Do you have publishing contract problems?

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world for material to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about publishing contract problems…

If you’re lucky enough to be offered a publishing contract by a traditional publisher, you’ll probably want to pull out the champagne. But don’t be too fast about that.

The next hurdle is making sure the publishing company treats you fairly.

Before you sign anything, I highly recommend combing through the contract looking for problems. If you can afford it, it’s a great idea to hire a lawyer to review the contract with you. But I know that’s too expensive a proposition for many people. Still, even if you don’t have deep pockets, you can review the helpful (and free!) posts on the Writer Beware blog. As the blog puts it: they aim to “shine a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.”

You might want to pay particular attention to their post under the headline: “Editing clauses in publishing contracts: What to watch for.” As the head suggests, the post examines typical clauses of concern that should make your internal warning bell go ding-ding-ding.

I like the way they not only give examples of specific problematic clauses but also explain exactly why they are a problem.

And, I especially like the way the post suggests what to do if you encounter any unfortunate legal language.

Here’s what it says:

“Try to negotiate. Ask that the publisher add language ensuring that your consent is required for changes other than copy editing–a la the clauses directly above. Many publishers will be willing to be flexible–though not all. Especially in the small press world, publishers may flatly refuse any negotiation (which should tell you something about the publisher).

“Don’t be swayed if the publisher assures you that in practice, you will always be consulted, or says something like “That’s just in there for the lawyers; we won’t do anything without your consent.” This may be true at that particular moment–but you have no guarantee that it will still be true at some future point. Extra-contractual assurances are not reliable (especially if your contract includes an Entire Agreement clause invalidating any promises or assurances that are not included in the contract itself). Again: never assume that what the contract says could happen, won’t happen.”


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