Authorship is a strange occupation and one that is usually carried out in partial (or complete) isolation, sitting for long hours comuning with the word-processor. The isolation is very real and, quite apart from the problems that it may sometimes bring when trying to create a work, is a particularly important factor when it comes to negotiating terms with publishers. It is difficult for an individual author to know which are reasonable demands or conditions. (Well-established authors may be able to turn the problem over to their agents, but this is not feasible for most writers.) And make no mistake about it - there are a lot of poor, and some atrocious, companies out there among the good publishers!
In the United Kingdom there are three organisations (in particular) that offer exceptionally valuable support and advice to authors: The Society of Authors, the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), and the Writers’ Guild. I have experience (and belong) to the first two of these. Details on the Writers’ Guild may be found here.
The Society of Authors is a long-established and extremely well- regarded association of authors, dramatists, illustrators, scriptwriters and translators. I will not describe its activities in detail, because I set up an extensive website for just that purpose some time ago, and this has now been remodelled and is maintained from the Society's office. Apart from details of the Society, this carries information that should be of use to anyone who is interested in any aspect of writing and translation. The interests of translators are handled by a subsidiary organisation, the Translators Association.
I will point out, however, that the Society and Translators Association are able to offer extremely valuable advice to all members regarding all aspects of authorship and translation. They will examine any contract in detail, and their help in these fields is outstanding. Any British author or translator should seriously consider joining the Society. (Translators automatically become members of the Translators Association.)
I am a past Director on the board of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS). The ALCS may seem a somewhat mysterious organisation to some, but in fact acts on behalf of authors, scriptwriters and other artists to collect and distribute fees and royalties that are not covered by individual contracts and which may, therefore, be handled only on a collective basis. Items that come under this heading are photocopying, scanning and digital copying fees, foreign public-lending-right (PLR) fees, royalties for rebroadcasting of radio and television programmes, etc. As far as authors are concerned, much of the income is derived from fees collected by the Copyright Licensing Agency, which passes the fees to ALCS for distribution. ALCS currently administers the distribution of public lending right fees payable to British authors from eight European countries. (All EU member states are expected to set up public lending right schemes.)
If you are an author, journalist, scriptwriter, or work in related fields, it could be well worth your while learning more about ALCS. (This particularly applies to academic authors, and anyone who has already had material published or broadcast.) Although ALCS makes great efforts to contact people worldwide, this is not always feasible. (It is amazing how publishers fail to keep track of their authors.) ALCS may even be holding money for YOU. You do not necessarily have to join ALCS, although membership, which brings certain benefits, is a nominal sum per year. Members of the Society of Authors and of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain are automatically given free membership of ALCS, and members of various other organisations, particularly those for journalists, may become associate members. For more details, visit the ALCS site, or contact ALCS directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In case anyone thinks that the sums involved are of minor significance, it may be pointed out that ALCS regularly distributes many millions of pounds to its members in any one year.
© Storm Dunlop, 2004
[dot] dunlop [AT] alcs [dot] co [dot] uk
revision: 2004 Feb.07 08:11 UT