Forever, I’ve been discussing publishers’ book contracts so writers will consider hiring an attorney who specializes in intellectual property before signing the agreement. And, I’ve also said that I’m abundantly aware that all most anyone sees the first time around is “Wow! I have a book contract.” Nothing is worse, however, than signing a deal and learning soon afterward that it’s fraught with language that penalizes the author and rewards the publisher. I listened to an attorney/fiction writer discuss this very subject in depth at a Thrillerfest not that many years ago, and this woman explained that during her career she had been represented by some of the most-respected agents in the industry, including Robert Gottlieb and Al Zuckerman.
This author didn’t pull any punches, saying that in every instance the contract she ultimately signed was not to her fullest benefit, as each agent left her “short” in one way or another. Now, I realize that an attorney saying this is not the same as if a layman such as I made the same remark, but what this author/attorney discussed wasn’t some recondite nuance here or there. She covered some areas that can be learned only by either direct experience or prior knowledge of the potential pitfalls–which she suggests her agents should have been aware of to protect her interests. I strongly suggest opening this link for a recent Author Guild article on the subject of contract terms in author agreements. Then perhaps it might be prudent to bookmark the link, as someday it might come in mighty handy.
The information on book contracts in the article involves a half-dozen or so clauses that a person new to the publishing industry can’t be expected to know. And if a subscriber should think this information doesn’t apply if the interest is solely in self-publishing, ask anyone who’s tried to get back rights from an AuthorSoluitions, Inc., imprint or Publishing America (now America Star Books) just what this can entail. I won’t insult subscribers by going over each of the main tenets in the article, but one of the primary sticking points is getting rights back from a dormant work. In the “old days” there was generally a clause that said if a book remained “dormant” (meaning out of print) for “x” number of years, the rights returned to the author. However, with digital anything can be “published” with a keystroke–and essentially provide the imprint with perpetual rights to the book.