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  1. #1
    Chuck Shaw

    contract questions

    I just read through James Jís post and realized that I donít have a clue about contracts.

    I walked (rapidly) away from one agency who wanted an exclusive right to every manuscript, character, setting and pen scratch I put to paper for five years. I should have guessed when they contacted me instead of the other way around. They showed up on P & E shortly after that- a new name for an old evil.


    Does a Ďstandardí contract contain any rights to future books in the same series or using the same character, & if so under what conditions and for how long?

    I spoke with one top level author whose first book became a movie. When asked what he thought of the movie he said he thought it was absolutely wonderful and he would never think of criticizing it in any way, especially after his agent pointed out a contract clause that made him potentially liable for any losses incurred by the producers as a result of negative comments from the author! Of course the contract gave him no input to the script. Is this normal? Does it extend to remarks about marketing or advertising?

    Above all, do any agents post a sample contract? I have not seen one, and I use my regular breaks from beating my head on my manuscript to cruise agents and publisherís web sites.

    I suspect a number of people out there are interested in reliable info on this subject. Does anyone know where should we be looking?


  2. #2
    Keith .

    Re: contract questions

    Kristin Nelson has posted sample contracts (maybe even her boilerplate contract, I don't remember) on her blog before. I believe her blog is searchable.

  3. #3
    Gary Kessler

    Re: contract questions

    The Science Fiction Writers Association also has a sample author-agent contract posted at <http://www.sfwa.org/contracts/agents_cont.htm>

  4. #4
    Cindy Kay

    Re: contract questions


    You're talking about a bunch of different kinds of contracts. There's a contract with your agent, one with the publisher, and one with a film company.

    Many agents don't use contracts with their authors until a deal with a publisher is brokered. Until then, in a sense, the agent is just agreeing to see if he can get you a deal that will require a contract. I think more and more agents are contracting with their authors before the deal, but I wouldn't let the absense of one scare you. Some of the most experienced and sucessful agents don't contract with you until they're negotiating the publisher deal.

    If you do sign with an agent before a publishing deal, the contracts usually say something to the effect that either the author or the agent can dissolve the contract for any reason after 30 days (or whatever) notice. I don't think such contracts generally committ either side to representing previous or future works, although they may contain language that requires the author to at least let the agent get a gander at your next book. Some contracts may spell out what office-type expenses the author may be responsible for. (As an aside, beware of agents who charge copying fees and mailing fees. These pittances could be red flags that the agent isn't making enough on their actual book sales to handle ordinary expenses of doing business. Not always, though.)

    Once you get a good agent, he or she will help you navigate the specifics of the publisher and movie contracts that hopefully will follow.

  5. #5
    Sara Orne

    Re: contract questions

    The contract that counts is the one between the publisher (or film company), agent, and you. Agent/client contracts are more like terms of understanding rather than legally enforceable documents (although the language is often chocked with legalese). I learned this from an agent who was also a lawyer. Generally, agents want a time period in which to do their legwork and have a fair chance to sell your work. They don't want to invest in you only to have you dump them after 3 weeks because they haven't made a sale already. They also want to rep all of your work rather than one project. This makes sense, but I like to include a clause that exempts writing that makes little to no money: poetry, blogs, articles, short stories, essays, etc. You can also be inclusive by asking for a clause that says "other works may be added by mutual consent" or something.

    There's a difference between rights to future books and rights of refusal to future books. It makes sense to me if you're writing a series the publisher couldn't afford to have you hopping houses after he's done the hardest work of launching you and your ongoing characters from scratch. I think rights of refusal (gets the first chance to accept or pass on your related mss.) are fair and appropriate.

  6. #6
    Janice W-D

    Re: contract questions

    An author I'm aquainted with (lives in my home time) quit his day job as a lawyer and lived on savings and spousal support while writing book #1. He landed a contract with a Big 5 publisher. After publishing four novels in an ongoing series with them, he shifted to another publisher (I don't recall the circumstances). He had to abort book #5 in the series because his original publisher had a lock on the main character. Three years later, he hasn't another novel.

    There's no such thing as a "standard" contract and that's the #1 reason for needing an agent. I know the author had an agent by book #3 but I don't know if he had one when he signed the original contract or book #1.


  7. #7
    Janice W-D

    Re: contract questions

    ... he hasn't written another novel.

    ... on book #1.

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