Wednesday, December 07, 2005

An Agent's View: Sticky Contract Clauses

Agent Michelle Grajkowksi of Three Seas Literary Agency talks about sticky contract clauses.

Today I feel like a bear. Not the grumbling, scary kind. Rather more like a soft, squishy, playful bear cub, wanting to play in the snow, but knowing it's better to pack on the pounds and hibernate for a while. Instead of sleeping, though, I'm frantically trying to get through my To-Do list.

And, apparently the publishing world is too! As I'm knee deep in contract negotiations with a few houses, I thought now would be a good time to make you aware of some clauses that you should pay close attention to before signing an agreement.

Just as it sounds, as an author you are granting your rights to the publisher to publish your novel. The clause will normally mention what the territory of your sale is (worldwide, North American, etc.) and will also usually note what rights you are granting (motion picture, audio, etc.)

Generally, both the territory and the rights are negotiable. And, what rights we relinquish depends a lot on the publisher. In a Harlequin category sale, for example, it makes sense to keep the foreign rights with the publisher because Harlequin has a fantastic global network in place and oftentimes the authors find their books spreading across the ocean. Some of the other houses, however, have terribly large lists and your book may get lost in the foreign rights shuffle. Therefore, many times it is better to keep those rights for yourself.

When you are reading through the grant of rights, proof it very carefully. Sometimes publishers will throw in a non-compete statement in the clause. It's crucial to understand what you are signing.

Another clause to pay especially close attention to is the non-compete. In this clause, Publishers sometimes try to keep an author exclusively writing for them by putting in restrictive language. Your best bet is to whittle this language down as much as possible. Try not to box yourself in to writing for only one house. The flexibility of being able to move is always beneficial. Also, try to strike any language which will force you to keep a series with your Publisher.

Publishers want to protect their investments. A book is expensive to produce, especially when you factor in all the hands that much touch it, the packaging and the promotions. Publishers do not want just a one hit wonder. Therefore, most houses include an option clause. The option is the timeframe for the editors to evaluate the next project that an author writes after the contract books are complete on their current contracts. My best advice - if you are writing light, humorous paranormals, limit your option to read "light, humorous paranormals." Don't settle for next work of fiction. You will be extremely limited, and if you have a wonderful mystery that wants to pop out of you, you are not going to be able to send it on until your option is fulfilled.

These tips are only the tip of the iceberg. My best advice is to hire an agent or a literary attorney to help you navigate the contract before you sign.

Finally, always remember to look far into the future when you are negotiating a publishing contract. What sounds good today might not be the best for your career tomorrow. I like to play the "what if" game. "What if" my client gets a great offer for her ongoing series from house B but we've already signed off on those rights. "What if" my client has a great idea for a new, unrelated series in a different genre mid-contract but the option states fiction? While "what if's" can make you crazy in your everyday life, play that game as you are signing your contract. With over 100 contracts under my belt, the "What if" game has helped me negotiate the best deals I can for my clients.

That, and the fact that this sweet little bear cub can morph into angry mama bear if things aren't going my way...


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