I’ve been getting a number of reports from various freelancers about unsavory practices at companies which are going to have to remain unnamed for the moment.

In short, there are a number of book packagers out there setting up deals with aspiring creators, then selling the works to third party book publishers trying to get a foothold in the graphic novel racket.

Some of these packagers are contracting overseas talent on the cheap. The overseas talent is ruthlessly exploited. Sometimes they are not paid at all, and they often lose all rights to the work.

I don’t know to what extent the publishers involved know what is happening with these creators. They might want to have a look into it, because in more than one case, the packager has failed to secure contracts from the talent prior to execution of the assignment. Which places the publisher in a bad position, to say the least.

In some cases, the packager has gone back to the talent and asked them to sign post-dated contracts.

That’s a no-no. It’s an even bigger no-no when you consider that work for hire contracts must be executed prior to the start of the assignment to be valid.

Dear Freelancers: Never, never, never, never work for ANY client which does not present you with a contract up front, which does not allow you to show this contract to your attorney, or in any way whatsoever balks at getting you this contract in time for you to review it before the start of the assignment.

Dearest Freelancer, I hate to break it to you, but when your creep of a book packager attempts to dazzle you with their connection to the Big Name Publisher, you do realize that you do NOT work for the Big Name Publisher, you actually work for the creep of a book packager. You do not have ANY agreement with the publisher. You have an agreement with the PACKAGER. Therefore, you do not get any perks, any cache, any brownie points whatsoever for your credit with Big Name Publisher. The packager does.

Beloved Friend Freelancer, if the book packager violates the terms of your agreement, or rips you off in any way, the Big Name Publisher is not liable for diddly squat because YOU DO NOT HAVE A CONTRACT WITH THEM! You have a contract with the PACKAGER! If the packager decided to fold up its tent, declare bankruptcy, and open up again under another name, you can’t go to Big Name Publisher to get your royalties.

Freelancer, please pay attention: there is no blacklist, there is no blacklist, there is no blacklist. I don’t know how many times I have to repeat this, but, there is no blacklist. I am astonished at the level of paranoia floating around this business, but half the aspiring creators seem to think every publisher has the entire internet bugged and is just running around looking for the merest whisper of dissent. At which point, the sad freelancer who had the temerity to complain about not being paid by some crook of a book packager will NEVER EVER WORK IN PUBLISHING AGAIN! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!

For crying out loud, would you people listen to yourselves? I spend half my freaking time on this blog outing bad publisher practices, telling you where to get legal aid, and relating jolly tales about class action lawsuits against publishers no one in their right mind would ever want to work for in the first place. And I work for EVERYBODY!!! NOT BLACKLISTED YET!!!

And what do some of you do?

You sit around worried that some evil client who DOES NOT PAY YOU will keep you from ever working in a business in which you are so desperate to work that you will allow yourself to be abused, and robbed and exploited without airing a single complaint. And THEN you worry that the Big Publisher may never hire you again!!!

Holy Cognitive Disconnect, Batman!

Look, Freelancer, if this client IS NOT PAYING YOU, if they are STEALING YOUR COPYRIGHTS, and THREATENING YOU, then WHY THE FLAMING HELL WOULD YOU WANT TO PRESERVE A WORKING RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM????

Do you honestly believe that if you squeal on some packager doing business with Random House (just an example,) that Random House will never hire you again? Really?

And if your work is all that and the bag of chips, what makes you think Random House is your only option?

How does your book sell? If your book sells, it’s a guarantee that ANY publisher in today’s marketplace is going to be happy to have you cross their palm with silver. Seriously, if your crap ass book packager has not been paying the clients, and is exposing their publishers to liability by not properly securing contract rights before they license works to third parties, YOU ARE DOING EVERYONE A FAVOR BY DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Including the publisher!!!

And news flash: you really want to make your California-based-we-are-totally-in-with-Hollywood-we-will-get-you-a-movie-deal-even-though-we-can’t-seem-to-come-up-with-the-moolah-to-pay-you-$50-per-page-for-an-adaptation-of-the-work-of-a-best-selling-novelist-packager SQUIRM LIKE THE LITTLE PIGGIES, then kindly hidey-ho yourself over to this info and make sure you let that creep of a book packager know that YOU know this:

Under California law, a party transferring rights a work made for hire agreement is an employee for purposes of workers compensation and unemployment insurance and thus there are a wide variety of issues related to those said matters including but not limited to the need on the part of the engaging party to have workers compensation insurance covering that party. Failure to have such workers compensation insurance is a crime under California law as well as exposing the engaging party to unlimited liability and substantial fines and penalties. And this is irrespective of whether or not there is any injury.

Work For Hire Agreements With Creators Outside of California

The California Department of Insurance states:

“Out-of-state employers may need workers’ compensation coverage if an employee is regularly employed in California or a contract of employment is entered into here.

In other words, even if you hire someone you found on Elance who lives in California (and you do not), if you want SEO copyrights, you may still need to treat them as an employee subject to California employment laws.

Yes, my dear Freelancer Buddy! That’s right! Your California-based packager – the one which had you sign that work for hire agreement, the you didn’t-really-know-what-you-were-doing-agreement, because English is your second language – well, that California-based packager may owe you a wad of employee benefits. Even if you live in Timbuktu.

And as much as I appreciate your trust, my dear Freelancer, you should not be coming to me for help. You need an attorney. Now. Soon. Yesterday.

At the bottom of this post is the tag LEGAL and you should click on it. That will take you to various posts, particularly a post on the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. You should read that post, and then contact that organization for help.

There are literally HUNDREDS of attorneys affiliated with the VLA in California alone. No, you do not need to be a US resident to receive legal aid. My very dear friends at Black Mermaid Productions used the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts to handle a serious and thorny small press problem which was settled with Black Mermaid retaining ALL rights to their original creations. Our lovely friends from Black Mermaid are way down there in beautiful Australia. You know, the other side of the planet.

I appreciate your letters. Your stories are terrible, and sad. I am sorry that these things are happening to you.

But I cannot help you if you do not take action on your own behalf.

If you have stayed in a bad situation year after year after year, you MUST take responsibility. You MUST walk away. You MUST get competent legal counsel and stop trying to handle this on your own.

You DO have resources. You DO have rights.

There is NO BLACKLIST. Fighting for your rights will NOT end your career. And if you have been treated this badly thus far, ask yourself why you are so desperate to maintain such a lousy working relationship anyway.

This bad experience is NOT the way it is supposed to be. This is not normal. This is not the way reputable publishers behave. Just because you are working for a book packager which treats you badly, that says NOTHING about the publisher you have not bothered to inform of your treatment. At all.

Why are you holding them responsible for what is happening to you? They do not have a contract with you. They do not know you. You have never even spoken with them. Do you assume they have psychic powers that they can intuit what is happening to you at a third party supplier?

Take your ball and go home. Leave. Get an attorney. Walk away. Don’t look back except to sue the bastards.

And if you aren’t doing these things…

What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid no one else will hire you? Do you really believe this publisher you don’t even work for has some kind of magical powers that can steal your appeal from you so no one else will ever want you?

You don’t really believe that.

If you do not have enough confidence in your work to walk away from a client which is treating you like dirt, lying to you, and stealing from you, then you do not have enough confidence to be in this business.

You have to believe other people want you. You have to believe your work is powerful.

And if you don’t believe that, I cannot help you at all.

c