Authors have many things to watch out for when evaluating a publishing deal, but one of the most common—and most serious—dangers is something the author doesn’t see: the vital clauses and protections that are often missing from “short-form” publishing contracts.
Most authors look at standard publishing contracts (which can easily run from ten to twenty pages, or even longer) with a combination of confusion and concern. For those not versed in legalese (or, more precisely, Publisher-ese) standard contract terms can range from “complex” to “might as well be written in Sanskrit.”
Because of this, some authors see a three-page form and think “hey, this is great!” and “finally, a contract that makes sense!”
Beware…that way be dragons.
Publishing contracts are usually long because they deal with many important legal issues. (Note: anthology contracts are often short, because of the rights involved—this post addresses contracts for novel-length works only.)
“Copyright” is actually a bundle of rights, each of which needs to be addressed in some way in the publishing contract—if only to state that the ones not expressly granted to the publisher stay with the author.
Failure to deal with all of the relevant issues creates ambiguities, and in short-form deals, many of those ambiguities cut in the publisher’s favor.
I’ve recently seen a number of “short-form contracts” that claim to offer authors a “better deal” than “old, traditional, complicated forms.”
Short form contracts do often include quite a few important clauses, such as grants of rights, royalty statements (and royalty levels), and when the publisher has to send royalty checks. However, short contracts often omit other critical provisions. When problems arise, the author goes to the contract, only to discover the “friendly form” doesn’t address the issue (or, worse, it does, but the publisher prevails).
Here’s a list of just a few important provisions short-form contracts often don’t include: [Read more…]