Knowing When to Run

Today’s post takes a cue from The Gambler ((I’m a child of the ’70s, what can I say) and points out that in publishing, as in cards, you need to know when to walk away…and know when to run.

As the publishing landscape changes and the number of small publishers expands, it’s important for authors to learn about standard contract terms–and common pitfalls. Many times, authors become so excited about receiving a publishing contract–the sought-after deal–that they forget to use business sense before signing. While it’s not always possible for an inexperienced author to spot all the problems in a contract, there are some red flags to watch for:

1. Beware of copyright grabs. The publisher should never take ownership of the author’s copyright. A publishing contract should give the publisher a license to use certain rights, never a transfer of ownership.

2. “Traditional” publishing deals do not require the author to pay out of pocket. If the contract requires you (the author) to pay the publisher money, beware: it is not a traditional publishing deal. Sometimes, hybrid deals make sense, but only if the terms make business sense. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking it’s “normal” for the author to pay for any of the publisher’s costs in a traditional publishing arrangement.

3. Mandatory marketing tie-ins. Legitimate publishers don’t make authors pay out-of-pocket for marketing services. Legitimate publishing contracts don’t contain riders or add-on clauses requiring the author to buy marketing from a specified vendor. Beware any publisher that wants you to buy marketing services from the publisher’s own (or affiliated) marketing company.

4. Nondisclosure Clauses. Beware any publishing contract which contains a nondisclosure provision that forbids the author from talking about his or her experience with the publisher. This isn’t normal, and it’s not industry-standard.

5. Contracts with book purchase requirements. Publishers shouldn’t require the author to purchase a specified number of copies of the finished book. In most publishing arrangements, the author actually receives free copies from the publisher, and has no obligation to purchase more.

6. Publishers who guarantee sales numbers (or good reviews). No one can guarantee a bestseller or a good third-party review of your work (not legitimately, anyway). If a publisher guarantees sales figures or bestseller status, they’re doing something unethical (one way or another).

These aren’t the only red flags authors need to beware in a publishing deal, but if you see them in your contract, prepare to run. At a minimum, you shouldn’t sign a red-flag deal without hiring a lawyer or experienced literary agent to review the contract for you.

Don’t ever let the excitement of an offer–or a publisher’s persuasive words–talk you into signing a dangerous contract. Don’t let emotion persuade you to leave your business sense behind when evaluating your publishing options. As difficult as this is to hear: it is better to have no deal at all than to sign a deal you’ll regret.

All authors have the right to a legitimate, equitable publishing deal. This means you, and this includes you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise, and remember: write with passion, but develop business judgment to manage your writing.

Thanks for joining me for today’s post on contract red flags. Remember: if you have questions about publishing legal or business topics, you can ask in the comments or email me (Susan (at) SusanSpann (dot) com) and I’ll try to get you an answer!