Next comes the contract. You look at it and the majority of the time the reaction is what? You come across option clauses, subsidiary rights, print rights, etc., and if you don’t have knowledge of such clauses or legal jargon the best thing you can do at this point is to educate yourself. Whether it be by contacting an authorly friend or an attorney who specializes in Intellectual Property you need to find information on what is the industry standard and demand better for yourself. At this stage, the only one looking out for you is you. The agent and/or publisher will, of course, have an excellent reputation (if they don’t, what the hell are you thinking even considering this?), but honestly, the publisher and/or agent are doing what they need to do: they’re looking out for number one. Numero uno. Because if they didn’t do this, they’d go under in no time flat.
This is what you need to do. You need to look out for numero uno. You, yourself, and no one else.
Are you scared to do so? Hell yes! You’re going to be afraid of losing the contract with this publisher and, oh God, it’s your dream publisher! or with this agent, and she/he is the best, making sale after sale, basically on fire! and you don’t want to lose out on that chance! But you know what? Neither do they, not if they really see your talent, and if you’ve got a contract in front of you… they see it. Really see it.
So, breathe, and think rationally for a moment. You never, ever want to sign a contract without reading it. Do not do the, “Omigod! I’ve got a contract! I’m so grateful that I’m just going to sign it, I don’t care what it says!!” Do not sign a contract without understanding every single word of it. Why? Because you deserve the best deal you can make and more than likely the agent and/or editor/publisher are expecting you to negotiate the terms. Know what else? You’re not the only one who negotiates. Want to know a little more? If the terms you want to negotiate are reasonable, they’re going to accept your negotiation. If not, then you try again and meet in the middle, between where they stand and where you stand, and you’ll both be happy. A happy author and a happy editor/publisher and/or agent working together is a beautiful thing.
Now, I talked above about hiring an attorney if you don’t understand the jargon… do this. It’s crucial for a long and happy future, and you know what? To have an attorney go over the contract with you and explain what things mean, costs approximately $150. That’s it.
What do you get for that $150? Print rights? Subsidiary rights? Option clauses (God save us all)? Anything not in the contract that should be? Money, when you get paid and how you get paid? Explained… and dude, we all need to know about the money. You get all that and more… One hundred and fifty dollars to secure a happy future. One hundred and fifty dollars to insure that you’re not, at any point in time, going to be bending over and taking it up the rear. One hundred and fifty dollars for peace of mind.
If the publisher/editor and/or agent isn’t willing to negotiate, then as much as it’s going to break your heart and scare you to death that you’ll never get another deal (which you will, if one saw how amazing you were, another one will as well), you need to walk away. Yes. Scary right? Walking away. God, the thought alone ties my guts up in knots. But, signing away your soul for the sake of getting published is only going to cause you more heartbreak later on down the road.
Ask questions, negotiate terms, get it in writing, but most of all never ever settle. You, your writing, and your future are worth so much more than that.