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Q: Dear Joan,
I have enjoyed your ezine and appreciate its rich content. I have a question I am hoping you can help with.
I have been asked to be involved in partnering to write a book based upon An Old Farmer's Advice. It is a piece that has either no author noted or is anonymous in the several places I have seen it posted, mostly in blogs. No one seems to know its origin. I have been asked to use it as the basis for the table of contents. Have you any suggestions on how I might find its origin, or do you think it safe to use as a public domain piece? Your advice or insights would be greatly appreciated.
Rhonda Hull, Ph.D.
A: Dear Rhonda,
If you've been asked to write a book "based on" another work, I don't see any problems with this, that is, if you're taking the idea or ideas presented in the work, and giving them a new twist, a new slant, or taking them in a new direction. You can't copyright ideas, and let's face it, there are only about 20 basic plots, and writers have reworked them millions of times. However, you do need to give proper credit to where those ideas came from. Write an acknowledgments page saying that this piece, An Old Farmer's Advice, inspired the new work. Always give credit where credit is due.
Now, I'm not really sure what you mean about using it as the basis for the table of contents. If you mean that you've been asked to take the subjects addressed in the table of contents and use them as the basis for the new book, I don't see a problem with that either. But again, give proper credit somewhere.
In the meantime, you might contact the Library of Congress to see if the book that you're writing from is registered. It would be nice to know who wrote the book and when it was published. Then you could give more complete credit. The book in question may well be in the public domain at this time, but you don't know for sure. Search as diligently as you can.
Make sure as you write the new book, that you don't lift passages from the old book. Take the ideas but make them your own. Give them new life. Put your unique stamp on them. That's what writers do.
Good luck with the new book.
Q: Dear Joan,
I have a commercial that I've written for a particular televison company, and now intend to submit it. I know to register the copyright in Washington D.C. before I send the company the script. But other than that, what will insure that the company will not use the script without some sort of payment to me? Any suggests will be appreciated. If you don't have any suggestions would you know someone I could contact?
A: Dear Mark,
Breaking into the advertising market with a script is not impossible, but very difficult. You want to get to the right people, and protect yourself and your work at the same time.
As you say, register your copyright first. That will eliminate all doubt about who wrote the words first. In recent years there have been some very nasty lawsuits in the entertainment industry over movies, lyrics, and other material. Send your copyrighted material with the appropriate signed form and check to the Library of Congress as registered mail so that you get delivery confirmation of their receipt of your material. Once they receive it and log it in, that is the effective date of your copyright, even though you may not get the official document for 18 to 24 months.
Then you have a couple of options. You could track down the ad agency that has the advertising account for this particular product. Better yet, track down the particular ad person working on the account and see if that person would be willing to listen to your idea, that is, if you're willing to share it.
That said, please understand that though your particular script may be protected, the idea is not. You cannot copyright ideas. So if you talk to someone at an ad agency about your idea, they may use it without obligation to pay you or recognize authorship. They just cannot use your script.
Or, if you're interested in a job with that particular advertising agency, you could use your script as a way to show your creativity. Talk to the person in charge of the account and offer to give him the script in exchange for an interview with the people who hire, and the opportunity to show them other work. (This assumes you have an interest in working in this area and have accumulated some other scripts.) If your script just knocks their socks off, you could parlay it into a full-time position at the ad agency.
If none of the above appeals to you, I suggest you get yourself an agent who works with such scripts. They have a reputation to protect and it's likely they will protect your work. They don't want to get a reputation for having their clients' work stolen.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes.
Q: Dear Joan,
I'm writing to you because I'm trying to find a publisher willing to look at unknown writers' manuscripts and to publish them. I don't have any credentials. I just have a vivid imagination and a knack for creating other worlds with words. If you can help either by referral to a person that fits the description of what I'm looking for or you can personally look at my story please contact me at my email.
Thank you very much for at least looking at this email and possibly helping me try to get my story out. Have a nice day.
A: Dear Edward,
Welcome to the world of freelancing. Every author out there has had to deal with rejection and keep at it until they got their first piece published. And the fact that so many have successfully accomplished that goal gives clear testament to the fact that you can do it too. With no publishing credentials under your belt, you must take on a new mission in life. Get them.
First, join a local writer's group. Talk with other writers. Learn from other writers. Write constantly to become the best writer you can. Write your stories and get a whole collection of them. Polish them. Revise them and have them waiting in the wings for the proper time. Subscribe to writers' magazines and newsletters. In short, educate yourself about the industry.
Second, look around for local publications willing to publish any kind of article you might want to write: op ed pieces, book reviews, movie reviews, human interest stories, or last Friday night's high school basketball game. Local newspapers, tabloids, and magazines generally need copy. They give you a track record of publication, professional clips, and knowledge of working with editors and publishers. In addition, you might even make a few bucks along the way.
Third, get your hands on a copy of Writer's Market. The new 2006 edition has just recently been published. Though often woefully inaccurate and out of date, this book lists a good number of publications that publish the kind of stories you write. Read back issues of those publications to find out what kinds of stories they like and how they like them written. Then get their guidelines. These days, most publications have Internet sites where you can find guidelines or request them via email.
Fourth, with guidelines in hand, tailor your stories to fit what they want, including word count, tone, language, and slant. That will greatly increase your chances of selling.
Prepare yourself for rejection, but don't take it personally. File those rejections away. Mourn over them for 10 minutes, then get back to work. Ship the story out again. Write a new one, and never give up. The only difference between a successful writer and a wannabe, is that the successful writer never gave up.
Good luck and keep writing. I know you'll succeed!
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