When Heritage first came out, one of the most gushing reviews was from a man called Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his name), who was at the time one of the most respected online reviewers of Doctor Who things. In 2008, a little while after Time and Relative Dissertations in Space had been published, Robert and another Who acquaintance Graeme Burk got in touch to say that they were compiling a series of books for Mad Norwegian Press. The intention was that they would be a mixture of articles from old Doctor Who fanzines that deserved a wider audience and new articles written to discuss aspects of the show and its merchandise in a modern context.
The series was Time, Unincorporated, and was intended to have four volumes: the first would be the collected fanzine writing of Lance Parkin, the second and third focusing on the TV series and then a fourth that explored the wider world of merchandise and spin-offs. Knowing that I’d written for fanzines when I was younger, they asked if I had anything that might be suitable. I told him that as most of my factual writing about Doctor Who had been done online, the only things I had were the articles I’d written for the Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s Celestial Toyroom: at that point, they had all been online for over a decade, but if there were any he wanted he was welcome to them.
Robert and Graeme agreed that as they’d been widely available, my articles probably didn’t fit the bill. So they asked if I had any ideas that I might pitch for one of the original articles instead.
At the time, I was studying with the Open University for a degree in computing: part of the course involved a grounding in the creation of the internet and how it had worked since its early days. It’s possible that Kate Orman’s excellent Blue Box had also put the idea of Doctor Who and the internet in my head, but it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually seen anyone talking about the history of Doctor Who fans on the internet. Since it had become the predominant form of fan interaction, it seemed like the obvious thing for me to write about. Not least because I had been there at what I thought had been the very beginnings, on rec-arts-drwho (RADW).
Robert and Graeme agreed, and I was commissioned.
Getting the Story
One of the things I thought had worked well with my article for Time and Relative Dissertations had been the interviews I’d done with Paul Cornell, David Howe and Peter Darvill-Evans. I decided I needed to get as many quotes from people who had been there at the start of Doctor Who internet fandom as I could. I may also have been remembering the review that said my own conclusions in the article weren’t overly original or ground-breaking, and trying to reduce my own input into the content. But as it was, I sent out a ton of Facebook messages to Doctor Who writers and Fans of a Certain Age asking for their help. Those that said yes got sent a form questionnaire and my eternal gratitude.
My main stroke of luck was in choosing to ask Jonathan Dennis, who I discovered had actually been around for the prehistory of Doctor Who fandom, having signed on to the Arpanet Doctor Who discussion group in 1984. Other guidance on the early years of Doctor Who fandom came from Justin Richards, Kate Orman and Peter Anghelides, and they all helped give the article a proper grounding in the history of Doctor Who fandom. From then on, it was just down to me to put my case against what was then still one of the overriding fan arguments on the web: canon.
I joked in the article that I was writing it in one sitting with a glass of wine to properly replicate the environment most Doctor Who discussions on the internet take place in. But in truth, it wasn’t that much of a joke: I can’t remember what had prompted it, but I wrote the article in a single sitting whilst drinking wine and lurking on an Outpost Gallifrey continuity discussion.
After I gave the article a little rest and corrected some of the obvious errors, I sent it out to all the people I had quoted in it to check that I hadn’t misrepresented them. The only exceptions to that was Lance Parkin and Peter Darville-Evans, as their quotes were taken from other sources and they hadn’t been contacted for an interview in the first instance.
I got some feedback, particularly from Kate Orman who helped to refine some of the arguments I was making with her words without ever telling me if she agreed with them. Once everyone had confirmed they were happy with what I’d written, I sent the article off to Robert and Graeme. A little while later, they got in touch to say they were more than happy with it: they were just finishing off one of the earlier volumes, but thought that The Web of Fear would sit perfectly within Volume Four.
What Happened Next?
Following Robert and Graeme’s approval, the article had to be given formal approval by Mad Norwegian Press’ owner Lars Pearson. He got back in touch shortly after that to say that he was happy to accept it, and sent me a contract to sign and send back. With that done, I considered my work on the project complete and started looking around for what I might do next.
When Robert and Graeme got back in touch with me a while later, I thought that they might be letting me know the publication date. Which in a way, they were: they had been talking with Lars at Mad Norwegian, and he had decided that the sales of volumes one through to three hadn’t been good enough to warrant publishing volume four. Whilst that was disappointing news, there wasn’t much I could complain about: after all, it would be foolish to expect someone to publish a book if they thought it would lose them money. But the real annoyance was that – despite my contract – I wasn’t going to be paid for the article.
When I’d signed the article, I’d given it a read through and hadn’t seen anything that had raised alarm bells. But I hadn’t read it carefully enough: in the section detailing what the payment was and how it would be made, I’d focussed to much attention on the amount and not really considered the words “paid on publication” after it. If I’d given it any consideration at all, I’d just assumed it was explaining when the money would arrive. Actually, it was a legal stipulation: if the article wasn’t published, then I wouldn’t get paid. And now the article wasn’t being published.
This isn’t a standard clause in most contracts, because it does push the risk in doing the work from the publisher onto the writer and that isn’t generally considered fair. But the only person to blame for the fact that I’d done the work and wouldn’t be paid for it was me. I’d had the contract, I’d read it and signed it and sent it back quite happily. If I didn’t read it well enough, then that is entirely my fault.
Needless to say, I check my contracts now quite scrupulously.
Robert and Graeme were far worse affected than me, and had put in a lot more work that they weren’t going to see any credit for. They did hope that they might be able to get the last volume published by another publisher, but that came to nothing. I hung onto the article for a long while afterwards hoping that I might be able to find somewhere for it, but in the end nothing came of that either. So instead I chalked the thing up to experience, and walked away.