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NWE101: author basics

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An author is an individual who gave rise to anything in the written or spoken word and then has their work published in their name as having belonged to them. This is in contrast to an individual who creates written matter and then doesn’t have the piece published in their name. This includes work for hire and ghostwriting.

If a person is considered an author, they have certain rights under the law over items that are musical, literary, artistic or auditory, among other things. These rights are protected under copyright law and mean another person must not use the copyrighted item without the express permission of the author. The items held under copyright are intellectual property and belong to the author. In general, it costs a fee to have use of an author’s work. In committing to an agreement with a publishing house, sometimes the copyright converts to the publisher and/or the publisher is understood to represent the author's copyright. Terms and conditions regulate copyright and if a contract is severed, at times the representation of the copyright work remains with the publisher post agreement, but the author normally stills receives their royalties in this case.

Copyrights, in general, tend to expire over time, generally over several decades. Then anyone can use the author’s work after that time. This period of time has been extended over time, so that an author has copyrights over the property for a longer and longer period of time. A copyright can be passed down to one’s loved ones after one’s death. While this heir is not the legal author, they share the same rights as the author post-humus.

All authors start out as writers. They write their piece and then get it copyrighted so they have authorship status. They can sell their work to a publisher or they can self-publish their work. The length of time the copyright holds is about the length of a lifetime.

Most authors work with publishers who are responsible for the dispensing of the book to the public. Publishers provide additional elements as well, such as design, layout, production, etc. In return, the publisher receives sales percentages or a certain amount per book sold.

Self-publishing is commonly done, this is also known as vanity publishing and is considered a lesser form of publishing. In self-publishing, normally a printer or post-production publisher distributes the book for a percentage of each book sold or for cost of production. The author receives the rest. These relationships often cost up to $20K, with little post-production assistance from the publisher.

Every author strives for an agent. The agent takes on the relationship between the author and the publisher and acts as a go between for the author and publisher. The author tends not to pay the agent but instead establishes a relationship in which the agent pushes the written piece of work toward the publisher. If the publisher accepts the work and it sells, everyone takes a cut of the books sold.

An author will have a standard contract to identify payment. Traditionally, this began with an advance payment, which was provided before the work was completely written; however, this is becoming increasingly rare. Then there are royalties, which are a percentage of every book sold. It usually takes a seasoned author to receive an advance for writing in today's market. There is less of a risk these authors will fail to sell a great number of books where the publisher carries a major burden of cost. Advances are often paid in one or two lump sums. If done in two lump sums, the first is paid when the contract is signed and the second sum is done when the manuscript is complete.

Also in the contract can be a certain percentage of the retail cost of all books old. Often these royalties increase in percentage as the number of books increase in sales.


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