Reading the Fine Print

In the publishing industry we deal with a lot of contracts. Contracts for editing, contracts for publishing, contracts for cover art, contracts for typesetting… We handle a lot of them. It’s actually a big part of the business that doesn’t fit the romantic idea of writing in our underpants while drinking coffee from a mug the size of a whiskey barrel.

Okay, so that image wasn’t all that romantic, but it’s probably what most of us want to be doing right now.

Having worked with several companies as well as freelance work I can say that contracts are a major point of stress for writers and for companies. Writers want to make sure they aren’t getting screwed over, and companies want to make sure they aren’t losing out on rights that they need in order to make a good profit on any book they produce. It’s a wrestling match with each often trying to obtain the upper hand. I’m not going to sugar-coat it and tell you that publishing companies aren’t trying to make a profit on writers because they are. Insomnia tries to make a profit on its authors, so we need to write our contracts to the tune of what we need in order to maximize our ability to do just that.

Conversely, authors want to try and gain the upper hand so that they’re making more than the company because they wrote the manuscript, and it’s theirs. I’m not going to say this is wrong, because authors deserve to make a profit, but I will tell you the honest truth: it isn’t going to happen. If the author has the upper hand on a writing contract the company publishing the book is going to flounder and fail because it costs the publisher a whole lot more to publish a manuscript than it does an author if they’re going the traditional route.

However, I will say that both sides need to protect themselves. It’s important to make sure you read and understand the “fine print”. I’ve seen a lot of contracts that made me cringe both in publishing and in other places. They include clauses that are just inappropriate, and often don’t provide an exit strategy if things aren’t going well. No matter what contract you are signing you should be reading the details. That also includes things like KDP (whose contracts are actually pretty strangling) and other marketing channels as well as printers. There are many places where people in those businesses will try and sneak in bits and pieces limiting where you can market or sell your books. You also need to make sure you are careful selling to brick-and-mortar bookstores because of the whole “selling on consignment” business. I’ll explain that in another post more thoroughly, but I’ve seen and heard of many authors and publishers tanking because of that particular situation.

I am not a lawyer, and I’m really not all that good at “legalese” which is why I have people in my life who are reading the things I sign to make sure I’m not putting my foot in something I shouldn’t be. Whatever you decide to do just make sure you heed the adage of reading the “fine print”. It’s important and will save you a lot of frustration and heartache later.

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