What we and most publishers offer authors is a standard, boiler-plate contract. What boiler-plate means, in general, is a document that assumes to covers all needs.
A boiler-plate document is like a restaurant that offers burgers a certain way. If you want your burger dressed differently, then you have to specify what you want, or don’t want, on it. What we expect when we send out contracts is authors are professionals and being so will come back to us with a list of changes or additions they feel they would like to see in a contractual agreement. At this point, negotiation begins--not after the contract is signed.
Everyone ALWAYS has the right to negotiate any contract. This is standard procedure. If a publisher says they won’t negotiate, then, at that point, it’s up to the individual to ask him or herself if this is a company he or she wants to work with.
A contract is a legal instrument governing BOTH parties mentioned in the contract. Contracts, not word of mouth statements, protect BOTH parties and therefore are invaluable if questions or disputes arise at a later date. Therefore, it is vital that a contract be in place. It is also vital that there be a complete understanding of what’s inside this vital document between all parties mentioned in the contract.
The main crux of any contract, literary or otherwise, is to explain what each party is responsible for and must do, or not do, to comply with the contract. It’s that simple.
The bottom line is read, understand, ask question, and negotiate before you sign. If you don’t understand, get legal advice. After you sign, in many cases, it’s too late to say you didn’t read or understand this or that particular clause and so this particular publisher is not recommended because he or she has a bad or unfair contact.