Life Plus 70 by Ethan Ellenberg

Photo by StartupStockPhotos on Pixbaby

I’m sure you recognize the provenance of that title—current Copyright law grants authors a term of the author’s life plus seventy years.

It’s an extraordinary grant by any measure and I can’t think of anything comparable in patents or any other system that governs intellectual property.

Copyright, however, is only part of what governs the working lives of authors. Far more consequential are the actual contracts and licenses authors enter into, which, as a practical matter, are the real governors of their creative and financial lives.

In ‘the old days’, when, for the most part, an author’s only recourse was a print book publishing contract with an established book publisher, there weren’t a lot of choices to make. Your income was tied to the success of your book that was in the hands of a traditional book publishing company. When it went out of print, its active life was essentially over.

More choices emerged as authors and their agents gained power and agents began selling translation and movie rights on the author’s behalf, in addition to negotiating the book publishing agreements seeking better terms and fostering competitive bidding.

Now we are in a whole new world. There are different ways to be published and author incomes are coming from a far wider range of sources. The standard book agreement that routinely grants the mainstream book publisher a license for the ‘term of copyright’ has to be reconsidered. If an author can make more money, have more control, and work with many more customers, his/her career decisions are more attractive, but also more complex and consequential.

The first issue to consider is whether mainstream book publishers will consider altering their traditional demand for a license that exists for the term of copyright. There’s no reason for optimism here, but Authors should start thinking about this. It won’t change without awareness and effort. I don’t like to use the word fair, but is it in an author’s interest to license their work for the rest of their life plus 70 years? Wouldn’t a change in this contractual term be hugely significant?

Beyond the term of license itself, one has to consider the Out of Print clause and the behavior of the publishers adjudicating it. I won’t explore all the intricacies at this time, and there has been good progress in this area, but more needs to be done. When small quantities of ebooks or a translation license are the only things keeping a book ‘in print’ and hence not eligible for reversion to the author per the terms of the agreement, things need to change. Publishers have to be more responsive to Out of Print requests. They also need to be more flexible in application of the rules. Books that are no longer performing for them should not go through long periods of decay as they age out, but should be reverted to their authors.

Additionally, as a traditional book contract ages, the original subsidiary rights granted to the publisher should be eligible for reversion, even if the book itself is in print. Whatever the subsidiary rights are, if they are moribund in the publisher’s hands, they should be eligible for reversion to the author.

Beyond what I believe are healthy, necessary changes in the basic terms offered by traditional book publishers, authors need to continue to evaluate the new paradigms that are available to them. These paradigms are already successful and there is reason to believe they will be even more so in the future.

Authors can self publish and having retained all the subsidiary rights, license rights to their books to audio publishers, foreign publishers and film/t.v. companies. There are challenges here to be sure, but the self-publishing paradigm has been proven successful and the most successful self-published authors have sold their rights in all these other formats. Here is where there is a radical change in the legal status of an author’s rights.

If they publish an ebook there is often no term of license and the author can change his/her plans at will. Audio licenses vary in length, with licenses of 3, 5, 7 and 10 years being common. Translation licenses also vary in length, with licenses also of 3, 5, 7 and 10 years. With talent available worldwide, authors can commission their own audio books and translations. Breakthroughs in print on demand technology may someday soon see printed books available inexpensively at all kinds of locations including coffee shops and salons.

To recap, there are a number of key ideas here that every author should be cognizant of in all of his/her dealings:

–Copyright is life + 70. Your work is protected, its value will last longer than your lifetime. Plan for it.

–Non-traditional publishing, retained rights, re-sale of reverted rights, and monitoring your publisher are essential. The active life of your book is no longer a year or two and you are key to managing this part of your career, whether you work with an agent or not

Authors need to organize all their contracts and licenses and realize they are in the intellectual property business, and not just book authors. With ebooks easy to publish and Audio rights in demand, the opportunities are ongoing and inheritable.

lit agent ethan ellenbergEthan Ellenberg opened his literary agency in late 1984 after holding jobs at both Bantam and Berkley/Jove. He is an acknowledged expert on the practical aspects of publishing including the publishing agreement and royalty accounting, and a long time industry observer and author advocate. His opinion and educational pieces have appeared in the newsletter of Novelists, Inc., the Romance Writer’s Report, and a number of F&W guides to publishing. His new venture is called Royalty Reminder, an author services company that helps writers and their heirs to store, manage, and monetize their intellectual property.

No Wasted Ink Writers Links


Happy Monday!  No Wasted Ink is back with another top ten writing articles for your enjoyment.  It is time to pour yourself a cup of coffee and sit back and relax.  I hope you enjoy the article selection this week.

Memoir Writing: 7 Questions to Help you Get Past the Surface and Deepen Reflection

Truths about Publishing You Can Only Learn in the Trenches

7 Tips for a Successful Relationship with Your Book Cover Designer

Procrastination is a Self-Perpetuating Cycle: 9 Tips for Getting Unstuck

Unsnagging Your Plot

Lessons From The Maze Runner’s Point of View Disaster

5 Myths About Writing Characters

How To Make Your Audiobook Work For You

What to Do if Your Book Cover Sucks

6 Top Tips to Build Writing Focus with Pavlov and Pomodoros

Author Interview: Seth Ring

Author Seth Ring is an up and coming science fiction writer.  I am pleased to feature him here on No Wasted Ink.

Author Seth RingMy name is Seth Ring, I’m a writer based out of Pennsylvania, in the USA. I’m married and have two children. No pets right now, though I have ambitions to get a cat. I try to send my wife cute cat pictures whenever I can but no luck so far. I grew up moving around a lot and spent a good amount of the first half of my life overseas, in Ghana, West Africa. I also grew up without a TV, so for entertainment, I read constantly. I have a day job that supports my family and have only recently started releasing my writing into the world for other people.

When I started writing I released all of my stories as serial web novels for people to read for free. Around September of 2018, I transitioned to Patreon where I have a growing community of supporters who are interested in exploring the world of Nova Terra with me and the characters of my books. Rather than wait until my books are completely done, I post as I write to get feedback on how things are going. My patrons also get to contribute to the story by helping me decide how things will turn out.

When and why did you begin writing?

I began writing about three years ago as a way to help deal with my depression. As much as it might sound like it, I am in no way a tortured artist. Instead, I find that my stories come from a place of joy and deep gratefulness for what I have. The power of a story to transport the reader to a different, magical world is one that I find deeply satisfying. I try, as much as is possible, to produce that in my own writing. Writing, for me, has been a process of showing the hope that I feel. Our world can often look and feel broken, but there is hope in it and I want to share that with other people.

Ever since I was little I’ve loved exploring stories with other people and my writing is really just an extension of that.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I first considered myself a writer when people started discussing what a character was feeling in a story that I had put out on the internet. I had uploaded it on a whim, not expecting anything in particular, but a number of comments made me realize that the characters were good enough that people were able to invest. If a writer can create a character that people care about, then they are a writer in my head.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

This past December (2018) I released the first book in the Nova Terra series, Nova Terra: Titan. It is part of the GameLit subgenre of Science Fiction and revolves around Xavier Lee, a young man with disabilities who is sent to live inside a virtual reality game called Nova Terra. As with all stories, the main character embarks on a journey of discovery to figure out his place in this world. The game’s setting is fantasy, so it is a fun blend of future tech and swinging swords. In my opinion, the most fun part of the story is the interactions between Thorn and the other players that he meets in Nova Terra.

I am also currently getting close to finishing Book #2 in the series and have already posted up through Chapter #23 on my Patreon. I don’t have a release date for Book #2 yet, but it should be coming out in the spring.

What inspired you to write this book?

A google search. I had been watching a documentary on the strongest men in the world and ran across the name of Robert Wadlow, who is considered the tallest man to have lived. Because of my background, I started wondering how a computer would treat someone that tall in a full-immersion virtual reality game. The rest wrote itself.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I find my descriptions tend to be short and to the point, not littered with extra words. I try, as much as possible, to show that the characters are real people, who react in real ways to their world. Last, I believe strongly that language should be evocative, bringing the feelings of the characters from the page into the mind of the reader.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

Picking Nova Terra: Titan as my title was not intentional or even particularly well thought out. Instead, I had intended for this book to be a short story and was planning a series about the world that would be written with different main characters. I labeled the original manuscript Nova Terra: Titan to indicate who the main character is. Then, instead of moving on to a different story, my main character kept having more adventures. I plan on keeping the first two words for the next books so they will be titled Nova Terra: [something].

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

If I could convey one thing through my stories, it would be that no matter what your experiences, no matter how dark the world might seem, there is hope. Hope for life, hope for improvement, hope that things can be better. In a way, I feel that books naturally draw us into a different world where we can see the world clearly, where we can see the hope. Often in life, it is really hard to see through the fog created by our experiences and feelings. I just want to reassure my readers that there is life on the other side of that cloud. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl tells us that humans need a purpose to live and that without it we face nothing but oblivion. Hope is the vehicle that carries us from the present toward that purpose.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Partially. I wish I could answer with a resounding yes, but sadly, the technology for full-immersion VR does not yet exist. Maybe someday. However, it is important to realize that there is little fundamental difference in the human experience. We all suffer to varying degrees. We all have to deal with disappointment, with broken relationships, with difficult challenges. The emotion that my character’s feel is real in the sense that I have felt it before. I think that is what allows us to resonate with them and to understand their choices.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

Growing up I read a lot of Louis L’amour and Georgette Heyer, two drastically different writers. Louis L’amour was a pulp western writer who was known for his short, clipped, action-focused writing and the way he showed the character of his heroes and villains rather than telling it. Very different from Louis L’amour, Georgette Heyer wrote the most wonderful Regency Romances. In fact, many credit Heyer for popularizing the genre. Heyer had a particular knack for writing out conversation that revealed the inner workings of her character’s minds without being obvious. Add to that my adoration of G. K. Chesterton’s ability to invoke feeling through language and you have my three biggest influences.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

Absolutely, though writing is not something that he does full time. My father has always encouraged me to write the truth which was highly influential in how my writing style has developed. We can write difficult things, so long as they are true things. We can show the world for what it is, so long as we do not distort it for our own agenda. We can write about darkness so long as we show that light exists as well.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

Originally, the cover for my book was put together by someone on one of the sites that I was using to post my book. However, they had used some images that were not available for reuse, so I took the cover to Fiverr and a lovely lady from Germany recreated it for me at a great price.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write every day. Come join the #5amWritersClub on twitter. If you have to work at 5 am, get up an hour earlier. Don’t worry about crafting something perfect, instead, write something silly. Write something that brings a smile to your face. Write something that sparks joy in you. If you enjoy it, you’ll do it. If you enjoy it, someone else will as well. Practice hard, practice often, and as you do your craft will get better and better.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I can’t stress how appreciative I am of their continued support. Especially those that have joined me on Patreon to explore Nova Terra. We’re having a lot of fun and it is adding a dimension of enjoyment to my writing that I never imagined could exist when I started writing.

New Terra - Titan Book CoverSeth Ring
Lancaster, PA


Nova Terra: Titan

Cover Artist: GermanCreative


No Wasted Ink Writers Links


Happy Monday! It is time for another batch of writers links here on No Wasted Ink.  This week I have a nice grab bag of articles for you, from general writing tips, creating languages for your fantasy novel and a bit about the importance of having an author website.  Enjoy!

Secret-Keepers: Generate Page-Turning, Nerve-Shredding Tension

7 Ways to Defend Yourself from Writing Coach Scams

Are You Tethered to the Wrong Story?

New Writing Scams to Look Out for in 2019

Jack Kerouac On Writing

A Field Guide to Six Infectious YA Clichés

7 Online Resources for Creating Fantasy Languages

The Importance of Having a (Well-Designed) Author Website

What Writers Need to Know About Hooks

How to Create an Easy Habit of Daily Writing Without Willpower

Author Interviews * Book Reviews * Essays * Writer's Links * Scifaiku

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