Thursday #PublishingLaw For Writers: Put it in Writing

*Note: this post was originally scheduled to appear on Wednesday, as part of the usual Writing Wednesday series, but was deferred to make way for yesterday’s SOPA/PIPA post. The accompanying tweets did go out yesterday, however, and can be located on Twitter by searching the #PubLaw hashtag.

And now, on with the show.

Today, we’re talking about the importance of writings. Many types of contracts can be verbal rather than written, but the general rule is that any contract which cannot be completed within one year must be in writing. There are other laws regulating written contracts too, and many them apply to publishing. Without going into details, every author should expect – and insist – that his or her publishing contracts be made in writing.

TL;DR: Do not ever agree to a verbal publishing contract.

The publishing contract should be complete and include each and every term of the publishing deal. The terms should be clear and unambiguous. If anything seems difficult to understand, make absolutely certain the term is clarified before you sign.

Don’t ever rely on promises to “disregard that part” or representations that something won’t actually be enforced. The minute you sign, you are bound to each and every term the writing 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.

Today’s take-home message: when it comes time to sign a publishing contract, get everything in writing and make sure all the terms are there, clear and unambiguously worded. You’ll be very glad you did.