Backstory: A friend reached out because he has a cousin who is a writer and who got offered a contract by a publisher and could I take a look at it? Sure.
I’ve been making a full-time living as a writer for several years now. Plus, I have a background in legal research, going way back. And have worked in the field in a variety of ways. Am not a lawyer, but I could lay hands on a few that owe me favors without much work if I really felt the need.
Didn’t need them here.
It was a shitshow of a contract. And had very obviously never been put in front of a competent lawyer, because of the amazing number of typos I found with just a basic read. Some of said typos even rendered the contract not only probably unenforceable, but accidentally gave the author rights the publisher intended to assign themselves. (Really bad typos, but I won’t put them out there, in case those idiots here about this and fix it.)
The payment schedule looked good on first blush, but when read closer, they copy/pasted eight lines without changing the wording, so they ended up having to pay at the much higherfourth rate than they should start out at, because they can’t read.
But the best part was the rights grab. I read for those. These rat bastards broke it into several pieces and hid them pretty well, but as soon as I saw the first one, I started looking for the other parts. I’m a rat bastard that way.
First, the author was supposedly assigning copyright “in perpetuity.” Do I have anyone in the house that knows ANYTHING about copyright law?
Second, she assigns to them license to use the Author’s name, image, likeness, and biographical material for advertising, promotion, and other exploitation of the Work and the other rights granted under this Agreement [emph mine]
[note missing period at the end of the previous sentence also. No lawyer has read this document.]
Third, she assigns them “the sole right to develop sequels or prequels, new or additional titles in a series, or related works using any and all such elements, and [they] shall be free to commission or contract with any other person(s) for the preparation of such sequels, series, or related works.”
Read that again. They can hire someone else to write more books in her series without her permission.Or paying her. And still slap her name on the front because she licensed them all her personal information in the process.
Right about now, a couple of you are screaming “They would never do that!” at the top of your shrill little lungs and probably stamping your widdle feet angrily because YOUR editor loves you.
Riddle me this, Batman: If they would never do it, why did they decide to include it in a contract they created? This wasn’t something they just downloaded off the internet, except that in this case, it looks like that was exactly what they did, because nobody involved over there understands one damned thing about how contracts work.
No, they assembled this contract paragraph by paragraph. (I can still see most of the welds.) I’m sure they promise you they would never do that, but why should they need that right?
On the payment side, the reversions clauses were pretty good. Good enough that I’d say okay if not for the rights grab side. Author can revoke if the company goes into bankruptcy or if monthly sales fall below a pretty high threshold for a first book by an unknown author.
Standard language in place for an audit at the author’s expense, once per year, except that I’m willing to bet good money that the first hint of an audit request would trigger the contract termination clauses by the publisher, just so they didn’t have to open their books to scrutiny by an accountant legally required to report fraud to the authorities of the scale I’m pretty sure they’ll engage in at some point when the money sags. (Have known more than one author who threatened an audit and got everything back in days. Along with an NDA.)
Professionally offended, but I understand that a lot of old school writer organizations think that is how it is done. And how it should be done. Newbies are thrown to the wolves, because being a “published author” is the be-all, end-all dream of so many people. Reminds me of kids getting off the bus in West Hollywood with a suitcase and a dream, at the moment when the pimp walks up.
I’d publish her under better conditions and a cleaner contract, and I have never met the woman, nor read her book.
Can some of you people at least read the contracts these shitty, junior varsity houses offer you before you sign them? There are a lot of them out there, so it’s not like you couldn’t find a better deal if you walked, but too many kids will accept a shit deal, get utterly screwed, and then give up on their dreams, never to write another book again.
You can help prevent this. In writing, there is a whisper network of “bad agents/bad publishers” but nobody wants to talk about it out loud. If you take some of the old farts aside and buy them a beer or wine, they’ll tell you things, but nobody will own it in the light of day.
You know who these people that put out that contract really remind me of at the end of the day?
What have you done to make the publishing world a better place?