wind swept tundra, man has forever told stories of gods with fur, feathers, scales, or tusks.

Gods With Fur features twenty-three new stories of divine animals working their will upon the land. You may recognize gods such as Bastet, while other stories see authors working in their familiar worlds, such as M. R. Anglin’s Silver Foxes books or Kyell Gold’s Forester University books. Others are set in new worlds where the anthropomorphic gods have tales to tell us. We are proud to present this new furry view of divinity.

The majority of contributions in Gods With Fur are from FWG members. The full table of contents:

  • “400 Rabbits,” Alice “Huskyteer” Dryden
  • “Contract Negotiations,” Field T. Mouse
  • “On the Run from Isofell,” M. R. Anglin
  • “To the Reader…,” Alan Loewen
  • “First Chosen,” BanWynn Oakshadow
  • “All Of You Are In Me,” Kyell Gold
  • “Yesterday’s Trickster,” NightEyes DaySpring
  • “The Gods of Necessity,” Jefferson Swycaffer
  • “The Precession of the Equinoxes,” Michael H. Payne
  • “Deity Theory,” James L. Steele
  • “Questor’s Gambit,” Mary E. Lowd
  • “Fenrir’s Saga,” Televassi
  • “The Three Days of the Jackal,” Samuel C. Conway
  • “A Melody in Seduction’s Arsenal,” Slip-Wolf
  • “Adversary’s Fall,” MikasiWolf
  • “As Below, So Above,” Mut
  • “Wings of Faith,” Kris Schnee
  • “The Going Forth of Uadjet,” Frances Pauli
  • “That Exclusive Zodiac Club,” Fred Patten
  • “Three Minutes To Midnight,” Killick
  • “A Day With No Tide,” Watts Martin
  • “Repast (A Story of Aligare),” Heidi C. Vlach
  • “Origins,” Michael D. Winkle

Guild news, July 2016

New members

Welcome to our newest members, Mut and Invisiblewolf! If you’re not a member of the Guild and you’d like more information, read our membership guidelines.

Member news

Several publications with contributions from FWG members are premiering at Anthrocon 2016 over the June 30–July 4 weekend, including Gods With Fur (published by FurPlanet, edited by Fred Patten), FANG 7 (published by FurPlanet), ROAR 7 (published by FurPlanet, edited by Mary Lowd), Altered States (published, again, by FurPlanet, edited by Ajax B. Coriander, Kodiak Malone and Andres Cyanni Halden), and Sofawolf’s Heat #13. In addition, Fragments of Life’s Heart (published by Weasel Press, edited by Laura “Munchkin” Lewis and Stefano “Mando” Zocchi) will be premiering later this month.

Tempe O’Kun’s new novel Sixes Wild: Echoes (published by FurPlanet) will also be premiering at Anthrocon 2016.

Rechan sold a piece to Tarl “Voice” Hoch’s untitled science fiction horror anthology.

Mary E. Lowd’s (non-furry) story “Birthing Class” was published in Theme of Absence.

Frances Pauli’s story “Domestic Violence” was accepted in the Domestic Velociraptor anthology.

Madison Keller released her novella The Dragon Tax on Amazon; this is an expansion of her story from the RainFurrest 2015 program book.

Kris Schnee has entered his novel The Digital Coyote into Amazon’s “Kindle Scout” program, a competition for a publication contract.

M.C.A. Hogarth released her novel Only the Open, the fourth book in her Princes’ Game series.

Market news

Ongoing: Fred Patten’s next anthology for FurPlanet, The Dogs of War, is looking for original furry military-themed stories “preferably of 4,000 to 20,000 words.” The emphasis should be on military actions, not politics; Fred notes that despite the title, he’s looking for all kinds of anthropomorphic animals, not just dogs. Payment: ½¢ per word, on publication. Deadline: October 1, 2016. (Read the submission call.)

ROAR 8, FurPlanet’s annual general audience anthology, will again be edited by Mary E. Lowd. Next year’s theme is “Paradise.” It will be open for submissions from September 1, 2016 through February 1, 2017. (Read the submission call.)

Laura “Munchkin” Lewis’s charity poetry anthology, Civilized Beasts, is accepting submissions for a 2016 volume.

Remember to keep an eye on the Calls for Submissions thread on the forum, as well as other posts on the Publishing and Marketing forum.

Guild news

Want to hang out and talk shop with other furry writers? Come join us in the forum shoutbox for the Coffeehouse Chats, Thursdays at 12 p.m. Eastern. More info on the Coffeehouse Chats is here. (Remember, our forums are open to everyone, not just FWG members. Come register and join the conversation!)

Elsewhere on the Internet, we have a Goodreads group with a bookshelf featuring books by our members. Feel free to add any members’ books we’ve missed so far (see the instructions here on how to do that).

Remember, we’re always open for guest blog post submissions from FWG members! See our guidelines for the details.

Have a creative and successful month! If you have news, suggestions, or other feedback to share, send an email to furwritersguild@gmail.com, or leave a comment below.

Member Spotlight: Rob Baird

1. Tell us about your most recent project (written or published). What inspired it?

I’ve been working on a short story cycle that follows the residents of a fictional small town on the Oregon coast. Cannon Shoals is typical of such towns, intimate but clannish, full of people who are trying to balance their dreams against the reality of economic depression and the sense that the world is passing them by. I was inspired by my summers spent in the Santiam Valley, and all the little towns you drive through on winding, lonely highways — places where the water dried up or the railroad left or the mill closed and things just, as the poem goes, “fell apart.” Yeats was talking about the cataclysm of the Great War, but I think that for many places the apocalypse is more subtle and more drab. There are a lot of interesting stories to tell there.

2. What’s your writing process like? Are you a “pantser,” an outliner, or something in between?

I believe in outlines. I say “believe” because it is something like faith! Generally when I start I try to know roughly where I’m going, even if I don’t end up getting there. I find it hard to begin writing with an empty page.

3. What’s your favorite kind of story to write?

My favorite kind of story is the kind where world-curious, upbeat animal-folk learn that there are few problems one cannot solve through the twin powers of good-natured optimism and clever banter. A lot of my stories are ones where I count it as a success if my readers come away with a smile, a lifted mood, and knowing some obscure bit of trivia that they didn’t know before.

4. Which character from your work do you most identify with, and why?

Teobas Franklyn starts my story An Iron Road Running as a starry-eyed, irrepressible kid on his first day of his dream job working on a railroad. Over the course of the novel, the work becomes more trying and he finds himself well out of his depth, but by keeping his wits about him he matures into someone people look to for help, guidance, and solutions to difficult problems. Teo, who ends the story still excited and optimistic, but with his optimism guided by world-wisdom, is the kind of person I’d like to grow up and become.

5. Which authors or books have most influenced your work?

Robert Heinlein and Rudyard Kipling, for the knack they have at celebrating and lauding individuals with indomitable spirits. Other golden-age SF writers, too: Leiber and Asimov and Cordwainer Smith. I know they seem archaic and even naïve now but I feel like that sense of optimism and grand adventure needs to be recaptured. That we should look with wonder and excitement to every new horizon; that frontiers still await us, be they physical or technological or scientific or philosophical — and that, moreover, through ingenuity and dedication and willpower and intellect, such frontiers are our birthright. Furry is such a singularity of great writers that it’s hard to name specific ones in fandom, but pretty much every time I sit down at a keyboard I wish I could write like Huskyteer and Cinnamon, or that I had the same honed gift for ideas as Rechan and Kyell Gold. Those are really the furry authors I look up to and who influence me.

Continue reading

Member Spotlight: Amy Fontaine

1. Tell us about your most recent project (written or published). What inspired it?

I have a novel, Mist, forthcoming from Thurston Howl Publications. It’s not recently written, as I first wrote it a few years ago – back when I was in high school! But it’s a “recent” or more accurately a current project because I’m going to be working on it over the coming year as we prepare it for publication.

I never really knew what inspired Mist until I dug through an old journal and realized that before I started writing or even outlining the book I had a dream about five animals made of mist in this gray, veiled, mysterious place:  a wolf, a stag, a hare, a lynx, and a snake. Those animals ended up representing the five main characters of Mist, though the hare later morphed into a mongoose. The wonders of the subconscious mind!

2. What’s your writing process like? Are you a “pantser,” an outliner, or something in between?

Amy Fontaine - wolphicornIt really depends on the project. With short stories, I tend to get an idea and then just run with it and see what happens. Sometimes I know exactly where I’m going and sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I think I do and then the story has its own plan. With novels, I like to have more of an outline and a sense of the overarching structure before I begin. But it’s still somewhat fluid, and I am often surprised.

Poems usually come in sporadic bursts, like desert monsoons, and get refined later.

3. What’s your favorite kind of story to write?

I like to write speculative fiction – stories that ask questions, pose “What if?” scenarios, take the reader on a journey to a place where strange and wondrous things can happen.

4. Which character from your work do you most identify with, and why?

Hmm. This is a hard one. They are all their own people/creatures, but they all have little pieces of me inside them I suppose.

I can relate to the dragon narrator of “The Monster’s Story”, published in A Menagerie of Heroes (the RainFurrest 2015 Charity Anthology). He has such a wealth of love in his heart and just wants to be generous and kind. In the end the world uses that against him, though, in a sense, his love helps him to transcend it.

5. Which authors or books have most influenced your work?

Growing up, I loved the Harry Potter series, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the Animorphs series, and The Last Unicorn. I also loved fiction and nonfiction about animals, including works by Jean Craighead George, Gary Paulsen, and Jack London. I think this amalgamation caused me to want to write stories involving magic and animals. A lot of my writing thus far has involved those two elements.

The Last Unicorn, The Lord of the Rings, and Animorphs also gave me an interest in stories with bittersweet, ambiguous endings. I don’t usually favor neatly tied-up happy endings. Such stories don’t haunt me. They don’t continue to live and breathe in my brain. And they aren’t consistent with reality.

Poetry-wise, Mary Oliver, Rainer Maria Rilke, William Stafford, and Naomi Shihab Nye are a few of my biggest influences.

6. What’s the last book you read that you really loved?

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It’s a surreal, beautiful, richly detailed fantasy love story.

7. Besides writing, how do you like to spend your free time?amy fontaine

I am a wildlife biologist, so I spend a lot of my time chasing animals around. I also like to draw and play musical instruments, neither well. I enjoy reading about anything from astronomy to comparative mythology. I love traveling and exploring and seeing the world.

And I pray, because I am continually astounded and humbled by the universe and I’m grateful to be one small part of it.

8. Advice for other writers?

Don’t give up. If you love to write, make time for that passion in your life. If you want to be published, don’t let rejection stop you. Listen with an open mind to suggestions, refine and improve your craft, and keep trying.

Most importantly, daydream and have fun.

9. Where can readers find your work?

My author website is in the works, but for now, you can find a few samples of my work through my page on Goodreads. Contact me there if you’re interested in reading more!

10. What’s your favorite thing about the furry fandom?

I am a relative newcomer to the furry fandom, so I have never been to any conventions, nor am I a member of any furry websites other than the FWG forum. But I would love to attend a convention someday and meet others who share my interest in anthropomorphic animal characters.

What I like so far about this fun, dynamic place is its vibrant creativity, its diversity, its inclusiveness and friendliness, and its wonderful ways of combining two of my favorite things – fantasy and animals.

 

Check out Amy Fontaine’s member bio here!

Guest post from Kyell Gold: “Deciding which scenes to keep”

When you write a first draft, you shouldn’t be thinking about scene-level editing. There are times when you might think, “oh, I want to write this scene but I probably won’t use it,” but go ahead and write it. At the worst, it’s an exercise in writing. It might reveal something about your character that doesn’t come up elsewhere, but that you’ll know. At best, you might find a place for it in the story and it might add new depth.

But how do you know? You won’t know until you know what your story’s about, what the character journey is and what you want to convey to the reader. Then every scene in your story should advance character or plot (ideally both). In science fiction and fantasy (and furry stories sometimes) you can get away with a scene that is mostly worldbuilding, but it’s best to work the worldbuilding into plot or character advancement.

A great way to figure this out is to summarize each of your scenes in a sentence: “Lee discusses his future job prospects with his former boss.” Then figure out how each of the scenes connects to the others. Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park use that method, and they say that in every case, the word connecting your scenes should be either “therefore” or “but.” If you can only connect the scenes with “and then,” that means that the previous scene isn’t flowing into the next one, and you’re going to lose some of the story’s energy.

For example:

“Lee discusses his future job prospects with his former boss.”

THEREFORE

“Lee contacts some people but gets a lot of rejections.”

THEREFORE

“Lee goes to see his boyfriend to cheer himself up.”

BUT THEN

“Lee’s boyfriend is unsympathetic because he’s preoccupied with his own problems.”

Those scenes all flow nicely into each other and connect well. You can then look at the overall theme: is this story about Lee’s job or his relationship? If it’s more about the job, then maybe going back to his boyfriend and going down that road isn’t the right way to go; it’s putting too much weight on the boyfriend. At that point maybe you’d want Lee to talk to another co-worker instead, or maybe visit something else related to his job. Maybe you could have him discover that he has worth beyond his job, or find another way to do his job. Whatever your story’s about, every scene should play into that somehow.

So how do you decide whether the scene is important to the character or the plot? Well, every scene should start with your character wanting something, having a goal that’s important either to the plot or to the character development. At the end of the scene, the reader should know if they reached that goal or not. For example, in the above scenes, Lee wants to get a new job. So in the first scene, he gets some contacts from his former boss. In the second, he wants interviews, so he calls a bunch of people, but doesn’t get any interviews. In the third, he wants to feel better about himself, so he goes to look for external validation from his boyfriend. Now, you can look at the wants in those scenes and say, “Is this the way I want the story to go?” For example, if we want the story to be more about Lee’s relationship to his job rather than his boyfriend, we could say, “wanting validation from his boyfriend isn’t important to the story I’m telling right now.”

(It’s also possible to have multiple storylines going on, and so a scene might follow directly from one a few scenes ago. That’s okay as long as each scene has one of those causal relationships to a previous scene. Readers can keep multiple stories in their head, but cluttered stories with scenes that go nowhere make it harder to care about them.)

Ideally you want all your scenes to advance both the plot and the character journey. In the above example, you might decide that actually showing Lee getting a bunch of rejections isn’t necessary to the plot. Then you could skip directly from the conversation with his former boss to going to visit his boyfriend, and drop the information about the rejections into his conversation. “Well, my boss gave me three names and I’ve got three rejections. How was your day?” (for example).

Or you might use the rejections to show Lee’s shift in mood, where he starts the first one happy and upbeat and has gotten beaten down by the last one. This could explain why he’s more snappy than usual when he visits his boyfriend. Maybe one of the people he calls says something prejudiced about foxes that sets him on edge. You have to decide what is most important to the character and the story.

Editing isn’t an easy process, and often you’ll find yourself having to toss out scenes you like a lot. Post them on your site as a deleted scene and explain why you cut them, or just keep them for future reference on your drive. It’s important that they not remain in your story if they’re getting in the way of the story, though. I will say that in general you should err on the side of cutting out scenes, because you are already biased toward keeping all your precious words. Also, your beta readers (beta readers are very important) are much more likely to tell you that something is missing and needs to be added back in than that a scene is unnecessary and needs to be cut.

So examine each scene, ask what it does to advance your plot and character, and if the answer is “not much,” consider cutting the scene and delivering whatever information it provides within another scene. This might be very hard at first, but the more you do it, the more you’ll find your stories are engaging from beginning to end, packed only with scenes that make the reader want to go on to the next one.

An earlier version of this column appeared in Kyell’s April 2016 newsletter.

Book of the Month: Forest Gods

June’s Book of the Month is Forest Gods, the sequel to God of Clay by FWG member Ryan Campbell, and the second in his Fire Bearers trilogy.

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Cover by Zhivago

Kwaee, god of the forest, has turned all his power toward the destruction of the human tribe that he accuses of serving the treacherous fire god Ogya. Seeking reasons for the ancient conflict, Clay and Doto embark on a dangerous journey far outside the forest in search of savanna god Sarmu.

Meanwhile, in the human village, the healer Cloud fights new and terrifying threats from the forest and tries to help her people survive, but at every turn, she must battle prince Laughing Dog, who seeks to turn their king down a path that could lead to the end of humanity.

Along both their journeys lie dangers they never expected—and secrets that may have been better left buried.

Forest Gods is available in print from the publisher, Sofawolf Press, and in print and Kindle ebook from Amazon.