Saturday, March 09, 2019

What is a poem worth?

I may be over here in the States, playing Bad Piggies, watching Paw Patrol and reading The Worst Witch but my work-in-progress is still on my mind. A kind person is currently proofreading it for me, while I am trying to decide how much I want to spend on including poems that are quoted in the book.

I've mentioned to you that I've been seeking permissions from publishers and agents to include several poems in the text, because even though most of them can be found on the internet, it's important (as well as being the law) that artists are paid for their work. 

It's a complicated process. For one of the poems one publisher holds the electronic rights, another publisher holds the hard copy rights for the UK and Commonwealth and yet another for the US and other countries. If I have the book on sale via the internet as a print-on-demand title, that means I'll need world rights. 

But it's more complicated than that. The publisher who holds the electronic rights has asked me what my print run is. How can you say what your print run is when it's an ebook? How can you say how many you're going to sell? The price of the permission will increase with the number sold. The estimate is 100 GBP (there is no pound sign on this keyboard) for 500 copies, and it will go up from there.

But for another poem there was a flat fee of 50 Euros (no euro key), and another more famous poem was free.

I've been puzzling over this. Is one poem worth more than another? They are all terrific poems. I couldn't say that one is 'better' than another, so what's going on? Is it that one publisher is better represented by his agent? Is it that one publisher is more powerful than another? Is one more generous? Is the smaller publisher more aware that I am unlikely to have a bestseller on my hands and there is no way I am going to make a killing? 

Of course writers should be paid for their work. When several years ago I found someone offering free downloads of Plotting for Beginners I was furious. Every spring I receive a small sum from the Authors Licensing and Copying Service in payment for copies academics have made of my past research publications. Now I have to decide what I am willing to pay to use someone else's poems. I am not rich, nor can I judge how much money I will make from sales of the book. 

A friend asked me how crucial the poem was to the text.  The book is a mixture  of thoughts, feelings, plot, characters, settings and themes. How do I judge whether pulling one thread from the tapestry will make it weaker? How much is a poem worth?

I've been checking out the paving stones on 13th Street but have so far not found an answer.


Anonymous said...

I don't know the answer to your question as I can't tell a good poem from a great one or what makes them so but I am with you on the copyright issue. My husband spent all his working life playing violin in a symphony orchestra. He now receives a small but welcome sum every so often for royalties paid on every record he has ever played on, varying each time depending on what has been declared. Long may it continue.

It looks like you have snow? Enjoy your time with the family.


Sue Hepworth said...

Thank you, Jenetta.

Anonymous said...

One more try to post! Love hearing that you are so deliciously immersed in the world of your two granddaughters. Thanks for taking us there

Anonymous said...

Encouraged to try again! Thinking of poems in books reminds me of my dear late mother in law’s memoir written at the end of her life for th family. She chose poems and excerpts from loved books to introduce each chapter. It was such a labour of love and for us an extra level of connection. I know this is not your own writing situation, but it is a central memory. She self published and distributed as a gift to her extended family so I suppose copyright was not technically an issue.
Hope you can keep all your poems included