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View Full Version : Pick Up Your Stones, My House is Glass and Needs Venting



Summonere
02-15-2011, 10:32 PM
Here's a painful thorn in my side. I pluck it out. Steam vents.

I'm a small-timey semi-pro writer with a smattering of forgotten sales under my literary belt, and some time ago wrote a novella that most who've seen it tell me is good, even the editors who couldn't find room for it in their magazines.* I wrote exactly the story that I wanted to tell at exactly the length that I wanted to tell it (this information will momentarily become important, at least in a minor way).

My brother, who once entertained notions of being a novelist and instead became a clinic-owning doctor, asked to write it up as a novel. I said sure, thinking he was in no way serious, and instead bent on goading his not-very-successful-writer-brother into some sort of writing-and-submitting-and-success frenzy.

Oh but meanwhile I lost my job and haven't worked steadily since, instead scratching for work and toiling at crummy jobs with crazy hours while looking for still better employment. So I haven't been writing.

But I have noticed that at least a few writers manage to sell their original or their out-of-print work online, and that novellas are seemingly a good fit for this new medium. Shazam, thought I. Here's opportunity for my own version of that experiment. I'll put that novella on Amazon and see what happens. At the very least it will prove interesting. Maybe fun. Maybe (but maybe not likely) profitable.

Now, here's where that information from above comes in handy. I wrote this story as a novella because I wanted to explore the story ideas in a form more familiar to me before I turned it into a form slightly less familiar, that of a screenplay. I didn't care at the time if the novella sold or not (and at that length, I didn't expect it to, at least not in print), because the real goal was the script. I'd worked for 3 years for a small production company (now a bigger production company), and they'd asked that I send them my next script, whenever I had it. This novella was to the be the basis for exactly that. But the day job went away. Financial pressure ensued. The script hasn't been written.

Meanwhile, I tell my brother about my plan to put the novella online, and to then follow it with some of my other work I've likely squeezed all the print bucks out of, and after a day, he sends me this (I paraphrase):


I'm 1/3 finished reconceptualizing the novella as a novel, outlined in its entirety, and moving along quickly when I have to time to write. Please wait before posting as e-book. I'd like to finish my version and send it out first. Likely in October.

My immediate reaction was, “Well, I guess he was serious about that novel.” My next reaction was anger and disappointment that he would ask this of me, as if what he's up to with my work is more important than what I'm up to. I've spent a significant part of my life writing for fun and profit. He hasn't. If he writes a sellable novel, I'll have to eat my writerly hat and choke on it.

Yes, I gave him permission to try writing a novel based upon my material – and at the time I didn't mind because I had still other ideas for it – but that he now asks me to wait before e-booking the thing seems outrageous. I realize his chances of writing a sellable novel are probably as remote as that novella ever picking up steam and selling more than six copies on Amazon, but … damn, the nerve. I otherwise like and respect my brother, but what happened, here? Why does he think I should wait to stick my multiply-published writerly toe in that water while he, who's never sold anything in his life, writes his longer version of my work?

Kerfuffle in a kettle, maybe (and solvable with a word), but I vent.

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*Note: Dime-a-dozen rejects, sure, but I like the story.

Phaeal
02-15-2011, 10:34 PM
I haven't read the post yet, but I must say, that's a great thread title.

And now that I've read the post, I must sympathize. Very sticky situation -- I'm not sure what the legal ramifications would be if you went ahead and published, but the family fallout could be painful.

On the other hand, if your brother's version has changed significantly from yours, you could both profit from this story and not interfere with each other. Or even if the stories remain similar, you and he seem to have different markets in mind.

I'd look into a mutual benefit/non-interference pact on this matter.

CheyElizabeth
02-15-2011, 10:38 PM
I realize his chances of writing a sellable novel are probably as remote as that novella ever picking up steam and selling more than six copies on Amazon, but … damn, the nerve.


You're right. He won't sell it. Make a deal with him that whoever finishes first gets to shop it.

Finish first.

Cyia
02-15-2011, 10:42 PM
It's yours, post it.

This isn't one of those "here's an idea from me, you write it and we split the profits" deals. You did the work, so it's yours to do with as you wish. If your brother is serious, then let him do some alterations and make a novel that's all his own. He can shop that. Chances are the changes required to make a novella into a novel will be such that he's got a lot of his own material to work with anyway.

Jamesaritchie
02-15-2011, 11:18 PM
You gave him permission, so it seems to me you're the one showing a lot of nerve in not sticking to your word. The odds of him writing a salable novel are not better and no worse than anyone else writing and selling a first novel. Tom Clancy and Stephanie Meyer did pretty well on their first attempts.

And this is not a "you did the work" deal. Your brother is writing an entire novel base don your story, and anyone who thinks this isn't a shitload of hard work has never done it.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I believe your word either means something, or nothing you do is worth a spit. There are millions of stories, and writers should have more good story ideas than they'll use in four lifetimes. Pick another idea and write it.

happywritermom
02-15-2011, 11:35 PM
I have to agree that the mistake was in saying "yes" in the first place, and now, if you value your relationship with your brother, it's time to stick to your word. Learn from this (Don't ever give permissions for your work lightly.) and move on.

quicklime
02-15-2011, 11:54 PM
It is sort of hard to take back the permission you gave; chalk it up as a learning experience, but I don't think you have any unique claim to it now that you gave him carte-blanche to run with it.

maybe legal, but is the novella worth the family member? that's not even getting into the morality issue of trying to effectively "take it back", which I'd consider wrong anyway but you may not.

BunnyMaz
02-16-2011, 12:01 AM
I'd say I agree you should never have given the novella to your brother in the first place, but I disagree that you should "bite the bullet" now. Your brother has undoubtedly put hell of a lot of work into converting the novella into a novel, but the novella itself is still yours. There is no reason he couldn't rename it when he is done and release under his own belt - by the time he is finished, what he produces will basically be his piece anyway, albeit built on the same frame as your own.

Have you told him how you feel about this, yet?

Fruitbat
02-16-2011, 12:25 AM
Who owns the novella? I believe your brother owns it, because you gave it to him. It doesn't make sense to me that you would have told him that he could use it as the basis of his own novel if you weren't through with it yourself at the time, who does that? Nor does it make sense that he would invest time and energy into it himself if he didn't believe it was his but that it was going to become some kind of competition between the two of you.

It actually sounded to me like he was going out of his way to make a concession and keep the peace by just asking you to wait, instead of asking you why you are now trying to publish it after you already said he could make it into something longer.

Just by logic, it sounds like what happened was you gave it away, then had regrets and/or became jealous when he started reworking it for himself, and now want to either take it back or outshine him on it. Unless I have misunderstood your post, imo that's not right.

leahzero
02-16-2011, 12:29 AM
Yes, I gave him permission to try writing a novel based upon my material – and at the time I didn't mind because I had still other ideas for it – but that he now asks me to wait before e-booking the thing seems outrageous. I realize his chances of writing a sellable novel are probably as remote as that novella ever picking up steam and selling more than six copies on Amazon, but … damn, the nerve. I otherwise like and respect my brother, but what happened, here? Why does he think I should wait to stick my multiply-published writerly toe in that water while he, who's never sold anything in his life, writes his longer version of my work?

I sympathize with you, really, but I sympathize with your brother, too.

You explicitly gave him permission to write a novel based on this concept. You should never give this kind of permission lightly, thinking the other person isn't serious or won't follow through.

And your credentials as a successful writer have nothing to do with it. Bestsellers who've never written anything significant prior to their breakaway hit pop up all the time. You're not somehow more entitled to the rights over this IP just because you've sold writing in the past. Legally, you gave him permission, and that is that.

Unless you've seen your brother's writing or the novel in progress, how can you judge whether he's a lesser writer than you? The truth is, even if he's not as good as you, he might sell the novel anyway. He might sell it for a lot of money. It might do exceptionally well. There's no way of telling. Sometimes mediocre dross goes bestseller because of some nebulous conjunction of favorable factors: the right concept at the right time in the right market, etc.

fireluxlou
02-16-2011, 12:47 AM
Wow, I see where you are coming from, but you relinquished your rights to it, to him. You sound like you regret it now he could make something else of the work you gave up rights too. It doesn't matter if he has written a best seller or not sold anything at all - that doesn't factor into it. Personally I don't like that you're talking of him as inferior because he hasn't sold a book.

He's gone to all that trouble to lengthen the novella into a novel and this is the thanks he gets? You should never relinquish your rights in the future if you're not completely sure. If this is how you treat your brother for his time and hard work of creating this into a novel, I'd hate to be your enemy. I think this is a case of "Live and Learn". Sorry if I misunderstood your post at all.

Susan Littlefield
02-16-2011, 12:52 AM
You gave your brother premission to write a novel based on your experience. Your word is more important than anything, because it's your reputation. Do as he asks, hug him, and tell him you love him. Don't forget to wish him good luck. I love that he kept his word about witing the novel.

It might be time for your to work on something else, if you are not already doing so.

Detri Redmond
02-16-2011, 12:54 AM
I'm assuming he's your older brother. My younger brother was basically an aspiring musician. I mentioned to him a song to sample, he said he would, didn't, and months later another musician put out a great single sampling the exact same song. I wasn't a musician so in my brother's eyes my opinion held no weight in the industry.

You wrote a novella but your brother seems to think that you would do better with making it a novel. I'm not taking his side but I do suggest you either read what he's written so far and maybe think about the benefits you could gain by either working with him or taking his advice. You can get help from a lot of places.

You guys can even think of co-writing the thing. In the end the idea is YOURS and so is the decision. From what you say I would feel a little ticked off too that he would want you wait AFTER finding out you were going forward with the publishing of it. Just talk it out, see if there are any pros.

Monkey
02-16-2011, 12:57 AM
Ouch. My sympathies. :(

On one hand, two authors with the same concept can produce two entirely different stories. If your brother's story is significantly different, perhaps you can negotiate.

On the other hand, even trying to negotiate this could cause family tension, and you gave your word.

But all of that is probably beside the point. Forgive me if I'm assuming too much, here, but you sound overworked and underpaid, stressed and like you miss your old writing days. Putting an old, self-pubbed novella on Amazon isn't likely to help with any of that. But if you threw together a short, you'd be stretching your writerly muscles again. It might de-stress you. And if it sold, so much the better! I know you don't have much time right now, but think of it this way: your OP was over 600 words. How long did it take you? As long as a bathroom break? Could you squeeze in that kind of time a few times a day, or even just once a day, every day? If so, you have time to crank out some short stories!

I bet it would feel good. And it would solve your little dilemma. :)

Cyia
02-16-2011, 01:02 AM
I still don't see how you're equating:

"Can I write a novel off this?"
"Sure, knock yourself out."

With implicit permission to "take" the idea.

1 - the idea itself has no value. The brother's execution is his and the OP's is his. The two are not created equal.

2 - if the brother thought he had a total right to the story, he wouldn't have "asked" the OP to hold off. He'd have brought up that the story "belonged" to him now.

"Reconceptualizing" =/= to writing the same thing. The resulting novel isn't the novella, otherwise, it wouldn't only be 1/3 of the way through or require a new outline. Those steps imply new material, which means that both are still viable and separate creative entities.

Summonere
02-16-2011, 01:24 AM
Well, sometimes I need to be slapped silly with my own absurdity. This looked like a good time.

Of course I'll keep my word. Yes, I regret it. Yes, I'm a jealous bastard (which news I don't like, especially over a molehill like this). And yes, I type faster if I'm angry, even if I'm only angry at myself.

My glass house now has several vents, thank you very much.

Karen Junker
02-16-2011, 01:43 AM
I admire you for your courage to keep your word.

A magic teacher I once studied with said that not keeping your word is like kicking a hole in the bucket that holds your integrity.

You have kept your membership in the whole bucket club. :)

Steam&Ink
02-16-2011, 01:51 AM
I still don't see how you're equating:

"Can I write a novel off this?"
"Sure, knock yourself out."

With implicit permission to "take" the idea.

1 - the idea itself has no value. The brother's execution is his and the OP's is his. The two are not created equal.

2 - if the brother thought he had a total right to the story, he wouldn't have "asked" the OP to hold off. He'd have brought up that the story "belonged" to him now.

"Reconceptualizing" =/= to writing the same thing. The resulting novel isn't the novella, otherwise, it wouldn't only be 1/3 of the way through or require a new outline. Those steps imply new material, which means that both are still viable and separate creative entities.

I tend to agree with this. I would like to have more information about what you said to your brother.

Copyright and intellectual property, with regard to writing like this, is not concerned with an idea so much as with the execution of the idea.

If you said "You can take my novella and do with it what you wish/rewrite parts/turn it into a novel" - then yes, I would say you've handed over the copyright of the novella. Because you've handed over the rights to the execution of the idea - the actual characters; the twists and turns of the plot line; the words themselves.

But, if you said, "So, you like my concept? Go ahead and write your own novel based on that concept - it's OK." Then, I don't believe you have handed over your copyright, because you were only referring to the spark of an idea.

Most importantly, try to clarify with your brother what it is that you actually promised him. That at least will give you a good starting point. Of course you should keep your word, but I think there is some question hanging over what exactly "your word" was.

Quite apart from that, if he's only 1/3 of the way through "conceptualising the outline", I would say he's still 18 miles from nowhere, in terms of progress. How long should you wait? what if he gives up and never completes the novel? Perhaps you need to address these issues with him, too.

janwyl
02-16-2011, 01:52 AM
Well, sometimes I need to be slapped silly with my own absurdity. This looked like a good time.

Of course I'll keep my word. Yes, I regret it. Yes, I'm a jealous bastard (which news I don't like, especially over a molehill like this). And yes, I type faster if I'm angry, even if I'm only angry at myself.

My glass house now has several vents, thank you very much.

Full marks for sucking it up. Well impressed.

quicklime
02-16-2011, 01:55 AM
if all else fails, you can work on it in a year or two.....from the sound if it you have low expectations of him publishing

Soccer Mom
02-16-2011, 02:09 AM
Ouch. Chalk this up to a learning experience and cautionary tale to tell the kiddies around the campfire.

You deserve a cookie. Choco chip or oatmeal?

Jamesaritchie
02-16-2011, 02:12 AM
2 - if the brother thought he had a total right to the story, he wouldn't have "asked" the OP to hold off. He'd have brought up that the story "belonged" to him now.

.

I doubt this is true. It's probably more of a case of not wanting something similar to what he's writing to appear on the market before he has a chance to sell the novel.

And they are brothers. This isn't a case where neither is likely to tell the other one to do anything, or make any real claims. They'll ask, not state. At least, if they're brothers on good terms.

When you start telling and stating, you risk losing a close relationship. Not a good idea.

Summonere
02-16-2011, 02:17 AM
I tend to agree with this. I would like to have more information about what you said to your brother.

Went something like this:


Him: Hey, can you send me a copy of that story your wrote, yeah, that one that everyone's turned down? I'd like to try expanding it into a novel.

Me: Okay.

That's it. Nothing fancy. My expectation, at the time, aside from the aforementioned, was that, sure, he could do whatever he wanted with it. I had lots of other stories to fool with.

I didn't realize what a knee-jerk jealous, petty damned bastard I'd turn into, though, once it looked like he'd give it a serious go. And for what? Nothing.

Well, not quite nothing. I got to embarrass myself in public. Again. :)

Steam&Ink
02-16-2011, 02:25 AM
Went something like this:

Him: Hey, can you send me a copy of that story your wrote, yeah, that one that everyone's turned down? I'd like to try expanding it into a novel.

Me: Okay. That's it. Nothing fancy.

Hmmm. Well, this is not legal advice, but it seems to me that it's bad news for you - I would take that as giving him permission to take the novella and use it as he sees fit. Bummer.

Still, hope springs eternal! Why not phone him and discuss it? Ask him how much he's changed/kept. If he's "reconceptualising" the idea, it seems he may be doing a total rewrite with a different storyline. You guys may be able to agree on this.

Also, give him a chance to be reasonable, too - ask him for a time limit with his rewrite, e.g. if he's not finished, say, the first draft by X date, then he'll agree to let you use the novella. He may be happy with that.

Good luck. I admire that you are staying ethical about this. However, don't assume that your brother won't compromise before you talk to him. People can surprise us sometimes.

Detri Redmond
02-16-2011, 02:33 AM
Ok, I might be missing this but my thing is, is he rewriting the story for himself so that he can publish it. Or is he rewriting it for you so that you might have a better story publishing it. Like, did you tell him you got a rejection letter saying that it would be better expanded or something?

Everyone seems to be assuming that he's planning on taking the story and running with it but you haven't stated that...unless I missed it.

Monkey
02-16-2011, 02:35 AM
Well, not quite nothing. I got to embarrass myself in public. Again. :)

Don't be embarrassed. Writing is an emotional endeavor, and families are emotional endeavors, and when the two mix in a less than optimal way...
:flag:

It does sound like you gave your brother permission to use more than just the concept. From what you said, he could take your novella, add a few subplots, and be done.

My advice is the same as it was in my first post, but is now heavily weighted toward "the other hand."

Glad you got to vent. :)

Fruitbat
02-16-2011, 02:38 AM
Well, not quite nothing. I got to embarrass myself in public. Again. :)

Well if you did, that's a valuable public service. Just think of how good you made everyone else involved feel that it was somebody else and not them for once. ;)

Summonere
02-16-2011, 02:52 AM
Ok, I might be missing this but my thing is, is he rewriting the story for himself so that he can publish it. Or is he rewriting it for you so that you might have a better story publishing it. Like, did you tell him you got a rejection letter saying that it would be better expanded or something?

Everyone seems to be assuming that he's planning on taking the story and running with it but you haven't stated that...unless I missed it.

He's writing a novel based upon a novella so that he can try selling the novel.

None who rejected the novella complained about the length one way or the other, though they said nice things about what was in it.

My take: the novella is probably good, but not exceptional. At that length, to justify placement in those markets, it really should be exceptional.

MartinD
02-16-2011, 03:36 AM
I think you did a good brother thing. You may have spurred a writing career for your sibling. If you have, you'll always know where he got his start -- and, if he hits it big, he may remember where he got his start, too.

izanobu
02-16-2011, 04:48 AM
I'd say- keep your promise, let him write the book. A relationship with your brother is probably more important than a novella, no?

Meanwhile, why aren't you writing more things? finish that screenplay, write another novella or ten and put them up online if you want (or submit them around). It seems like you are a little stuck (just going on the information in this post) on this one novella. It's just one story. Write more :)

kaitie
02-16-2011, 09:46 AM
Honestly, as far as my initial impressions go, it sounds like you gave it to your brother to play with because you weren't doing anything with it at the time. Now you have something else you want to do, and you're irritated with your brother for asking you not to.

Personally, I think you should have gone to your brother first before you ever even put it up and asked him permission to do it. You could have worked out an arrangement. Yes, the novella was originally yours, but he wanted to rewrite it as a novel and you said he could. He's been working on that and might have something promising that could do more than just sit on Amazon. Maybe it won't, either, but to me it seems like you're at least half at fault for not having mentioned the plan to him beforehand and asked what he thought.

Honestly, it sounds like a case of buyers remorse to me. You said he could do this, figure he never will anyway, and now you're frustrated that he has.

It also sounds like there's a lot of animosity floating around that concept of your brother being a successful doctor after you're struggling with unemployment--you might want to be careful not to let that color your impressions too much.

My suggestion would be to talk to your brother and see if there's a way to work together on this. You could consider yourselves co-writers, and if the book is a success, that would only work in your favor for the screenplay, right? And if the book fails, you can still go back and write the screenplay.

lucidzfl
02-16-2011, 10:06 AM
I had this idea for a story about a young british boy from a pretty crummy upbringing who, through a series of crazy new events was dragged into a magical realm he had no idea really existed, and discovered that it was his destiny to provide order to a crumbling chaotic world. Over the course of several books, he gained in his power and abilities before finally gaining the strength to overcome the demonic force that had shrouded the world in misery and death. Along the way he makes friends, finds a love interest, and befriends a sad little creature who ends up dying along the way. (Which was heart breaking)

Sigh.

But of course, someone already wrote that before I had the chance...

Damn you Lloyd Alexander and your Chronicles of Prydain...

Ps. that came out 30 years before harry potter and is practically identical in the journey of it.

Write your own book. Plot doesn't mean shinola.

Linda Adams
02-16-2011, 03:10 PM
Go start working on a new story and walk away from this one. You can always use the research from it, the setting, or a character you were developing for future projects. Honestly, it's not worth damaging--possibly permanently--your relationship with your brother, especially have you agreed in the first place. A number of years ago, I worked on a book with a cowriter, and the relationship self-destructed while we were submitting it to agents. I had to walk away from the book, and my choice was sit around and be angry over it and not do anything or get on with a new project.

izanobu
02-16-2011, 10:43 PM
Actually, you can just publish the novella. It's a different work (plenty of writers write short stories or novellas, sell them, and then write and sell a novel based on it), so it won't infringe on whatever your brother is working on. So again, not sure why the drama. Just let your brother know that whatever he's doing is different, so it won't harm his novel if you've got the novella out there. :)

artemis31386
02-17-2011, 01:13 AM
Chalk it up to a learning experience and move on. There's no use damaging your relationship.

MJNL
02-17-2011, 02:19 AM
Well, the way I look at it, the Novel and the Novella are two different beasts. Many authors have sold multiple versions of one concept (Ender's Game comes to mind).

I don't agree that letting him write a novel means you have no right to your novella. The novel is his (while the idea is yours, and probably the plot and characters are yours since he's writing it direct from your novella. So if it is published, you should probably push for co-author), and the novella is yours. You let him take the story and transform it, but that doesn't mean he owns or has any right to your original work.

It would be unfair for you to ask him not to submit the finished novel anywhere, just as it's unfair for him to ask you not to submit the original novella anywhere (including Amazon).

Just because you publish the novella doesn't mean he's lost his chances with the novel.

ETA: Well, I guess that's the long way of saying I agree with izanobu, who's post I just saw, lol.

shaldna
02-17-2011, 03:18 AM
Wow, there's all sorts of copyright issues here that we couldn't even begin to address - for instance the characters, who owns copyright to those? The premise as a whole, that's an issue. is he compltely rewriting, a re any of your phrases, lines, paragraphs used?

And, even if you have given permission, how are you guys going to work this out when it come to the money aspect?

My advice would be to speak to your lawyer about this.

kurzon
02-17-2011, 05:42 AM
Meh, I'd use the story as a marketing ploy.


SHORT OR LONG? As a writing experiment two brothers took the same story idea. One turned it into a novella. One turned it into a novel. Read both, see which length works better for you!

On the issue of copyright, etc - on the quoted exchange above, there is absolutely nothing to stop you publishing your novella, either legally or morally. Your brother asked if he could turn your novella into a novel, not that he could assume copyright ownership of the novella. There is absolutely nothing in the exchange, implied or implicit, which suggests a relinquishment of copyright, let alone a non-competition clause which says you cannot continue to do with the original novella as you see fit.

Your brother may _think_ that that is what he asked for, of course, but consider what your reaction would have been if your brother had asked: "Will you relinquish copyright of your novella to me, and never publish it yourself, so I can turn it into a novel?" [Not to mention, wow, what an audacious request that would be.]

You _will_ get some interesting copyright issues developing if he's not simply taken the ideas of your story, but used your words, and simply padded. That would make you co-authors in my book.

Libbie
02-17-2011, 09:27 AM
You're right. He won't sell it. Make a deal with him that whoever finishes first gets to shop it.

Finish first.

I agree with this.

And in the future, consider not collaborating on anything with anybody. I know for some folks collaboration works out, but it always seems to me, the observer, that it just needlessly complicates the whole thing for everybody involved.

Summonere
02-18-2011, 09:11 PM
Thanks, all, for commenting.

Ingvanye
02-22-2011, 01:52 PM
I love Susan and Karen's advice. It's beautiful and shows grace and integrity.

Go with it. This is how character is built.