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Zer Netmouse
October 7th, 2008
02:12 pm

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Crazy Idea Number 46: Authors Should Get a Copy of Their Work
What's that you say? This isn't a crazy idea? I mean, you're an author, you sold your story to an anthology and you have a copy of it right there in your hot little hand!

Riiight.

So, when you get really popular and someone wants to make a Collected Work of You, you can just take that nice little anthology made out of dead trees, pop it in the Republishizer, and off you go, right?

Hmmm, well, actually, you'll probably take the last copy of the story that you had on your computer or in typed manuscript form, typos and incorrect name of the main character's cousin and all, and give them that, and then they'll go through the exercise of editing it (again), including sending it to you and having you make and approve corrections (again - hopefully remembering to re-make changes like that name), which you'll send back to them (probably without keeping a copy), then they'll put it on another set of slices of mashed dead tree, and send you a few, bound and ready to read.

And you still won't have a clean, reprintable (by which I mean electronic fulltext, preferably at least .rtf) copy of your work.

Odds are, if you are an author, unless you've sold work into an electronic market you can copy yourself (and have done so), you don't have a workable electronic copy of the end product of any of your work. This is partly because the process of editing is not viewed as the collaborative art form that it is. You sell the story, or the rights to publish a book, to a publisher, and they clean it up (you help) and publish it. You own the copyright, if all is well. It says so right there on the inside cover. You just don't get a copy back of the final version, except in print.

So if and when the publishing rights revert to you, say, after the magazine is on the rack, or the book goes out of print, and you want to reprint your story or book, or you want to put it up online, maybe to get some more money from it or at least let your loyal readers read it, what do you have? A diamond in the rough. A mid-process manuscript.

[If your publisher is still in business, your reprint publisher can possibly negotiate with them for a copy of it, sure. If they still know where it is, which they probably do. Or they can OCR a print copy of it. And then proof that, because the process is not perfect.]

Your publishers are not maliciously cheating you - this process is simply a holdover from when the printed copy *was* the final copy, when print was done from a bunch of little pieces of type that were not saved in that particular configuration after the print run was, well, run. And some authors still don't ahem, own computers, and so would not necessarily appreciate having an electronic copy of their own text. But they are becoming the minority. You, the majority, should have a computer-readable copy of your work.

I'm not entirely sure, but I suspect that all you have to do is ask. It's worth trying, at least. (Let me know how it goes). Failing that, you might at least stipulate it in future contracts, so you get a copy of your future work. I mean, everybody has enough to do without editing the same thing over and over again, eh? I thought so.

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From:autopope
Date:October 7th, 2008 06:53 pm (UTC)
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I've been there and asked.

Ace can offer me typeset files -- for $200 a pop, because they don't own them, they outsourced the typesetting ages ago.

On the other hand, I've had good luck asking my fans to email me a DRM-cracked ebook edition of my own work :)
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From:netmouse
Date:October 7th, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC)
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Have you tried it with Asimov's or any of the other magazines?
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From:autopope
Date:October 7th, 2008 07:30 pm (UTC)
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Nope. Never felt the need to. I should add, Asimov's, F&SF and Analog are available via Fictionwise.com in DRM-free electronic editions, so as long as I remembered to spring for $5 or so in the month of publication ...

Edited at 2008-10-07 07:31 pm (UTC)
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From:netmouse
Date:October 7th, 2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
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... you could pay for a copy of your own story.
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From:shsilver
Date:October 7th, 2008 07:00 pm (UTC)
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In preparation for the Lester del Rey project I'm working on, I wound up with electronic copies of all his short stories, which I've offered to his estate's agent, once I get them cleaned up.
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From:netmouse
Date:October 8th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
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very cool.
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From:dd_b
Date:October 7th, 2008 08:58 pm (UTC)
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I believe lots of publishers are still in the position of never having a copy of the final work in electronic form; that happens only at their typesetting contractor.
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From:netmouse
Date:October 8th, 2008 03:14 pm (UTC)
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hmm... it's looking like the solution we need is partly technical - to convince both the industry and the industry's software designers that we *need* a laid-out-text - to - rich-text converter.
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From:elaine_brennan
Date:October 7th, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
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There's a further difficulty -- even if somebody gets a copy of the typeset file, they're still going to be dependent on having (or being able to find somebody who has) the appropriate program to open and read that file at the time they want to do something else with the text. And that's not always possible.

What (I think, at least!) authors need is to receive (or be able to easily have created from a typesetting file) a marked up version of their file that indicates typesetting specifics, whether they're bold, italic, forced page breaks, or whatever, but does so in a hardware-neutral, vendor-neutral, program-neutral, way that extends the usable lifetime of that file.

But then, I'm a markup geek, and thinking about the long-term usability and viability of electronic files is in my blood!
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From:netmouse
Date:October 8th, 2008 03:15 pm (UTC)
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A lot of the typesetting software can at least publish to .pdf, which isn't perfect, but is a step in the right direction.
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From:minkrose
Date:October 7th, 2008 10:45 pm (UTC)
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I come at this from an entirely different angle.

I have a myriad of vision problems, which manifested as not being able to read text for longer than 1.5 hours in my last year of school. I was able to get my resources on campus (the helpful folks for students with disabilities) to to request PDF files of the entire book to be sent to me on CD so that I could make the text whatever size I liked. Also, Adobe Reader will actually read it out loud (in a computer voice but still!!) as long as it is text and not a scanned copy.
This was a four-pound book on literary criticism, for reference. Lots of essays by different people.

They did this free of charge - at least, I paid nothing and I'm sure they would have billed me. Surely it can't be much harder for other stuff? They had the PDFs because that's what they send to the publisher, is my understanding.

But maybe other places do it differently. Anyway, I had a very easy experience with this.
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From:mabfan
Date:October 8th, 2008 02:01 am (UTC)
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But what format would you want? A PDF isn't editable unless you have Adobe Acrobat, and I doubt many writers would know what to do with InDesign files.
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From:autopope
Date:October 8th, 2008 10:23 am (UTC)
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Well, this writer is married to a sub-editor/typesetter with an InDesign workstation, but I take your point ...
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