I decided to talk about contracts because more than any other complaint, I hear disgruntled authors talking about clauses in their current contracts with LDS publishers—clauses that I consider to be unfair, abusive, immoral or predatory. I do not know if these clauses actually exist in black and white; I have not seen them. However, I do know that they exist in the minds and understanding of many authors—authors who to me seem to be very sincere, honest and reasonable people, aside from the fact that they have signed a ridiculously unreasonable contract in the first place. So whether these contracts exist in reality or only in the minds of confused authors, I feel there is a need to discuss basic contract clauses and to expound upon what is and isn’t reasonable.
Contracts can be very complex and confusing. Ideally, they spell out the agreement between two parties so that there are no misunderstandings. They protect both parties from various eventualities. A good contract is fair and reasonable and allows for both parties to succeed within the framework of the agreement.
In reality, most contracts are biased toward the side that creates them. This is not always an intentional act of underhandedness, but rather occurs because the writer of the contract understands most clearly their own needs and vulnerabilities and creates a contract to cover those needs.
There is no such thing as a standard, one size fits all publishing contract. A contract is a place for beginning negotiations. A publisher will ask for everything they “wish” for. An author should have their own “wish” list. Then together, the publisher and author discuss the contract in relation to their own needs and desires, and come to an agreement that satisfies both. Some clauses in a contract are fully negotiable; others are deal breakers. A reasonable publisher will be willing to discuss both, giving up some points when they can and explaining when they can’t.
No reasonable publisher will withdraw a contract simply because you ask for clarification or explanation. Nor should they bully you or put undue pressure on you to sign a contract that you do not fully understand. All reasonable publishers will expect you to show the contract to your attorney and/or financial advisor and will give you time to do that. Generally, thirty days should give you plenty of time to negotiate the fine points and make your decision. Don’t be in such a hurry to be published that you ignore your inner voice and sign an unreasonable contract the very day it is presented.
You may have noticed that I’ve stressed “reasonable” several times. I’ve heard claims of extremely unreasonable contract clauses and behavior by various LDS publishers from many, many authors. Sometimes what they describe is so unreasonable, it’s absurd and I have a hard time believing it’s true. At other times, I feel the author is the one who is being unreasonable.
As I discuss various contract issues, I will try to explain the reasoning behind them from the publisher’s perspective. If you have a different perspective, please chime in via the comments trail. More than once, I have changed my basic contract based upon an open and frank conversation with an author.
My hope is that these discussions will help authors to make fully informed and well-reasoned decisions on contract offers, and that they will prevent some of the unreasonable clauses that I’ve heard about over the years.