My manager hipped me to a writing contest today and encouraged me to enter one of my picture book stories. A win would not only net me a $1,500 prize but also electronic publishing of my story, fully illustrated and animated for the array of formats out there. The promise is royalties for each book sold as well. Great, right? I get to publish finally, presuming I win, and I make money off of it, send the kids to college, drive a big car while smoking a cigar, the whole works. Then I thought, wait a second; is this a Charles Foster Kane deal?
Anyone who ever took a film class in college had to sit back and watch Citizen Kane at least once. This is how I became familiar with Orson Welles's tome about greed and influence in American culture and admittedly I like it a lot. I re-watch it at least once a year. (For those who have seen it, you will understand what I am about to say. If you have not yet seen it, what's wrong with you? Get off your backside and go watch it already.)
Think about the first flashback where we see a young Charles in essence being sold by his mother to a wealthy, New York banker. She thinks this is the best thing for him and that it will enhance his life, getting him away from his humble roots and providing him exposure to the world. The banker is rather smarmy and throws promise after promise at Charles about how great his life will be if he says goodbye to his mom and family. In the end, of course, we know that all Charles longed for in his last moments on earth was a return to the life he was led away from and the simple home and pleasures of his childhood.
I am beginning to look at my stories as though they are a young Charles Foster Kane. I want what's best for them so they grow up and make a difference. I would love to send them on their way and tell them there is a big world waiting for them, but I want to share in that experience too! I do not want a smarmy banker grabbing them away and steering them in the wrong direction.
My manager is my wife, which is cool because I get to sleep with my manager and my wife encourages it (awesome sexy, right?). That inappropriate exchange aside, I recall the day she told me about an experience she had at a literary conference where she heard about the novel "I Am Number 4." The way she related it, James Frey, that ass-and-a-half who conned us into believing "A Million Little Pieces" was real, was speaking at a university and offered students the chance to pitch their ideas afterward. He liked one of them and purchased it from the student for $500.00. The idea was the basis for "I Am Number 4." Great, right? Struggling college student knocks one out of the park and becomes famous with royalty checks piling up around his ankles. Wrong. He got screwed because he sold the exclusive rights to the idea. After he wasted the $500 on one hell of a kegger that was it. No fame, fortune, or future for his story idea (In all honesty I do not know about the kegger part). And hence my worry.
I am not an attorney but after reading the agreement, it looks like if my story wins, it gets published, and I get royalties for that. However it also looks like I don't get to use my characters any more and on top of it the new publisher can do whatever they want with them. The words "in perpetuity" are used a lot in the agreement. That's almost forever that I would have to be apart from them.
Maybe I should write another story to submit with the main character named Rosebud. Then after I win and get robbed every day for the rest of perpetuity, everyone would know the name was me sticking it to the man metaphorically.