Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Contract Saga Continues

Contracts are legal documents which describe a unique relationship. They aren't one-size-fits-all forms, even though it's more convenient for the company writing the document to try to make it so. On writer's lists, people frequently point out that every part of a contract is negotiable, and that's true, to some extent. A writer can try to negotiate. That doesn't mean the publisher will yield.

I've been negotiating a contract with a publisher for a short story for one of their anthologies. At least that's my interpretation of the rights they were buying - first time US print rights - but the wording of the contract gave them far more sweeping rights, such the right to republish my entire story anywhere they wanted to without paying me beyond the small initial payment for the anthology. I balked at that. I simply couldn't sign away my ability to sell first time electronic or magazine rights. I was told by the publisher that they wouldn't change their standard contract for one writer. So much for negotiation.

I don't make these decisions lightly, but it looks as if I'm going to have to pull my story. I really like the editor, but this is business, and I hope that she will understand my concerns and not let it affect our friendly acquaintance. I certainly don't wish to harm my relationship with the publisher to the point where we can't, in the future, work together. However, until the contracts change, I doubt I'll submit any more stories to that publisher's anthologies. I know I'm not the only writer who refuses to sign that contract as it stands, and I'm not the only one who has put that publisher on a personal "do not submit" list. (What else do you think writers talk about at my salons? We talk business.) This isn't a good situation for the publisher, who may not realize for quite some time that good writers aren't willing to work with them anymore. Eventually the slush pile will make it clear, but by then the damage will be done. It's harder to change a reputation than it is to earn one. It isn't good for the writers either - the ones who sign those contracts, or the ones who limit their publishing options because of such contracts.

Ah well. It's only one story. I have enough published by now that I don't sweat losing one, but it bugs me to pull it over the terms of the contract.


mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Hmmm... I have a guess at who the publisher is, but more importantly -- when's your next salon? I'll be down in LA at the beginning of February -- February 9 to be exact -- to do a reading for Nobody Passes at Skylight:)

Of course I'd love to see there, and a salon visit would be lovely as well, if it happens to occur sometime in the vicinity, although wait -- I'm not sure if I'll be there over the weekend, okay I'm blabbing.

By the way, if your novel feels done at 45,000 words, don't try to stretch it out just to make it marketable. Marketable is the end of so much brilliant writing.

Love --

Kathleen Bradean said...

Yes, I bet you could name that publisher.

I only do two salons a year. Every year I plan to do more, but simply don't have the time or energy. Sorry. BUT, I read in your blog about your reading at Skylight and I do plan to go! I'll be sure to introduce myself.

And thanks for the supportive words about my novel. You're right - when it's done, it's done.