Last Friday, I mentioned Kensington bought my publisher, Lyrical Press, with lots of excitement. Since then, I’ve had the task of going over the contract they offered as my previous contracts became null and void upon the purchase.
Unfortunately, the terms of the contract don’t suit me, so it looks like I’ll be turning to other means of publication for my books. In the mean time, I’ve other projects to focus on and, hopefully, will break into the fantasy market with an agent. I also thought I’d share what I’ve learned of contracts since starting in this business.
1. Read the contract completely. It may be grueling, but it’s easy to sign away rights you might regret otherwise.
2. Read the contract again. Yes, I know, that’s even more daunting. However, there may be things you miss or see in a different light upon a second read.
3. Take notes. Whether you do this by highlighting and jotting your thoughts in the margins or by typing away on your computer, keep track of your thoughts, concerns, and questions as you read though the contract. There are so many things to go over, it’s impossible to keep them straight in anyone’s head.
4. Understand what the terms of the contract mean. Yes, I know, that’s far easier said than done. However, there are many places online to get information. No, you won’t be an expert like an agent or lawyer who deals with such contracts, but being informed can save you a lot of grief. Know, for example, that copyright is your lifetime plus 70 years. Know what are standard royalties and advances. Know what an option clause is.
5. Know what you want before you sign. If the contract isn’t something that will help you reach your goals, don’t sign. However, that also doesn’t mean that, if you dream of reaching the New York Times Bestseller list, that you should demand a $50,000 advance. We all have to start somewhere and then move up as our careers develop. But it also means that if you dream of that Bestseller status with a traditional publisher or have dreams of becoming a big name in the self-publishing business, an option clause that states that the publisher has a right to look at and offer first on all your books is going to make your life a nightmare.
6. The contract a publisher gives you is not set in stone. Negotiation is a normal aspect of the business. Just because you’re one, newly minted author doesn’t mean you can’t try to make a better deal for yourself.
7. Make certain that the contract spells out your responsibilities clearly as well as the publisher’s responsibilities and that you understand them. This contract binds you and your publisher. It isn’t a one way street.
8. There is nothing that says you have to agree to and sign this contract. Yes, you read that correctly. Even if you’ve spent years trying to break into the industry, that doesn’t mean you’re compelled to make this particular deal. Other opportunities are out there. It isn’t as though you will only have one chance ever to sell a book. Go into a contract with consideration and forethought, not out of desperation.
9. Keep a copy of the signed contract in a safe place. This is essential. You never know when you will need to reference it. Plus, that contract forms the basis of future contracts. As an author, you are worth at least as much as the last contract you signed.
Good luck to all of you writers and those facing book contracts now or in the future.
For anyone who has dealt with book contracts, what advice can you add to this list?