Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: June 2012

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Wattpad and Moral Rights

Yesterday I got an e-mail from Wattpad in response to my question about moral rights. It reads:

Hi Jeff,
Great question! Moral rights, as we understand them, are rights to protection of the integrity and reputation of the work in question. These rights cannot be assigned to a third party, but by asking authors to waive them we are attempting to protect ourselves from situations where one author's work ends up displayed (for example, in a list based on a search term) along side a set of works which impugns the integrity reputation of the work in question by association, and as a result the author files a suit against us. As previously mentioned, moral rights cannot be assigned to others, but by waiving them you forgo the opportunity to seek compensation from Wattpad if you think your work has been poorly associated in our attempts to display it to others.
Hopefully this makes sense. We're looking to clarify our terms as much as possible. The team at 500px.com has done a great job of this, we think, and we'd like to follow suit.
Mike Beltzner
Head of Product

So color me impressed by the quickness and thoroughness of their response. It was much more than I expected. I have to say that all of my interactions with the company so far have been positive ones. And now I have a pretty reasonable explanation for why they ask their contributors to waive their moral rights.

First chapter of Soulwoven to go up soon, friends and readers. I've been busy this week with an article I'm writing for Clarkesworld and a short story I'm submitting to Writers of the Future, both of which have deadlines that must be met.

But I still plan to get that chapter up this week, by hook or by crook.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Registering on Wattpad

(Standard disclaimer again, since I'm talking terms of service again: I'm not a lawyer. This is not meant as legal advice. If you want legal advice, get it from a lawyer. Nonstandard disclaimer: I am exhausted, but I want to get this up tonight. Apologies in advance for typos and lack of coherent thought.)

So I'm already registered on Wattpad. Have been for several months now. It's the site that gave me the idea for The Grand Experiment in the first place. But in the interest of fairness, I went back through the registration process to see how it matches up to Authonomy and Book Country.

The "Join Now" button on Wattpad was easier to find than Authonomy's, but not quite as prominently placed as the one on Book Country. Once you click it, you're prompted to sign in with Facebook, or, if you desire, with e-mail. Since I'm stingy with my Facebook details, and I try to keep my personal life as separate from my professional online presence as possible, I opted for the e-mail approach.

Wattpad asks for a username, e-mail address, password, date of birth, and gender when you register. In contrast to Authonomy and Book Country, its terms must be clicked through to on a separate page. Once you get there, however, they take up the full page rather than a tiny box.

The Wattpad terms link straightaway to separate pages for its privacy policy and community guidelines. Why they're compartmentalizing their information so much, I'm not entirely sure, but I'll get to those documents later.

Their account terms are pretty standard, except for continual emphasis on being 13 years of age or older and a line about sex offenders not being allowed. Wattpad "may attempt to notify you" when changes are made, but explicitly reserves the right to make changes without notice as well. Users are "encouraged" to only create one account, but the site does allow multiple accounts per person, perhaps because it doesn't have any sort of voting feature.

Wattpad users agree not to distribute user submissions, alter the website, or access user submissions except through the website. Like the other sites, it also bans "commercial use," which includes "sale of access to the Website or its related services on another website; use of the Website or its related services for the primary purpose of gaining advertising or subscription revenue; the sale of advertising, on the Wattpad.com website or any third-party website, targeted to the content of specific User Submissions or Wattpad.com content; and any use of the Website or its related services that Wattpad.com finds, in its sole discretion, to use Wattpad.com's resources or User Submissions with the effect of competing with or displacing the market for Wattpad.com, Wattpad.com content, or its User Submissions." Not quite as stringent as Authonomy's, but leaving plenty of room open for them to object to practices they don't like. They also specifically ban "commercial solicitation."

The site's policies to protect user content are pretty strict as well. Users agree to access other people's submissions only for personal use via normal operation of the website. They are prohibited from tampering with security features as well as from copying or distributing submissions. So if your content gets ripped off of Wattpad, whoever did it at least acted in violation of their agreement with the site, for whatever good that may do you.


The grant of license (quoted in full at bottom) to Wattpad feels pretty standard, except that you explicitly waive your moral rights. After some noodling, and a reexamination of the best definition of moral rights I could find online, I figure this may have something to do with the fact that Wattpad wants to be able to display your story in whatever format they want, as long as you still grant them the license to do so. I suppose they want to avoid lawsuits if they change their site or app design and someone flips their lid. I have contacted them to ask about the clause. We'll see if they respond.

One other thing I dislike about the Wattpad grant of license is that it doesn't contain a term of license. It doesn't say "forever," or the like, which is nice, but it also doesn't specify how you can revoke the grant. There's some wishy-washy language in there about removing or deleting content that I suppose has something to do with it, but it makes me nervous nonetheless.

Which brings me to what I think makes Wattpad stand apart from Book Country and Authonomy, and why I'm willing to sign up with Wattpad and not Book Country even though both have grants of license that make me nervous. I know that Book Country authors have been published by Penguin, the company that owns Book Country, but not that they've been published by anyone else. This is problematic to me because even if the Book Country contract grants it crazy rights, it's no sweat for Penguin to put out the book. Book Country will not compete with them, because they own it. Authonomy (run by HarperCollins) suffers from the same issue.

But a Wattpad author got a contract from Simon and Schuster for a novel she had posted on Wattpad. Three other publishers bid on the same book. That tells me that Wattpad's terms are pretty safe. Four different publishers were willing to buy the right to put the book out, regardless of the grants that had previously been made to Wattpad.

So I trust Wattpad. Maybe that's a bad decision, but at least I'm making it in conjunction with several large publishing houses.

The rest of the terms are pretty standard. Your account can be canceled for breaking the terms, which includes posting anything containing "hate crimes, pornography, obscene or defamatory material, or excessive length." You provide a pretty standard set of indemnifications (if you post something and they get sued, you're liable). The contract can also be transferred to someone else on their end, but not on yours

After reading the terms of service, I clicked through to the privacy policy. It's pretty standard for a website, at least in my experience. They share anonymous, aggregrated information about you ("We have X number of users between the ages of 13 and 21"), and they share your personal information in order to protect themselves or their users and to operate the site. They also promise to inform users (hooray!) if they go through a "business transition" (i.e. they're acquired by another company) and their use of personal information will change as a result.

Finally, the content guidelines. You can't post copyrighted works (again), pornography, or graphic depictions of serious drug use, prostitution, suicide, and all types of abuse. They also ban (again) "any material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially offensive, or is otherwise inappropriate." More interestingly, they rate content G-R. Content that includes but does not graphically depict "serious drug use, prostitution, suicide, and all types of abuse," must be rated R and is not eligible for promotion by Wattpad.

So that's that! To me, Wattpad is interesting in comparison to Book Country and Authonomy for two reasons: First, it's clearly aimed at a teen audience. Second, it's independent of any publisher. I like it for both reasons.

I'm planning to post the first chapter of Soulwoven on Wattpad this week, although I have some questions about where it fits within their content guidelines. More on that, however, as I deal with it.


*As promised, the grant of license: "For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting User Submissions to Wattpad.com, you hereby grant Wattpad.com a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the Wattpad.com Website and its affiliates. You also hereby waive any moral rights you may have in your User Submissions and grant each user of the Wattpad.com Website a non-exclusive license to access your User Submissions through the Website. You understand and agree, however, that Wattpad.com may retain, but not display, distribute, or perform, server copies of User Submissions that have been removed or deleted."



Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Registering on Book Country

(Standard disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer. You should not act on anything I say when it comes to legal agreements. If you care about your rights, get any legal agreement, including website terms, explained to you by a lawyer before you sign).

Book Country didn't last very long in The Grand Experiment. In fact, I didn't even register for it. I'll go into why at the bottom of the post, but we'll start with a description of the registration process.

It was a lot easier to find Book Country's "Join Now" button than Authonomy's. It's big, red, and in the upper-right-hand corner of the site, where I've been trained to look for such things. Once you click on it, you get a page that's very similar to Authonomy's registration form. Book Country asks for a display name, an e-mail address, and a password. Its Terms and Conditions are displayed in another tiny, hard-to-read box.

The terms open with pretty standard language, but refer specifically to the site being a place where people can self-publish (I remembered later that Book Country offers a variety of self-publishing services that have been panned by prominent self-published authors). The terms also discuss a focus on genre fiction and possible expansion plans, mention that Book Country "may" provide notice of changes to its terms (an improvement over Authonomy, at least), and discuss what users can and cannot do on the site before registering

All submissions to the site are deemed to be nonconfidential information. I'm not sure what that means in practical terms.

The third subheader of the agreement covers content. From the get-go, its terms are not as clear as Authonomy's ("Except as set forth herein, you will retain all rights in your Content"). By the end of the grant of license, they get murky enough that I've decided I don't want to be involved with them.

Grant of license quoted here:

"By posting or uploading any Content on the Website: (i) you understand that if your Work is in a genre included on the Book Country Website, and complies with these General Terms of Use, your Work may be made accessible to users of the Website and members will be able to review, comment on it and rate it; (ii) you represent and warrant that you own or control all rights in your Content, that such Content is original and does not, and will not, infringe the copyright, trademark or any other right of any person or entity, and that any “moral rights” in the Content have been waived; and (iii) you grant to us a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, transferable right and license (A) to display the Content on the Website, and (B) with respect to Content other than your Work, to use, display, reproduce, distribute, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, perform, make, sell and export such Content, in whole and in part, on the Website or in any formats and through any media, as we see fit, and you shall have no claims against Book Country for such use or non-use. Although Book Country may maintain copies of your Content, we are not required to do so and we may delete or destroy any such Content at any time."

The grant is pretty vanilla until partway through (ii), when it starts talking about "moral rights," which I have only ever heard discussed in the context of authors/artists/musicians/others who signed bad contracts (They're explained in somewhat clearer terms here). (ii) may be talking about moral rights in the work possessed by people other than the user, but it makes me uncomfortable in its ambiguity.

(iii), however, caused me a serious headache. "Work" is defined in the agreement as "excerpts from your writing," so writing uploaded to Book Country seems to be excepted from the massive rights-grab-forever in (iii). "Content" in the agreement is defined as "Any information, proposals, requests, manuscripts, creative works, pictures, photographs, letters, documents, demos, ideas, suggestions, concepts, methods, systems, designs, plans, techniques or other materials submitted, posted, uploaded, sent or otherwise transmitted to us on or through the Website in any manner, or by email."

I have no interest in providing a perpetual, transferable, and irrevocable right and license to display and/or pimp my book to Book Country. I am reasonably certain that this contract does not actually grant that ("Content other than your Work" in (iii) (B) seeming to mean everything I put up on the site except for my writing). Based upon the rest of the agreement, I think that (iii) is in there to let Book Country do whatever they want with user comments and reviews, which I'm fine with.

But it took me a lot of reading, re-reading, and reasoning to get to that point. And that process left me with a very queasy feeling in my stomach about Book Country.

Some contracts feel like agreements between friends signed for mutual benefit. Other contracts feel like someone trying to take advantage of you. This contract has the latter feel, and I have learned through painful experience to trust my instincts on that.

So, at least for now, I will not be participating in Book Country, and The Grand Experiment has grown slightly smaller.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Registering on Authonomy

I am now a registered user of Authonomy and Wattpad (Book Country didn't make the cut. I'll go into why later this week).

The registration process for each left me with quite different impressions, so rather than combine them into one uber blog post, I'm giving each site its due, starting with Authonomy.

(You should be aware that despite the fact that I discuss Authonomy's terms and conditions, I am not a lawyer, have never been a lawyer, and should never ever be relied upon as a reliable source of information when making a decision of any legal consequence. If you're worried about your rights, talk to a lawyer.)

And we're off!

Right off the bat, it's hard to find information on Authonomy from its homepage, but what is available can be found through tiny "About us" and "FAQ" links at the bottom of the page.

Authonomy is run by the U.K. operation of HarperCollins, one of the "Big Six" publishers. In order to post anything, users must submit a book of at least 10,000 words to the site. Once they do, it can be read and voted upon by Authonomy's users, with books that have been recommended by a lot of people for a long time floating to the top of a list to be read by HarperCollins editors.

To register, you're only required to put in a few very nonspecific pieces of information (e-mail address, display name, password, security questions). The site then asks you to read its terms and conditions, which it displays in a tiny, extremely-difficult-to-read box.

The terms are pretty benign overall. There's standard website language about users needing to have the right to post the content they put up. Authonomy is very clear about not claiming any rights to posted content, and the license you grant them is fairly standard for posting content anywhere online. I have a hunch it's probably less onerous than the terms for Blogger, which I haven't checked in ages and really ought to. I'll quote the license paragraph in full at the bottom of the post.

There were a few things that jumped out at me when I read the terms, however.

1.) Authonomy makes no guarantee of even attempting to give you notice when they change their terms. They agree to post them, and the onus is on you to check them regularly.

2.) Authonomy reserves the right to begin charging fees at any time, though they do promise to give you notice about that. This leads me to believe that an HC staffer at some point said, "We may eventually want to charge for this. Make sure there's some language in there about that." It also reminds me very clearly that the company is in this to make money first and foremost.

3.) The terms ban "commercial activity," including affiliate links and probably links to purchase self-published books, in three separate places.

4.) They're clearly concerned about piracy and plagiarism. There are multiple references to both as breaches of site policy, and the user agrees to foot any costs faced by Authonomy if he or she is in breach of policy (i.e. if you post a plagiarized book, and Authonomy gets sued, you're legally responsible for their bills).

5.) Authonomy reserves the right to delete content at any time for a very long list of reasons, including racism/hate speech; harassment; sexual exploitation; images of nudity or violence; links to adult websites; soliciting or providing personal information; promoting false, abusive, or illegal activity; promoting piracy; being spam; containing restricted content (I assume this means content from behind a paywall on another site); promoting criminal activity; involving commercial activities; and including photographs posted without permission or sexually explicit, lewd, nude, etc., photographs.

6.) The site also bans criminal activity, advertising, obscuring advertising on the website (via browser add-ons, I assume), automated use, interfering with the service, impersonating someone else, using someone else's account or allowing someone else to use yours, selling your profile, using information from the site to harass someone, any kind of commercial activity (or even "friending" someone engaged in commercial activity), and other illegal activity.

From there, the language is pretty standard for website terms and conditions again, EXCEPT that the governing law is English. I have no idea what that means practically.

After you register for the site, you receive an e-mail with a link to authenticate your account. You can then sign into a profile that includes spaces for a photo, a bio, links to two websites, and a list of your favorite books. Comments, projects, and friends on Authonomy can be managed from the bottom of the profile, and your "bookshelf," which features prominently in the site's ranking system, is easy to find as well. The "retire my profile" button, which does not remove your work from Authonomy completely but does make it all private, is easy to find at the bottom of the "edit profile" page as well.

And finally, just in case you forget they're in it to make money, the welcome e-mail you receive after authenticating contains a link to Createspace, "our partner and a member of the Amazon group of companies" (for those who don't know, Createspace is Amazon's self-publishing arm for print books).

So that wraps it for registering with Authonomy. If you have questions, post them in the comments and I'll do my best to respond. More on Book Country and Wattpad in later posts this week.

* as promised, here's the license you grant Authonomy for your content: "By posting Content on the Website you hereby grant to us a license to use, modify, publicly display, reproduce and distribute such Content on the Website. The license you grant us is (i) non-exclusive which means you are free to license your Content to any one else, (ii) fully paid up and royalty free which means you will not be paid by HarperCollins or anyone else for the use of your Content on the Website, (iii) sub-licensable for the purposes of enabling us to host and maintain the Website via third parties and worldwide (which means the Content will be viewed on a global basis)."

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Grand Experiment

For several months now, I've been pondering whether to start serializing Soulwoven on Wattpad (for those who don't know, it's a free online writing community in which you can post and share novels or parts thereof). I created a profile. I puttered around, read a few stories, got a feel for the site. I checked out the legalese and was satisfied that yes, I would retain all rights to any work I put up there. I decided that I rather liked the community and might want to be a part of it.

But I wanted to wait and talk with a few other industry people about it before I took the plunge, just in case there were reservations I ought to have that I didn't.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to ask two agents and three authors about Wattpad at Litfest 2012.

The collective response?

"What's that?"

Somehow, despite significant coverage of the possibilities of the site in trade publications, it seems to be flying below the radar. So in the interest of bettering the general understanding of the trade, and because I am very curious about the subject myself, I am going to undertake a grand experiment.

I am going to post Soulwoven, chapter by chapter, on Wattpad, Authonomy, and Book Country (Authonomy and Book Country are similar efforts run by Harper Collins and Penguin, respectively, while Wattpad is independent as far as I can tell). And I am going to blog about my experience on each site week by week. I may pull the book from one or more at any time. At the outset, I am less than enthusiastic about Book Country in particular (it smacks of vanity publishing), and I have my doubts about Authonomy as well (while I approve of crowdsourcing the submissions process in general, it doesn't exactly turn me on as an author).

I think it's going to be quite fun.

And as a slight bonus, it means that those of you who have expressed repeated interest in reading Soulwoven will be able to start it shortly.

Cultural Learnings from Agent Meetings for Make Benefit of My Books

Yesterday, I met with two agents at the Lighthouse Writer's Workshop's Litfest 2012 in Denver. The meetings were a part of their business weekend pass, which at $220 was a steal (I also get to hit up seminars on marketing, freelancing, the small press/magazine market, and other things I could stand to learn more about).

Anyway, I was reminded of a very interesting thing right off the bat:

There are several different subcategories of fantasy reader, and agents fall into them too.

I met with two agents, both of whom rep fantasy. One of the great things about the meetings (and the reason I signed up for the conference, actually), was that they were 15 minutes long and included a critique of the first 15 pages of a manuscript (For reference, a similar critique I recently donated to the Brenda Novak diabetes auction went for $81). My two agents gave me very different feedback. One of them wanted more worldbuilding in the opening pages. The other told me she just hadn't connected with the characters.

I took good things away from both meetings, but they were also a reminder that some people read fantasy for the world-as-a-character, while others are more interested in the characters themselves. As a writer, I gravitate a little more towards the second group, and it's there that I think I should be concentrating my efforts.

Last night, I revamped Chapter 1 of Soulwoven. I do not know whether the changes will stick. I am very confident that they make the book more marketable, and fairly confident that they make the opening more interesting.

But they also place focus on elements of the story I had not intended to focus upon. How far the ripple effect of that will reach, I'm not yet sure.

...and now it's time to shower, eat, and hop in the car to go find more cultural learnings for make benefit of my books.