Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesday! I’ll be discussing career topics for the next several months. For writing craft topics, see the Labels list in the left sidebar as you scroll down the page or check out my handbook in e-book or print.
In Part 4 of my series on Publishing Contracts, we’ll delve into the business-related legalese that puts most people to sleep. Be sure to check out Parts 1, 2, and 3 if you haven’t already!
Hopefully, you’ve researched the publisher and found the company to be reputable and honest, but bad things can happen to the best companies. Does your contract state the procedure for reversion of rights if the company is sold, becomes insolvent, declares bankruptcy, or shuts its doors? How will unpaid royalties be handled? Will the new owner be legally bound to honor your current contract? Contracts can be terminated under certain conditions. Are those conditions discussed and defined? What happens to any print copies of the book still in retailers’ hands? If they aren’t returned to the publisher, the author should receive royalties as usual until all are sold. If the books are returned, does the author have the opportunity to purchase them or will they be destroyed? The contract should address all of these potential issues.
On occasion, the publisher will initiate legal proceedings against an author or vice versa. What constitutes a breach of contract that may lead to this situation? In which state must the suit be filed, either by the publisher or the author? It should be the state in which the business operates.
Sometimes, changes in the publishing world can necessitate changes in the contract. Can the contract terms be changed by mutual agreement? What is the procedure for those changes? A good contract will also mention severability, meaning that if any part of the contract is deemed unenforceable, the rest of the contract remains in force.
Does the contract mention implied agreements? Nothing should be implied. Always have all agreements in writing before signing.
At the end of the term of the contract, does it automatically renew for a defined new term? Or does the author have to contact the publisher within a specific time frame to renew or request a reversion of rights?
The contract should have clear instructions on the author’s right to request an audit of royalties and sales. The audit is most often done at the author’s expense unless a minimum discrepancy is found. The contract should state that minimum percentage, along the time frame for completing the audit and how an underpayment/overpayment will be handled. Audits can usually be requested annually, or more often if the publisher has a history of underreporting. Be sure to compare royalty statement totals to the 1099-MISC form you receive for income tax purposes. Royalties paid during a given calendar year should equal the amount shown on the 1099-MISC.
Your contract may contain a confidentiality statement, restricting the parties with whom you may discuss or reveal details of the contract. Review it carefully, as it may be meant to keep all authors working with the publisher from comparing terms. If you’re a new author, you may want to be able to get feedback from a lawyer, an agent, or a trusted friend with contract experience.
After you’ve signed, whether manually or electronically, be certain you receive a copy of the contract signed and dated by both parties. Contact information for both the publisher and the author should be included on the signature page.
A publishing contract is an agreement between the author and the publisher, where both parties should have fully defined rights and responsibilities. They have to work together, preferably in a positive atmosphere, with mutual trust and understanding.
Research publishers thoroughly. Read the fine print. Ignorance isn’t an acceptable reason to invalidate a contract.
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