Happy Contract Thursday, Part II

Sorry to post this so late in the day, but I've been enjoying the festivities. It's that special time of week. Yes, my friends, it's CONTRACT THURSDAY! Get out your picnic baskets, grab the wine and the bunnies, and let's do this thing!
We work hard, don't we? All of us. We write. We read. We attend workshops and network and blog and submit manuscripts and revise and go to conferences and promote and Facebook and Twitter and make our husbands act out our sex scenes so we can figure out if a vampire can truly, honestly bite someone's neck while...well, you know what I mean.

So when we get a contract, we are thrilled beyond measure. It represents the culmination of several hours of hard work and the validation of our efforts, and, for some of writers, it's a huge boost to the fragile psyche that dwells with in the starving artist. However, once the contract is in play, that's when the real work begins. Some contracts are long. Some are short. All need to be read and understood. We’ve established that already, so now it’s important to move on to the specific content of the contract.

I've gotten one-pagers, twenty page contracts that resemble tree stumps, and e-contracts (the digital age is upon us). I read each clause contained therein carefully, even though some of them are comprised of the same standard language I've seen a number of times before. Once I've done a basic read-through, I go back over certain items I think deserve a little extra attention.

Oh, I know. You think I'm talking about the clauses that outline your compensation and its dispensations (no, you don’t get the entire $1,000,000 all at once), i.e. advance against royalties, royalty percentages, etc. No, there are other important sections included in some contracts that could affect your career just as much, if not more, than how or what you get paid. For example, there's a clause some companies use that I like to refer to as the I Can Love You Enough for Both of Us clause, or as it's more widely known, the Option Clause.

When publishers first started including this clause, which generally details the publisher's right to review your next work, many writers were ecstatic. It was the literary equivalent of legally forcing your blind date to join you for at least one more outing, even though he seemed a bit turned off by your constant bragging about all the men you'd slept with and the fact you chose to invest in a pair of Manolo Blahnik suede fringe booties instead of buying your mother's insulin. The clause guaranteed the publisher had to review your next work, and writers were squeamishly happy about it.

Until they weren't.

Yes, it's nice to be able to get the entity on the other side of the table to agree that, no matter how badly your first publishing experience with them goes or how low your sales are, they will look at your next book, short story, or whatever within a specified time frame. It's so hard to get published in the first place, that it seemed like icing on the cake to be able to get a guarantee the author's next project would at least be reviewed by the same publishing house. Your next book would be starting farther along in the submission process than your first, and you feel somehow…"in." There’s some comfort in that.
Until there isn’t.
So when does the diamond necklace become a choker chain? When does the writer who had enough enthusiasm and naivete to believe that singlehandedly she could make the publisher/writer relationship work with her fantastic tomes (I can love you enough for both of us!) realize that having her work tied up with a publisher until six months after the publication of the first book or the graduation of her first born child from college--whichever comes first--might not be a good idea?
It usually settles in around the time the writer realizes the language in the clause can be little restrictive. Even those worded simply carry the understanding that she can't send her next book, depending on what it is, anywhere else, even if she's unhappy with her current arrangement, until after her publisher goes through the process of reviewing and offering on it or not. There's usually a caveat that if the publisher offers on the book, the writer can turn it down and go somewhere else but can't accept terms for less than her current publisher is offering.
Something else to look for in the Option Clause is the wording involving the "Next Work." Some publishers will want to see whatever the author does next; others will specify they only want to see the author's next erotic fiction involving a vampire cowboy and a novice shape-shifting witch from Brazil. Noting what type of project is tied up in this clause can save you many headaches later on when you finish your next book and are deciding where to send it.
Not all publishers include the Option Clause, but if there is one included that you feel might restrict you too much, you can ask to have it removed or stricken. The worst the publisher can say is "No." I've not questioned some of mine just because they weren't worded in a way I found too binding, although I'm of the mind that if a publisher and I like working together, I'll send my next book there anyway. One problem about this for publishers, though, is that some believe a writer getting her next work published elsewhere when her current book is for sale might pull sales numbers from the title, which affects their bottom line. Because of this, some publishers insert the ever-delightful (Non) Competition clause into their contracts, which can limit a prolific author in another way, which I will cover next Thursday.
Until then, enjoy your options!

No comments: