Contract Deal-Killers

Since you mention that you wouldn't sign a contract with a certain clause here, LDSP, I thought I'd go ahead and ask: what would be the deal-killers in a contract in your opinion? ROFR, ROFLR, etc.?

As a publisher, I think ROFR (Right of First Refusal) is a good thing. Usually, a first book does not sell as well as a second, third, or twelfth book. It takes time for an author to build up a fan base. When I invest in an author, I'm not just investing in one book. I'm investing in that author's potential. The ROFR clause is there to help protect my investment—and in most cases, it should be reassuring to the author, knowing that the publisher sees this as a long-term relationship and not a one-hit wonder.

However, it's easy for ROFR to turn into a monster. It needs to be limited. For example, it must be the next book, not every new book into eternity. It also needs to have an end date, for example, a book written in the next two years. Or it can be limited to a series, or to a genre.

Lately, I've seen contracts moving away from ROFR, toward a multiple book deal. For example, a publisher may contract an author of a YA fantasy for the one book they submitted, plus two more for a series. Or maybe for the submitted mystery, plus two more unrelated mysteries. I'm fine with that. To me, it seems fair to both publisher and author—assuring that the publisher makes back an investment and that the author has an automatic in for the next two books (assuming they're good); but after that, both parties are free to move on.

The ROFLR (Right of First and Last Refusal) is a whole different kettle of fish—and very stinky fish at that. What this means is, you submit your next book, to Publisher #1 and they reject it. You submit it to Publisher #2 and they like it—but before you can accept their offer, you have to go back to Publisher #1 and give them the option to consider it again. That can take up to a year or more. At which point, publisher #2 may no longer be interested. I'd never agree to this.

Payment to Publisher: The other thing I'd never agree to is paying money to a traditional publisher. (There are situations where you might consider an author-assisted publishing contract, but that's for another discussion—and is never part of a traditional publishing contract.)

Those two, along with the repayment of royalties, are the only things that I would definitely reject. Other things would depend on my circumstances.

The important thing about a contract is, you need to know what each clause means in real life language, and understand how it will effect you as the author and your future abilities to write and publish.


Jennie said...

I like the ROFR. I'm happy with my publisher, and with this clause in my contract, I know my manuscripts are not going to sit around in a slush pile for years, but will actually be read within 90 days and chances are I won't have to struggle through the search for a publisher and all the headaches that go along with that chore. The few times I've written something outside of my publisher's marketing area, I've had no problem with a go ahead to submit elsewhere.

jenniferlaurens said...

Nice post!

Jordan said...

Thanks for answering my question, LDSP! I totally agree that the most important thing is understanding in plain language what the contract clauses mean. (That, and knowing what you want/can live with, I guess.)

Thanks again!

Angie said...

Thank you, thank you, LDSP.