Dear Penpal

By Shweta Taneja

L11: Let's talk copyright and contracts. And why you need to do them right

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Shweta Taneja
Shweta Taneja
Welcome! Dear Penpal is a monthly newsletter by me, Shweta Taneja, to support you in your creative journey with tips, opportunities and a few laughs. THANK YOU for being here.
In my 11th letter, I talk about why it’s important to protect your IP and deal with contracts. Also, the need for physical events and team mates.

Dear Penpal
Last week, I received a message on my LinkedIn from a writer. They wanted to know how they could make sure their book is copyrighted before self-publishing. I was amazed that they do not know the fact that as a creator of original content, they automatically have copyright.
So let me stress this first: You have all the rights including rights to earn from your work, the moment you create something.
Not only do you have the copyright, you also have power to decide which rights to give to a publisher, a company or whatnot. (Read more about these rights here.) Got an offer from a publisher or a company interested in commissioning your work? That’s wonderful. Remember EVERYTHING in an offer is negotiable.
It’s important that you negotiate. Don’t be afraid.
Ironically, as these things happen, I’ve been looking at contracts all of last two weeks. One of my contracts is with a publisher for a new book. Another deal is an options contract for audio-visual rights of a book. The third is for an audio deal for a short story. All of these are with very different companies and come with very different clauses, ranging from 25-pages filled with legalese to an easy-going 5-clause, single-page agreement.
Without exception, you need to keep as many rights as possible with yourself.
I didn’t do this in my first book. I didn’t negotiate as I was afraid I’ll lose the contract and ended giving them a lot of control for the work. Since then, I’ve decided to negotiate at-least twice before I bow down. What will do you with non-India rights if you’re only publishing in India? What will you do with Hindi rights if you’re only publishing in English?
Surprisingly, if you ask why, you’ll realise how flexible these contracts are and retain most of your rights.
I’ve been doing this for seven years now and have started to see the benefits of retaining my rights in older works. I can decide and sell them to non-English publishers, producers, audio producers and gamers and what nots as I feel fit.
I control the rights of my work. And as a creator, I feel happy about that.
As a rule, I only give those rights to the publisher/company which I know they will use right here, right now. I won’t delve into details of what clauses to look for, as that’s a separate long-form in itself.
What I want to leave you with, dear creator, is that you do not be afraid of negotiating. Read the mind-numbing legalese, ask why, take professional help from lawyers, and keep control on your rights. For you created that work with a lot of blood and sweat.
Sundry Sunday
The problem with NFTs: If you’re an artist, you’re probably considering if you should invest in creating NFTs for a new digital market. Before you do, see this very useful video on what NFTs are, what’s the deal with crypto/blockchain and why you as a creator should be cautious. You might choose to do it anyway, but go with knowledge and know-how.
Neil Gaiman’s Writer’s Agreement: Yes, I do like to read copyright agreements as well as scripts on a Sunday. This one is the Writer’s Agreement signed by Neil Gaiman for Miracleman. It’s old, but do see how he managed to control his IP (that’s intellectual property, if you didn’t know).
Writing updates
New science-fiction short story in a flipbook: Received in physical mail, a wonderful edition of Flipped 4: Mystery stories and Sci-Fi stories by HarperCollins. It’s an early copy, so I’ll share some more photos in the next letter to you with details about the mad story I wrote for this. But yay to a new book!
Attended the Alliance LitFest in Bengaluru: Physical events are back! It was so much fun to attend and see pals old and make some new ones. I spoke about inverting gender in Anantya Tantrist series and about my love of comics in two different panels. Here’s a blog on this.
Shweta Taneja
Hung out with the two talents of Mumbai - @KiranManral and @aninditaghose, and shook hands with legendary @BDUTT while travelling in a backwards in a buggy. (Towards the other end is @pinakidesigns who can't be tagged in photos)

Novice litfest advice: Go for friendships. https://t.co/y3T6uH1pR9
Last month and me
Teammates can be like a group hug
Teammates can be like a group hug
Last weekend, I visited Coorg for a monsoon-laden office retreat with my team from Nature Conservation Foundation. I’ve been a loner gig-economy business for more than a decade. It felt good to have a team. To do an outing with them. It didn’t hurt that ALL of them are knowledge and enthusiasm-laden experts in natural creatures - birds, wasps, frogs, snakes, plants, trees, insects, roaches. You name them and they know tales about them. I come back with mind-blowing stories, and with a realisation that leeches can be dealt with and herping is a thing and I like doing it. Not bad for a weekend.
Now I’m off to Mumbai - as a city tourist - to see the city’s updated landscape, to meet ghosts of old memories and make new stories.
Do you have a favourite spot in the city I should go to? Write to me!
Shweta
P.S. If you like this newsletter and want to support it, you can:
1) Buy one of my books. Read previous issues of Dear Penpal.
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Shweta Taneja
Shweta Taneja @shwetawrites

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Shweta Taneja, Bangalore, Karnataka, India