Thursday, December 7, 2023

Dear O'Abby: Does this contract clause sound okay to you?

 Dear O'Abby,

A small press has accepted my novel for publication!  I was over the moon to finally be on my way with the writing career I've dreamed about since I was a little kid. But then the contract arrived and now I'm not so sure.

Most of the contract looks pretty standard and nothing stood out to me as being a red flag.  Until I reached the termination clause and found that should I wish to terminate my contract with the publisher, they will charge me a termination fee.  Plus, they will charge me for any editing, cover design, formatting and marketing they have done to date.  And any other "title-related costs".

Is this standard in publishing contracts?  Or is it something I should be wary of and run as far as I can from this publisher?  I'm obviously not planning to terminate my contract early, but you never know what might happen in the future...

Kind regards,

Future Uncertain

Dear Future Uncertain,

A termination fee is not always a red flag.  Sure, it's hard on an author who wants out of their contract, but if a publisher does a good job publishing a book and invests time, money and effort into editing, design and marketing, they probably do have a right to try and make some of that cost back if an author decides to walk before the book has earned back the cost of producing it.

Where termination clauses cause issues, is when publishers use them as a tool to punish authors, or to hold them in house even when they are unhappy with the way the publisher has handled their book(s).  And to me, that very vague "title-related costs" does sound somewhat ominous.  Unless a publisher can outline exactly what costs you will you will be liable for, I'd be uncomfortable.

Ideally a publisher will work with an author if they are unhappy and try to resolve any issues without invoking a termination clause.  Generally speaking, if the contract period is for a reasonable length of time, a clause stating an author can terminate after a certain period is more fair in that it gives the author a way out, yet also gives the publisher time to earn back some of the money they spent on producing the book.  Do check that part of the contract too - a life-of-copyright contract with no clause to terminate once sales drop below a certain level is also a big red flag.

I'm not a lawyer or an expert in publishing contract language, so I would suggest getting someone with real experience in this area to look over the contract if you're worried.  I know it will cost you some money, but potentially less than if you get caught in a bad contract you may want to get out of later.

And for some more information, here's an article I found about publishing contracts and clauses to look out for.  Please check to make sure your contract doesn't have any of these clauses as well. 

Best of luck!  I really hope this isn't a bad contract and that your publishing dreams will come true.

X O'Abby

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