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Derivative and Series

August 22, 2010

The Harry Potter Series

As many of you know, I’m writing a trilogy. It was supposed to be one book, but I realized early that I would never fit the whole thing into one book. I’m even wondering if I should write four books instead of three. I’m not so overly hung on advances if I’d get a deal, but the one thing I would absolutely insist on would be to keep the rights of all derivative works.

I’m not sure how common it is to negotiate the derivative rights, but according to Morris Rosenthal, it’s very common that authors loose those rights. In the section about Grant of Rights, he says:

“Here the author grants the publisher the right to publish the work, as protected by copyright law. For most authors this means the exclusive worldwide rights, including all derivative works, etc. While it’s not in the interests of the author to give up anything without negotiation, the publisher is frequently in a better position than the author to exploit these rights (such as publishing translations), which will result in further payments to the author. If the author believes the work is likely to become a smash TV hit or the next big Christmas toy, the derivative rights could be the plum of the book contract.”

Now, I’m not really thinking about Myrkvera action-heroes or stuff like that, but I want to be able to write more books in the fantasy land I created, even if the publisher doesn’t want to publish more. I want to use the characters, creatures, and towns. I also want to be able to put deleted scenes and such on my website after the series have been published. The thought of someone owning my creation in a way that denies me the right to play with it without the consent of a publishing house just scares me. Cut the advance, cut the marketing budget, but let me keep the rights to the derivative works.

Okay, I sort of lunged into that, but it wasn’t what I was going to write at all! This is what sometimes  happens when my fingers touch the magical keyboard. I meant to write about standalones in series. The Lord of the Rings are not standalone books. You have to read the first before you read the second. A month ago I thought my series would end up that way. I mean, I have four teenagers trapped in another world, and they don’t get home at the end of first book (I’m not really giving away any spoilers by saying this). How can that be a standalone book?

Maybe I’m misunderstanding the whole concept of standalone books in a series. The way I understand it, it’s like the Harry Potter books. Harry goes to school in each book (except for the last one), follows the plot thread, completes the task at the end, and then goes back to the Dursley’s. They all have a solid ending. You don’t get the whole details and hints from the first books if you haven’t read them, but you generally get the idea if you start by reading The Goblet of Fire.

Then there are books like the House of Night series, where Zoey goes to a school for fledgling vampires. At the start of every single book after the first, Zoey lists up things that have happened in the past books and it irritates me so much. Possibly because I read the first five books in one sitting. Still, it bugged me. Will I have to do that to make my books standalones? I mean, who picks up a book in a middle of a series and reads it before reading book nr. 1?

Michelle Zink, author of Prophecy of the Sisters, wrote an article for WriteOnCon on the subject. She has the same kind of thoughts I’ve been having about ending each book. She even talks about Lord of the Rings and how her books had to be a continuation of the book before. Exactly like my musings.

She talks about how some readers send her an angry email because of an unsatisfied ending, even though many readers just take it as it is. She says she’s come to terms with it and it doesn’t bother her so much anymore. That gives me time to prepare and expect the expected, since she ended the article with this:

“And honestly? If I have to choose between giving a reader an ending that makes them go, “ Wow. Cool,” and one that makes them go, “WHAT?!”, I will take the latter every time. I guess you could say that with books – as in life – I will happily choose the mysterious and winding road over the straight and narrow path. Even if it means the occasional angry email.”

When I was at the conference, I kind of held my breath while I was reading that article. I thought she’d preach about how you have to have a satisfying ending to each novel in the series. I had no idea how to have such an ending (don’t get me wrong: it has an ending, a good one, but at the very end I leave the reader at a bit of a cliffy – nothing huge, but it left my editor wondering if she’d gotten the whole manuscript or if there was a chapter I’d left out). I was so relieved when I read what she wrote.

How cool is it to be able to learn from published authors?

Anyway, in case the future agent/publisher would prefer the House of Night style, I did weave important details from the first book into the first chapter of the second book (Book of White). It didn’t turn out too badly. It was fluent. It made sense. I’m going to keep it until I’ve made a final decision on how to deal with this matter.

One last note, completely unrelated: I pre-ordered a Kindle reader! I’m so excited, but I have no idea when I’ll get it. I also bought a leather case – that way it’ll be protected and have a booky feel to it when I flip it open to read.

I decided to purchase a Kindle because it costs so much to order a book from Amazon and have it shipped to Iceland. For a normal paperback costing $7, they’ll add roughly $8 dollars for shipping and handling. Then there’s 10% import tax, and 7% VAT (they’re considering raising it to 25% on books to try to get us out of the recession. Hello! Common sense here. Higher VAT = less buying). That makes one measly paperback a little under 18 dollars! If I buy more books in one shipping, I have to pay extra $4 for each book. Compare that to buying the same book for a final price of 5-6 dollars.

I bought a Kindle for $140 + roughly $8 for shipping and handling. 10% tax + 25% VAT (for electronic products) makes $204 the final price. I’m taking English (BA) at uni and there are a lot of old books to read (all of whom are free for Kindle!). This semester alone I have to read Jane Eyre (already read it – looooved it) and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. That’s $16 saved 🙂 There are even more old books to read next year.

It’ll pay off in no time 😉

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From → Finding an Agent

2 Comments
  1. Poured Water permalink

    Caroline, is that you?? why did you broke up with me?? i’m crying now, are you happy???

  2. No, my name is not Caroline. I’m sorry you got broken up with. I hope it’ll get better soon.

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