Back to contracts and some serious stuff: the right to first refusal.
I’m sure that there will be both publishers (who feel they have the right to all of their authors’ future stuff) and authors (who feel they should be able to shop each new piece to the highest bidder) will disagree with me. But in MY opinion, fairness of first refusal falls into three categories: number of future works, category of future works, and length of enforcement.
Number of future works
Fair: a specified number of future works; as in ONE, perhaps two. The exception to this is if you are selling a series. In that case, the number of books in the series—but make sure it spells out that it only applies to the books in that series. Other books are up for grabs.
NOT Fair: More than two; more than one series.
Category of Future Works
Fair: The next novel in the same genre.
NOT Fair: Every genre that you might consider writing in, including non-fiction.
Length of Enforcement
Fair: Two to three years (because sometimes it takes an author that long to write their next novel.)
NOT Fair: More than three years.
All three of these categories need to be addressed and balanced in your contract. If they aren’t, ask for clarification.
Now, I know that many authors want to get rid of this clause entirely. I understand—really, I do. But from a publisher’s perspective, let’s say I have two authors and, all other things being equal, one of them is looking at me with “long-term relationship” burning in their eyes, while the other one wants to “keep their options open.”
If it was your $10—$15 grand (or more) going into the project, which one would you ask to the prom?