Publication Process: Contracts

Last week I whined about the waiting. I whined earlier about rejections. So I’ll talk briefly here about what happens when both of those go by the wayside….when you get a sale.

Generally a short fiction sale is announced with an e-mail hitting your box. The editor tells you he’s pleased to tell you he wants to buy your stuff. He doesn’t send a contract then…it usually comes later.

I’m not going to give you “Rules” here, but I will go with “Suggestions”:

1) Even for flash, get a contract. This is to cover your butt, you know. It protects your rights in the future (provided that you read the thing before you sign it.) The contract specifies exactly what you’re selling to the publication.

2) “All rights” is usually Bad. Why does the publication need your movie rights? Why do they need your e-book rights, your audio rights? Do they need your foreign language rights? Do they need World Publication rights? If they claim that they just weren’t thinking about such things, it might not be worthwhile to do business with them. Sounds like they don’t know the business as well as they should.

Here are some articles on what the terminology in contracts means:
Fiction Factor
Writing-World.com
If you know of a better article, tell me in comments, and I’ll put a link in here.

If you’re not sure about a contract, then you need to ask around. A lot of people on the internet are willing to tell you what to do.

3)Reversion of rights clause, kill clause, non-publication clause.
These are various things that will tell you when you get your rights back. Most publications only purchase usage of your story for a specific amount of time, after which you’re allowed to resell it. I always keep close track of that date.

However, these clauses can also protect you if the publication is struggling. What happens if they lose their funding, and don’t get around to printing your story for….well, years? Well, if you have a clause in the contract that specifies how long they have to publish, that will eventually get you out.

Jim Stevens-Arce has a nice article about this here.

4) Be careful about what editing you’re allowing the editor to do.
Some contracts have wording that says the editor can make changes to the story without asking you. I’ve signed one of these, once. It was a reprint on a piece of flash. The editor made changes to it, which didn’t improve the story, IMHO, and introduced some typos. I pointed out those typos to the editor before the book went to print, but she left them in.

The point is that I had a story go out that had typos, and I didn’t particularly approve of the changes. But that was what I’d signed up for.

So in that case I took my 5$ for the reprint and never looked back.

But if it had been a 40K piece of work? I would have been devastated. I’ll probably never sign a contract like that ever again.

Anyhow….I know there’s a lot of good contract-reading advice out there. What have you got?

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