A "Better than average" associate of mine approached me about contributing a chapter to a Flex book he was cowriting. My chapter was to focus on building Flex Components; something I do a lot of with my company, Flextras. It seemed like a good fit, so I agreed.
Eventually, talks with the publisher broke down. While I feel bad about leaving my friend in the lurch I'm not quite sure if this is my fault. This is my take on the situation because I want to get it out of my system.
The Build Up
First, I was approached last December about this opportunity. I've turned down Flex book authorship agreements before; but since this was just a single chapter the amount of effort was significantly lower. I was willing to sign on. I was put in touch with the publisher contact in early January and I requested a contract. They asked for chapter delivery in early February.
Can you please send me a contract?
I always ask two questions when asked to provide content to someone else with regards to such situations. The first is "What about ownership?" It is my long term goal, whether good or bad, to own as much of me as possible.
The second is "What is my compensation?" I always ask about compensation, never how much I get paid. Compensation can come in many forms, and sometimes recognition or exposure can take place of cash. In this case, I think the chapter authorship would have been a great way for me to promote my business of selling Flex Components.
The compensation offered was a flat fee, $400. My friend thought the rights of my contribution would revert to him and his main co-author. I was uncomfortable with that, but said I would have to see the final contract wording.
I waited for the contract from the publisher. They contacted me in the final days of January to extend the chapter delivery to the middle of February and to let me know that the contract was on the way.
I waited some more. In late February they contacted me to ask where my contribution was. I told them I was still waiting for the contract delivery before I would put the writing into my schedule. They said they would get back to me; and they did.
I finally got the contract the week before I left for the 360|Flex conference. As a sponsor and a presenter I had too much on my plate to even look at it; but I prioritized it for the day I got back from 360|Flex.
I decided that they had kept me waiting for 2 months; I could keep them waiting for two weeks. Perhaps that was my failure.
What does this contract really mean?
The day I got back from the conference, I reviewed the contract and sent them a list of questions and concerns. The contract was a work made for hire agreement; and I had to sign away all rights to the content. This was not unexpected on my point, but was a bit contradictory with what my friend had led me to believe. It may be possible that I'd be signing my rights to the publisher who would then be signing them over to the two main authors.
I wanted to clarify some things about the work made for hire and derivative works. There are only so many ways for a single person to regurgitate the same content. I, in theory, make money off selling Flex components and my primary means of promotion is through writing and presenting about how to create components. I needed to protect my right to continue to do that.
The chapter content could easily be considered a derivative work of screencasts I created with The Flex Show; or presentations I have given. I needed to protect my rights to still present and distribute said content. I also needed to protect my right to create future screencasts or presentations or articles on the same topics without them being considered infringement. I consider many of those things to be complimentary and non competing, but they are certainly derivative. I wanted the contract to clarify my ability to do that.
I also asked for some additional compensation, such as a listing in the "About the Author" page of the book. I also wanted to restrict the use of my name in promoting future editions of the book. If someone were to rip out, or re-write, my contribution at some future point I didn't want my name still attached to it.
I also asked for rights to distribute my chapter contribution digitally. I didn't expect that to fly; but wanted to ask anyway. I'd have loved to offer up the chapter to the readers of DotComIt's newsletter.
I also asked that, if the book were to ever go out of print, that the chapter rights would revert back to me. I wasn't sure this would fly, but I did negotiate such rights regarding my ColdFusion books.
I'm still Playing the Waiting Game
I waited two weeks. The publisher contacted me again, this time to ask for the status on my contribution. I said the contract issues were not settled and I was waiting on them. I re-iterated some of my concerns.
I wait another month with no word before contacting them asking for status. They told me they no longer have need of the chapter. I asked why. But given their communication thus far, I am not expecting to hear anything back.
I feel slightly bad to have "ditched out" on my friends. The publisher put no effort into bringing me on board; so when the ball landed in my court I delayed due to other pressing issues. That was my reaction, which probably didn't help things along. But, all in all I was not the hold up.
Would you buy a book because it has my name on it?
I decided, in this post, not to make mention of the book or the two main authors. But, if you search on Amazon for my name; I'm apparently listed as an author. I have a slight problem with the publisher using my name to falsely promote their book. I'm pretty sure I am not the only contributing author beyond the two main authors; so why my name? Could it be because I'm moderately well known in The Flex Developer Community as the producer of The Flex Show perhaps?
Will my name sell books? I doubt it. If so, will it harm my personal brand if people buy a book with my name on it only to discover I had no contribution in the book? I'm not sure on that one...