They want me to sign away what?


A couple of housekeeping notes before I get into the rest of the day’s posts:  I’m participating in Spook-a-palooza contest with other Samhain authors. Go on over to www.samhellion.com for all the details–you can win a Kindle along with other prizes.

The Raven Scavenger Hunt is also still on. If you haven’t had a chance to head over, there are a lot of books (both print and e-copies) in the pot, including an autographed print copy of my Personal Protection. Head over to www.RavenHappyHour.com for the details on how to enter.

Okay, back to more publishing terminology that came up on Saturday and may have confused new members, and may confuse non-writers when I blog about it, or authors over on Twitter mention the terms…

The Call:  It very literally is a phone call from an agent offering to represent you, or from an editor saying they loved your book and want to offer you a contract for it. Note, you usually don’t get a phone call for your subsequent books, only your first. And each publisher handles “the call” differently. Samhain doesn’t phone, so I didn’t get “The Call” for Private Property, I got “The Email” which I printed off and framed. I did however get “The Call” for Texas Tangle from Carina. Even though I got it back in February, I still have it stored on my list of missed messages. (Because I couldn’t answer the phone, damn it! Angela had the temerity to phone when I was in the shower. But I saved it, and every week when the automated system replays it saying it wants to delete it, I get to listen to it again and hit re-save. “The Email” came during a thunderstorm when I had to turn off my computer. So maybe when I’m waiting for a response from an editor, I should stay out of my office?)

The Contract! a multiple page document (as in 10 to 14 pages, YMMV) filled with legalese discussing print rights and film rights and edits and deadlines and royalties and all sorts of other scary/exciting terms.

First off, this document can affect the rest of your career. It’s like the deed to your house. You need to READ IT CAREFULLY! And understand it. Some parts are negotiable, some are not. This is where an agent comes in really handy because they’ll be the one to do the negotiations for you. There are multiple resources available on the web that can explain the various terms in much more depth. Agent Kristin Nelson has blogged extensively about contracts so for a thorough discussion, head on over to her blog and check out her sidebar. Before signing, Do. Your. Homework!


I am not a legal expert, I am merely explaining terms for non-writers to understand when you hear us bemoaning them.  


I didn’t have an agent for any of my contracts. But that doesn’t mean you have to handle the contract on your own. There is another option. And that’s by hiring a ….

Literary Attorney:  If you don’t have an agent who can go through your contract and make sure you’re getting the best deal, and not signing away rights you shouldn’t sign away, you can hire a literary attorney to look at your contract.They may even have the ability to negotiate with the publisher for you. This is one of the few times that money will flow away from the author instead of toward it. You’ll have to pay the literary attorney a retainer (usually equal to whatever it would cost to consult with them for an hour.) Then they’ll bill you hourly from there. But an investment of $200-300 (yes, that’s all it costs) may end up saving you a lot of money, and headaches, in the long run. 

If you don’t have an agent I HIGHLY recommend you at least have your first contract checked out so you get the best deal possible, and don’t sign rights away that you shouldn’t. (Second and subsequent contracts are generally based upon the first one.) 

Oh, and a literary attorney specializes in publishing contracts. Do not think that the guy who handled your home purchase or wrote your will can negotiate your publishing contract. They can do more damage to your career because they don’t understand how the industry works and what your rights mean. I have heard of authors who have had a publisher withdraw the deal because of a non-literary attorney’s interference.

Back to the contract terms:  Again, I’m not an expert, I’m simply talking about terms you may hear us bemoaning on our blogs or on Twitter or Facebook. For much better explanations, head over to Kristin’s blog or other more knowledgeable resources. 


Option Clause: this is also known as the Right of First Refusal clause.  Some publishing houses, not all, require that you submit your next manuscript to them before submitting to anywhere else. You may or may not be able to negotiate it out of your contract.  Why have an option clause?  Well, the publisher has invested in you already with one book, so they want to take advantage of that investment and not see another publisher profit from the buzz they’ve created. Why’s it important for an author to worry about? Well, it takes some of your choice away. Suppose you didn’t have a good experience with the publisher and never want to submit to them again. Or you want to submit to another publisher with bigger exposure or better royalty rates. Or start an agent hunt?  You can’t until this publisher has given you the thumbs down on your manuscript.

In this business, it never hurts to diversify. Remember the saying “Never Put Your Eggs All in One Basket”? Same goes here. If a publisher has financial difficulties down the road, the rights to any books they’ve published will get held up in court (because despite any wording in a contract, the courts WILL seize your rights as part of the publisher’s assets and you’ll lose any ability to resell your book elsewhere) 

Some authors have no problems signing an option clause, some do. It’s a personal choice and one you need to understand BEFORE you sign on any dotted line.

Moral Rights Clause: Moral Rights doesn’t mean what you think. It means the publisher wants the right to bring in another author to edit your work and, depending upon the wording in the contract, publish it under your name. You should have heard the gasps that went up in the room on Saturday when this was mentioned. As Eve Silver pointed out, some publishers translate their books and offer them for sale in different countries. So say they want to release a book in Farsi for distribution in the middle east and need to change the alcohol your characters are drinking to soda so as not to upset the sensibilities of the readers. Unless you speak Farsi, there is no way you are going to be able to edit that edition, are you? Or suppose the author signed the contract and the publisher has put their book on the rotation but the author refuses to edit the book or something happens so they can’t. The publisher has already invested money in the process and so they want the right to be able to publish the book they’ve contracted…but how would you feel as an author?  And there are horror stories out there of publishers who have brought in an author to finish another author’s book and released it against the original author’s wishes. This is a clause that is negotiable with some publishers and non-negotiable with others. Basically you have to know your publisher and trust whether they’ll abuse that right or not. Authors have walked away because this clause was non-negotiable.

Morality Clause: This is what you think and it’s a very grey area. The publisher may have a clause saying they have the right to withdraw the contract if your moral turpitude comes into question. That’s right, they grant themselves the right to publish–or not publish–you based upon your moral character. From what I understand, this clause started appearing after a children’s author was charged with possessing child pornography. In this instance, I can understand a publisher’s concerns. What parent wants to take their child to a book signing or reading by an author who may be a sexual pervert?  But it’s a slippery slope. Who is the judge of what’s a proper character for an erotica author? Or what about those authors who write both YA (Young Adult) AND erotica but under different names. (Yes, I do know some authors who write both.) 

Anyway, I think that’s enough about contracts and terminology for today.

Tomorrow will be my guest blogger Kaily Hart‘s day to shine, and on Thursday, fellow TRW member Juliana Stone will be here talking about her latest release, His Darkest Embrace. So I’ll resume this on Friday. That’s when I’ll be giving you an inside peek to the editing process between an editor and an author.