Saturday, February 13, 2010

Contracts

Those of you who bother reading book contracts probably have noticed that most Presses have in their standard contracts a clause which gives them the right to publish your next book if they want to. This sometimes get written as an agreement to the effect that the Press gets to look at your next project first, and you can approach another publisher only if they're not interested in it.

I typically pay no attention to book contracts beyond the brass-tacks stuff (royalty, payment schedule, marketing), so don't bother worrying about this stuff. But the "first refusal" clause seems so one-sided (to the advantage of the Press) that I wonder whether there's any reason why an author should not push for its removal.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've assumed it's a question of bargaining power. If you are a star author, you straightforwardly tell them to take it out. If you're just starting out and delighted to have any contract at all, you let the press have its way. If you fall in the middle, it's probably worth asking for it to be dropped, unless you like the press and would be happy to work with them again anyway.

Anonymous said...

I'm no star and I have just one book, and the publisher is a powerhouse (at least in the academic world). But I simply asked the editor I was working with and he said, "Oh, no problem, we don't really care about that." Which makes sense: is it really a huge loss if they aren't guaranteed to get my next book? So, we just took it out. (In case I haven't made it obvious, I would not be upset to publish another book with this press.)

Anonymous said...

CROSS IT OUT (but be nice and tell them you're doing so) before you sign the contract.

I've done this with three different presses. There was no bargaining or discussion. They were all fine with it.

What they care about is that OTHER clause they sometimes contain, the one that says you cannot publish a competing book.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:58 here -- Good to read these other comments. I was definitely too naive, then, in handling my own contracts.

Anonymous said...

Man, you guys are tough negotiators. I wasn't even going to cross out the right-to-unlimited-blow-jobs clause in my publishing contract. By the way, it that a standard clause too?

The Brooks Blog said...

Anonymous at 11:39 is spot on: let them know you are crossing it out, but cross it out (and initial).

Santa said...

Indeed, better to cross it out and let them know than to be perhaps caught in breach of contract by a legal dept at a publisher that may want to make an example of you.

Also, be on the look out for the rights reversion clauses. If the publisher does nothing to push your book, you want to be able to pitch the book to another publisher who may have better luck marketing it.

Last thing to look at is "any rights in perpetuity" or "electronic or as yet undiscovered media rights" or "world English rights" as those phrases may one day cause you some problems should a book become popular.