Some Writerly on A Saturday – Options and Contracts

I’m here at the Emerald City RWA Conference and having an hour of blissful alone-ness! But as I’m at a writing conference, I thought a writing type post would be appropriate.

There’s been some talk online about contracts and option clauses so here’s my opinion on it (keeping in mind that everyone has different approaches to their career so this is just my opinion)

I would never sign an epublishing contract with an options clause in it. Never. Horrible clauses in contracts don’t make me hyperventillate. It doesn’t make me panicky. Nor does it make me stupid for not making that particular choice. That makes me an author who isn’t signing away her future rights without consideration. Period.

My NY publishing contracts have had options in them. I also get an advance from my NY publishing contracts which means they’ve given me consideration and have loaded some money into me as an author before I’ve delivered the final book to them. With print, options make sense. With epublishing, to me, it doesn’t. Most certainly, I enjoy writing for Samhain, an epublisher. I like the freedom to write across genres, I like the timelines, which are shorter and I like writing things that aren’t selling to NY right now like werewolves. I have every intention to continue writing for Samhain in addition to writing for “traditional” publishing houses.

The strongest position an author can have with respect to contract negotiations is the willingness to walk away. (and I heard this yesterday in a workshop Angie gave as well and she’s right). There are things I gave up in contracts when I was a newbie that I would not give up now. That’s about relative power and the more power you have, the more ability you have to negotiate, LOL. That’s a basic reality in any business situation.

When you get an offer from a publisher, it’s very exciting. Selling a book is awesome. But read your contract before you sign it. Think about what you want in the long term as well as in the short term. Are there things you can give up? Are there things you won’t budge on? Keep that in mind. Look at the contract – what is the rights term? As in, how long will the publisher own your book? Can you get it back? If so, what’s the process? If the rocess is completely unreasonable, it’s as good as never getting it back.

Are there options? Do they ask for narrow or broad options? DO they want to see every work of erotic paranormal romance over 80K or everything you write?

Do they take rights they’ll never use? I have contracts with print rights in them. At the time I signed them, print was a reality but now? Not so much and those rights are languishing. I can’t get them back because I took a what was right then and trusted that it would continue to be so. It’s my own fault but as it stands right now, I’d never sign those rights away again without severe negotiation of the contract. However, that didn’t happen so I walked away. I walked away because there are other publishers in the world and it wasn’t worth it to me to simply give away something I might want later on. Your mileage may vary, but I’m using this example to make a point.

Do they answer your questions in a professional timeframe? The answer doesn’t have to be one you like, but do they speak to you like a professional? Do they make a huge rights grab? (foreign rights, subsidiary rights, print, etc). How do you feel about it? Do your homework! Google the terms to see what subsidiary and secondary rights mean and what you’re signing away. (For instance, Berkley sold Undercover to Doubleday, Book of the Month and Rhapsody book clubs! Undercover will have a bookclub edition which gives me all sorts of new exposure. It’s really exciting and something I think is of benefit to me. But a small publisher may not have the connections to get you that kind of deal – if they ask, ask yourself if you’re okay with signing away rights that may never be used)

There are other publishers, boys and girls. Sometimes it may be your best option and all things being equal, you might sign a contract that’s less than perfect because your position isn’t enough to get the perfect contract. At the same time, your career isn’t just for today, it’s, hopefully, going to last years and years so you need to think about it that way.

I’m a lawyer and this stuff is totally confusing to me! My NY contracts are way more complicated so thank goodness I have an agent who knows the ins and outs of contracts. If you have questions with your contract, I’d suggest taking the contract to a literary rights attorney and having them take a look. I know people balk at the money but this stuff, in the long term, will cost you more than you can imagine if you sign something you hadn’t quite bargained for.

Your publisher isn’t your best friend or your family. BUT, they should want to grow you as an author. OF course they want to make money from you, they’re in business. But there’s a difference between a business relationship which makes a profit and signing something that doesn’t benefit you nearly as much as it could.

There’s no need to sign a contract right away. Take the time to know what you’re signing.

8 comments to “Some Writerly on A Saturday – Options and Contracts”

  1. Susan Helene Gottfried
    October 11th, 2008 at 1:03 pm · Link

    Wise words, my friend. Wise words.

  2. Taige Crenshaw
    October 11th, 2008 at 3:14 pm · Link

    Very well said Lauren. Congrats on Undercover being placed with the book clubs.

  3. Mary Winter
    October 11th, 2008 at 9:14 pm · Link

    Very well said, and congrats on the Book Club. I’ve gotten very “bullish” about my rights, both getting books back when I’m contractually able to do so and it’s economically viable, and on making sure that I don’t sign away anything that I think I can utilize. I’ll admit, with my own company I’m in a bit more unique position, but depending on what the author wants, even opportunities like CreateSpace may allow you to exercise print rights if you kept them back. It all depends on what you want and where you’re going, and how much work you want to do. 🙂 Thanks for posting this!

  4. Teddypig
    October 12th, 2008 at 3:57 am · Link

    Congrats Lauren on the book club deal!

    Sensible and prudent…
    No one would ever call you stupid.

  5. Daisy Dexter Dobbs
    October 12th, 2008 at 11:18 am · Link

    First of all, Lauren, big congrats on the bookclub deal! That’s wonderful news! 😀

    Regarding clauses and rights…excellent. So well put, Lauren. I’ve seen far too many new writers willing to sign everything away (mainly to epublishers) just to get their books published. They’re so eager and excited at the offer they neglect to take the time to thoroughly understand what they’re signing. If contract negotiations happen to meet a brick wall, there are indeed worse career decisions than taking a pass on an unfavorable non-author-friendly contract.

  6. Nancy
    October 12th, 2008 at 1:53 pm · Link

    Awesome post! Thanks so much for sharing your insights. They’re a huge help.

  7. Juliana Stone
    October 14th, 2008 at 7:15 am · Link

    Well written blog Lauren. It’s nice to see someone who’s been there and done that willing to share their wealth of knowledge! T

  8. Carolyn Jean
    October 16th, 2008 at 11:10 am · Link

    Thanks for this thoughtful discussion. I just signed a print contract, and I almost didn’t read it, but I’m so glad I did. And it was the options thing that got to me most.