Understanding Contracts

From Thoughts from Botswana by Lauri Kubuitsile Thu Jan 24 2013, 04:00:00

When a publisher hands you your first contract it can be a heady experience. You are finally going to have a published book with your name on the cover. You are over the moon and so thankful to the publisher who is giving you your chance finally. You look at the thick document and you're positive the publisher has your best interests at heart, she's been so lovely throughout the whole process, and there really is no reason to waste your time reading all of the fine print. So you sign and initial and date and you get your copy and throw it in the corner on top of your exercise books from form two and the Cosmos you've been stacking up for five years for a reason that has yet to make itself clear. You forget about it. All you want is to see is your novel with your name on the cover.

Everything in this scenario is wrong. The first and foremost thing for a writer to keep in mind at all times is that the publisher is part of a money making enterprise. The less they can give to you the writer the better. It doesn't mean they are nasty or cheating, they're actually doing their job, trying to make money for the business that employs them. The only one in that little group that cares about the writer is the writer. If the writer relinquishes that duty, no one will be doing it for them. If you remember nothing else remember that.

The contract the publisher gives you is a draft. It is what they want. When they give it to you, you as the writer should now say what you want. Then negotiations begin. You must be realistic. If this is your first book and you have no track record, you are not going to have a lot of negotiating power. Aim high but be willing to accept less. But know your limit. At any point until the contract is signed you can walk away from the deal. It's better to walk away than to have your book tied up with a publisher who is sitting on it doing nothing.

A standard writing contract will have some important parts a writer should pay attention to and understand ...

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