Writing Wednesday: You Need Professional Help.

Welcome the first Writing Wednesday post of 2012. This year, Writing Wednesday will examine writing and publishing contracts and discuss a number of contract pitfalls and other common issues in publishing deals.

This year’s first topic: seeking professional help with your contracts.

With the rising number of independent authors and the increasing number of small and medium-sized presses willing to work with unrepresented writers, it’s becoming common for writers to encounter their first publishing contract before obtaining either an agent or an attorney.

The first critical error many new and newly-published authors make is signing a publishing contract without obtaining professional review. Don’t make a mistake you could regret for years! Even small publishers or specialty publishers (like educational publishers) who don’t require or work with agents will let an author get an attorney’s opinion about the contract. Beware anyone who tells you otherwise. If a press won’t let you have the contract reviewed by an agent or attorney, you absolutely should not sign.

Most authors don’t need both an attorney and an agent, though some do feel more comfortable with both. If you do decide to work with both an agent and an attorney, make sure both professionals are comfortable with that arrangement and that they work well together.

For most authors, either a publishing attorney or a literary agent will do. The choice should be based on the author’s career objectives. Independent authors and authors choosing self-publishing over the traditional route will often find an attorney’s hourly rates and email or telephone availability more suited to their needs. Authors seeking traditional “brick and mortar” publication through a major publishing house will probably need and benefit from an agent. In addition, agents can help an author plan and develop a career in ways that attorneys generally do not.

If you do choose to work with an attorney, make sure you seek out a publishing specialist. Law licenses are general, not specialty-based. Any licensed attorney can legally review your publishing contract – but without specialized knowledge of the publishing industry and the potential pitfalls common to publishing contracts, a general practitioner may not be able to give you the help you need. Ask the attorney whether he or she has experience with publishing deals. If not, ask for a referral, talk  to a writer you know – or even drop me a comment here or on Twitter (@SusanSpann, preferably using the #PubLaw hashtag).

And don’t forget, if you have questions about this or other publishing legal issues, the comments are open and the #PubLaw hashtag is available every day!