Monday, October 31, 2011

Scarier Than Halloween

STATUS: The last 70 degree day. Okay, I'll admit it. I popped out early to play a round of really bad golf. The weather was beautiful. The company sparkling. Kristin shanked every shot into trees. Ah yes, I'm THAT horrible beginner on the golf course that you never ever want to play behind of.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THRILLER by Michael Jackson (I mean, duh, what else could possibly be playing on the iPod tonight.)

What's scarier than Halloween? Writers signing publishing contracts not fully understanding what they are signing.

I figured I'd devote this entry to scary clauses in contracts that actual writers have signed.

1. The option clause into perpetuity.

Such a monster! I've seen this in too many small publishing house contracts to count. Any decent option clause will allow the publisher a look at the next project (usually narrowed down to specific type and genre) and that's it. Unsuspecting writers have signed contracts where they literally have to show a publisher every work they do--even if the publisher doesn't want it. The clause obligates them to then show their next project, and then the next project and so on.

I think any writer can get out of this (and the court will rule in the author's favor) but probably not without some substantial cost and a good lawyer.

2. Low royalties based on net.

Don't get me wrong, having royalties based on net isn't necessarily egregious. It is when the publisher tries to pass off royalties based on net to be equivalent to royalties based on retail price. In other words, they offer they same as "standard" such as 10% to 5000 copies, 12.5% on next 5000, and 15% thereafter but it's based on net receipts.

Sounds good until you calculate the math. 10% of net equals about 5% of retail price. Not exactly the same thing so do your monster math.

3. Warranties and Indemnities clauses where the author is on the hook for all the costs.

The author should only be fully responsible if they are found guilty and in breach of this clause. I've seen clauses where authors are on the hook for the full cost of even an alleged breach and yet they have no say in the proceedings. Oi! Even Frankenstein got a better deal.

4. Joint accounting.

Publishers love joint accounting. That means they link the monies of multiple books together. In short, an author doesn't see a penny of royalties until ALL books in the contract earn out and only then are royalties paid. You might be waiting years and years to kill that zombie.

5. Unmodified competing works clauses.

If you aren't really really careful, you might be legally obligated to not pursue any other writing work until the books in your contract are out of print and the rights revert back to you.

This is definitely worst case scenario but depending on the language in the contract, you might have backed yourself into this corner. Talk about hamstringing your career as a writer.

For me, in this digital age, the above are way scarier than anything that might go bump in the night.