Monday, February 05, 2007

Agenting 101 Revisited—Author Warranties

STATUS: On Friday it was colder in Denver than most cities in Alaska. Today it’s 60 degrees and gorgeous. But never fear, it’s supposed to snow again on Friday—therefore not breaking our snow streak.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IT’S MY LIFE by Talk Talk

All publishing contracts have a clause that basically asks the author if the work is original and whether the author has the right to enter in this agreement.

That’s reasonable.

The clause will read something like this:

“The Author warrants, represents and covenants: that the Author owns all rights and licenses herein conveyed and has the full and sole right and authority to convey all such rights and perform its obligations hereunder; that the work is original with the Author in all respects, except for any portion which has been previously published and is identified as such; that, with respect to works of nonfiction, all statements contained in the Work as published are true or based on reasonable research for accuracy: that the Work is not in the public domain and is or may be validly copyrighted or registered for copyright in the United States and…”

And the clause will go on to make sure the Author hasn’t defamed anyone or invaded privacy. That there is no litigation pending or a claim outstanding. That the work won’t cause harm etc.

You can see where Mr. Frey ran into some difficulties with lines 5 and 6. Ahem.

To me, these are all valid considerations and the Publisher has the right to ask an author to attest to the above and sign his or her name to it in agreement.

What I don’t like, as you well know, is when the Publishers sneaks a little phrase in that reads something like this, “that the Work will be the Author’s next book-length work (whether under the Author’s own name or otherwise)”

This usually comes in line 3 after “rights and perform its obligations hereunder.”

Basically the Publisher is asking that the author warrant that this Work will be his or her next published work.

You know my take. That’s none of the Publisher’s business. The real issue is that the Publisher doesn’t want the work they're buying to have to compete with a myriad of other titles by this author upon publication.

That’s not a true warranty. That’s a no-compete clause and it irks me to have this little sentence buried in with all the other elements of the Warranty clause that are actually relevant and justifiable by the Publisher.

Not to mention, embedding this phrasing is a recent occurrence (at least for the contracts I’ve been seeing).

So my advice is, if you are going it alone, to read carefully. There are some changes we as agents ask for when negotiating and dealing with the warranty and indemnity clauses but as you can guess, these are the two clauses that publishers show most reluctance to negotiate since the point of them is to protect the publisher. Yet, if you don’t deal with this pesky little sentence, you may find your career a little constrained.