inReads Interview with Attorney/Author Joy Butler
May 7, 2012 by Jada.Bradley
Joy R. Butler is a lawyer who works with clients as they develop media projects, including books, movies, and music projects. She has a law degree from Harvard Law School and a B.A. in economics from Harvard College. Her expertise spans from copyright issues and traditional media to cyber law, new media, and licensing.
Butler is not only a lawyer, but an author as well, so she has some idea of what her author clients go through as they work on finishing a manuscript. Butler has published her own books, The Cyber Citizen’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle: Internet Law for Your Professional Online Presence and The Permission Seeker’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle: Clearing Copyrights, Trademarks and Other Rights for Entertainment and Media Productions, and they are sold through a distributor.
Her “Guide Through the Legal Jungle Blog” discusses things like copyright and fair use issues using current events and clues you in to thing you may not be aware of, such as the reasons why you don’t really own your e-books.
inReads: Why did you decide to focus on clients who work in entertainment?
Joy Butler: I’m a transaction attorney and I work on a lot of business contracts. A lot of the knowledge and interests I have run towards copyright law.
Why did you decide to become an author yourself?
Butler: I’ve always had a creative edge. It seemed a way to exercise that creativity. I also saw a need. Many people in need don’t have the resources to retain an attorney. They have basic questions and no reliable source to provide answers. A well-written book can make a difference.
inReads: Why did you decide to publish on your own?
Butler: I have more control and more of a financial advantage.
inReads: Can you talk more about how you work with your clients?
Butler: I negotiate contracts and I read over contracts. I recently negotiated one with a large publishing company. In another case, a client was represented by an agent (I also negotiated that client’s contract with the agent) and while, the agent set up the contract, it made sense for an attorney to review the contract. The agent was not an attorney and the client had diverse interests. In this example, I didn’t work [directly] with the publisher in that instance, but provided a consultation.
I don’t revise clients’ work or solicit deals for them [as some attorneys who are also literary agents might.].
I make sure a deal is structured properly and advise clients on the pluses and minuses of the terms.
Authors will ask if they need both a literary agent and an attorney. An agent and an attorney serve different needs. I review contracts to help protect a client’s interests.
In negotiating a literary agent agreement, you would look at what portion of revenue the agent will get. It is in your best interest to have an independent person (an attorney) see that your interests are being served, since the agent could be overreaching.
inReads: Is there a difference between an attorney and a lawyer?
Butler: Not in the U.S. The UK makes a distinction between barristers and solicitors. I have clients who work internationally with foreign vendors and I can’t advise them on the laws of other countries.
inReads: Do you feel pride when a client’s work is out there in the public?
Butler: Definitely. That’s part of the fun of being involved in media in this particular role. Going to book release parties or being involved in a production is definitely a thrill, It’s always good to see a project you admire and know that you were involved in it.
inReads: Do you work more with nonfiction or fiction authors?
Butler: I don’t focus on fiction versus nonfiction; I don’t pursue a niche in that way. In addition to working on publishing contracts, I work on ghostwriter agreements and a lot of those tend to be for nonfiction books or memoirs.
Another thing is rights clearance—is it okay to mentions these real people, this event, that quote, etc. [The projects where those questions arise] tend to be nonfiction but sometimes they are fictionalized versions of real life.
inReads: What are you seeing on the horizon for people who want to publish?
Butler: What I’ve seen in the last year or so is people who want to self-publish come in without background knowledge of what the industry entails. There’s an assortment of books that will introduce you to the publishing world: you should know about wholesalers, distributors, ISBNs and remainders.
I’ve had a few people who want to go through agreements with self-publishing companies that are often vanity presses. The term self-publisher is used broadly. These presses give you their ISBN, which ties your book to them throughout the life of the book. Many of these subsidy deals are not to the benefit of the author. They charge exorbitantly high fees and don’t give you many copies of the book.
For example, a company will charge an author $8,000 and take the rights to publish their book for two years and give the author only 25 copies. Then the author will have the option to purchase more copies at a discount (maybe 50%).
If you go to an offset printer and the book is about 300 pages long, you may be able to get 1000 copies for $3000.
With the vanity presses, they’ve made their money [upfront] and have little incentive to try to sell the book. That’s a very bad deal.
Trade publishers don’t charge you money to publish your book. Also, there are legitimate companies that will help authors who want to publish but don’t want to do it all—they can help with things like compiling an index and getting a quote from a printer.
inReads: What do you think about people publishing online with places like Amazon or Smashwords?
Butler: That’s not a publishing relationship; it’s a retail relationship. You don’t have to deal with an intermediary. You’re responsible for delivering a final product.
I see the publishing industry open up and more people being able to participate. That is good and bad: there are more voices out there, but all aren’t worth listening to. Readers will have more difficulty finding things.
inReads: What’s your opinion on disputes involving fan fiction?
Butler: Fan fiction is nothing new but with the opening up of the industry and the internet there’s more out there. As long as fan fiction doesn’t damage their brand or impede their revenue, authors may not intervene. Once it gets more popular and people are getting book contracts, authors may sue.
inReads: What do you enjoy reading?
Butler: My job involves reading and writing all day, so when it’s time for leisure I sometimes go for audiobooks. I go off on two tangents—history and politics (my serious side) or fantasy, sci-fi and mystery (less serious). Recently, I’ve listened to a bio of Harriet Tubman and A People’s History of the United States. I also listened to the audiobook of Game Change before watching the HBO movie—riveting.
About The Author:
Jada Bradley (jadabradley.com) is a Washington DC-based writer and educator who enjoys telling stories in formal and informal ways. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post and online. She holds Masters in Spanish Translation and is a great supporter of creative expression in the various forms it takes. She also writes about local cultural events as D.C. Cultural Events Examiner for Examiner.com. Her blog, In Other Words, can be found at inotherwordz.blogspot.com.