Thursday, November 29, 2007

Troubled waters

Martin Edwards has posted a nice tribute to Peter Haining, the anthologist who seemed to be everywhere from the 70s well into this decade. I had one direct experience with Haining. He bought an original story of mine. He was professional in every respect and not afraid of flattery. I appreciated the breadth of his anthologies. I probably own twenty or more of them. His pulp books are especially fine.

In the course of his post, Martin remarks on a dilemma I've mentioned here before. He talks about trying to secure permission for certain stories:

"The co-operation I received from the families of such writers as John Creasey and Leslie Charteris was generous indeed. Sadly, the agents of one deceased writer - popular in the past, but now out of print - demanded such a high reprint fee that it wasn't possible to include the story. This struck me as short-sighted, for there was a chance to introduce a new generation of readers to a gifted practitioner of classic detection. And it's salutary how quickly even very popular writers slip out of the public eye within a few years of their death."

I know there are some people who think the process of reprinting old stories is easy. Most of the time, yes. But there are always pieces you have to do battle for, usually, in my experience, with descendents rather than agents, though I did have an agent ask fifteen thousand dollars for a novel that had been out of print for nearly forty years.

My most unpleasant experience came with the sharp-tongued widow of a once-prominent writer who said that I was trying to "steal" her husband's story. A 1936 story, never reprinted, for which I offered one hundred dollars. The story was three thousand words long. She told me how how much he used to get for novels; and she told me at great length how much he made writing for the studios. I wanted to point out that nothing of his had been in print for more than twenty years but by then I was too tired of the whole thing to argue anymore.

5 comments:

Hugh said...

Not unusual for some heirs to do this on reprint rights. Perhaps, they're getting back at daddy or mommy and want to assure their mortality. Other times they think their ancestor was a bigger star than he or she ever was in their lifetime.
Hugh A.

Anonymous said...

When my wife was doing a PBS documentary on Dorothy M. Johnson, she sought permission to quote a few sentences from Johnson's novel, The Hanging Tree. Johnson's agents, Otis and MacIntosh, dragged their feet almost forever and almost sank the project, even though the documentary enhanced the value of the estate a great deal and resulted in classroom usage of some of Johnson's novels.

Getting permissions is so difficult, especially from outside lawyers who don't know the business, that a friend of mine, a veteran editor and writer and anthologist, won't do it. I am leaving instructions that my heirs should swiftly grant permission to republish anything out of my literary estate, for whatever fee or no fee at all, and I am toying with the idea of willing my copyrights to the Library of Congress with the instruction to treat my stuff as public domain material.

Richard Wheeler

Todd Mason said...

Then again, at least one agent I know of toyed for years with dreams of his own projects for one of his deceased clients, but has managed to get out one (1) book's worth by this major writer, and that from a small publisher which faded quickly...another set of this writer's works was published by an associational publisher, and that's damned close to all we've seen, while Grania Davis has done good work keeping Avram Davidson's memory alive, and Paul Williams has done impressive things with Philip Dick and Theodore Sturgeon's short fiction...and THE LOST BLOCH has been a fine series, as has been the retrospective Wellman volumes. Meanwhile, one collection, the shortlived series reprint, and little else from this other major writer, and the agent wouldn't even cite a floor for reprinting three of this writer's linked short stories in a magazine project I was putting together. Those three stories still haven't ever been published together, at least in English, as far as I know.

Chap O'Keefe said...

Another, very full tribute to Peter Haining appeared at bearalley.blogspot.com, from literary researcher Steve Holland. Fascinating material, but Haining's death is very sobering for a writer born in the same home town only three years later.

Haining was best known in the UK for his horror fiction collections. I believe he was largely responsible for introducing the US Weird Tales classics to a generation of Britons only a few years behind my own.

Juri said...

It's a form of art. I recently acquired rights to reprint a story by a Finnish wordsmith from the late fifties. I talked first with the widow, then the author's daughter. Both were very reserved. I had to persuade them, talk them over, secure them that there's no harm in this for the author and his inheritance (whatever that would be for a guy whose name 99,99 % of the Finnish people wouldn't recognize). Finally, after three or four long phone talks and some letters, the daughter said: "I guess you can use it."

This for a publication that has 100 readers, at best.

Some other heirs and widows just won't negotiate. I received a hand-written letter from a widow a while back just saying that they can't give their permission. No excuse, nothing. Okay, fine by me, I'll just wait for the next 60 years and then the story is out copyright, but by then no one will be reading your dead husband's stories or books (he'd written them by the hundred).