A contract is a legally-binding written agreement between two or more parties. Defining and explaining what makes a contract valid and/or enforceable can (and does) fill multiple books. For today’s A-to-Z, let’s take a look at some facts about publishing contracts many authors might not know:
1. Publishing contracts must be in writing. Special laws called “Statute(s) of Frauds” specify that certain kinds of contracts must be in writing to be enforceable. One such type is a contract which “by its terms” cannot be fulfilled or completed within one year. Even setting aside the (glacial) pace at which publishing moves, most publishers intend to continue offering an author’s work for sale as long as consumers continue to buy it – hopefully far longer than a year. There are other statute of frauds provisions which also apply to publishing, but that is sufficient for today.
2. Publishing contracts are not all created equal. The world contains reputable publishers and disreputable ones, and in some cases it’s not possible to tell the difference between a good contract and a dangerous one without specialized understanding of legal terms. Ambiguities and items “left out” may cut deeply in the publisher’s favor in ways an inexperienced author doesn’t even recognize at the time. Never sign a contract without obtaining professional advice.
3. If it isn’t included in the contract, it isn’t part of the deal. No matter what anyone tells you – including the publisher – if something isn’t in the writing a court will not consider it part of the contract. Most contracts contain an “integration clause” that says the writing supersedes and replaces all other written and oral understandings – meaning that once you sign, the contract alone will govern your publishing deal.
4. Not all contracts are bad, and all publishers aren’t out to get you. Contracts often provide the basis for long-term, mutually beneficial relationships between authors and agents or publishers. Good contracts protect both sides in equitable ways. Authors should not look at contracts – or publishers – as the enemy. Like everything else publishing, a contract and a publisher should be approached with a logical, businesslike mindset. The wrong choice will definitely hurt you, but the right choice will do just as much, or even more, to benefit and advance your writing career.