Magazine notified me they were buying
Popcorn Murders I was ecstatic. After
all, everyone was vying to be published in that
Then they told me to look out for
the contract soon. My elation soon turned
to terror. I knew nothing about contracts! And I
sure wasnt going to hire a solicitor to
look the contract over particularly for a
short story contract so I learned to read
the contract myself.
Not a good thing
Im told, but how many writers have the
money to rush out and hire a solicitor every time
they receive a contract? (The majority of
publishers issue contracts for each and every
piece they buy these days.) Ive now got a
bulging file with all my contracts, and if
Id hired a professional each time, Id
be down a lot of money, believe me.
|Things that should be
included in your contract:
date of publication
count of ms
(either per word, or for complete
obligations of each party
and Arbitration (if dispute
Some of the above are self-explanatory,
so I wont go into those at all. Others can
be quite confusing, so well look at each
This can vary from
publication to publication, and must be checked
thoroughly. Never agree to sell All
Rights as this means you can NEVER sell the
work again. Ever.
With Arabella, I sold
first rights, with a clause that I would not
allow the story to be re-published anywhere
within thirty days of publication. That meant I
was free to resell it any time I wanted after the
So lets look at
First rights means
its the first time the story has been
Second rights means
its the second time its been
published, and so on.
However, there can be a
variation to this. You can sell (for instance)
first Australian Rights, or First US Rights,
First World Rights, etc. The same applies for
second and/or subsequent sales.
Be absolutely sure what
rights you are selling when you check your
As mentioned above,
selling all rights is not a good
thing. Basically, you can never sell your story
again not in any shape or form. There is
only one way I would do that, and thats if
I was paid mega bucks.
But, theres a
catch. (Isnt there always?)
If you sell all
rights in a book contract for
instance you can lose a lot of money by
Let me tell you a story:
a friend sold her novel to a new publisher in the
UK. Her contract stated she was selling them
all rights. This was her first sale,
and she accepted that. Around a year down the
track, the publication went bust; her novel went
down the gurgler with the publisher.
That was two years ago.
She recently found out
that her book has been released in large print.
Thats good, right? Well, no. Because she
sold all rights so got absolutely
nothing for the subsequent sale.
And if anyone ever
decides to make her book into a movie, the same
will apply. Never sell all rights if
you can help it, unless, as I said before, you
are being paid mega bucks.
A kill fee
is literally the fee you get if the publication
kills the story. That is, they decide
not to use it after all.
A kill fee
may also apply if an editor of the publications
asks you to do rewrites that you feel
misrepresent your own opinions, or in the case of
a piece of fiction, distorts the story.
I know someone who had
the latter happen, and as he didnt have the
kill fee clause, asked the publication to use a
pen name instead of his own.
It is extremely
important that writers understand copyright laws.
If you dont, then please, go out and do
In the case of your
contract, it should always state that ownership
remains with the author. If it doesnt, you
probably have a problem.
If youve sold
all rights then ownership is no
Many contracts will
state the date that the publication expects to
run your story. They may even give an end date.
In my contract with Arabella, it stated that if
the story was not run (published) within twelve
months, the rights reverted back to me, and I
still got to keep the payment.
Strange as it may sound,
it actually does happen. I have another friend
who sold a story to a major womens magazine
in Australia, and two years after she sold it,
the story still hadnt run. She called them,
and was told theyd lost the
They sent her a letter
of confirmation that the rights had reverted back
to her. And yes, she sold it again as
first rights again, since it was
to look out for:
For book contracts, make
sure theres a clause in case the publisher
goes bust. In my contract it states that if the
publisher closes its doors, or goes into
liquidation (or similar) the rights refer back to
This is a very important
clause to check. A number of writers have had to
wait for seven years for their books to revert
back to them after a publisher has gone bust.
Some writers have gone to court over the clause,
but still had to wait for the period to expire.
Please, for your own
peace of mind, ensure your contract includes the
liquidation clause. (Remember the writer whose
book was sold in large print? She had that seven
year clause too. She cant resell that book,
and shes still got another five years to
wait before she can shop it around.)
I also have a clause
stating my publisher only has the rights to my
book for two years. That means I can shop the
book around after two years if Im not happy
with my publisher. Or, if Im happy, I can
renew my contract with the same publisher, and
they can continue to sell the book.
Also check that the
contract has a release clause. If,
for example, your book is due for release in
February 2005, but still hasnt been
released in December 2005, if its covered
in your contract, you can pull out from that
publisher without penalty. If there is no mention
of it, then youve got no come-back
whatsoever; youll just have to wear it. And
if thats the case, and they decide to
release it three years down the track instead,
theres not a thing you can do about it.
One more clause that you
may wish to consider is in regard to royalties.
You need to have the right to have the
publishers accounts reviewed if you feel
your royalties have been paid incorrectly,
whether erroneously or intentionally. In most
cases, if it is found that the royalties have
been withheld, costs are the responsibility of
the publisher. If they are found to be correct,
costs are paid by the author. (And this should be
stated in the contract)
Ensure you understand
the aspects of your contract. It is desirable
that its in laymans terms, and not
legal jargon which will make it impossible
for you to understand without legal
Check over your contract at least three
anything you dont understand or are
~ Discuss them
with your publisher.
~ Keep all
correspondence to and from your publisher
for future use.
~ Always keep a
paper trail that can be
followed. (Even if its on the
~ If you
dont feel comfortable with
something, theres probably a
information in this article is
not intended to replace your
solicitor or legal
representative, and is meant only
as a guide.
author: Cheryl Wright
is an award-winning Australian author and freelance journalist. In
addition to an array of other projects, she is the owner of the
Writer2Writer.com website and the Writer to Writer monthly ezine for
writers. Her publications include novels, non-fiction books,
short stories, and articles. To keep up to date with her
publications and new releases, visit Cheryl’s website