Archive for the 'The Business of Writing' Category
Monday, October 5th, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
I encountered a concept last week I’d never heard of before — the author platform. I read a thing on a blog, clicked through to another article and, intrigued, I googled, and came up with thousands of hits. Apparently, everyone’s talking about it, and it’s the new big thing in promotion. Who knew? I’d somehow missed the bandwagon.
Let’s see if I can describe it. This appears to be another term imported from the world of marketing (like “author branding”). The idea is that an author isn’t just an author, but a brand, and your platform is everything you do to promote yourself and build your brand — your online presence, your network, the interviews you do, your advertising, and so on. A lot of the people talking about the author platform insist that you need to promote yourself even before you’ve sold a book, the idea being that if you don’t have a “platform” from the beginning, if you haven’t established some kind of identity or angle for yourself, publishers won’t buy your manuscript in the first place. (One article even recommended setting your novel in a particular city with an eye toward marketing to residents and fans of that city. What happened to story again?)
This whole concept really bothers me for a lot of reasons. It also makes me really glad I’m not trying to sell my first novel now, because if someone told me I had to figure out how to market myself via a “platform” in addition to writing a slam-bang sellable book, I’d probably have curled up and imploded.
However, after reading one of the “how to” lists I encountered (“8 tips for building your author platform!” “10 steps to an unbeatable author platform!”), I realized that I actually did have an author platform before I sold my first book. It’s just that nobody called it that back then. (All of five years ago. . .see how fast these things take off?) I had a website, a dozen short stories published, and I’d managed not to make an ass of myself at science fiction conventions, so I even had a rudimentary network built up. Those were all just clearly defined steps I’d taken on the way to getting my novel published. But slap a fancy marketing label on it, and those steps become intimidating and scary.
I asked a couple of publishing-savvy acquaintances for their thoughts on the idea of an “author platform,” and they answered that a platform is pretty much required in non-fiction — you need to be an expert in the subject, have some sort of credentials, or some sort of story behind the story in order to get a non-fiction book out there. Fiction, however, is different. Fiction writers build their reputations — their platforms — by writing good books that people want to read. Fiction writers build their platform as they go.
What worries me about these lists and articles about building an author platform is that none of them include “write the best novel you can.” None of them advise authors to improve their craft, to write every day, to seek out critique groups, get advice, and learn how to revise their rough drafts. These articles seem to make the “author platform” sound like a magic bullet that will help an author break into publishing, and that the novel itself is peripheral. Selling a novel isn’t easy, and it sometimes seems like everyone is looking for that magic bullet or secret handshake that will make it easy. But like I tell myself almost every day, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. It isn’t supposed to be easy.
Write the novel. Make it the best you can. Write another book. That’s what you should be spending the bulk of your time on. All that other stuff, like a good website and meeting other authors at workshops and conventions, may be helpful for building a career, but it isn’t going to replace what a writing career is really about — the writing. Go ahead and work on building an author platform. But remember that a platform is just a stage to support the show. Make sure your show is the best. Otherwise, the platform is useless.
Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009 by Sasha White
In a recent issue of Photo Journal the editor’s letter to the reader is about being organized amidst chaos. It sounds smart, right? A great topic that goes beyond photography to writers, hell, to life. But it wasn’t about simply keeping your head in the middle of a chaotic shoot or how to deal with the elements when shooting outdoors, or crazy, temperamental models or equipment-it was about using the chaos of the crappy economy to get yourself organized. And that struck a chord deep within for me.
Right now, the news is full of unemployment rates, layoffs, and bankruptcy. The economy isn’t flush, and the publishing industry is feeling the crunch, just like everything else. We all want to survive these lean times, we want to sell our stories to publishers, and then to readers, but what do you do when sales are few and far between?
My advice is to take this time to think outside your normal zone. Dig deeper and take some risks with your writing. Try a genre you’ve always wanted to try, give that nagging secondary character a story. Write the one you’ve always wanted to write but thought will never sell. Not only will this keep you working, but it will keep you wanting to write. It’ll boost your creative juice up a notch and, in the end, you’ll have a product. And when the upswing comes, you’ll be more than ready. You’ll be ahead of the game. When editors start looking for more, you’ll have completed projects to pitch.
When everyone else is either too busy trying to keep their day job to write, or perhaps too stressed about keeping their editor/publisher/readers happy to venture too far from their status quo, you can make the best use of this time. Work harder. Write more. Don’t despair over what’s selling or not selling right now. Instead, I urge you to look to the future. Things will hit an upswing again. It’s bound to happen, and you want to be ready when it does.
I decided over a year ago that I needed time off from writing full-time. I had my reasons, but those reasons don’t really matter right now. What matters is that when I knew the economy was starting to get rough, and I knew publishers might not be buying for a while I had to think seriously about what my next step would be. Part of me wanted to get my ass in gear, pound out a few ideas/proposals, and get them into my editors ASAP with the hope that I’d once again be contracted and not have to wonder if I’d ever sell again. The other part of me wanted to use the turn of events as an excuse to go back to the regular job and never write again. It was a battle between, I tell you. One that I never really resolved. I feel like I’ve floated through the past year, and to be honest, I have. But it’s become clear to me that I needed to. You see, a few months ago I bid on one of the getaways Cherry Adair had donated to the Brenda Novak online auction for juvenile diabetes, and I got it. I quickly rounded up 5 author friends and we planned a writers’ retreat. I was ready and eager to have it in July, but working out a time when 6 people who all have other things going on in their life besides writing took a bit of effort. But we did it. And this week it’s happening. Last week was when I picked up the copy of Photo Journal.
Even though I didn’t have anything firm in mind to work on this week, I was still eager to come and brainstorm and spend time chatting with others that are at various points in their careers. And okay, I was also eager to sit on the deck by the lake, drink, eat and laugh with my friends. Some really creative story ideas come about that way!
Anyway, back to my point. I’m sitting in the Seattle airport right now, waiting for my ride, writing a blog post that I tried to find the time to do all weekend. Why didn’t I get it done earlier like I’d planned? Why am I doing it now, last minute as usual? Because when I started to think about what to bring here, I collected the many notebooks strewn about my condo that I’d jotted down every crazy and out of the box idea I’d had in the last year. Then I started reading those notes, and the editorial from Photo Journal came back to me and I was hooked. I’m sooo ready for this retreat it’s scary. I’m going to plan my whole year, or two, or five with all these crazy ideas I have. I’m not even going to start looking for a home for any of them until I feel the market has improved enough that I can sell more than just one book. The goal is to build a lasting career, and for me, right now, that means looking to more than the next book. So my plan has become to get my ideas written and proposals polished and when the publishers start buying like crazy, I’ll have some stuff already done and ready to roll.
The message; Don’t stress about things that are beyond your control. Focus on what you can control. Your work, your writing, and what you do with your time.
“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”
From Sasha White
*For Mark Henry who said that the RSS feed never tells you who wrote the post.*
Monday, August 24th, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
I found my agent using a one-page query letter. People often seem surprised that I did so. In fact, the process worked pretty much like all the Writers Digest and how-to advice tells you it’s supposed to work. And yet, some people don’t want to believe it. They’ll spend large amounts of time and money going to conferences, attending pitch sessions (I heard someone was even starting up a workshop to teach people how to pitch at pitch sessions), schmooze in person, because they believe that without that personal, aggressive networking, they’ll never land an agent. I’ve never heard an editor or agent say that they took on someone’s manuscript after an in-person pitch session. It’s simply not necessary to go through that. It doesn’t give you a leg up. You’re better off with the query letter. It’s the established system by which agents find new clients.
No, it’s certainly not easy finding an agent with a one-page letter. This is mostly a function of there being lots and lots and lots of people looking for agents. It took me four tries — I landed an agent with my fourth novel. It still took a dozen letters before I got a nibble. This is where the persistence really comes into play.
Here’s the letter I used:
[my email address]
[my website URL]
November 22, 2003
[The Agency's Name and Address]
To Whom It May Concern:
I am seeking representation for my novel, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, which is complete and available for review. A sequel is in progress.
My short stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, Talebones, and Polyphony and have received Honorable Mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and The Year’s Best Science Fiction. I am a 1998 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop.
Kitty and the Midnight Hour is supernatural/dark fantasy, in the spirit of works by Laurell K. Hamilton and Tanya Huff. Short stories featuring the main character have appeared in Weird Tales: “Doctor Kitty Solves All Your Love Problems” in Summer 2001 and “Kitty Loses Her Faith” in Fall 2003. I recently sold “Kitty and the Mosh Pit of the Damned” to the magazine. The first story is available on my website, www.carrievaughn.com.
Twenty-four year old Kitty Norville is a werewolf who hosts a late-night call-in radio show, The Midnight Hour, offering advice and opinionated conversation to her audience of supernatural beings and non-supernatural listeners looking for a vicarious thrill. The show brings her fame, and fame brings its own headaches. Rivalries threaten to tear apart her pack, a werewolf hunter sets his sights on her, and a police detective persuades her to help solve a series of gruesome supernatural murders.
Thank you for your time in considering this proposal. Please let me know if I can send you the manuscript of Kitty and the Midnight Hour. I look forward to hearing from you.
Breaking it down:
Introduction: very short. That’s the theme for the whole letter. Ultimately, the manuscript will speak for itself. The goal for the query letter is to prove that you are a professional who can string grammatically correct sentences together in your chosen language, and that you have a good idea for a book. Don’t get fancy.
Publication Credits: I found that my short story credits, while not getting me entirely out of the slush pile, did get me to the top of it. I got a better response to my query letters after I started selling short stories. It was a signal that told agents that I was committed to the genre, I had a foot in the door in the field, and that I could create sellable fiction. However, if you don’t want to write and sell short stories, don’t do it. This isn’t a requirement. If you don’t have any previous publication credits, don’t make them up. Only list credits if they’re from reasonably well-known publications that will tell something about you and your experience. Otherwise, just don’t say anything.
The Pitch: This is the Hollywood pitch. The one sentence description that shows how your work fits in the marketplace. Also relevant to this particular manuscript was the fact that I’d sold short stories with the same character, showing that there was a market for the stories. I’ve heard that some agents hate it when authors try to relate their works to other authors, because they see a lot of people comparing themselves to Stephen King and J.K. Rowling in a misguided attempt to label themselves as potential bestsellers when in fact they’re really not. The authors I chose to use as a comparison have a very specific set of books, and my attempt was to show that there was already an audience for books featuring vampires and other supernatural creatures — just like my book had. Again, keep this section short and be honest about where your work fits in the marketplace. (You’ll notice I didn’t use the term urban fantasy, because in 2003 it wasn’t really being applied to these books yet.)
The Summary: This is the section that gives writers the most trouble. How on earth do you condense your 400 page manuscript into one pithy paragraph? I thought of it like this: What would I put on the back cover blurb? You’re not retelling the whole story here — save that for the three-page synopsis you’ll include with the manuscript. The point of this paragraph is to set the tone for your story, get across the gist of the novel, and hook the reader — like a back cover blurb. And please keep it to one paragraph. Agents are very busy and you’ll only have their attention for a minute or so.
And a brief sign out.
Why I think it worked: This query got me requests from two agents to see the manuscript. The manuscript then sold itself because I’d been working on it for a year and it was as absolutely as good as I could make it (although I spent another year revising to my agent’s and editor’s specs). I think the query worked because it identified a specific, recognizably popular market for the novel; it described a story that had a specific hook (the werewolf talk radio show); and it showed that I had a track record. It was enough to get me a chance, and that’s all a query letter is supposed to do — get your foot in the door.
Some other comments:
Life Experience: I didn’t include this in my query letter because it wasn’t relevant. But if you’re a former NYPD Detective and you’ve written a police procedural, absolutely include that in the query letter, probably after the novel summary. If your book is about the lives of astronauts and you work for the NASA astronaut training program, tell the agent, because that’s relevant and interesting. If your experience isn’t relevant, leave it out.
Follow the agency’s guidelines. If they want e-mail submissions, send via e-mail. If they want snail mail, send via snail mail. Include an SASE. Do they ask for a partial? (First three chapters and synopsis, usually.) Send only what they ask for. Deviating from the guidelines will only piss off the agent and get your query tossed.
Keep records about what you sent to whom and when. Query, partial, full manuscript, etc. Record replies.
Actually finish the novel before you start querying. I’ve heard too many stories about writers who started querying before the book was finished — then got a request for the whole manuscript within days of sending out the query. Because Murphy’s Law rules the universe. Save yourself the agony of writing 30,000 words in a week and sending out a crap manuscript, or the agony of admitting to the agent that you aren’t finished yet. There will still be agents out there when you finish, honest.
Don’t stress. Really. Send your queries, move on to the next item on the to-do list. Some agents that you query will not reply. That’s just a fact of the business. It’s not personal. You’ll get rejected, and sometimes the agent will give you a reason — and the reason will baffle you. Just let it go. Move on. Write the next novel while you’re querying for the last.
Ironically enough, I initially found an agent through a personal connection — a friend had joined a new agency and was looking for clients. That turned out to be a bust. It was hunting for an agent the difficult, old-fashioned way that really paid off.
Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by Sasha White
I’ve been trying out a lot of new authors lately. Some I like, some I don’t. But when I like one, the first thing I do when I’m done the book is an online search for that authors website so I can see what other books are available.
In this day and age, some sort of online presence is a must for an author. However, I think it’s important that everyone know that you don’t have to join Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and a hundred Yahoo groups to do successful web promotions. Neither do you have to have a fully loaded author website with flash, book trailers, and a custom -made quiz to see which of the authors characters you most resemble. That sort of thing can be fun for some, but it’s intimidating for others. ( Not to mention expensive)
What you do need is a place where readers can go to learn about your books, and if you want to share, yourself too. What should that place consist of? Thats up to you.
Below are a couple of bits of advice that I think every author should keep in mind when planning, or thinking about, their website.
Five things every author website must have within 1 click. from Jane at Dear Author
* Booklist, both with covers and a printable list
* Where to buy the books (especially important for OOP or ebook authors)
* What’s Next (even if you haven’t sold anything, tell us what you would like to see in print soon)
* Contact (only if you are going to reply)
In an interview with Rainbow Romance Writers Frauke, of CrocoDesigns, was asked what she thought the key areas for authors to focus their efforts on were. (a snazzier design, more content, added marketing components like a newsletter, a blog,
book promos like videos and banners, etc.) She replied:
“Do whatever you feel comfortable with! For example, if you aren’t a chatty person, you don’t need a blog or message board. There have been quite a few authors who thought they need to follow the blogging trend, only to have blogs they never posted on or that they maintain so rarely that it just doesn’t make sense and was a waste of money and time right from the start.
There’s no secret formula to success when it comes to promotion. Wouldn’t we all be glad when we knew? I’d be brave and try things out, and watch the response to it. Things that work for others
won’t work for you and vice versa.”
In the same interview she was also asked What design advice she’d give authors in order to make thier site as professional looking as possible. To which she replied:
“Less is more! For example, don’t overload your pages with graphics, especially blinking and animated ones. It could result not only in a visual overkill but prevents your site from loading fast. Get a domain and ad-free hosting. No ads or split-screens for advertising other
products/companies. Put you and your books in the center of your readers’ attention. Don’t go wild with different font colors and underlining text, readers will have trouble telling links apart from the
In the same interview with Rainbow Romance Writers, Rae Monet of, Inc Design, listed these website do’s and don’ts.
* Don’t use sound unless it’s invited. If your viewer opens your website at work and you blast them with sound and get them caught, they might never return. Sound makes people angry unless they invite it in.
* I don’t recommend flash intros. They’re not crawler friendly and slow to load. Believe it or not, a good portion of the country is still on dial-up. You viewer will simply move onto the next site.
You have seconds to grab their attention.
* Don’t over crowd your site content. Viewers’ eyes will be jumping all over the page; this will
annoy them and can cause vertigo. Crawlers don’t know where to go either.
* Do contract with a designer that listens to what YOU WANT. You want the website to be
relevant to your genre and what you’re writing. After all, this is your website.
Now, if you don’t want the hassle (or expense) or building a website form the ground up…take a good look at our own Lynn Viehl’s PaperbackWriter blog. She’s taken a free blog site, and turned it into a full and complete author website. She has daily posts to keep followers coming back, her bookcovers (Recent Releases & Upcoming Releases) line the top of the sidebar, clear and easy to see. Just click on the covers to find out more about the books. She has links to Free reads listed clearly, as well as having her posts categorized for easy searching.
Carrie also has a simply, classy website with n fuss, no muss. But full of content about her novels (both her Kitty the Werewolf series as well as her upcoming YA Dragon ones). She also has a list that clearly tells you where you can find her many short stories, and a blog that she uses to share more of herself with her readers.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a shiny sparkly design, but don’t get sucked into thinking that an author website has to be that way.
Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 by Sasha White
Wednesdays have become our “Whatever” day. What that means is sometimes it’ll be an interview, a guest blog, or a story excerpt or treat of some kind from us regulars.
Our first guest is here today. She’s a sharp agent with a reputation for making bestsellers, and she’s recently opened her own agency. Please welcome Agent Jenny Bent.
I’m in the middle of negotiating a few contracts right now, which believe me, is exactly what I want to be doing now that I’ve founded The Bent Agency. First, for the obvious reason that it means I’ve closed a few deals and that is never a bad thing. But second, because I actually like negotiating contracts. To me, they’re like a big puzzle. You read through them and you figure out every tiny possible thing that could ever go wrong, and then you figure out how you can try to prevent it. For a big worrier like me, it’s not too hard to come up with a thousand things that could go wrong.
Aside: I read once that people who have a lot of anxiety are very good in a crisis because they have spent most of their lives worrying about every bad thing that could ever happen. I am here to tell you that I am very, very good in a crisis.
Back to the previously scheduled blog:
Anyway, it has me thinking about the fact that as an author, it can’t hurt you to have some familiarity with contracts. This is, after all, your business and your livelihood, and just as I really shouldn’t throw away my (personal and NOT professional) financial statements each month and say things to my financial adviser like “I don’t care, do whatever you think is best,” you probably shouldn’t say that to your agent. I’m not saying that you should go out and get your degree in contracts law, but it’s good to know some of the big issues that your agent will be negotiating for you. Ask to see your contract before your agent sends comments to the publisher, and share your questions/comments with your agent who should be happy to go over everything with you. Having said that, you will be less annoying to your agent if you have done a little homework beforehand. Which brings us (eventually) to my point.
First of all, a great, great resource that I have used throughout my career is a book by Mark Levine called NEGOTIATING YOUR OWN BOOK CONTRACT. You will note if you buy it that there is a blurb on the back from yours truly and I promise up and down I get no kickback from Mr. Levine, who is a terribly nice man. Okay, I did get a free copy. But I promise, that’s it. Anything you don’t understand about your contract will be explained in this book. www.BookContracts.com
I’ve decided that if it’s okay with the GenReality folks, I’ll do some recurring yet intermittent posts on contracts. (GenReality folks break in to say YAY!)Otherwise, with the way I go on and on, this would be the neverending blog. So first, since contracts have been on my mind, I’ll do the option clause and the sneaky next work clause. Later, I’ll do out of print and electronic which also go hand and hand in many ways.
1. Option Clause. The option clause gives the publisher the chance to consider your next book. It doesn’t give them the right to buy it, but it gives them a first look. There’s a lot to cover in an option clause so I’ll seperate it all out.
- A. Limit the option. You want to limit the option so that the publisher doesn’t have the right to buy whatever you write next. This may actually be okay with you if you only write novels and you write one every few years (the way that many writers do). But if you write in different genres or you write both fiction and nonfiction you’ll want to make sure that the option matches whatever genre you sold them. Which means try to avoid an option for the “next book.” At the least, do “next work of fiction.” At most, do “next work of singly-authored historical romance written under a psuedonym.” And no, I am not kidding.
- B. Commencement of option. Worst case scenario: two months after publication of the last book in a multibook contract. Best case scenario: whenever you want to submit the material (again, not kidding–I’ve seen this in more than one contract with a major publisher).
- C. Length of option: What length of time do they have to consider the material exclusively? Try for thirty days. Worst case: 90.
- D. Option material: this depends on genre, among other things, or how many books you have written. Sometimes it is perfectly fair for the publisher to ask for a complete manuscript, but mostly you can try for proposal or synopsis with sample chapters. If the publisher is obligated to make the decision to buy you based on sample material, this means you will be able to get income while you are writing and not have to wait for them to make a decision based on your complete book.
- E. Matching clause. This one drives me crazy and frankly is the reason I was inspired to write this. Sometimes the option clause will say that after you’ve complied with the option, and in the event of an offer, negotiated in good faith, and were unable to come to terms with your publisher, and you go out and submit the material to other publishers, you cannot make a deal with another publisher for equal or lesser terms than the original offer from your publisher. You might be thinking, well, fair enough. But what if you were genuinely unhappy with the publisher? If you’ve negotiated with them in good faith, you should be able to move on regardless of the terms. What if your editor moved houses and you’d like to follow her? This language complicates things–it some instances might make it impossible for you to leave a house that you haven’t been happy with. In a perfect world, that language wouldn’t be a problem. But it’s not a perfect world and I would always suggest that you strike that phrase if possible. At least get rid of the “equal” part.
2. Next Work. You can fix the option clause all you want but if you don’t fix the “next work” language you can also be in trouble. They need to go hand and hand. The “next work” clause goes something like this and can often be hidden so you have to look hard: “The Work will be the Author’s Next Work written under his name or a pseudonym or in collaboration with any other person.” What this means is that you can’t publish another book with any other publisher or any other topic until this book comes out. Now, this might be perfectly fine with you and if you are a writer who is just doing one book at a time and only writing in one genre, then it should not be a problem. But if you are writing romance under one name and urban fantasy under another, this language is problematic. It does you not much good to limit your option to “romance written under the pseudonym author X,” if your next work clause says you can’t publish another book before this one is published. You might think, well, that’s okay, I’ll just wait. What if it’s a three book deal? If you’re writing in two genres, you can’t wait for all three books to be published. And if you keep signing contracts with this clause in it, it ensures that you can never publish with a different house. So, you might try to limit a next work clause to read, “next work of romance written under the pseudonym “author X.” When in doubt, just try to match it to the option clause. Sometimes you can’t, in which case just try to limit it as much as you can.
Finally, and I beg you, please, please don’t send your contract to your Uncle Louie the divorce lawyer. If you want to use a lawyer–and that can be a very good idea, particularly if you start to really make a fair amount of money–please, please use an entertainment laywer who knows publishing law. I can refer you to a few if you want. But using a lawyer who doesn’t specialize in this can really create more problems and hassle than it’s worth.
I’m signing off. But I’ll be back again with my contract geek on and we’ll talk about out of print and electronic. It will be fun. I promise.
PS: Jenny is traveling today, but she’ll be back to answer any questions in the comments when she’s near the internet again.
Monday, August 3rd, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
Novel covers have been a hot topic in the blogosphere for the last couple of weeks. Most visibly, young adult author Justine Larbalestier talks about race, and how frustrating it is to have a white girl pictured on the cover of your novel that features a black protagonist. This is a huge deal that authors grapple with all the time: the cover has nothing to do with the book. In the case of Larbalestier’s novel Liar, the cover exposes some even deeper issues about race, marketing departments and the assumptions they make.
On my own blog last week, I asked my readers to tell me how they feel about urban fantasy covers. You know, those now-ubiquitous covers of sexy women in sexy clothing, usually with a big ol’ tattoo and a big weapon of some kind? The proliferation of these covers is also discussed here, and in a nifty video primer by SciFiGuy. My conclusion? Love ‘em or hate ‘em, these covers definitely identify a certain kind of book, and readers ping to that.
I have first-hand experience with how these covers turn out the way they do. My publisher made up advanced reader copies of my first book. It had a slightly different cover than the final version. The artist and art department made some changes based on feedback from booksellers and the sales department. I now give you the before and after versions of the cover to Kitty and The Midnight Hour.
This was the cover on the ARC:
And this is the final cover, as it now appears on the novel:
You’re probably asking yourself, what’s the difference? (Besides the colors on the final one being better, which has more to do with the quality of the jpg files I used.) I call the second version the “20% more skank” version. The changes? They dropped the character’s waistband so that the tramp stamp tattoo shows and added laces up the back of her shirt to give it a corsety feel, instead of having it just be a tank top.
Sex sells. I’ve run an experiment where I hold both covers up, and people always tell me they like the second one better.
Tuesday, July 7th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
I’ve spent the last four weeks negotiating a new three book contract for my Hunt Chronicles trilogy. Publishing contracts are usually long, convoluted, and written in legalese, making them a pain in the neck to wade through but wade through them you must. In order to help me make sure I’ve covered all the major bases, I have a short little checklist of clauses that must be in every contract that I sign. I thought I’d take my column today to share that list of clauses with you. They are by no means the only clauses that will be in a contract, but represent rather the baseline minimum that I’m looking for in the document. In no particular order, these are…
Description clause: This section of the contract spells out just what it is you are selling to the publisher. It can be very detailed (including things such as an attached synopsis or chapter outline) or it can be rather vague, with just a working title and a short description of the work. For instance, the description for my novel HERETIC simply stated “a contemporary horror novel based on the legend of the Knights Templar.
Delivery and Acceptance clause: This section of the contract spells out what is being delivered and when. It should state how long the manuscript needs to be and the date on which is is due. Sometimes it will also define just what procedures are necessary for the publisher’s acceptance of the manuscript.
Grant of Rights clause: The grant of rights defines what geographical territories are covered by the contract. For U.S. contracts, this will typically be English language rights in a given territory (say, North American rights) or world rights. This is a particularly important part of all of my contracts as I write original novels for publishers in multiple countries and need to be certain that I don’t give up rights that can earn me additional income down the line.
Subsidiary Rights clause: Subsidiary rights are any rights in addition to the print rights defined in the Grant of Rights clause. These can include print rights in other languages and territories, electronic/digital rights, audio rights, film and theatrical rights and the like. Remember that every set of rights you retain and later sell to another publisher can earn you additional income and so you want to be careful about including too many of these in the primary grant of rights. If you do release subsidiary rights to the primary publisher, any sales made on your behalf will then credit against your advance, however.
Advance clause: What I like to call the “show me the money” clause, the advance clause stipulates how much you will be paid for the work in question as well as the schedule on which that money will be paid. Typically, an advance is broken into multiple payments – an example would be 1/3 when the contract is signed, 1/3 when it the manuscript is delivered and accepted, and 1/3 on publication.
Royalties clause: The royalties clause defines the royalty percentage based upon type of publication (hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback) and the number of copies sold. Most publishers will pay royalties on a sliding scale – the more copies have been sold, the higher the royalty percentage. For instance, my very first contract with Simon & Schuster had a royalty percentage based on the first 150,000 mass market copies sold and a different percentage for everything over that. Rates for hardcover and trade paperback publication were included, but never came into play. This clause should also spell out when royalty statements and checks will be issued.
Out-of-Print/Termination clause: This clause is an extremely important one as it defines just when the rights to the work revert back into your control. With the advent of electronic publishing and print-on-demand publishing, it is technically possible to keep a work “in-print” indefinitely, so care should be taken to be certain that a specific definition is included herein.
Duty to Publish clause: The duty to publish clause basically outlines just how long the publisher has to put the work into print and what happens if they fail to do so.
There are quite a few other clauses that you will see in a contract – option clauses, clauses that govern how and when you can examine the publisher’s books, copyright clauses, correction of proof clauses, indemnity clauses, etc – but those noted above are the ones that I focus in on first when looking at a contract for the first time, particularly since they are the type of clauses that can make or break a deal for me.
(And for the curious among you, The Hunt Chronicles – EYES TO SEE, HANDS TO HEAL and A SOUL TO LOSE – will be published in hardcover by Tor beginning next year.)