While I was doing my usual scrolling through posts on Facebook last night, I saw that an author posted an important question in one of the groups. He was excited to share that he received an offer from a small house to publish his book. The author shared with the group the specific royalty splits and asked if the group thought that what he was offered was a "fair contract".
I understand the excitement and overwhelm involved with the prospect of being rewarded for all your diligent writing work with a “traditional” publishing contract… even one from a small or hybrid publishing company. It’s a big deal. It screams legitimacy to every fiber of our being. A contract reinforces our dreams and places “real world” value on our work. It’s the one thing so many authors hope and pray for… a “real” publishing deal! For authors who prefer this publishing path, receiving an offer on a manuscript is a huge leap forward for their writing career. It SHOULD be exciting. Authors SHOULD celebrate.
However, I see far too many authors jumping at these offers without doing their homework first. Many don’t investigate what costs are involved with publishing because they don’t see their writing as a career, but instead, as a hobby. Many authors don’t think about their writing as a business. It makes me sad. It makes me sad to see authors devaluing themselves this way. I think creativity is one of humanity’s most valuable assets, and it’s discouraging to see so many people discount their own contribution.
So, not that anybody asked, but here’s my two cents…
If you get an offer… first, open the champagne, enjoy the chocolate, and celebrate. Scream happy things from every rooftop you can find. You DESERVE that party!
Then, cool your jets just a little bit. Before you sign ANY contract, or even, any print agreement, always have an Intellectual Property Attorney look it over. I know it’s tedious, but it’s important. The language in these documents may influence your writing career for decades and may even impact the works you haven’t written yet. Google “Right of First Refusal in publishing", and you’ll properly scare yourself into doing more research.
I know IP Attorneys can be expensive, but I think it’s worth it to protect your copyright, legacy rights, print, and distribution rights. You wouldn’t sign a mortgage, or a car note without first making sure you understood the language and the terms of engagement… don’t neglect this important step with your writing career. Think about this… if the book does really well, and some Hollywood film company wants to make it into a movie or a TV series, you’ll REALLY want to make sure your rights are protected.
And yes, I am THAT weirdo who actually READ the terms before I Indie published through Amazon/KDP.
If all this seems a little daunting, or too expensive, let me suggest an alternative.
There is an organization called The Authors Guild, that works with authors to protect their interests and rights. I first discovered them about ten years ago, when I attended the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference in Minneapolis. The Authors Guild website states that their mission is "To support working writers. We advocate for the rights of writers by supporting free speech, fair contracts, and copyright. We create community and we fight for a living wage.”
Think of The Authors Guild as your “Writer’s Union”. They help with contract understanding, negotiation, and disputes, Media Liability Insurance, and they have a host of other resources that are extremely valuable. They offer At-Large, Student, Emerging Writer, Associate, and Regular Membership levels. Memberships start at $100/year and go to $135/year, depending on your needs and who you are as a writer. Really, $12/month to protect your writing… it sounds like a bargain to me.
When you consider all that goes into writing a book… the investment of time, creativity, unique ability, sleepless nights, awkward conversations about imaginary friends with non-writers, never-ending social media engagement… plus the costs of notebooks and a really good pen, or software, heaps of tea, coffee, or cocoa, snacks, editing, interior formatting, cover design, and marketing outreach… I can’t imagine why you would agree to skimp on protecting your rights and future writing career just because you were offered a shiny contract from a publishing house.
Don’t let your excitement make decisions for you. You are not a raccoon. Don’t grab the shiny thing until you know for sure that it’s something that will sustain you over the long haul.
It you don’t have an IP Attorney, I highly recommend you look into becoming a member of The Authors Guild. It could save your career. No, I don’t get paid for telling you about them. My only goal is to help you protect your books and your career from poachers.
Disclaimer: I know that this organization works with United States authors. I don’t know if they work with authors from other countries. But I would imagine it to be a question easily asked, and answered.
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