Journey To Published: Contracts

January 25, 2013

So, you wait, you revise, and finally you get the offer and a shiny contract wings its way to you via email! It’s real now, this selling a book thing.

Also real? The terminology in your contract isn’t always the clearest of English, and if you don’t have an agent, figuring out what your contract allows you and doesn’t is tricky business.

For all three of my contracts, I wasn’t too picky. Basically, reading through the contract was just double checking and making sure I would not be getting screwed over at any point.

I don’t want to go into detail about the contracts, because I am not an expert. So, I’ll just share how I dealt with them.

First, I read through a contract much like I tackled reading a difficult text in school. I read through it once, reread, looked up terms when needed, and then summarized each section in my own words, and then read the summarization. Luckily, access to internet is a beautiful thing, and anything I wasn’t clear about I could look up. (If there would be serious questions or concerns, the publisher is going to be able to answer those questions for you too, but most of my confusion was general or generic enough a simple google search helped me out).

I did not have a lawyer look over them. If I could afford it, or knew a trustworthy lawyer who knew about publishing contracts, I’d have them take a look, but those weren’t viable options for me. I trusted my own understanding enough to forgo that step.

I didn’t negotiate any terms in my contracts. At this point in my career, I have yet to see something in a contract that doesn’t work for me. I feel confident enough in my understanding of the contract I haven’t been taken advantage of, and that’s really the main thing for me: getting a fair shake.

The trick is the understanding part. The researching and asking questions part. I’m sure it’s common sense, but never sign a contract without reading it first. You want to make sure you agree with and understand what you’re putting your name to. If you’re confused, ask questions, and I’d be wary of any publisher who wouldn’t answer your questions or concerns.

The nice thing about contracts is that, while some of the details are different from publisher to publisher, the subject matter you’re dealing with is essentially the same. So once you understand royalties and the like, each contract gets a little easier to navigate without having to look things up or ask questions. It’s the numbers that are going to change–not so much the different pieces of the contract.

I would venture to say, even if you do have an agent, it’s good to understand your contract and what you’re signing. No matter how implicitly you trust your agent, you’d never want to sign something without reading it through.



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