Monday, February 05, 2007

Worrisome Contract Clauses

I'm still catching up on the blogs and websites I routinely read each week, but which I missed while my laptop was out of commission.

Today, I read several days worth of Pub Rants by Kristin Nelson. She had a very interesting two-part post on Tuesday and Friday in which she talked about the various clauses that writers need to watch out for in publishers' contracts.

Every contract has a section titled "Author's Warranty," in which the writer asserts that s/he wrote the manuscript in question, that s/he owns the rights free and clear, and that there was no plagiarism involved.

Kristin says recently a sentence has been popping up under the Warranty section. It is often overlooked by writers not familiar with contract language. Kristin describes it here:

“Subject to the terms above, the Author agrees that in no event will the Author publish or authorize publication of any other book-length work of which the Author is credited under his/her own name as an author, contributor or collaborator until six months after the publication of the book under this agreement.”

In essence, the publisher is blocking the writer from publishing another novel for a lengthy period AFTER publication of the manuscript in question.

This is known as a non-compete clause, but it can put a crimp into an author's career by preventing him/her from releasing another book for a period of time.

I am frequently asked whether I think authors need agents. My answer is always a resounding, "Yes." My attorney took a look at my publisher's contract and told me she was glad I had an agent because the language in the contract was so specific to the publishing field that she would be afraid to give me advice.

If you are offered a contract by a publisher, be sure to have a professional vet it for you. If you don't have an agent, find a lawyer who is familiar with the publishing industry.

Kristin's blog can be found here.

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