Hooray! You wrote a great book/screenplay/book proposal/short story/etc., and someone has offered you a contract. Congratulations.
Before you eagerly sign on the dotted line, though, it’s very important to know what you’re signing, and educate yourself about what all the terms mean. If you have an agent or attorney, great. But if not, what do you do?
Publishing and entertainment lawyers can be expensive, and it’s not always necessary to fork over the dough for each project. Consider these options:
The National Writer’s Union
The National Writer’s Union offers many benefits for writers, and one of them is contract advice. I’m putting this one on top of my list because I just used their services—an advisor helped me with my latest book contract, and her advice was terrific. She consulted with me, for free, via phone and e-mail, and looked at two different versions of the contract. There is an annual fee for membership on a sliding scale. Check out the website for full explanation of benefits and fees. Also, take a look at their free model contracts for journalists: http://www.nwu.org/journ/jsjc.htm.
The Writer’s Union of Canada
Members receive free contract advice and three useful publications about negotiating contracts. Non-members can pay $25 for the publications, or a (pretty steep) fee for the contract assistance. Annual membership costs $180.
Starving Artists Law
“The launch pad for artists and writers looking for self help legal information.” Who could ask for anything more? Site includes news about recent contract decisions, as well as searchable databases of articles on every conceivable legal topic for writers. Also includes a link to the amazing…
Volunteer Lawyers For the Arts
An amazing group of lawyers internationally who are available to help artists (yes, that includes writers) who can’t afford legal advice. Search the list to find the branch nearest to you.
If you ARE going to hire a lawyer, I’d like to suggest Daniel Steven. He writes the “Writer’s Legal Corner” for the Absolute Markets newsletter, and he charges flat rates (not hourly fees) for contract advice. You can work with him through e-mail or by phone. Also, check out his website for the funniest articles about publishing law on the ‘net.
Ivan Hoffman’s Website
Many, many helpful articles about publishing contracts, such as “The Ten Key Negotiating Points in an Author-Publisher Agreement,” “The Ghostwriter Agreement,” etc. You could spend many hours educating yourself for free at this site.
The Publishing Law Center
Attorney Lloyd Rich’s website also contains many articles about publishing law, broken down into categories: Mergers & Acquisitions, Internet Law, Copyright, Trademarks, Contracts, Fair Use and Right of Publicity, and Privacy.
NWU BITE Contracts Glossary
Definitions of terms that are likely to appear in your contract.
SFWA Contract Help
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America offers a section of “model contracts” for anthologies, agents, hardcover, magazine, paperback, and the web. Be sure to check out their “Writer Beware” section, too: http://www.sfwa.org/beware.
American Society of Journalists and Authors Contract Watch
Before agreeing to anything, be sure to check the Contract Watch to make sure your publisher isn’t listed! You can also sign up for free updates.
About.com’s Publishing pages: Contracts and Copyright
Focuses on copyright registration and related issues in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., but also has a wealth of links related to publishing law.
Writers Guild of America
For screenwriters. Check out the “Schedule of Minimums” to determine the agreed-upon minimum rates that the Union advises writers to accept. (If the production company is a WGA signatory, they MUST offer you at least the rates posted.) You may also request a hard-copy of this publication.
Adler & Robin Books Literary Agency
I’ve featured this site as a “link of the week” before, and with good reason—this company has a wonderful range of contract advice and sample contracts. Be sure to look at “Problems With Publishers’ Contracts” if you’re considering Print on Demand, especially. Also includes a sample collaborator’s contract
Publishing Contract Checklist
Timothy Perrin has written a report in laymen’s terms about contracts for magazine writers: what they are, how to negotiate them, the problem with the “stamped check,” etc. Well worth a read.
Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide for Authors, Agents And Lawyers
by Mark L. Levine
90 page guide to the author-publisher contract.
Kirsch’s Guide to the Book Contract: For Authors, Publishers, Editors and Agents
by Jonathan Kirsch
Need a little more? 192 pages that go into more detail about different kinds of contracts.
The Writer’s Legal Companion: The Complete Handbook for the Working Writer
by Brad Bunnin and Peter Beren
Want comprehensive? This is the one. Check out all the five-star reviews at Amazon.com.
The Writer Got Screwed (but didn’t have to) by Brooke A. Wharton
For screenwriters. This one has been on my shelves for years. Includes sample contracts and easy-to-understand explanations of entertainment law.
Wow, you mean you made it to the end of this article? You didn’t start clicking and get lost in cyberspace? Well, good for you! And good luck with negotiating a terrific contract.
Jenna Glatzer is the editor-in-chief of www.absolutewrite.com, where you can get a FREE list of more than 180 agents who are open to new writers! She is also the author of OUTWITTING WRITER’S BLOCK AND OTHER PROBLEMS OF THE PEN, as well as other books for writers, which you can read all about at http://www.absolutewrite.com/jenna/books.htm if you want to make her day!