Monday 21 May 2012

You Gotta Fight for Your (First Publication) Rights!

I've now given written notice to Chapter One (full story here) that I want them to either publish the anthology of the 2010 Short Story Competition, or return my first publication rights. The contract I signed way back in the day gives them 90 days in which to publish the anthology, although it also promises me 30 days to review a proof copy - so my take on it is that if I haven't heard anything within 60 days, it ain't happening.

In some ways, sending the notice letter felt quite empowering, although in others it seemed more like an admission of defeat. It's hard to maintain a level of excitement for more than two years, and that initial rush of euphoria brought on by winning had to give way to a kind of studied indifference (if for no other reason than to protect my sanity). The longer it's dragged on though, the more the fear has started to creep in - fear that the anthology will arrive out of the blue any time now, and be disappointing. I don't know what to expect. The 2005 anthology on their website has a clip-art-y cover that doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. The 2006 one is better, looking at least like it was designed specifically for a short story anthology. More important than the cover, though, obviously, is the content. I re-read my story earlier this year, and was pleasantly surprised. Sometimes I can dig out old work and cringe, but this one seems to be holding up okay. But what about the other stories? What about the paper? What if the whole thing's in Comic Sans font? [shudder]

To be honest, my expectations have sunk pretty low. The book would have to be laser-cut into thin sheets of gold to make me think, Oh yes, that was worth the wait. I mean, how can it possibly take two years to put together a competition anthology? The editing should be minimal - after all, any changes other than minor grammatical or typographical corrections would mean the stories wouldn't be the ones that had won the prizes. I know typesetting can be a long process, and there are design and layout decisions to make, but seriously - TWO YEARS?

From a business point of view, it's madness. Who's going to buy an anthology relating to a competition that closed so long ago? My usual points of reference here are the Bridport Prize, the Willesden Herald, and the Bristol Prize. All of these have their anthologies available well before the closing date for the following year's competition. If anybody is going to buy a competition anthology, aside from friends and family of the writers with stories in it, it's writers planning to enter the same competition, hoping to gen up on what kind of thing does well. So you hold the book back more than nine months and you've lost the biggest potential audience for it.

Sticking with the business viewpoint, if you can't maximise your sales through making your product available at the right time, you'd better make sure your customer service is second to none. All the jargon applies here - under-promise and over-deliver, surprise and delight your customers, etc. Or end up creating bad feeling and have disgruntled customers telling everyone they know about how you've let them down. Sooner or later, you'd end up with no customers at all. And you'd only have yourself to blame.

Anyway, yes. 60 days. I'll keep you posted.

Don't forget - there's a copy of Nik Perring's excellent book of flash fiction, Not So Perfect, up for grabs in my free draw. Just click HERE and leave a comment.


Chloe said...

Good for you, Dan! I hope it all turns out for the best (although it sounds like the best might be for them to just give you your rights back so you can sell your story somewhere where people are actually going to read it, not in some ancient anthology!).

Patsy said...

I hope they reply quickly with a response that resolves this.

Karen Jones said...

Good, because, as you know, Teresa and I have all sorts of plans for that story.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, I have received the proof of my story for the same anthology this week. Although my feelings are very similar to yours I will probably approve the story for publication.

Dan Purdue said...

Hi, Anonymous, yes - funnily enough, same here, although the email attachment was missing. Still, nice to hear there's progress being made.