Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Writing Contracts

Some wishful thinking here, I know, but I began wondering today about contracts for authors. I read a short story by a friend and saw the site had a contract that they essentially copied from Which prompted this post.

So, what is in a contract? SWFA's simple web contract appears to be just that, simple. Their paperback contract by comparison is much more complex. But having studied law and code, I want to know what it means. For me, my big question lies in what the first sentence means.
AGREEMENT dated this day of [DATE] in which we, the publisher, [NAME], agree
with you, the author, [NAME}, that you grant us the nonexclusive right to
publish your work entitled [TITLE] on our World Wide Web site.

Specifically, the part about "nonexclusive rights to publish." So in an attempt to decipher the legal code, here's what I found.

- A great definition of Exclusive vs. Nonexclusive Rights.
- A listing of Types of Rights Commonly Sold by Freelancers.
- Some very old but interesting reading (for those of us in the tax industry) about Authors and the Internal Revenue Code.

For those of you readers who have actually published, feel free to chime in on your experiences (good or bad).


1979 semi-finalist said...

Well I have very little "actually published" experience, but almost every single place I submit to requires First North American Serial Rights, which is pretty basic. They want it, they want to be the only people that have it.

But I've also technically never signed a contract, I think it's in their submission rules, and by submitting you agree to those rules...not sure. I suppose all places are pretty different

Non-exclusive rights sound pretty nice...I don't know why any publisher/printer/etc. would want non-exclusive rights though...seems odd.

Daniel Ausema said...

Most places I've been published in ask for exclusive rights for a brief period of time, anywhere from 3 months to a year. Even those that don't ask for that specifically (some have very informal contracts while others have much more formal) I still assume that they have exclusive rights for a month or so if it's the first time it's been in print.

Reprints, though, are usually non-exclusive. For one thing, they've already appeared elsewhere, so you have no control over continued distribution in that way. So I have a few reprint stories at Anthology Builder, but that doesn't stop me from submitting them to other venues as reprints (though I haven't done so).

Neil Richard said...

1979 - So, my next question is then, what defines "First North American Serial Rights?" With never "actually signing," I'm not sure that would hold up as you clicking "OK" would suffice as an electronic signature.

Daniel - Thanks for the input. Your short story was actually the catalyst for this post.

1979 semi-finalist said...

Hmmm. I guess I don't really know for sure. I went to a few of the prominent websites of big lit mags I have submitted to in the past and there really is not discussion of what rights they are buying, I think it's just implied/understood by the submissions guidelines what they are buying/interested in, i.e. 98% of the places I submit to do not want previously published material, most don't even want simultaneous submissions, by that submission guideline I assume that they are interested in buying FNASR only.

I don't/haven't ever signed a contract though, I guess simply because the writing world is a very small one and if you dick people over by submitting previously published material elsewhere other houses and magazines are going to quickly blacklist you. And then you won't be able to sell anything...FNASR or otherwise.

Also, I mean, it's so difficult and such an honor to get into these literary magazines, and often there is ACTUAL PAY as well, so I am so delighted when I get an acceptance letter that I don't even question that I'm giving them anything other than FNASR...maybe that's naive...I don't know.

Andy Lester said...

I don't know the fiction market, but I would highly recommend the mailing list run by Studio B, an agency for computer authors.

The list website seems to be down right now, but their archives are well worth browsing. They often discuss fiction publishing as well, since there's a lot of crossover, especially into the SF market, as you might imagine.