Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Protecting the Rights of the Creator

When my first child turned six months old, I realized I could no longer take him into the literary agency where I worked as an assistant. My boss, agent Julie Castiglia, adored Skyler, but he cried a lot. I found it difficult to accomplish even mindless work such as entering submissions into the computer while endlessly tapping my foot on the edge of his bouncy seat to calm my fussy baby. When my work required actual thinking, i.e., sending letters to authors about royalties or editors pitching a new book, it was damn near impossible to concentrate. As I only made $2 an hour more than the babysitter, I had no other apparent option but to go home to raise my son.
Insistent upon making some cash, I brought home the slush pile of submissions to read and assess. But after awhile, the cut-throat nature of the business became intolerable. I could tell how much passion these writers had, even when they didn’t have talent, and it broke my heart. I wanted to be a published author as well, so their pain was too close for comfort. I often wrote notes of encouragement on the rejection cards. The small effort didn’t take much time, but it took energy and soon enough, I knew I had to quit the job completely.
Being a stubbornly independent cuss, this part of my process was extremely difficult; trust is also not exactly my forte. I had effectively cut off my income source and I was scared, albeit hopeful. In deep meditative prayer (with a candle), I asked for an income that would feed my creative spirit and enable me to stay home with my son.
Within a week, Julie called me with a proposal. An editor from Carol Publishing had called her looking for an author to write The Wicca Cookbook. Julie wanted to know if I thought I could write the book. At the time I had little formal training in Wicca, but I had been to some rituals and had already delved into several mysteries: my nana had been a psychic, my mother a Catholic, my father a Christian Scientist, and my aunt a tree hugger. I could do it.
The next week I found out I was pregnant. While my first son took naps and my second son grew inside me, I created my third “child,” the sister named The Wicca Cookbook. I turned in the completed manuscript a couple of months prior to my son’s due date. I remember asking the editor to be kind with rewrites and edits since I would either be on the brink of giving birth or postnatal (and possibly depressed as it had happened the first time, but I didn’t really tell them that. Brooke Shields hadn’t made her declaration, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to say anything.) Publisher’s Weekly announced the book with the cover Carol Publishing had chosen in their July 26, 1999 issue.

Soon after we turned in final edits, Carol Publishing declared bankruptcy.

All book deals and books were considered assets of the bankruptcy, including my baby. This book represented my future ability to make money and remain at home to care for my children. Post partum depression had settled in and my husband was drinking like a fish. This book was my ticket to self-sufficiency and it was slipping through my fingers like water. I consulted four lawyers and after months and months of negotiations we seemed to be edging towards the ability to get my rights back to my book. My agent sent out the proposal to different editors, including a publisher known as Ten Speed Press/ Celestial Arts. I liked the name of the publisher and they had published one of my favorite authors: SARK. Ten Speed agreed to buy the book, pending a letter from Carol Publisher relinquishing the rights. But, weeks passed and still Carol Publishing wouldn’t send a letter. It seemed that Kensington Publishing would acquire their book deals and they didn’t want to lose any lucrative assets. But we didn’t know whether or not the new publisher would ever publish my book, as they had eighteen months to decide once the takeover was complete. The roadblock appeared impassable.
Despite this, on faith, Ten Speed announced The Wicca Cookbook in their fall 2000 catalog. More time passed and the situation was indeed bleak. The editor in chief, Kirstie Melville, loved the book but was preparing to rescind her offer soon unless we solved the legalities. A deadline was set. The deal was off unless a letter appeared by February 29, 2000. Frustration, fear, and anxiety set in. I wrote affirmations all over the file folder that contained the record of this lengthy legal trail.
Julie suggested I join the Author’s Guild and request their assistance. Immediately to my great relief and amazement, the lawyer from Author’s Guild found a loophole in that Carol Publishing had only paid me half of the advance. If I would return payment ($2,500), I would have the rights to my book. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. I scraped together money already spent and sent it back to the publisher. The Author’s Guild came to my rescue and did what four lawyers could not do. With less than twenty-four hours before the deal with Ten Speed was null, I got the rights back to The Wicca Cookbook. Ten Speed knew what to do with this book, and it sold out of its first printing in three months.
The Author’s Guild resuscitated my career as an author and gave me the footing and support I needed in a desperate time. The guilds that protect our ability to make money from our creative efforts are irreplaceable. They support the heart of every story, the core of every theory. There are people, the storytellers, the scientists, the teachers, and other creators who want nothing more than to make a living from writing: words are their best friends, the way they communicate with the world and with their divine self. At this point in my career, I cannot afford to close my laptop and walk the picket line with the Writer’s Guild. However, this musing is my symbolic gesture of support. I’m not currently writing for a hit TV show or a screenplay for Warner Brothers, not yet at least. But someday, their battle for rights could be my battle – you never know.

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