Oh, the things I could write about here, but today I’m going to focus on something I wish I’d known when I first began my career–contracts.
Newbie writers don’t like to think about the nitty-gritty of contracts, and I get that. If someone comes to you and offers to publish your story, the desire to see your word in print often overrides common sense. Authors find themselves in all sorts of trouble by signing away their rights without thinking about the future of their writing career.
I was still writing the first draft of Amaskan’s Blood when an opportunity arrived that I couldn’t pass up. Write a tie-in novel for a particular IP and submit it for the chance of publication. I loved the IP the way a writer loves sticky notes, so after a quick glance at the contract, off I went.
Therein was mistake number one. Always read the contract thoroughly. In fact, have an attorney or an agent look at it as well. Worth the cost, I promise!
Like most new authors, I was so excited by the prospect of publication that when I came across something fishy in the contract, I ignored it. Surely it was worth it to be published…right? The language in the contract stated that if they chose not to publish me, but the publisher liked my story idea, they could use it without any nod or credit to me. In other words, free story ideas for them to use. Ones already written and fleshed out. The hard work done.
Needless to say, they didn’t publish me. Fast forward five years and something cool is happening with this IP. They’re making a movie with big name actors. It looks really awesome, and it should considering that the summary reads like mine did.
Is it possible they had this idea before I did? Sure. It’s entirely possible. Is it also possible that they took my idea and ran with it? Yep, that’s possible too.
ALWAYS READ THE CONTRACT.
NEVER SIGN A BAD CONTRACT.
It will always come back and bite you in the ass. Having an attorney or trusted agent read the contract will help you avoid bad contracts. Places like SFWA’s Contract Committee can also help you with what standard, good contracts look like and what language should be a blazing, red flag. You don’t have to be a member of SFWA to read through their sample contracts either. Writer Beware can help new authors avoid scummy publishers, contests, and others.
Every published author can tell you horror stories about bad contracts and the lessons they’ve learned the hard way. Rather than join our ranks, don’t view yourself as the exception to the rule.
Always read the contract. Always have an expert read the contract.
And if it smells fishy, run far, far away.
Read the previous article in Raven’s new “Dear ____” blog posts:
Dear Folks Decluttering Their Home