RPG Becoming An Author

In my Gas-Lamp Fantasy Campaign one of the players decided that he wanted to become an author, and have his adventures published. This was not something which I had anticipated, so I did a little bit of research, and established a few guidelines for literary characters.

The section below comes from the unpublished (and unfinished) Advanced Gas-Lamp Book.


Becoming an Author


Characters may desire, at some stage, to write up their adventures, so that the entire world may hear of their pursuits. This section present some facts with regard to book publishing, including how much a character might expect to be paid for his work.


Copyright: In Great Britain and Ireland the length of copyright for a published work is 42 years from the date of publication, or the life of the author plus seven years, whichever is greater.

It is a different case in other countries, however: in France, it is for twenty years after the author’s or his widow’s life if he has children, or ten years afterwards, otherwise; in Bavaria, Saxony, and other German states (excluding Prussia), it is for thirty years after the death of the author; in Italy, copyright is for forty years after the death of the author; and, in the United States and the Confederacy, it is for 28 years. In the USA there is a right of renewal for a further 14 years.

The history of copyright laws: Copyright in Great Britain dates from 1714; at that time it only lasted for fourteen years. In 1814 copyright was extended to 28 years. In 1842 it was extended to its current length – 42 years from the date of publication, or the life of the author plus seven years, whichever was greater.

In the first part of the century many authors sold their copyright to publishers, and not everybody was in favour of longer copyright, fearing that it might price them out of the market.

This copyright, initially, did not extend to non-resident foreign authors. This would become an issue in the 1850s. A legal case in 1851 found in favour of a foreigner, giving copyright protection to foreigners, whereas British authors had no reciprocal agreement for their works abroad.

In 1876 a Royal commission was set up to look at British and international copyright law, attempting to look at loopholes in the law. This led to the 1885 Berne Convention, which ratified international copyright, although not every country was initially a signatory to it: France did not sign up until 1886, and the United States of America and the Confederate States of America did not sign up to the Berne Convention until 1891. Prussia, isolated from the rest of Europe, still has not signed up to the Berne convention.


Payment: This was a period in which authors, for the first time, could become truly wealthy individuals. A successful author might be able to get paid anything from hundreds of pounds, to thousands of pounds, for a three volume novel.

As far as royalties go, even a beginning author can expect to have at least 2d in the shilling. Published authors can expect to get 3d in the shilling: and that would be in addition to an initial payment for the book.

An able author might expect to get paid an average of £300 a year for his work, as long as he keeps producing. A Gamesmaster should modify that with a skill roll for Literature; under 21, and the character receives less than £300 (and possibly nothing, if he fumbles); 21-27 and the character should get around £300; but if the character can manage a Literature roll of 28+ or even higher, then he might, for some time at least, expect to earn considerably more (depending on how generous the Gamesmaster is feeling).

This amount of money applies only to Britain – an author working even in somewhere as literary as France might only get a fraction of the amount.


Be careful of the law: The author should be careful that he does not libel anybody, and that he does not write anything which is judged to be obscene. Libel, in the eyes of the law, is words which are calculated to bring the victim into hatred, ridicule or contempt. The libel must involve gross negligence or personal malice, excusing those who accidentally libel a person, without intending to cause any harm.

As far as obscenity goes, the Obscene Publications Act came into effect in 1857. Trials since then have established that any publication which outrages public morals is illegal; anything which is likely to deprave or corrupt is illegal. There is no defence, in the eyes of the law, if that was not the author’s original intention.


Publishers: There are a great number of publishers who the budding author might consider from his work, from the likes of Burge and Perrin in Manchester, to the relatively new firm Heinemann’s, which launched in London in 1890, but who already have the likes of Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson on their books. There are many different publishers, some of them who may, given time, prove to be more durable than others.

Become serialised:  Most stories will appear in serial form first, before appearing in a book, and this is, during this period, an incredibly important source of revenue for a budding author. Authors such as John Watson, the literary doctor, will detail the stories of the greatest detective of them all in serial form, before having them appear in a hardback book.

There are many different magazines dedicated to featuring fiction in serialised form but, at the moment, without doubt the most important such publication is the Strand Magazine.


Journalism: The above presumes that the author is some hero writing – or possibly dictating – his memoirs, after some struggle with some would-be world-conquering fiend. But it may well be the case that the character has become an adventurer because of the needs of his writing, and not the other way around.

If a character is writing for a political journal, he will have to stay within the ethos of the publication – a Whig journalist would not be welcomed at a Tory journal, for instance.

Increased sales in newspapers from the mid-1850s means that now, almost forty years later, journalists are professionals, and not the gentleman-amateurs which they once were, and that it is possible to make a living through the profession.


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