Disney Must Pay

I am a member of the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force, a group of various writers’ organizations (SFWA, MWA, ITW, etc), that is demanding that  authors, comic book & graphic novel creators get paid the royalties they’ve earned for their work from Disney & its companies. Here’s the full press release:

LOS ANGELES (August 12, 2021) – The #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force is expanding its focus and reaching out to all comic book and graphic novel creators who may be missing royalty statements and payments from Disney and its companies.

“Writers, artists, illustrators, letterers, and other artists are valued members of the creative teams that produce art and literature that is enjoyed by millions,” said Mary Robinette Kowal, Task Force Chair. “We are inviting these talented artists to share their stories and we will fight for them to receive the money that is owed to them.”

All potentially affected writers and artists should contact the Task Force to share their stories. Creators who are missing royalties or royalty statements may fill out this form hosted by SFWA. Anonymity is guaranteed.

Lee Goldberg, Task Force member and founder of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW), adds his thoughts about the need for the #DisneyMustPay Task Force to expand its reach to all creators: “Novelists and illustrators provide a rich, all-encompassing story-telling experience, their words creating fully flesh-out characters and detailed images, if not entire worlds and universes, in the readers’ minds. The authors and artists honored their obligation to write and create their books. Now Disney should have the decency and integrity to honor their obligation to pay them. It’s that simple.”

Sandra Wong, National President of Sisters in Crime, states, “Sisters in Crime believes that writers and creators should be paid what they’re legally owed for their work, no matter the media or genre. We joined the Task Force to help spread the word to potentially affected authors, since Disney has placed the onus to be paid on writers and creators, and to lend our voice to an issue which has potential consequences for all creators.”

The Task Force’s goals are to ensure that all writers and creators who are owed royalties and/or statements for their media-tie in work are identified and that Disney and other companies honor their contractual obligations to those writers and creators after acquiring the companies that originally hired them.

Fans, fellow writers, and the creative community need to continue to post on social media showing their support so the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force can help writers. Thanks to their support, the message is reaching Disney and related organizations, to alert them to the work they need to do to honor their contractual obligations.

Progress has been made, most notably ensuring that three well-known media tie-in authors have been paid and attaining the cooperation of BOOM! Studios in identifying affected authors. However, more than a dozen additional authors are still in negotiations with Disney. Many of them, especially ones with lesser-known names, find communications with Disney repeatedly stalled until pressure is again applied by the Task Force and its supporters.

The #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force, formed by SFWA, includes the Authors Guild, Horror Writers Association, International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW), International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime (SinC). Individual writers on the Task Force include Neil Gaiman, Lee Goldberg, Mary Robinette Kowal, Chuck Wendig, and Tess Garritsen. The Task Force identifies and guides authors and creators who might be owed money. Disney is refusing to cooperate with the task force to identify affected authors.

The #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force is working to make sure creators’ contracts are honored, but individual negotiations are rightly between the creators, their agents, and the rights holder. The Disney Task Force is working to address structural and systemic concerns.

Additional updates and information are available at www.writersmustbepaid.org.

 

Work-For-Hire Conundrum

This article from The Guardian is a must-read for anyone considering a “work-of-hire” deal in book publishing or comic books. 

According to multiple sources, when a writer or artist’s work features prominently in a Marvel film, the company’s practice is to send the creator an invitation to the premiere and a cheque for $5,000 (£3,600). Three different sources confirmed this amount to the Guardian. There’s no obligation to attend the premiere, or to use the $5,000 for travel or accommodation; sources described it as a tacit acknowledgment that compensation was due.

Marvel declined to comment on this, citing privacy concerns. “We can’t speak to our individual agreements or contracts with talent,” said a spokesman.

Several sources who have worked with Marvel say that remuneration for contributing to a franchise that hits it big varies between the $5,000 payment, nothing, or – very rarely – a “special character contract”, which allows a select few creators to claim renumeration when their characters or stories are used. There are other potential ways to earn more – many former writers and artists are made executives and producers on Marvel’s myriad movies, cartoons and streaming series, for example – but those deals depend on factors other than legal obligation.

“I’ve been offered a [special character contract] that was really, really terrible, but it was that or nothing,” says one Marvel creator, who asked not to be named. “And then instead of honouring it, they send a thank you note and are like, ‘Here’s some money we don’t owe you!’ and it’s five grand. And you’re like, ‘The movie made a billion dollars.’”

The way Marvel writers & artists are being treated may be “contractually legal,” but it is still despicable. 

I’m very, very lucky. I have been treated fairly in my work-for-hire deals, which include my Monk and Diagnosis Murder novels. Those were great experiences. But I was in a unique position in both cases.

On Diagnosis Murder, I was the executive producer/showrunner on the TV series for several years (all with William Rabkin). The publisher and studio came to me to write the books… and that gave me leverage. Creatively, I certainly wasn’t going to let them tell me how to write books based on a TV series that I exec-produced. And, to their credit, they never dared  🙂 I had complete creative freedom.

On Monk, I was already a writer on the TV show and good friends with Andy Breckman, the creator/showrunner. He gave me free reign to do as I pleased creatively and he personally made sure I was treated fairly on every level (and two of my books were adapted into episodes). I wish I was paid a lot more, but otherwise, I look back on those 15 books with nothing but fondness.

The big pitfall with work-for-hire book deals is that you don’t own any aspect of your work. It’s the equivalent of building an addition on someone else’s home. In most work-for-hire deals, you are paid a one-time flat fee, a buy-out of all rights and royalties. Some work-for-hire deals, like mine, included a share of royalties and can also include a share of some future rights, like a movie or TV adaptation, but that’s very rare and few authors have the leverage to demand it…and get it.

The common work-for-hire, total buyout deal is easier to stomach when you are working within a hugely successful intellectual property you didn’t create… and it can bring your work (and your name) to a wider audience than you could ever hope to reach on your own, especially early in your career. It can be a big boost in visibility (reviews, bestseller lists etc) that’s worth the often very low pay, draconian deadlines, and rigid creative restrictions.

But a work-for-hire deal becomes thornier when you create new characters and storylines that lead to other works in the “universe” you are working it. Take, for example, the freelance TV writer who wrote the “Space Seed” episode of the original Star Trek series. Decades later, the character he created became the basis for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. My guess is that he got paid a pittance, if anything, and no credit. The Writers Guild of America has since dramatically increased protections (and compensation and credit) for writers in that situation, but authors don’t have a union in their corner or anything close to the same protections. They have an agent, or a lawyer, and they can consult with the Authors Guild (which has no teeth and is not a union), but they are still likely to get screwed over. The $10,000  you got paid to write a work-for-hire book seems like a win at the time…but it becomes an insult if the novel is later adapted into a movie or TV series or TV series episode…and you not only don’t paid anything more, you don’t even get a credit for your work.

Work-for-hire contracts in the publishing world are routinely slanted against the writer on every level. That needs to change. But will it? I doubt it.

 

The Mail I Get: Rejection Edition

How to never sell your book…

We received a submission at Brash Books, the small publishing company I co-founded six years ago with Joel Goldman. After reading the submission, we decided to pass. This is the entirety of the rejection letter we wrote to the author:

Thank you for thinking of Brash for XYZ. Unfortunately, it’s not a fit for us. We wish you the very best finding the right home for the book.

His reply:

Keep printing The same redundant shit Arrogant ass, just remember the title of this book, u will see it on the best sellers list asshole.

And I’m sure he wonders why he hasn’t sold a book yet. (BTW, his submission was awful). So I decided to respond:

I sincerely doubt it… and I say that as a novelist who has actually been at the top of the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post bestseller lists multiple times. To be a successful author, you not only need to write well, and tell a good story… you also need to have some decent people skills. If I lashed out and called every publisher who politely rejected my work an arrogant asshole, I wouldn’t have achieved my success. How do I know? Because I ultimately ended being published by two of the publishers who’d rejected my previous work. You are clearly the biggest obstacle to your success. You might want to rethink your strategy.

He responded a short time later. 

 
This book has a very complex plot and vivid characterization that you couldn’t have possibly ascertain in the brief time you review my story. is a very complex plot, and profound characterization. This story is very unique, and has major shocking twists at the end! A PHD from Western Kentucky, who was a professor for 38 years is editing it, and compared it to Silence of the Lambs. It is very, very unique story, and intertwines orwellian themes, which compare to today’s political and social upheaval. I DO APOLOGIZE FOR LASHING OUT, NOT PROFESSIONAL AT ALL, sorry just have my heart and soul in this book, and you rejected it in record time, this is not my first rodeo, again I do apologize!

Still a little crazy, but at least he apologized. I guess that’s progress.

Sweet Home Alabama

I had a great time as a guest of honor at two conferences in Alabama last weekend — Murder in Magic City in Birmingham and Murder on the Menu in Wetumpka. But things got off to an embarrassing start.

I arrived in Birmingham airport late on Friday. The volunteer who was picking me up texted me a message as I got off the plane  — “I’m the blond in the blue Honda Pilot parked outside of baggage claim.”

So I stepped outside, spotted the blond in the Honda Pilot, knocked on the window, opened the back door, tossed my luggage on the seat and climbed in.

We drove a couple of yards and she glanced at me in her rearview and said “Are you John Ballard?”

“No, I’m Lee Goldberg.”

“Then what the hell are you doing in my car?”

Lee in Wetumpka

“You’re a blond in a Honda Pilot parked at baggage claim.”

She came to a hard stop. I began to explain when another, identical blue Honda Pilot with a blond at the wheel drives up.

I said, “Oops, wrong blond.”

I apologized, grabbed my luggage, and hopped out. I felt like an oaf…but at least she saw that it was a genuine mistake.

Things went more smoothly after that, I am pleased to say. I joined Sue Ann Jaffarian (who arrived in her new RV), Matt Coyle, Stacy Allen, Hank Early, Carrie Smith,  JD Allen, Emily Carpenter, Christopher Swann, Toni Kelner, and many other authors to discuss mysteries, the business of writing, and our journeys into print. The first conference was held at a library in Birmingham and we stayed at a hotel that had a free soft drink dispenser in the lobby. Free-flowing Diet Coke. That’s  a perk I could get used to.

On Sunday, we were taken an hour or so away to Wetumpka, an adorable little town on a river that was nearly wiped off the map by a tornado a few months ago. We were greeted warmly by the Mayor, given our own library cards by the library staff, and then went out to speak to an enthusiastic audience. 

I had a great time. That said, during the signing, a reader caught me off guard with this comment:

“I keep falling asleep while reading the first chapter of your book so I jumped to the last chapter & it put me to sleep too… but I’m not giving up on you.”

I told her I appreciated her faith in me…

S is for Sad

Fellow Kentucky Colonels Lee Goldberg & Sue Grafton

I’m so sad to hear about Sue Grafton‘s death. Not only was she incredibly talented, she was also a very nice woman.

I met her for the first time in the mid-1980s at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference…shortly after her first or second book came out. I had a long, thoroughly delightful lunch with her, my Mom, and Paul Lazarus…and then I think we did a panel together. She wasn’t a celebrity then, but she made a strong impression on me and Mom. We liked her instantly. After that, I ran into Sue often on the “book circuit” and she was always so gracious and nice to everyone…and never failed to ask how my Mom was doing.
 
A few years ago, she was a special guest at the Riverpark Center in Owensboro, KY…we did a panel together during the day and I was honored to interview her at a gala dinner. She was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel during one of the events. As the Kentucky secretary of state or whomever it was told the audience all the reasons she deserved the honor, she leaned over & whispered in my ear: “This is the third or fourth time they’ve made me a Kentucky Colonel. You’d think they’d keep track of this stuff”. But she went up on stage, thanked the politician for his kind words, and said what an honor it was for her to receive it as a native Kentuckian.
In between, those events, I got together with her and her husband at Denny’s for some nice breakfasts together, where we talked shop.Those were the special times for me.
 
The last time I saw her was at Bouchercon in Albany, where we chatted for a while at the bar and I got to introduce her to some writer-friends of mine, who she immediately treated like old friends of hers, too. That’s the kind of lady she was.

 

Sue, me and Zev Buffman at the Angie Awards in Owensboro, KY

Kentucky Colonels Sue Grafton and Lee Goldberg at Bouchercon

I wish I could remember what I did to earn this delightful inscription! 🙂

Cheesecake

Here’s the main title sequence for SABLE, an awful series that only lasted for a month in 1988. William Rabkin & I wrote an awful freelance script for this awful series that thankfully wasn’t shot — but it had a lasting impact on us.

The show had a terrible, expository character, an African-American tech wizard in a wheelchair, named Cheesecake. We hated that character…because it wasn’t a character. It was a painful cliche. So “Cheesecake” became our shorthand, and is to this day, for a cliche character who exists only to provide dull exposition.

It’s amazing and depressing how many times that EXACT SAME DREADFUL CHARACTER — the exposition/computer whiz character in a wheelchair — has been repeated in shows since then.


Cheesecake came to mind today because I just watched the first regular episode of Bill Bixby’s THE MAGICIAN, from the newly released DVD boxed set, that had that same “Cheesecake ” expository character — though it was a white guy in a wheelchair and aired several years before SABLE premiered. Just goes to show how long that dreadful, lazy writer cliche has existed. 

Our Worst Script

seaquesttitlecard300Here’s an excerpt from “About Face,” the worst script that William Rabkin and I ever wrote…but before I share it with you, here’s the story behind it (which I originally shared on this blog back in July 2006)

We were working as supervising producers on the third season of SeaQuest, a scifi show about a phallic submarine exploring our oceans in the year 2032. We were a day into writing episode 14 when the series got cancelled. But studio and the network were still obligated to pay us for the script — the catch was that we actually had to write it if we wanted our money.

In other words, we had to write a script we knew would never be shot and that we were pretty certain nobody would ever read. But we weren’t about to walk away from $25,000.

So we wrote it in one day…while we were packing up our office. We amused ourselves by writing the worst scenes that we possibly could, reading them out loud to each other as we wrote. We turned in the script as we walked out the door and we assumed it would never be read.

To our horror, we were wrong.

We discovered years later that bootleg copies of this atrocity were showing up at science fiction conventions as one of the “lost episodes” of the final season. Some have even shown up on the Internet. It even became the basis for a fanfic story.

Okay, now here’s the excerpt. All you need to know to follow along is that Piccolo is a man with gills and Darwin is a talking dolphin (I’m not kidding).

EXT. SEAQUEST – CGI/STOCK

as it cruises through the sea.

INT. SEAQUEST – CAFETERIA

Lucas is at a table eating as Piccolo comes in.

PICCOLO

Hey, Lucas, what’s the blue plate special today? I’m starving.

LUCAS

Grilled trout.

PICCOLO

Nothing else?

LUCAS

Scrod casserole.

PICCOLO

Pass.

LUCAS

Wait – I thought you were starving.

PICCOLO

I just lost my appetite.

(re: Lucas’ plate:)

You’d think the Chef could be a bit more sensitive.

LUCAS

The presentation may not be great, but it tastes pretty good.

He holds out a fork of trout.

LUCAS

Here, have a bite.

Piccolo turns away, disgusted.

PICCOLO

Are you nuts? Why don’t you go offer Darwin some dolphin pate.

Suddenly Lucas understands.

LUCAS

Tony, you aren’t a fish.

PICCOLO

I have gills, Lucas. I may not be a fish, but it still feels like
cannibalism to me.

LUCAS

You’re a human being who happens to have gills, that’s different.

PICCOLO

If you could fly, believe me, chicken wouldn’t look very
appetizing.

LUCAS

Chickens don’t fly.

Piccolo glares at Lucas and walks out. Lucas smiles to himself.

Playing Cops and Robbers

I just got back from The Writers Police Academy where I, and two hundred other writers, got to play “cops and robbers.” It was my first time participating in the annual event which, I am told, is as close as you can get to actual police training without becoming a cop. You can see me talking about it on the local news here and here.

The event was held this month at a law enforcement training facility in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was an amazing opportunity for authors to get hands-on experience and education in crime scene investigation, pursuit driving, arson investigation, improvised explosives, firearms training… the list goes on and on. I learned cool stuff from EMTs, arson investigators, bomb squad members, homicide detectives, uniformed cops, and other professionals that will definitely show up in my books and TV shows. Nothing beats hands-on experience when it comes to discovering those key details that make fiction come alive on the page and on screen.

Rescue simulationThe event organizers had a flair for the dramatic—the conference opened with a rescue simulation involving a gruesome car crash. Cops, fire, EMTs, and even a helicopter showed up to handle the call. Later, organizers staged a “live shooter” simulation with injuries in a crowded lecture hall. Once again, they went for full dramatic effect. Not only was it entertaining, but it was an excellent teaching/learning experience for everyone… participants and audience alike.

In one session, I got the chance to learn tourniquet techniques… and the lesson ended with me entering a dark, smoke-filled room with loud music and strobe lights to find a victim who’d list both legs and was bleeding out (water, not blood) and I had to apply what I’d learned under pressure.

I also cleared a building with an active shooter (on a simulator and in “reality” in a specialized training house), learned to fire a Glock and a rifle, pulled over speeders in simulated night-time traffic stops, and drove a police cruiser “in pursuit” in a training track.

Lee in hot pursuitWe also got to examine up close squad cars, SWAT vehicles, urban assault vehicles, mobile command vehicles and all of the equipment in the vehicles and that the officers carry.

There were so many great seminars that I wasn’t able to attend that I wanted to… which I guess means I’ll have to go to the conference again next year. Authors Boyd Morrison, Melinda Leigh, Robin Burcell, and Kendra Elliot, who have attended many previous WPA conferences, warned me this would happen. Once you go to WPA, you’re in for life.

Like all writing conferences, I also enjoyed catching up with old friends and making lots of new ones. If you write crime novels, I strongly recommend that you sign up for next year’s conference the instant tickets become available.


Pictured: Tod Goldberg (who writes with Brad Meltzer), Robin Burcell (who writes with Clive Cussler), Lee Goldberg (who writes with Janet Evanovich), Maxine Paetro (who writes with James Patterson) and Boyd Morrison (who writes with Cussler) got together at The Writers Police Academy to talk shop and shoot big guns. 

Tod Goldberg and Lee Goldberg: The Jew Team

The Jew Team — Tod Goldberg & Me

Traveling the World for THE PURSUIT

One of best parts of beginning a new Fox & O’Hare adventure for me is traveling to the locales where the story will take place. For our new, #1 New York Times bestseller THE PURSUIT, that meant heading off to Honolulu, Antwerp, Paris, Bois-Le-Rois, and Italy’s Amalfi Coast…and also drawing upon on my past experiences in Montreal and Lohr, Germany.

Exploring Honolulu for THE PURSUIT
Exploring Honolulu for THE PURSUIT

The Antwerp diamond heist at the opening of THE PURSUIT is loosely based on a real incident, so I read lots of articles and books on the subject, sought the advice of the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, and visited the scene of the crime for myself. It makes it much easier for me to write about a place and make you feel like you’re there, too, if I’ve experienced it first-hand. That’s because it’s the little details that I discover,  the things that stick in my memory, that make the locales come alive for me when I sit down to write..and, I hope, for you in the retelling.

Nick Fox breaks into that Antwerp building behind me...even though there is a police checkpoint right out front...
Nick Fox breaks into that Antwerp building behind me…even though there is a police checkpoint right out front…

For the two heists in Paris in THE PURSUIT, I scouted locations throughout the city (mostly on foot) before deciding on where all the events should take place…then took hundreds of photos, studied maps, and consulted experts, like an infamous “cataphile” who roams the city’s underground catacombs.

This spot in Paris plays a big role in THE PURSUIT
This spot in Paris plays a big role in THE PURSUIT

I also spent a lot of time in Sorrento, Capri, and Positano Italy soaking up the atmosphere (and plenty of limoncello) looking for the right location for the bad guy’s “vacation home.” I found it during a boat trip from Sorrento to Positano, then fictionalized it to suit my devious creative needs. A day trip to Capri gave me some great historical “background” for an an interesting obsession for the villain and his home. If you’ve read the book, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.  I never would have stumbled on either the location or the historical nugget without making the trip.

Sampling limoncello in Sorrento...one of the many sacrifices I make for my art.
Sampling limoncello in Sorrento…one of the many sacrifices I make for my art.

We didn't end up setting any sequences in Positano in THE PURSUIT...but it's bound to show up in future novels the same way my past trips to Lohr, Germany and Montreal made it into this one.
We didn’t end up setting any sequences in Positano in THE PURSUIT…but it’s bound to show up in future novels the same way my past trips to Lohr, Germany and Montreal made it into this one.

I recently returned from a nearly month-long research trip to Australia and New Zealand for the sixth Fox & O’Hare adventure and I can’t wait to take you there on the page…

The Pursuit & Cosmic Coincidences

Yesterday several dreams came true all at once.

Pursuit is number oneFirst off, you can now call me a #1 New York Times bestselling author. THE PURSUITmy fifth Fox & O’Hare book co-authored with Janet Evanovich, debuted at #1 on the ebook bestseller list (and #8 on hardcover, and #3 on print & ebook combined). Hitting #1 is a dream come true… but it got even better thanks to some cosmic coincidences.

As some of you may know, my brother Tod is also an author. His latest book is THE HOUSE OF SECRETS , co-authored with my friend Brad Meltzer, came out in early June …the same day as the paperback edition of THE SCAM, my fourth Fox & O’Hare book with Janet Evanovich, was released. It’s a total coincidence, since we have different publishers. HOUSE OF SECRETS debuted at #6 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list and last week THE SCAM was #5 on the New York Times mass market paperback list.

Screenshot 2016-06-29 14.43.50But this week we are on the same bestseller list together — THE PURSUIT is #8 and THE HOUSE OF SECRETS is #16 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list.

Woo-hoo!

We’ve both fantasized about this happening and now it actually has. We both have a hard time believing it. We owe a big thank you to Janet Evanovich and Brad Meltzer for their big roles in making this dream come true…and especially to all of YOU for buying our books.

PS – The great coincidences don’t end there.  Audiobooks superstar Scott Brick reads the audio version of THE PURSUIT and he also reads the audio version of THE HOUSE OF SECRETS. How cool is that?