Read the Fine Print!
Today, I have a guest blog by Nadia Lee. I met Nadia in a writer chat room during a tornado watch. I thought it was likely that she found me totally obnoxious because… it was a tornado watch and I was being insane. Somehow we ended up talking more, though, and now we talk a lot. She’s written a guest post for me today about why you should read the fine print. For some asinine reason, a lot of authors do not read their contracts. They let their agents read it for them. There are many things you can outsource in life, but the responsibility of reading and understanding your own damn contracts, isn’t one of them!
Onward to Nadia’s words on this important topic:
I was offered a contract in October 2010 on Carnal Secrets by a fairly big epublisher. It was
one I’d dealt with before when I published a romance novel under another name, and at first I
assumed that the contract this time wouldn’t be any different from the previous one.
All the changes I’d managed to negotiate in the first contract were back to boilerplate. The new
version also contained several unfavorable clauses and ambiguous terms, which the publisher
refused to modify.
After over two months of negotiation, we couldn’t reach an agreement, so I walked. Some might
wonder why I did that. Surely everyone’s gotta start somewhere, and I, being a lowly nobody,
should be grateful to even get a contract. Right?
The thing is, I wouldn’t have gotten the offer if the publisher didn’t think it could make money
off the manuscript. While I was happy that a publisher liked my writing enough to offer, my
sense of gratitude wasn’t quite overwhelming enough that I was willing to sign a contract that
allowed the publisher to take as much as possible from me, restrict my ability to earn income,
leave me with an unlimited amount of liability, or reach into my bank account in perpetuity
without my permission or consent in the name of “indemnity”.
In talking with some people here and there, a few expressed serious consternation at my
position. They said that surely the publisher wouldn’t screw me over, even if technically the
contract allowed it to. Didn’t I trust my publisher?
The thing is, it really has nothing to do with trust. A contract is a legal document that spells
out each party’s rights and responsibilities, and it should always be written in such a way that it
protects both the author’s and the publisher’s interests fairly. The publisher has no fiduciary duty
to look out for its authors’ best interests. It has zero reason to do anything for its authors except
what’s laid out in the contract. And a bad contract can really hurt your finances and career.
Given the stakes, what should you do if and when you get into a similar position? First, if at
all possible, get a reputable literary attorney to review your contract. They actually don’t cost
all that much. Second, if you really can’t afford one, at least get a copy of Negotiating a Book
Contract (2nd edition) by Mark L. Levine. It’s full of great advice and is a guaranteed eye-
opener if you’ve never dealt with legalese before. Finally, be willing to walk away. Do you
really want to work with a publisher that refuses to remove or modify unfair terms?
Of course, easier said than done. Tomorrow, I’ll be blogging about how difficult it can be
(emotionally) to walk away from a deal on Kait Nolan’s blog.
About Nadia Lee:
Bilingual former management consultant Nadia Lee has lived in four
different countries and enjoyed many adventures and excellent food around the globe. In the last
eight years, she has kissed stingrays, got bitten by a shark, ridden an elephant and petted tigers.
She shares an apartment overlooking a river and palm trees in Japan with her husband, an ever-
changing collection of winter white hamsters and an ever-widening pile of books. When she’s not
writing, she can be found digging through old Asian historical texts or planning another trip.