Option Clauses in Publishing Deals

Most publishing contracts include an “option clause” giving the publisher rights of first refusal to consider the author’s next work(s) of fiction. However, many option clauses overreach or attempt to bind the author inappropriately.

Look for these important features in any publishing option clause:

1.  The option should governs the author’s next book length work in the same series or next book-length work in the same genre only.

By contrast, overreaching clauses may give the publisher an option on all future works the author writes – of any length, and in any genre. Don’t agree to open-ended option clauses.

2. Properly drafted options give the publisher a right to review and negotiate a mutually acceptable contract for that work (if desired).

By contrast, poorly drafted options may allow the publisher to simply “include” the optioned work in the original contract. This is dangerous for the author. Insist on the right to negotiate a new contract for any optioned works.

Also: the option should not require the author to accept identical terms for publication of the optioned work. The terms of publication for the optioned work should be negotiated independently at the time the optioned work is put under contract.

If a publisher wants to include multiple books in a single contract, then the contract should be for a multi-book deal, not a single book and an option.

 3. The option must not limit the author’s ability to sell the optioned work in any way if the publisher chooses not to exercise the option or if the parties can’t reach agreeable contract terms.

Publishers should not be able to limit the author to subsequently accepting only “better terms” than the original publisher offered for the optioned work. If the publisher and author can’t reach agreement during the stated option period, the author should be free to do whatever (s)he likes with the optioned work – no exceptions.

Beware of options which limit or restrict the way the author can sell the optioned work if negotiations with the publisher fail.

Don’t get so excited about the existence of an “option” that you forget to evaluate its terms carefully & get a professional opinion about the language.

Many times, deciphering contract language requires knowledge of the industry and the possible lurking problems. Contract language can be complex, and dangers sometimes lurk in what isn’t said as well as in the text itself. Obtain a professional opinion before signing a contract containing an option clause – and don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal that doesn’t treat you or your work with proper business respect. Having no publishing deal at all is better than having a deal you regret.