Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Contracts: When to Sign on the Dotted Line

What we at Martin Brown Publishers, and most other publishers, offer authors a standard, boiler-plate contract. What boiler-plate means, in general, is a document that assumes to covers a basic agreement between both the author and the publisher.  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 assume when we send out a contract is that the receiving author is an adult and is a publishing professional. This assumption assumes that the author will come back to us with a list of changes or additions the author feels he or she can, or cannot, agree to in a contractual agreement between us. At this point, negotiation should begin. Unfortunately, in most cases what we receive is a signed agreement.

Negotiations do not begin after the contract is signed. Once a contract is signed, it’s called an agreement.

Everyone ALWAYS has the right to negotiate any and all contracts. No one has a gun to your head. Negotiation is expected and is a very 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 COMPLETE understanding of what’s inside this vital instrument.  

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 clauses contained in the contract. It’s that simple. If you don’t understand something, ask questions. If you still don’t understand, get help.

A word used again and again in contract is understanding, so if you don’t understand, ask questions. The word NEGOTIATE is also important. NEGOTIATE until there is complete UNDERSTANDING. If you don’t understand something, DO NOT sign the contract. If you still 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. No contract you made legal should be called a bad contract.

Contracts are agreements between two adults.  Contracts are not for children, even if some adults act like them. Always read and understand, FULLY, any and everything you affix your signature to.  Your signature says you agree with the terms and conditions within the contract. That means you agree with every word in front of your signature.  So it’s vital that you understand every word in your contractual agreement.  

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