Understand your contract

Website design By BotEap.comWhen Arabella Magazine notified me that they were buying “Popcorn Murders,” I was ecstatic. After all, they were all competing to be published in that magazine.

Website design By BotEap.comThen they told me to “watch out for the contract soon.” My jubilation soon turned to terror. I didn’t know anything about contracts! And I sure as hell wasn’t going to hire a lawyer to review the contract, especially for a short story contract, so I learned to read the contract myself.

Website design By BotEap.comNot a good thing, they told me, but how many writers have the money to rush in and hire a lawyer every time they get a contract? (Most publishers issue contracts for each and every piece they buy these days.) Now I have a bulky file with all my contracts, and if I had hired a professional every time, I would be way down. money, believe me.

Website design By BotEap.comThe information in this article is not intended to replace your attorney or legal representative; its intention is only a guide. (Some writers’ organizations will help you with this as part of your annual fee.)

Website design By BotEap.comThings to include in your contract:

Website design By BotEap.comExpected publication date

Website design By BotEap.comNumber of ms words

Website design By BotEap.comStory title

Website design By BotEap.comAuthor’s name

Website design By BotEap.comRights sold

Website design By BotEap.comFee (either per word or for complete works)

Website design By BotEap.comLegal obligations of each party

Website design By BotEap.comDeath rate (if applicable)

Website design By BotEap.comCopyright ownership

Website design By BotEap.comMediation and arbitration (if a dispute arises)

Website design By BotEap.comSome of the above are self explanatory so I won’t go into them at all. Others can be quite confusing, so we’ll look at each one individually.

Website design By BotEap.comRights sold:

Website design By BotEap.comThis can vary from post to post and should be checked thoroughly. Never agree to sell “All Rights”, as this means that you can NEVER sell the work again. Always.

Website design By BotEap.comWith Arabella, I sold the first rights, with a clause that I would not allow the story to be republished anywhere within thirty days of publication. That meant he was free to resell it anytime he wanted after thirty days.

Website design By BotEap.comSo let’s look at the rights:

Website design By BotEap.comFirst rights means this is the first time the story has been published.

Second rights means it is the second time it is published, and so on.

Website design By BotEap.comHowever, there may be a variation on this. You can sell (for example) the first Australian rights, or the first US rights, the first world rights, etc. The same applies to second and / or subsequent sales.

Website design By BotEap.comBe absolutely sure which rights you are selling when reviewing your contract.

Website design By BotEap.comAll rights:

Website design By BotEap.comAs mentioned above, selling “all rights” is not a good thing. Basically, you will never be able to sell your story again, or in any way. There is only one way I would do that, and that is if I got paid mega dollars.

Website design By BotEap.comBut there is a catch. (Isn’t there always?)

Website design By BotEap.comIf you sell “all rights” on a book contract, for example, you can lose a lot of money doing so.

Website design By BotEap.comLet me tell you a story: a friend sold her novel to a new publisher in the UK. His contract said he was selling “all rights” to them. This was her first sale and she accepted it. About a year later, the publication went bankrupt; his novel went on twitter with the publisher.

Website design By BotEap.comThat was two years ago.

Website design By BotEap.comYou recently discovered that your book has been published in large print. That’s good, right? Well, no. Because he sold “all rights”, he got absolutely nothing for later sale.

Website design By BotEap.comAnd if anyone ever decides to turn their book into a movie, the same will apply. Never sell “all rights” if you can help it, unless, as I said before, you are being paid a lot of money.

Website design By BotEap.comDeath quota:

Website design By BotEap.comA ‘death rate’ is literally the rate that is earned if the post ‘destroys’ the story. I mean, they decide not to use it after all.

Website design By BotEap.comA ‘death fee’ may also apply if a publisher of the posts asks you to rewrite your own opinions if you believe they misrepresented or, in the case of a work of fiction, distorts the story.

Website design By BotEap.comI know someone who had the latter happened to and since they didn’t have the cancellation fee clause, they asked the post to use a pseudonym instead of theirs.

Website design By BotEap.comCopyright:

Website design By BotEap.comIt is extremely important that writers understand copyright laws. If not, get out there and do some research.

Website design By BotEap.comIn the case of your contract, you should always indicate that the property remains with the author. If not, you probably have a problem.

Website design By BotEap.comIf you have sold “all rights”, the property is no longer yours.

Website design By BotEap.comPublication date:

Website design By BotEap.comMany contracts will indicate the date the publication expects to publish your story. They can even give an end date. In my contract with Arabella, I stated that if the story was not published within twelve months, the rights would go back to me and I could still keep the payment.

Website design By BotEap.comOddly enough, it actually happens. I have another friend who sold a story to a major women’s magazine in Australia, and two years after she sold it, the story still hadn’t been published. She called them and they said they had “lost” the story.

Website design By BotEap.comThey sent him a letter confirming that the rights had returned to him. And yes, he did sell it again, as ‘first rights’ again, as it was never published.

Website design By BotEap.comOther things to keep in mind:

Website design By BotEap.comFor book contracts, make sure there is a clause in case the publisher goes out of business. In my contract it establishes that if the publisher closes its doors, or goes into liquidation (or similar) the rights refer to me.

Website design By BotEap.comThis is a very important clause to check. Several writers have had to wait seven years for their books to return to them after a publishing house went bankrupt. Some writers have gone to court over the clause, but have still had to wait for the deadline to expire.

Website design By BotEap.comPlease, for your peace of mind, make sure your contract includes the settlement clause. (Remember the writer whose book was sold in large print? She also had that seven-year clause. You can’t resell that book, and you still have to wait another five years before you can compare it.)

Website design By BotEap.comI also have a clause that my publisher only has the rights to my book for two years. That means I can buy the book after two years if I am not satisfied with my publisher. Or, if I am satisfied, I can renew my contract with the same publisher and they can continue to sell the book.

Website design By BotEap.comAlso check that the contract has a ‘release’ clause. If, for example, your book is due to be published in February 2005, but has not yet been published in December 2005, if it is included in your contract, you can withdraw it from that publisher without penalty. If there is no mention of it, then you have no answer; you just have to put it on. And if that’s the case, and they decide to release it three years later, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Website design By BotEap.comOne more clause you may want to consider is the one regarding royalties. You should have the right to have the publisher’s accounts reviewed if you believe your royalties were paid incorrectly, either by mistake or intentionally. In most cases, if royalties are found to have been withheld, the costs are the responsibility of the publisher. If they are found to be correct, the author pays the costs. (And this must be indicated in the contract)

Website design By BotEap.comSummary:

Website design By BotEap.comMake sure you understand the aspects of your contract. You want it to be in simple terms and not legal jargon, which will make it impossible for you to understand without legal representation.

Website design By BotEap.com* Review your contract at least three times.

Website design By BotEap.com* Highlight anything you don’t understand or are not satisfied with.

Website design By BotEap.com* Talk about them with your editor.

Website design By BotEap.com* Keep all correspondence to and from your publisher for future use.

Website design By BotEap.com* Always keep a “document record” that you can follow. (Even if it’s on the computer!)

Website design By BotEap.com* If you are not comfortable with something, there is probably a reason.

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