Show Me … the Contract.

Many people use the holiday season as a chance to focus on the important things in life–the basics. Today’s post is taking a cue from that idea, and focusing on one of the critical aspects of protecting your rights as an author: the publishing contract.

In life, we enter into many verbal contracts. Some are legally binding. Some are not. The law dictates which types of contracts can (and cannot) be verbal. Generally speaking, publishing contracts need to be in writing — and smart authors ALWAYS get the deal in writing.

By law, most contracts which cannot be completed within one year must be in writing. Most contracts involving intellectual property rights and licenses also need to be in writing (according to law). Without going into legalese, every author should expect – and insist – that publishing contracts impacting the author’s work must be in writing.

TL;DR: Never agree to a verbal publishing contract.

You don’t need a written contract for a guest blog, as long as it’s clear that you own the rights to your work and can re-publish the work at will. However, even there it’s good to establish the terms of the publication via email. 

If you do agree to guest blog for a site that has terms of use, be sure you read them (and agree to them) before you agree to post. You don’t have to give away your rights. If you do give away your copyrights (even to “just a blog post”), you’re allowing that third party to profit from your work, and to re-use it (even in other formats) at will.

Don’t let anyone shame you into accepting an unfair contract, or into working without a contract that protects your legal rights. Your words have value, and no one can or should tell you otherwise.

Any time your work will be “published” by a third-party publisher in longer than guest-blog format, however, you need a written contract or license. The contract should be complete and include each and every term of the publishing deal. The terms of the contract must be clear and unambiguous.

Don’t trust promises to “disregard that part” of a contract, or representations that something on the page won’t be enforced. The minute you sign, you are bound to each and every term the contract contains – and only those terms. If something doesn’t make it into the contract, it isn’t part of the deal, so make certain all of the promises and agreements make it into the writing.

Most contracts contain an “integration clause” which states that the contract supersedes and replaces “all other agreements between the parties, oral or written.” This means that even if you have documentation of promises made before the contract was signed, they do not become part of the contract unless they actually appear within the document. Do not rely on “outside proof” or conversations. A court won’t listen to your argument if the other side goes back on its word.

Also: don’t rely on verbal promises or trust anyone who says “we don’t need a contract to publish your book.” Don’t ever let someone publish your book, short story, or novella without a written contract. End of story. 

The take-home message: never let anyone publish your work without a written contract. Make sure the writing reflects the deal clearly, and that the terms are unambiguous. If there’s anything in the contract you don’t understand, get help from an agent or a publishing lawyer. Contracts can’t avoid all problems, but not having a contract at all creates even more.

2 thoughts on “Show Me … the Contract.

  • December 17, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    Great post, Susan.

    In other words, in the legal world, if it’s not in the contract, it doesn’t exist.

    And my fellow authors, if you don’t have an agent, pretty please with sugar on top, have an attorney review the agreement for you.

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