Today I'm going to take a break from my mini-series to talk to you about a very important aspect of your writing career: the contract. If you are pursuing publication for that prized manuscript of yours, there are a few things you need to be aware of when going over the contract.
1) Beware the contract that asks for you to submit your next work.
Even if you plan on sending your next work to the same publishing house, this clause is a bad one. You shouldn't sign a contract if they ask for your next romance work in any subgenre, or your next work in any genre. Why? What if you change your mind at a later date? You aren't, under law, able to send your work anywhere else.
One acceptable alternative to this clause is to offer the publisher your next work with the same characters -- or in other words, the next book in a series. That way, you are still free to shop other manuscripts elsewhere. Of course, some prefer not to give a publisher even that much control.
2) Beware the contract that asks for the rights to your world or characters.
Surely this speaks for itself. You don't want want someone else to hold the rights to your story. Things like merchandising, film rights, etc. can be given away, although you don't want your publisher sitting on rights they have no intention of using. But in this case, if they own the rights to your world, they can have anyone they want write stories involved in that story. While that may at first sound cool, trust me, it isn't. After all, they don't have to publish any subsequent stories of yours -- they can have anyone they want write them instead. And if you attempt to publish any story with the same world or characters, they can take you to court (and win).
I have no alternative to offer them here. Ask for that clause to be taken out as a condition of your signing the contract.
3) Beware the contract that asks for rights "for the length of copyright".
Let me explain that to you for a minute. Since the advent of Mickey Mouse, copyright has changed drastically. Every time Mickey's copyright is about to expire, Disney appeals to the copyright office to get it extended. What applies to Mickey must of course apply to everyone else. And as your work is a great deal younger than Mickey Mouse, this means that it will never go out of copyright. Signing a contract "for the length of the copyright" essentially means forever -- even after you're dead.
Ask instead for a length of time -- three years. Five years. Whatever you're willing to offer. Your agreement can continue beyond that. Most publishing houses ask you to sign the same contract again after the time is up, to extend the agreement. But again, it is not indefinite.
But what if you really like this publisher despite those clauses? Most publishers are willing to negotiate on their contracts. Offer one of the alternatives I mentioned. If they will not change their contract, that is an indication that you should turn tail and find somebody else.
These are only three examples, but they are three of the most common clauses seen in contracts. These are things to be wary of when looking it over. If you don't have an agent (or even if you do), you always want to be wary of the contracts you sign. Read them carefully. Look them over two, or even three times. If you don't understand something in them, don't be afraid to bring the contract to a lawyer. Better to fork over a small sum than have something you didn't notice come back to bite you in the ass.
Does anyone else have examples of things to be avoided in contracts?