This week, let's talk about contracts. I know several of you have elected to go the independent route and self-publish (I trust you had professional editing services. Please tell me you did), but sooner or later, even you will encounter a contract.
Victorine Lieske, the self-publishing champion and mentor to all prospective Indies, related to us at the critique site some time ago, that her novel Not What She Seems hit the NYT Best-Seller list for eBooks. Yay, Vicki. Lo and behold, she was approached by not one, not two, but three different agencies desiring to represent her book to the Big Six publishing Houses, and correct me if I'm wrong, Vicki, but wasn't there talk of a movie deal as well?
Anyway, as a writer, even an independent one, you will need to have some insight on contracts. Now, I'm not a contract or IP attorney, but I've seen a few contracts, being a contract-published author, and have gathered some knowledge from other pros about what terms to look for and what red flags to watch for. Mainly because I damn near fell victim to several scams in my search for a publisher for my work, and so many writers even now are settling for pathetic terms in contracts, because they don't know what they don't know. So let's look at some things on contract terms here:
1.) Rights. When the publisher talks about rights, they will be specific about what rights they are negotiating with you. No publisher should demand copyright. That's yours, 100%, no matter what. That's not to say someone won't try to wangle it out of you in the contract. Copyright is what makes the work yours. NEVER give it up. Period. That would be a deal-killer for me.
The rights a publisher wants are the publication rights. That's a world different from copyright. They want the exclusive right to publish and distribute your work. That's perfectly reasonable.
2.) Format. The contract should be specific about which formats are up for negotiation. The three current formats are eBook, print, and audio. If the contract only covers one format, guess what? The other formats are open to their own contract terms, with anyone else! My publisher sends me two contracts to sign: One for the eBook, and another separate contract for the print version. They don't distribute audiobook, so I am free to negotiate terms for an audio version on my own. Read carefully, though. Your publisher may specify "any and all formats" in one contract. That would raise a red flag for me. It may not be a deal-killer, but I'd read the rest very carefully indeed.
3.) Length of term. The contract should specify a set time span, and it better damn well not be "for term of copyright." Seriously? You want to be roped into a contract until 70 years after you die? My publisher specifies a 3-year term. At the end of that three years, we either renew by mutual consent, or terminate the contract, with publication rights reverting to me (after issuance of a letter of release from the publisher). Some publishers ask for five years, others for seven. I wouldn't go any longer than seven. Seven years is a long time to be stapled to one deal.
4.) Terms of termination. You need to see specific conditions listed under which the contract may be terminated. What if the publisher goes out of business? What if you die? What if a Hrung chooses to collapse on Earth? You need to know these things. You need an "out" as well as the publisher. They may want to cut you loose if you don't "pay out" on your first print run. They may even want their advance back. In some cases, that may be a considerable sum.
Those are the "Big Things" to look for, but there may be more. For an excellent example, go to The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website: http://www.sfwa.org/category/sample-contracts/
The more you know, the more powerful you are. Don't get taken in by scam artists.