Lately I’ve been seeing posts asking questions about when a particular publisher (one I’m associated with) will be paying royalties, how much needs to be earned to cover the advance (including confusion on what exactly they received as an advance), and what rights were retained.
I just recently signed a contract with an agent to represent a book (and characters) that I’m really enthusiastic about, so the topic of contracts is fresh in my mind.
One problem I’ve seen, especially with newly published writers, is they’re so excited by the idea of being published, they’re willing to sign anything. That, or they read the contract, understand what it says, sign it, and put it somewhere never to be looked at again. And then, months or maybe years later, the questions arise.
Contracts may be as short as one page (I’ve received those for short stories) or as long as… (Harlequin’s were 25 pages long.) Some are very specific, others quite general. No matter the length, the writer should always read a contract carefully before signing. If there’s something in the contract you don’t like, don’t hesitate to talk to the agent or editor and see if that item can be changed. Often, with boilerplate contracts, changes won’t be made. In that case, you need to decide if it’s something you can live with. If not, this is the time to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
On the other hand, I’ve heard of many instances where the writer was able to make small changes in the contract. Sometimes those changes involve the rights you are giving to the publisher (many writers nowadays want to retain e-rights); other times it’s to clarify what is meant by an option book (which can be very important for writers who write in different genres).
Contracts don’t guarantee there won’t be any problems in the future—there are always situations where one side or the other doesn’t adhere to the stipulations—but those are the exceptions. In most cases, if a writer has a question about payments or rights, the information will be in the contract.
Writers also need to know with whom they are making an agreement. In the case of the recent questions that I’ve seen on the Internet, the contract was not made directly with the publishing house, but with a book packager. (They act as a clearing house for the publisher, weeding out manuscripts that don’t fit the publisher’s criteria, and editing the selected mss so the publisher simply has to print and distribute the books.) Book packagers take a percentage of what the publisher pays for the book, thus the amount the writer receives is not the full amount that must be earned out before royalties are paid.
So as exciting as it is to be offered a contract, take a day or two to read it over. Make sure you understand what you’re promising and what you’re being promised. Do your research. Ask others who have been published by this company or agency what they’ve experienced. Check the agency or publisher out on Preditors and Editors (http://pred-ed.com/ ). If you’re not sure about something, contact the one offering the contract. Make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting into…and how to get out of it, if necessary.
In my case, I was very satisfied by the contract offered by the Loiacono Literary Agency (http://www.loiaconoliteraryagency.com/ ), and I’m excited to be working with my agent, Evie Saphire-Bernstein. She loves A KILLER PAST, so what’s not to love about her?