Wednesday, December 26, 2018

That Pesky Fine Print


by David E. Sharp


Time to talk about some of the nitty-gritty side of publishing. I'm talking contracts! You've landed the deal, you're looking over the papers, and you need to figure out whether this is the deal for you.





Quick disclaimer: I am no expert in contracts, legal ins-and-outs or any of the "biz" side of publishing. Thank goodness for literary agents in a confusing labyrinth of the publishing world. I cannot offer any legal advice.

But I can talk about my own experiences.


Contracts are daunting to me. I recognize the words. I work with words. I should be able to handle this, right? But somehow, reading through all the minutia (heretofore to be referred to as contractese) and trying to make sense out of it all makes me like a first grader trying to pore through Tolstoy.

Here are a few valuable take-aways I've found.

No pressure, though.

It's okay to say, "This deal is not for me."

For someone trying to break into publishing, it's easy to feel you can't afford to pass up "opportunities" for publication no matter what the strings attached. After all, isn't it important just to get your work out there?

But standards are a good thing. If you want better for your writing than a vanity press, be sure you know how to recognize a vanity press. General red flags include any publisher that asks the author for money, publisher websites that seem more focused on attracting authors than attracting readers, and writer testimonies stating, "Don't sign with these jerks! They're a total vanity press!"

Probably a good idea to read the contract first.

Obvious? But it's easy to get swept up in the excitement and throw a signature on that dotted line without even thinking. 

I was recently contacted by a publisher about including a short story of mine into their upcoming anthology. My story had placed in a contest they held several months ago, and publication was part of the prize package. However, I was bothered by the contract which requested a transfer of copyright for the duration of the book's publication.

Suddenly the prize, didn't feel like such a prize. All my previous contracts had statements specifically stating the author would retain all copyrights to the story. The publisher assured me this was necessary and common practice for an anthology, but a little research led me to believe otherwise.

This is where agents are so very valuable. (Seriously, if you have an agent, send them a Hallmark card!) But even if you have one, it's always good to read the fine print yourself.

Seal a deal you can still feel good about tomorrow.

Other writers are a wonderful resource.

When in doubt, hit up your peers. Writers who have prior experience can be great to compare notes with. Don't hesitate to ask your questions! Part of the perks of an organization like NCW is that you are not walking this road alone.

Nobody wants to take a sub-par deal. Your gut is telling you there's something odd, but you want to see if your fellow writers' guts are saying the same. Great news! We've got a lot of writer guts in Northern Colorado you can consult. Some of them may even speak contractese.

There are some terrific publishers out there! Small houses included. But you may have to sift a bit to find them. Here are some resources to help you find the right publisher for you and sign a contract you can feel good about.

http://www.writersmarket.com/

http://rmfw.org/protecting-your-copyright-in-anthology-contracts/

https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/



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