Friday, April 18, 2008

Contract Bridge

Last Book Read: Deduct It! by Attorney Stephen Fishman

I do not know a lot about contracts. I've been fortunate to have had most of my work published and, on rare occasion, compensated according to what the editor/publisher set forth in the contract or in their e-mail correspondence. Hell, I feel fortunate to have been published at all. There has been one bump in a road.

One story is still waiting on publication after a lengthy delay. The editor has recently pledged to resolve the problem. Just prior to that pledge, I went back to the contract and discovered I didn't have many options if the editor never published the story.

This reminded me of the Boskone panel on "How Not To Get Published". One panelists described a foolish thing many authors do, which is to not carefully read their contracts. Sitting at that panel I thought 'Oh, none of that applies to me.' I'm eating a nice plate of crow; would anyone else care for a slice?

Over at the SFWA site are sample contracts. I imagine there are all kinds of resources on the web. But my experience so far is that standard contracts are kind of like standard manuscript formats, everyone has their own idea of what 'standard' means.

There was a clause in the contract for my story on On The Premises which I thought very useful to me as a writer. I'm posting it below with the following ...

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A LAWYER NOR DO I PLAY ONE ON TELEVISION. ANYONE SO FOOLISH TO LOOK TO THIS BLOG FOR LEGAL COUNSEL ON CONTRACTS OR SANE AND RATIONAL ADVICE ON ANY TOPIC IS ON THEIR OWN WITH MY SYMPATHY.


"8(a). In the event that the Work is not published within 
six months of signing of this agreement, all rights revert to
the Author, and the Author has the right to sell or arrange
for publication of the above-named Work in any manner. The
Author shall keep any payments made by the Publisher to
him/her."


I like best the part about keeping the money.

Now, regarding the bump in the road referenced above, a new contract was issued. I added a modified version of the above text to the new contract and was glad that the editor agreed to it. I will do the same for future contracts that lack such a provision.

I'd be interested in hearing any of your experiences, good, bad or indifferent, regarding contracts. I've got a lot to learn.

10 Comments:

Blogger Steve Buchheit said...

Not have contracts yet, I can't give much advice, but I like that paragraph (note to self). With design work, when it is done with contracts, often includes "Kill Fees" (if a client stops the production of whatever before actual print or final delivery). They vary from "time accrued" to standard 33%, 50%, 75%. Those have often been very helpful, not only help cash flow, but to use as a stick to finish the project (sort of like how we discuss "we could lay this person off for a short time, but then we'd also be paying their unemployment, might as well keep them working").

April 18, 2008 at 1:13 PM  
Blogger Steve Buchheit said...

me write gooder all de time.

"Not having any contracts yet..."

April 18, 2008 at 1:13 PM  
Blogger L.A. Mitchell said...

I'm always a stickler for the "related works" part of a contract. Supposing I want to write a sequel or a prequel or use any character or location remotely related to the contracted work, most houses want first right of refusal. This clause has snagged more than one writing friend into a mess.

I think authors really have to have a business plan and be careful not to cross-pollenate their stories.

April 18, 2008 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

I like the idea of kill fees, Steve. Pay me to not publish my story!

Good advice, LA. Thanks!

April 19, 2008 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

I have no experience with publishing contracts, but I execute bazillions of Location Agreements as a part of my job.

The kill fee and related works clauses sound sensible (and shouldn't be objectionable to any reputable publisher/publication).

I'd also think any contract should specifically exclude the publisher from having any rights not specifically enumerated in the contract (film rights, toys, etc.)

Lastly, if I were being published, I'd want an "Errors and Omissions" clause. What this does, is that on your part, you warrant that you haven't knowingly plagiarised anything (characters included), and that the publisher will defend you in the case of a suit. (Hey, they've got more money than you and they'd be named in any suit anyway.)

I don't know how that last would go down, but you don't get what you don't ask for.

April 20, 2008 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Good points, Nathan.

There have been some high profile plagiarism problems in the last 5 - 7 years where the publishers had to eat the cost of recalling and destroying the books. I'd imagine on that issue, authors are on their own.

April 21, 2008 at 5:09 PM  
Anonymous rick o said...

All good points.

It seems that offering a standard writer's contract to a publisher might help in at least appearing more professional.

Of course, since I'm only collecting polite rejection notices from prominent literary agents, maybe I need not concern myself with contracts just yet.

April 22, 2008 at 7:50 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Rick, I have no doubt you will be prepared when that acceptance call is made to you.

April 22, 2008 at 11:22 PM  
Blogger Janet Brett said...

Sorry, this post has nothing to do with contracts, to date I've had little experience with them. :-(

I visited your blog after reading your short story "Nice Shade of Blue" (On The Premises), and I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it.

April 26, 2008 at 8:48 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

I'm glad you liked it, Janet.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by and let me know!

April 26, 2008 at 11:21 PM  

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