March 19, 2015

Turning Down Your Dream('s Fine Print)

Recently, I've written a lot about contracts (you may have noticed). And the hush-hush aspects of the industry have meant that I haven't or can't share many details about what's going on. In fact, it's pretty standard to share only the positive result ("I signed an offer!") and maybe some statistics on what got you there, but authors, and agents, rarely talk about the offers they get and then turn down because negotiations can't find a middle ground. 

The thing is, when I write about contracts, I'm not speaking hypothetically. Yes, I absolutely do lots of research and collect information from much more experienced sources than myself, especially for things like the publishing contract basics sequence. But ultimately, I write about contracts because I have to deal with contracts. As an author (currently) without an agent, understanding and negotiating my contracts is entirely in my hands. I've seen a spectrum of iffy clauses, from slightly unfair to wildly ridiculous. I wish my books would have an easier time being published, and of course I am willing to compromise on some things to make that happen, but I have and will likely continue to refuse to sign the blatantly unfair or ridiculous clauses. 

Still, it does get me down occasionally. The first offer I received for Muse came back in November 2014. That contract had so many red flags in it, it took me hours to go through and mark up. What I heard back was that their contract was nonnegotiable. They thought it was "fair." Remember how I've mentioned that someone claiming a contract is fair doesn't make it so? Just like my claiming a given book of mine is a bestseller wouldn't make it so — it would make me a liar, or delusional. Same with the term "standard." I recently had someone tell me a contract clause was industry standard, when every other industry professional who's written or spoken about this topic confirms that it isn't.

Walking away hurts, because it means that the dream of having that book published is being destroyed — and in some sense by my own hands. But I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not in it for one book to be published. I'm in this to build a career, and for many (hopefully all) of my books to be published, which means I can't have my future strangled by unfair, nonstandard, or ridiculous clauses. I'm also a person outside of my career, and I can't agree to clauses which threaten more than just my identity as an author, and which yes, I've seen in some contracts.

Hopefully sometime soon, I'll have exciting news about my currently behind-the-scenes efforts. Meanwhile, I'm trying to remind myself (by reminding all of you) that a bad contract is much worse than no contract at all.


Update: If I'm not convincing enough, check out this post from amazing agent Kristin Nelson.

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