Recently a writer friend of mine emailed me with a question about the contract I signed with Carina Press since she had just been offered a contract with a small epublishing house. I now have no access to the actual contract since she declined it in the end anyway so I am going largely from memory for this little rant/lesson/piece of advice.
DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING! Until you have read it all back to front and inside out and understand every single word in the whole contract.
I do not proclaim to be a contracts expert or know anything about anything but I do know this was the most single scariest thing I have read in a long time! Here are some of the contract clauses in a nutshell from the publisher's website.
--Royalty 45% through *name redacted* Website and 40% through third party vendors.
Not the scariest part. This seems to be fairly standard but you have to understand that this is not gross. You do not get 45% of $4.99. This is net so after the publisher takes their expenses into consideration. You would probably like to get this percentage known up front and should be reasonably standard with your publisher. I’m thinking it shouldn’t be more than 10% but I really have no idea.
--Length of grant of publishing rights: Life of copyright
Uh oh. How long is a piece of string I hear you ask? I have a rights reversion clause in my contract and I was happy with it. It states an amount of years OR an amount of copies sold in a quarter. Nice and reasonably straight forward. This scary contract stated that the book was theirs forever. No ifs and or buts about it. If Carina stop selling my book, I get to take it back and rejig it or can it. It's mine again.
--Includes all rights - example digital, print, audio, translation and other secondary/subsidiary rights.
This one I am not going to pretend to know anything about but I knew I didn’t like it. The actual contract said movie rights and all rights to everything possible in every language and platform forever. What if Fox or Disney called up tomorrow and said we love your book and we want to make the movie!! You would have to say, speak to my publisher. Good for your publisher but I’m not sure how this would translate for you.
I know it would be cynical to think that all publishers are rotten and dirty (they are not) but they are out to make money. So let’s say that Fox calls and the publisher says let me think about it. Then they call their mate down at Nobody Ever Heard of Us But We Want To Make It Big and say, I have this book that Fox are hot for, what do you think? Reply? I think you own the rights. You should sell it to me for a carton of beer and I’ll make sure you’re set up on the sly. Publisher? Sounds awesome. Then I won’t have to give more than 5 beers to my author!
That is not how it would go but hopefully you get the idea. Your work is now theirs. You don’t get a say in how it is used or where or for how much. You gave away your rights for the life of the book and last time I checked, that was kind of forever.
What this contract also had was an options clause. They have first right of refusal for your next book. Of course they are going to want it. Unless it’s a dungpile but then no one will want it. So it’s good. Really good. Big Six good. But you’re screwed. You gave away the next book and when you sign this shitty contract for the next book, they will have the option on the third too. Getting the bigger picture? Perhaps if you were getting an advance, you'd be happy but you're not because not many places give an advance for ebooks. Didn't know that? Do some research!
I just read a blog at John Scalzi's siite and this guy rips apart a couple of Random House contracts and good on him! I don’t have the kahunas to name the publishing house I would never sign with ever but Scalzi does. So the lesson here today boys and girls? Read the contract!! If you have a book that isn’t going anywhere and you want to give it away to get a foot in the door (because let’s face it, some people do it like that) then by all means, go for it. But watch out because it will bite you in the butt!
Carina Press has a standard contract that is pretty good. Would I change some stuff? Yes I would but on the whole, it is an awesome contract which doesn’t give away everything for nothing. I get good royalties (better than some new and not going to be named epublishers) and I get the choice if and when I submit to them with the next book. They treat me right, do all the hard work and give me a stellar editor so why wouldn’t I?
Be very careful because not everyone is going to treat your baby (meaning your book) with the tender loving care it deserves. Eloisa James said something along the words of be your own business woman. Don’t be the mother of your story. Treat it like it is your bread and butter. I agree. When you’re a newby author, you say you do it for the love of writing but once you taste the dollars, then you have to get the best deal for you and your book. You worked hard for this so enjoy it but don’t just give it away…
Just my two cents for what it's worth. And I'm going to borrow some words from John Scalzi - I am speaking for myself and only for myself - in this blog =)
Do your research. Know what you are getting yourself in to!