Monday, January 25, 2021

Reading the fine print

 Q: How much scrutiny do you or an attorney give a contract, and have you ever realized after you signed that you left something on the table?


-from Susan


This question pinches a bit. Because I’ve been published by different entities, I’ve had a handful of different contracts to review. I’ve gone from the excited newcomer (“Yes! Yes! Yes to everything and thankyouthankyou!”) to “What do you mean they keep foreign rights?”


In every case, my agent had her company’s lawyer “take a look” at the contract, but in no way did that help me. Why? Because the lawyer’s advice always was that there wasn’t anything that could be done. This was, I was assured, the best deal I could get. The unspoken judgment I took away was that I was not “big” enough, nor so desired by the publisher that there was negotiating room. The results over the years have been that I only got one-time payments for the sales of special rights (large print, mass paper, audio) so no royalties from those editions, of which there were many. No payment the time my first book and all rights were sold by one publishing house to Amazon. No ability to entertain interest for film/TV rights unless my agent’s film agents handled everything, for double fees. 


Our professional organizations feature articles by attorneys, and I urge writers to read the articles and push for a contract review. It can’t hurt. For now, in this rapidly changing publishing landscape, maybe the best contract detail to aim for is the right to get back your rights within a reasonable period without having to pay for them if the publisher doesn’t intend to keep you in active promotion and sales mode.


Last year, the publisher of one series left the business and I had a one-time, no negotiating allowed right to either have my series handed over to yet another small publisher or get back the rights and decide what if anything to do to re-publish since the series would disappear in a puff of smoke. I reviewed the new publisher’s site and decided the series would disappear anyway, so I took back the rights. 


Publishing can be a cruel, cruel world. It’s set up for the corporations to make money, not for authors unless they are the shining stars who can make money for the corporations. One can argue that it’s the authors’ jobs to shine brightly enough. But the contracts we sign don’t guarantee that the publishers will do anything beyond printing (or posting) the book and, in some cases, making an effort to distribute it or at least have it available if we succeed in doing the marketing to generate sales. 


I sound like Eeyore, and I'm sorry. Please read my fellow Minds this week. They doubtless have more upbeat and more useful information to share! 


"Not since my first visit to Louise Penny’s Three Pines, have I encountered a more beguiling fictional world than Susan Shea’s Reigny-Sur-Canne. With an engaging cast, the rare realistic depiction of a good, modern marriage, a sideways look at a budding mystery-writer, and a real head-scratcher of a murder plot, DRESSED FOR DEATH IN BURGUNDY is a box of delights!”– Catriona McPherson, Anthony and Agatha Award winning author

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