Over the Moon (and Over a Barrel)


I hate to break this to those of you on the cusp of publication, but your first book contract's terms are probably going to reek like a truckload of unrefrigerated mackerel. If you have a decent agent, smart literary attorney, and/or some preparation on the topic of literary contracts, it'll probably be somewhat less stinko, but the truth is, most first-time authors have been beating their heads against the brick wall of rejection for so long, they've killed off every brain cell devoted to foresight and prudence.

The truth is, we don't really care what we sign. We just want to sign it FAAAASTTT (before the editor changes her mind, the publisher goes under, or the world as we know it comes to an end and robs us of the chance to become a published novelist). And even if we do care (and/or have an agent with a vested interest in caring on our behalf) newbie authors only rarely have the leverage to demand a lot of changes.

So we often agree to dumb things. Overly-broad option clauses on the next book. "World rights" and out-of-print definitions that will never in a month of Sundays allow the rights to revert to the author. Substandard advances, paltry royalty percentages with all kinds of crazy caveats.

Once we know better, we'll be sorry. Or we probably should be, but looking back, we still grin big, silly grins as we remember that first, blessed moment when an actual editor (and editors were something supernatural, back in those days) wanted to buy a story we'd spun out of dreams, thin air, and more hard work than we ever imagined we had in us.

We were in the game, and we we certain the next contract, and all those that followed, would be better. Nothing whatsoever could possibly stop us now.

So, does anyone reading this care to share a first sale story, or perhaps a tale of some onerous contract clause new authors should do all they can to avoid? (What's that old saying? If you can't serve as an example, you can at least serve as a terrible warning! Feel free to comment anonymously if you prefer the cover of darkness.)

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