On Writing,  publishing

The Magic Bakery: Chapter Two

Chapter Two…

So what makes this bakery so magic anyway? Copyright, that’s what.

As the Copyright Handbook says, “Copyright is the legal device that provides the creator of a work of art or literature, or a work that conveys information or idea, the right to control how the work is used.”

So what is so magic about that? All countries in the world have copyright protections in one form or another. As of the writing of this chapter, almost all countries in the world have signed onto one copyright convention or another, agreeing to the basic aspects of copyright protections.

In fact, here in the States, copyright protection was written into the Constitution right from the beginning, it is that important.

But what makes it magic? Actually just one phrase in that definition I gave you is the source of the magic.

“… the right to control how the work is used.”


Spoiled copyright is a concept that is flat hard to imagine now in this modern world of electronic shelves. As I said in the last chapter, that pie you have sitting there in your shop will never spoil.

Copyright never spoils.

And since we are using a pie as a metaphor for copyright, imagine baking a pie and it will taste just as good five years later as it did on the day you baked it.

Or seventy years later. Or a hundred years later if you live for another thirty years after the baking.

This idea that copyright never spoils is almost impossible for writers coming out of traditional publishing to wrap minds around. It took me some time I must admit.

Traditional publishing companies (for decades) used the produce model for books. They treated books like fruit. Not kidding.

The publishers would set a time the book would appear. Then the book would appear and within a set time the book would “spoil” in the eyes of the publisher and bookstores and be pulled and returned to the publisher for credit. For all intents and purposes, that book was dead.

Rotten fruit. Very few books survived that fate. Very very few.

The reality was that the copyright was just fine. It actually hadn’t spoiled. Just the publishers thought of it as dead.

And so did the authors.

And even if an author got the rights back from the company, chances are the book never saw the light of day again.

Writers who got books reverted still had the right to control the use of the book, sure, but the belief was that the copyright had spoiled and the book or story was done. Used up.

Rotted fruit.

Then along comes this new world and electronic shelves with unlimited space. And suddenly all those dead and spoiled books took on a new life.

The magic of copyright never spoiling.

A book that only had only four weeks on the shelf twenty years ago now had a chance to find a new audience who weren’t even born the first time the book appeared.

My first novel came out in 1989. So basically anyone under 35 would not have read that book unless they found it in a used bookstore. Now that first novel is back out and earning me money for the first time in almost thirty years. And finding new readers who might enjoy it.

It is in this new world that the hard fact of a copyright never spoiling actually started to become a reality to many writers.

It also, after about six or seven years, started to dawn on the major publishers as well, which is why they now buy all rights for the entire life of a copyright. They now understand as well that copyright has value over long periods of time and won’t spoil. (They haven’t figured out what to do with the rights they are keeping, but they have figured out enough to keep them.)

The magic in the copyright-filled pie now rules. But like with any good magic, you have to know how to unleash the spell. I will get to that.


Right now, before I go any farther here in chapter two, I had better get everyone on the same page with a few more basics.

Copyright is the protection of the expression. So when you sell a paper copy of the book, you transfer no copyright. Copyright can only be transferred by a written agreement. You are basically selling a block of paper. Nothing more.

That physical book, that pile of paper, exists and the new owner of the book can sell the block of paper itself. But they have no right to take any of the words from the book and use them.

None. They bought the paper, not the words on the paper.

This is called the First Sale Doctrine and it applies mostly only to paper books.

So in Magic Bakery terms, when a customer in the Magic Bakery buys a piece of your pie (paperback piece), the piece remains in the pie even though the customer gets to enjoy the taste of the pie and walk out of the store with a pile of paper. The piece never leaves the pie.

Magic. An ever-replunishing inventory. Wish I would have had that with my bookstore.

Now we have the new electronic books. So you have the slice of your pie called “Electronic Rights” up on Amazon.

Basically what you have done is rented from the big Amazon Mall some space to include your Magic Bakery inside their mall. 

You also have your Magic Bakery in the Kobo Mall, the B&N Mall, and so on.

When a customer comes through your door and wants a piece of pie in electronic form, they can enjoy it, but they have bought nothing. They have licensed the right to read it only.

Nothing more.

They can not trade or sell that electronic copy. They own nothing and in fact, you never sold them anything, you licensed to the reader the right to read the work.

Nothing more. First Sales does not apply to electronic copies.

So either selling paper copies to a reader or licensing electronic copy to a reader, your pie remains whole sitting in your Magic Bakery.

So over a month’s time you sell or license one hundred pieces of that pie. The pie has not changed or diminished or spoiled in any fashion.

Every store on the planet wishes for magic inventory like that. Only writers and artists and other copyright holders have it.


This is now where the real fun and magic starts to happen.

Why didn’t I say that a person buying the paper book didn’t buy the entire pie?

Because the entire pie is not just paperback rights. Or electronic licensing rights. Or audio rights.

Say you write a novel. The novel is the pie. The copyright is what you license from the pie, the pieces of the pie, basically.

Each area of the pie is a different right. One small slice is paperback rights, one small slice is hardback rights, one small slice is electronic, one small slice is audio, and on and on.

You never sell the entire pie.

Now going to traditional publishers, they want to buy the entire pie and put your magic in their store. And writers are doing that all the time, allowing their magic pie to leave their bakery.

Visualize it this way: Some person from New York publishing in a suit walks into your Magic Bakery and flops some small amount of money on the counter. You say sure and they take your magic pie and turn and leave your store, leaving that spot on the counter forever empty.  FOREVER EMPTY. They walk your magic pie down the mall to their massive anchor store and put your pie in their magic bakery.

You have now sold inventory to a store that is competing with your store.

And you will never get that pie back.

In real world terms, this is “all rights for the life of the copyright” contracts. If you see that in your contract for anything, RUN!!

In coming chapters will be a ton more about this problem. And a lot more about how you can divide up the pie, make more money from each slice, and never lose control.

And remember, every story you finish, every novel, every article (including this Magic Bakery book I am writing right now here in front of you) is a new pie. Another product to have in my display cases and on my shelves when a customer comes through the door of my Magic Bakery.

And the larger the store you have, the more product you have, the more customers and the more money you make if you keep the floors swept, the glass on the display cases clean, and a smile on your face.

Frighteningly enough, it really does work that way.




  • Harvey

    Another one out of the park, Dean. SO important that writers understand this. I will share the URL for this book far and wide when it comes out. And of course the URLs for these posts with my writer friends.

  • Mike Lawrence

    What really confuses me is why traditional publishers are treating writers more egregiously rather than more generously. In a world where their market share is steadily declining, it seems to me they should be wooing writers, not abusing them. It makes no sense to me. I’m losing market share. I’m making less money. My source of revenue – content creators – are finding alternatives to using my publishing services and making money on their own. I know what I’ll do – I’ll offer them less and demand more. Yeah, that’s how to compete for access to that content.

    Can anybody explain to me how publishers have determined that screwing writers as hard as possible is a viable business model in a world where they are losing ground? Seriously, can anybody explain this?

    • dwsmith

      Mike, the answer is fear and massive business focused only at quarterly returns. They can’t afford the growth stages of a writer, so they must create bestsellers out of whole cloth and as we have seen in the last few years, they can’t do that.

      Also they have no sense at all of any threat. They were the only game in town and they still think they are. Think of it this way. Huge department store in a mall, anchor store and massive. A massive bakery. There are smaller bakeries springing up along the mall, thousands of them, but the thinking of the big store is those little things can’t hurt us. As Data Guy points out so often, the little guys now in total have passed the big guys by a long ways. And that’s not even adding in all the small and mid-sized publishers who function as indie.

      This exact thing is why you see so many huge empty anchor spaces in the big malls now.

      Also, disruption. Huge corporations can’t move fast and this disruption has caused them to make stupid move after stupid move. They make more money on electronic sales but because they wanted to protect paper books where they know and make less money per unit, they raise the prices out of reach to customers. Stupid. They believe the old system of the 1980s and 90s will maintain and should be protected and they will protect it right to the bottom as they shut down and get bought out.

      The real problem, sadly, are the uninformed writers they will take down with them.

    • Sheila

      They do it because they can. As much as some of us know and understand how things work, there are always new folks coming along who have no clue. They only know they need to be published by a “real” publisher, and so they fall into the trap like flies to a pest strip.

      Anyone who doesn’t get how things have changed in the last decade will continue to fall for the hype, and they’ll continue to sign away their rights and livelihoods for next to nothing, for terms that basically amount to forever.

      • Harvey

        Exactly, Sheila. Publishers are greedy and playing on writers’ egos.

        The writers involved are greedy for whatever money they can get and for the Traditionally Published Author sticker.

        And they are too insecure to believe in the value of their own stories.


  • Danielle

    Getting very excited reading these chapters online–especially in how you’re explaining copyright in a way that doesn’t make my head spin! This ebook will be a must-buy for me when it’s completed!

  • Marion Hill

    I really like how you broke the down the publishing business with magic bakery analogy. Makes a lot of sense from that perspective. Looking forward to when the entire book comes out. Thanks Dean!