Making that first sale is far beyond exciting and the first time the writer must seriously think about legalities. Of course, future sales are just as exciting.
The first sale of a writing project may be just a verbal agreement or an agreement in an email. Even then, though, the writer must learn how to protect yourself and what you have agreed to provide and receive.
If the first sale results in the writer receiving a written contract, it is important that you understand what is included in the contract. Do not let your excitement over a sale keep you from knowing your rights and what you are agreeing to with a publisher.
Definition of a Contract
- An agreement enforceable by law.
- It must contain an offer and acceptance.
- It must reflect the “consideration” (value) given each way, such as what the writer is agreeing to provide and what the buyer is agreeing to pay in compensation.
- Per copyright law, the publisher does not control exclusive rights of a work unless the agreement has been signed by the author.
- A verbal agreement is not legally binding. Confirm the agreed upon terms in a letter or email message.
Terms to be Included in a Publishing Contract
- Title of the material being purchased
- Rights being purchased (first rights, one-time rights, reprint rights, all rights, international, etc.)
- Medium to which the rights apply (print, online, etc.)
- Distribution for the publication
- Payment to be received and specifics of when it will be paid
- The writer’s obligations and liabilities (accuracy, originality)
Creating Your Own Contract
If you sell to a publisher who does not offer a contract or simply sends a check which is their confirmation of a sale, it is wise to protect yourself by creating your own letter of agreement.
- Keep the letter of agreement simple.
- Direct the letter to the editor.
- Acknowledge that you received the check (state the amount of $) in payment for the title of the work purchased.
- State that you look forward to seeing the work published in the agreed upon publication.
- This is not a legally binding co-signed document. But it is a written record of the terms you, the writer, have authorized.
Links to Discussions About Publishing Contracts
- “Understanding Contracts” at Writing-World.com: http://www.writing-world.com/rights/contracts.shtml
- “What NOT to Miss When Drafting & Negotiating Your Book Publishing Contract” by Attorney Lloyd J. Jassin: http://www.copylaw.com/new_articles/final.three.html. The article has an excellent book contract checklist.
- “What Makes a Good Publishing Contract for a Writer?” by Dave Taylor: http://www.askdavetaylor.com/what_makes_a_good_publishing_contract_for_a_writer.html
- “Publishing Contract Checklist” by Timothy Perrin: http://www.right-writing.com/checklist.html
- “Sample Publishing Contract” http://www.booksforabuck.com/general/contract.html