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Warning to authors: unfair contracts

This was first published in the Australian Society of Authors enewsletter. If you have any questions or concerns about your contract, please contact the ASA for assistance.

The ASA is concerned about the increasing number of authors being presented with book publishing contracts which require the author to assign copyright to the publisher. Of particular concern are contracts which:
Seek to have any rights assigned (i.e. transferral of copyright ownership), rather than requiring the author to grant an exclusive licence (i.e. permission for one party to publish the work for a period of time as per contractual terms), according to regular practice
Do not commit the publisher to actually publish the work in the formats described, or exercise assigned rights in any way
Do not offer the author a means through which publishing rights may be reverted to the author on termination of the contract
Include a clause for automatic renewal of the publishing licence once the initial Term concludes
Attempt to control how an author might seek remedy for any breach of contract by the publisher
Requires the author to accept an open-ended indemnity, including full financial compensation to the publisher
Offers lower than industry-standard royalties to authors, usually on ‘net receipts’ rather than RRP.
Contracts of this nature attempt to exploit authors by taking full control of their intellectual property, by subterfuge and/or without offering commensurate financial compensation. While they may ask for no financial contribution to publishing costs, the royalties offered are so low that the author will have limited potential for earnings on any title, even if sales are high. Further, by requiring the author to assign full rights to the publisher, the author has a limited chance of recovering their rights and securing publication under fairer terms and conditions.

The ASA advises that authors contact the ASA office for advice prior to signing the contract, in an instance where a contract requests assignment of copyright.


John Griffin Obituary

By Mike Ladd

Born: July 5, 1935, Boleroo Centre

Died: September 9, 2012, Adelaide.

Poet, playwright and short story writer John Griffin grew up at Hammond in the mid-north of South Australia, the son of a farmer and shop owner. The family farm was often in the grip of drought – John used to joke that Goyder’s line ran “right through the middle of our dining room.” The landscape of the Wilochra plain and the realities of its starve-acre farms are a strong feature of John’s writing. At Hammond primary school he was taught by the Jindiworobak poet Flexmore Hudson, a lucky event which helped begin his lifelong love of poetry and story-telling. The family sold the farm in 1950 and moved to Adelaide where John was already attending Sacred Heart College. John went on to teachers’ college and began a thirty-six year career as a high school teacher. Later he taught at Adelaide College for the Arts in the professional writing course.

John published two books of poetry in the 1970s: A Waltz on Stones (Makar,1974) and Menzies at Evening (Angus and Robertson, 1977). He was also an accomplished radio playwright, penning many plays for the ABC. One of his most successful was One Tango With Juan Peron, starring Robyn Nevin in the lead role. It was about a housewife who had such a vivid fantasy life she actually believed she had an intimate relationship with the famous Argentine president. John Griffin’s stories and radio-plays were often about ordinary people who had a secret somewhere, or a strange fantasy, revealing unexpected depths.

John was one of the driving forces in the early days of South Australia’s long-running Friendly Street poetry reading, and for a brief time was poetry editor of The Advertiser. Along with Peter Goldsworthy, Peter McFarlane, Barry Westburg and me, John was a member of the Hot Seat Writing Group which met at the Left Bank Cafe, long-since demolished. The members of the group helped to edit each other’s work, and despite forthright commentary, stayed good friends.

John’s last book Backyard, was published by Wakefield Press in 1997. Dedicated to his Italian father in law, it’s a collection of humble, illuminating memoirs and poems about a lifetime of gardening. John himself was a humble man. He was the last person to self-promote, though he could be quietly assertive. He leaves behind a significant contribution to South Australian literature.

In his final years John suffered from Lewy Body Dementia and was admitted to Tappeiner Court Nursing Home. He died there just two months after the death of his wife Tina. John is survived by his daughter Emma, and two sons, John and Andrew.

An Essay on Subtext

By Eleanor Scicchitano

Linked under the banner of ‘the liberal arts’, visual art and literature are united in their shared quest to explore, celebrate and create beauty, tragedy and the human condition. At the core of both these traditions is a desire for the creators to tell stories that enable understanding through exploration. The artists who are exhibiting as part of Subtext have chosen to use language and text as a starting point for their works, extending the reach of the written word and its ability to inspire thought and create beauty.

Textile artist and printmaker Barbara Coddington uses a number of techniques to create one-off unique pieces from objects that began life as multiples. Inspired by her work with zines, typically low budget, often-photocopied magazines, she began to hand stich and print onto these papers. This simple action elevates the work to the status of high art object through its newfound unique characteristics. These actions mask sentences and meanings, inviting the viewer to look more deeply at what this everyday paper is trying to tell them. This new body of work continues her exploration of the use of text and the way in which new meaning can be mined from the pages of a book that is no longer educational or useful in its original form.

Tim Gaze works with digital techniques to force us to look again at how we read and understand language. Each word in his glitch poems has been manipulated, stretched and distorted to challenge the way we view the written word. Rather than glancing over the text we have to stop, look carefully and mentally reconfigure these words in order to gain meaning from them. In these works the text appears to be melting and sliding along the page, it is slowly drooping and moving under the gaze of the viewer. These works are not part of a passive viewing experience but rather they engage us and make us stop and work in order to gain meaning.

Piece by Mark Niehus

Piece by Mark Niehus

For many of the artists in Subtext poetry and prose provide a starting point for their practice. Mark Niehus works through art in order to make his poetry more accessible to his audience. This extension of the written word, with pen and ink illustrating his thoughts, enables him to draw his viewer in, before revealing the depth of the poem buried within the image. Where Gaze aims to challenge the way in which we engage with text and the written word, Niehus draws us in, tempting us with lush illustrations that provide clues to decipher his meaning.

It is with a trick of light rather than a lush pen that Sonali Patel brings her story to life. Placing her bust, a sculptural form that was typically used to capture beauty or celebrate power through representation, atop a mirror audience members literally see themselves reflected in this piece. Covering the sculpture are snippets from the story of Narcissus, the youth who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and subsequently wasted away, unable to do anything but stare.  Viewers are drawn perilously close to this same fate when they first notice their own face reflected back at them, breaking the spell as they try to see the rest of the sculpture. Patel has brought this tale to life and acts to challenge ideas of beauty, representation and the role that self-reflection plays in the life of an artist.

Polina Kynazeva’s images begin as pencil drawings, brought to life and colour through the new technology of digital drawing. The delicate and detailed illustrations bring to life the time-honoured classic Alice in Wonderland, bringing to life the colourful characters as they exist in Kynazeva’s world of imagination. This is her interpretation of this tale and each of the works challenges our memories of this familiar story.

Through the works in Subtext audiences are introduced to the depth and variety of ways in which the worlds of the visual arts and literature can work together and enhance each other’s reception and understanding. It is not possible to touch on all the works in this exhibition here, but each of them, from installation through drawing, collage and textiles, is a testament to the relationship between art and writing, and to the artists who work through these complimentary mediums.

SUBTEXT is an exhibition that SAWC are running as part of the Adelaide Fringe. Please come and enjoy.

My New Year’s resolution – write that book!

By Jane Turner Goldsmith

I was cured of my writers’ block one autumn day in Toronto, about 15 years ago.

I was attending a creative writing session at the library. The room was packed; they had a series of Canadian authors presenting their ‘how to do it’ tips. It was cold outside and cosy in this well-heated open library space. The author – Sarah Sheard, I remember her well –had a soothing, slightly soporific voice. With a new baby and therefore obligatorily sleep-deprived, I was probably drifting off: ‘Perhaps,’ Sarah suggested languidly. ‘Perhaps if you don’t write, you are not really a writer. You can’t consider yourself a writer. Perhaps you never will be one.’

What?! This jolted me wide awake. Not a writer? Never a writer?

I had a million excuses for not writing. I could list them off but that would be too boring. I will just cut to the chase and say that a bit of provocative therapy was what I really needed at the time. A kind of eureka moment – if I didn’t actually start my novel, I would never actually write it. So I put one foot  in front of the other – actually I just started in the middle, and eventually I got there. After the novel was published I got (or rather recovered) the writing bug, and since then I’ve had some fantastic writing related opportunities and an occasional (if modest) publishing success.  Also occasionally I suffer a bout of this strange affliction we call Writers’ Block, and that’s when I think it’s worth taking the time to analyse what is going on. Because one thing is sure, it is not a lack of time. The busiest people I know are also the ones who are writing speculative fiction trilogies while they get on with their jobs, families, medical dramas, divorces – LIFE etc.

Maybe you are reading this far because you have noticed a few symptoms of writers’ block (it’s a common affliction). Maybe, it’s post-Christmas lethargy – or maybe you have made a New Year’s resolution.  In my (real) job as a psychologist I am often talking to people about motivation. I think it’s worth figuring out whether you are stuck due to motivational factors or to other, more writing-specific factors (if you are stuck; you might just want to get some fresh ideas).

The workshop I am running on the 1st February is based around a series of questions designed to get you thinking about your own writing goals (the motivational factor) and your writing strengths and weaknesses, with reference to narrative structure, characterisation and writing style (the writing-specific factors). I draw on current theories of motivation, behaviour change and the brain science behind story-telling. I hope you will leave with a clear plan of action and some eureka discoveries about your writing and maybe yourself. I look forward to meeting you!

NB: And yes, we will actually write

Jane Turner Goldsmith is a writer, psychologist and teacher. Her novel,Poinciana(Wakefield Press, 2006) was shortlisted for a Commonwealth Prize and she has published short stories, poetry and children’s fiction (Gone Fishing, Macmillan, 2005) and edited a nonfiction anthology of adoption stories (Adopting: Parents’ Stories, Wakefield Press, 2007).

Beauty in Smallness

By Walter Mason 

I’ve never really been much of a one for big things. Even though I come from Queensland, the lure of big things, grand vistas and sublime moments has never really been felt. I have always focused firmly on the small, the domestic. It is this perspective which grounds me, and which I always find most fascinating.

So when I travel, I always involve myself, almost from the instant of my arrival, in checking out small things, noticing the bizarre but commonplace and establishing some sort of everyday routine that I know will soon reward me. Small things

The grand things are always filled with tourists. Mostly these tourists are irritable, intent on taking photographs and complaining about the cost of food. I would much rather spend an afternoon watching Indian soap operas with a friend’s granny. That way I feel I have really lived, have made a connection, and approached some kind of human understanding.

I was in Singapore recently, and I am sorry to say I didn’t take in a single sight. I was far too busy having a good time. I went shopping for cologne with a friend; I visited a tongue-speaking church with a student who had invited me and I spent long afternoons eating peanut butter toast and milk tea (who knew they were Singaporean delicacies?) with a gang of chain-smoking philosophers, retreating late at night to a Ukrainian vodka bar in Little India. I am happy to report I didn’t feel the want of “sights.” I was having far too fascinating a time. An Englishwoman at a university told me there was an inflatable rabbit called Walter to be found at an art gallery somewhere, and I spent almost a whole day looking for him, thereby learning much more about Singapore than I ever could have.

When the writer travels I think they should be taking copious notes, and copious notice, of the small things, the quotidian (surely one of the most beautiful words in the English language?).  The fascinating is always in the detail, and you can bet that your small things are quite distinct, quite unique and totally reflective of your experiences and interests. You could happily forego the organised tour to a scenic waterfall with a busload of backpackers. That way lies boredom, frustration and not a single usable story. Instead take up the invitation of a waiter at a winebar and go and visit his sister who sells noodles at a market in a distant village.

The notebooks I fill when I travel are fascinating documents, and often filled with silly things that will never make their way into a story. I am always observing people’s collarbones, for example, because I find them entirely captivating. But there are only so many collarbones you can work into a book. Hairstyles, though, can make a story, as can frayed collars, scuffed shoes and the brand of energy drink someone is consuming.

In my latest book Destination Cambodia I describe a visit to a fortune teller in Phnom Penh. He was an extraordinary figure, but most intriguing for me was the fact that he kept by his side a small container of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder which he shook, at intervals, over his plump neck to soak up sweat. He was a colourful and exotic character in the extreme, but what made him perfect in my story was the exact brand of baby powder he chose to use, and where he applied it.

Small things make us happy, and they make travel stories perfect. And if we are writing any kind of memoir, it is the small tales that will most delight the reader, most perfectly fill in the portrait you are painting. I see writing as a kind of pointillism, as is life. Forget the broad strokes, or use them sparingly. Great swathes of flesh are always ho-hum. Concentrate instead on the exact way to sketch the shade of that collarbone.

Walter Mason is a writer, blogger and part of the Writing and Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney. He is the author of two travel memoirs, Destination Saigon and Destination Cambodia. Walter will be presenting as part of the Life Writing/Memoir Bootcamp happening soon at the Centre.

What Editors Do

This is a snippet from a brief talk I’ll be giving at the SA Writers Centre this Thursday on the subject of what editors do. 

Whenever I tell people I’m a book editor, and the conversation doesn’t swiftly move on, their first question is usually, ‘So what do editors do?’ Their tone is that of a biologist having chanced across a new, unapprehended form of life. As I’m gathering my thoughts for the answer, they’ll often rush to cover my perceived embarrassment by supplying one themselves: ‘You fix all the spelling and punctuation in a book.’

Yes, that’s one of the things editors do, but I think this function springs so readily to mind because people imagine themselves editing a finished book, as in one that has already been edited. From this point of view, the role seems pretty basic. The book reads well and is professionally polished, apart from one or two misplaced commas or typing errors that stand out like a sore thumb. This is where the editor swoops in with his or her red pen. Change ‘stationery’ to ‘stationary’, take that apostrophe out of ‘it’s’: job done.

Editors and authors know that the work of an editor can be much more intensive and developmental than this. Depending on the stage of a manuscript’s life-cycle that an editor is brought in on, and the type of editing that the editor is doing (common types include structural editing and copy-editing), an editor might suggest, for example, changing the age of a character to suit the dialogue, giving a subplot an ending, or a different ending, making certain journeys in the novel possible in terms of real time and geography, cutting down on the overuse of certain words or phrases, introducing readers to something they need to know earlier on in the book, not quoting song lyrics that could breach someone’s copyright if not paid for, placing realistic limits on a first-person narrator’s knowledge, and changing ‘a sack of potato’s’ to ‘a sack of potatoes’. In some cases, editors will not only advise rewrites but also directly make them, always subject to the author’s final approval.

Now, I’m not in any way suggesting that editors supplant the author’s role here. The author’s role is the primary one, originating and mastering the book, and we respect and admire them for it. (The perception of an editor being an embittered, frustrated author is largely untrue and misses the point – which is that every author can benefit from a good editor.*) The editor’s role is secondary, a service provided to the author, to the text, to the publishing company and to the reader. But it takes a long time for a book to reach the stage at which most people will read it, and the editor is an important part of its gestation, helping a book to become the best version of itself it can possibly be.

Exactly how an editor does this, at what stage he or she might do this, and the different types of editing referred to above are things I will be discussing at the Writers Centre this Thursday.

*NB: Any errors you might find in this unedited blog post serve perfectly, of course, to illustrate this point and might even be deliberate. 

Kevin O’Brien is a freelance editor based in the Adelaide Hills with over 15 years of editorial experience. For the last ten of these years, he has been working intensively on trade fiction and non-fiction, firstly for Mainstream Publishing, in Edinburgh, then for Random House in Sydney, where he was senior editor for five years, and now across all the big publishers, including Penguin, Pan Macmillan, Hachette and Random House, as a freelancer.

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