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Clarity: How to Love Your Contract

1 February 2016

From Publishing for Humans:

I’m just going to say it: I love contracts. But that’s not enough. I want you to love them too.

Contracts are not a dull, essential adjunct to our activity. They are the sure ground on which our business is built, the tracks along which the publishing train steams. All the creative, innovative work you do: you work to contract. All of your exciting collaborations: set out by contract. Why you aren’t an amateur: you have a contract. How you are protected: by your contract. Your friend in times of need: your contract. Your road to profit in good times: your contract. The most important thing you’ll ever write: your signature, at the bottom of your contract. If you love your contract – give it attention, understand it, read it carefully, talk about it, do your best to improve it – it will love you back. Don’t be frightened of your contract. Do you know what frightens me? How frequently fear stops authors from reading and understanding and querying their contracts with their agents and publishers. Don’t be scared, join my love-in.

. . . .

Badly drafted contracts are as distressing to me as badly written novels: just as I audibly tut and sigh when struggling impatiently through narcissistic prose, so can I be physically unsettled by the clouded meanings, lost intentions, clunky sentences and incomprehensible jargon of a badly written agreement. A good contract has a pleasing geometry to it. At DHA, we draft all our UK and translation rights contracts – as opposed to using publishers’ templates – and they are written in a style I have named DHA Simple – short, plain, minimal.

. . . .

Why should you love contracts? A good contract offers us a second beautiful thing: Stability. Even though author and publisher are interdependent, often sharing mutual interests, the balance of power between parties shifts constantly due to multiple factors: the success of the author’s last book, the strong advocacy of individuals within publishing houses, market appetite, luck, how long it is until the next book is due to be delivered, or published. The role of the contract is to ensure that, even as the wind changes direction on the landscape of publishing, the author and publisher do not move position – what was agreed, stands.

Why should you love contracts? Here is a third beautiful gift a contract can bring you: Protection. When I read contracts, I always ask myself: How will I like this contract in the worst case scenario?

Link to the rest at Publishing for Humans and thanks to Ashe for the tip.

Agents, Contracts

7 Comments to “Clarity: How to Love Your Contract”

  1. I can’t say I learned anything from reading this, but I thought it “nicely wrought,” and it did make me want to read the follow-up post she’s planning to write on “How to Read Your Contract.”

  2. Ideally, a contract should indeed offer stability, fairness and protection. However, when one entity has a large legal staff and a lot of power, and chooses to interpret that contract in ways that seem unfair, even incomprehensible, to the less powerful party, the only option–filing a lawsuit–can be prohibitive.

    Bottom line: even a well-written contract doesn’t guarantee an author a fair deal.

  3. When you do business with 800-lb gorillas, the situation for most small vendors with the Fortune 500 firms, I’ve found you can usually expect reasonably fair contracts and sane responses to disputes, partly because they place value in their reputation and feel that they have something more significant to lose than the details of any particular deal.

    The smaller the gorilla (though still much larger than you), the less this seems to be true. Publishing companies aren’t very large, in corporate America terms, but they’re still plenty big enough to squash you, the individual. And they have far fewer compunctions — much less to lose.

  4. Written by an agent. Not qualified to practice law, I’m assuming (I didn’t check to see if she was also a practicing attorney).

    Not exactly a disinterested party.

  5. “Tutting” . Seriously. Tutting over –Frankly, bad contracts impact a person for life often. For LIFE. That’s not a ‘tutting’ event, it’s a full GALLOP uphill, hell bent for leather, tail starched straight, and with all saddle banners burning!

    I’m so sick of vapid responses to hardworking people’s livlihoods by the dishonest, unethical and black hearted, smiling, weasels.

    “A good contract offers us a second beautiful thing: ”
    US WHO?

    As far as I know there is NO ‘us’ in a contract. There is the author and the publisher.

    Agents make their PASSIVE LIFELONG income off the backs of authors they signed up for LIFETIME deals. They take their 15-20-25% [domestic/foreign] forever. There is NO us. And the agent, takes and takes and takes, filching food from the author’s income, for something that took a few hours or days 10 or 20 or more years ago.

    It really is a serf /vassel relationship where the income does not belong to the author first and foremost, but is squatted on, by agents and publishers. Often for life.

    Tut that. At your own risk.

    A more reasoned response is to rage against the machine.

    Those so inclined: Let’s.

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