First Book Contract: Part Four (b)

{Here it is, Ladies and Gents, the end of this saga of posts pertaining to the 2-year process of acceptances, rejections, close calls, agents, revisions, and a book contract. To review, check out parts 1, 2, 3, and 4(a)…or just read on for the nitty-gritty end.}
 After I received the sample contract from the press, my dad (formerly a lawyer), my uncle (an international business executive rockstar), my agent (also an author and publicist), and I each picked through it with a fine-toothed comb. Hands down, the issue causing most concern had to do with the press’ interest in my future work, under their heading titled OPTION:
“Author agrees to give Publisher the first opportunity to review and publish Author’s next work before submitting manuscript to any other publisher. Publisher will conduct review and offer a mutually acceptable contract within forty five (45) days; thereafter, or if Publisher decides not to publish the next work, Author can submit the work elsewhere.”
Don’t get me wrong–it’s nice to be wanted–but when the press is somewhat small and there is no advance involved, the idea of contractually binding myself to that press for my next book is darn near impossible. The way this is worded, it’s not clear to me what “mutually acceptable contract” means, so we’re seeking clarification on that.
The next biggest area of concern for me was what the press calls CONFLICTING PUBLICATION:
“Author agrees that during the term of this Agreement he or she will not, wihtout the written permission of Publisher, publish or permit to be published any material–in book, pamphlet, or any other form–based on material from the Work.”
Those of you who have been following The Writing Life know that this summer I was asked to begin work on a novel for an agent in New York. The novel is inspired directly from two short stories in my collection. There are no promises involved in my agreement with that agent other than the promise to review a draft of the novel once it is finished. But allowing the the university press that wants to publish Flashes of War rights to any future writing I do inspired by stories from the collection is darn near impossible for me to imagine. It feels a little like trying to purchase and copyright part of my brain, which, for obvious reasons, gets my hackles up.
The third and final “biggie” in the contract has to do with date of publication. When my agent and I received the sample contract, we were told that the press intended to publish the book “this fall.” With my heart all a-flutter over finally getting a book contract, I had to ask–did the press really mean 2012? Standard practice suggests about a year from acceptance to publication, but based on what I’ve seen of this press and how long we’ve already been communicating, my heart hoped for 2012. The day after we received the sample contract, my agent responded asking for clarification on the publication date. It was a simple question, really–did they mean “this fall” or did they mean sometime in 2013? My agent explained that the author (me) was very interested in being published by the press, but had concerns about waiting too long and also had other irons in the fire with debut collection contests, etc.
Then we waited for a response.
And waited more.
Meanwhile I obsessively checked my Facebook page and blog stats for updates, which were statistically off the (my) charts. Indeed, it was a very exciting time to be announcing a book contract–but had I jumped the gun? Was this all just a mistake, anyway?
A grand total of 11 days later, we got a response: the press will complete design and layout of the book this fall, with formal release in spring 2013. Is it me, or did all of that seem unnecessarily hard to come by? My oh my, I wondered. What kind of press am I dealing with?
Other items of concern were smaller, but still worth fighting for, such as this one in the ACCOUNTING & STATEMENTS section:
“Publisher shall forward to Author, at the address first set forth above, royalty statements to be computed as of December 31 of each year of this Agreement within ninety (90) days following such respective dates, and shall make the payments indicated to be due thereby.”
In other words, the manuscript was submitted June 2011, a sample contract was given August 2012, a final contract should be forthcoming this fall, and the book will be published Spring 2013. For example’s sake, let’s say the book is published May 2013. According to the press’ contract, I could be waiting until August 2014 for my first royalty check, a grand total of 27 months since my first contact with the press. Anyone else find that a bit of a downer?
So to be completely honest, dear readers, I’ve spent the last five days hemming and hawing and
worrying about what I was headed into, all the while feeling very, very
excited and proud to be able to say to people, “I have a book coming out
next spring from a university press.” It’s been more of a roller coaster than even submitting my manuscript in the first place. I feel certain that I want all of
this to work and that this is the right press for Flashes of War,
but both my agent and I have developed serious concerns about the press’
ability to communicate promptly with us.
Yesterday, we created a document
detailing our “clarifications” and “amendments” to the contract and, with
fingers crossed, clicked send. Included in our clarifications was a
bullet point about clearer, more prompt and direct communication from
the press. Even my agent, who is experienced with other presses similar in size and structure to this one, felt weary about their handling of our communications thus far. Sending the requests felt a bit risky, but not as risky as blindly signing that version of the contract would have been. They are asking for
a lot of my rights. It’s hard to imagine signing so much over if I
can’t get prompt, professional responses. All of that said,
the further along I get in the process, the more prompt their responses
become. By the time the book finally comes out, perhaps we’ll all be
friends on Facebook and IM-ing in pop-up windows.
Once the final version is in my hands, copied, signed, and mailed, I’ll post the name of the press and officially celebrate with family! I feel strongly that this will all go through…it’s just part of the process, as they say. Thanks for learning along with me!

Showing 2 comments
  • Mary

    You know, I have really shied away from self-publishing as an e-book but this kind of thing sometimes makes me wonder if I am too tied to being wanted. At my age I could be 80 before a book is ever published. I am happy for you and I know it will all work out great, though.

  • Lynn Lovegreen

    I understand your concerns about the contract. Hopefully you'll come to a good compromise and have everything wrapped up for publication. Good luck!

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