Pub Rants

We Have A Contract Boilerplate?

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STATUS: It was a good day—even though I didn’t quite get as much done as I had hoped. It’s always good when a deal for a new project closes. One contract negotiation is literally moving at the speed of snail.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RUNNING ON EMPTY by Jackson Browne

I did a really great online chat last night for a group of already published authors. That’s always fun because published authors just have a whole different set of questions that they ask. But I also learned something last night. I learned that I often make assumptions about what authors already know about the business and that became apparent during our chat.

One published author was a little surprised that my agency has its own boilerplate contract with all the various publishing houses. She thought that only the “big” agencies had that benefit.

Shocked me silly. Of course the Nelson Literary Agency has its own agency-tailored boilerplate with hard won clauses fought for by my amazing contracts manager. All agencies have their own agency-specific boilerplates with the houses (and chances are they look pretty similar to each other but are still agency-specific).

Now here I might be making another assumption just by tossing around the word “boilerplate.”

What exactly does it mean? Well, when a new deal is done for the first time with let’s say Random House, RH sends out their standard boilerplate contract with all the clauses more or less in its favor. (And all houses do this by the way.) Then the agent negotiates the deal and fine tunes all those contract clauses to make it more in the author’s favor. Obviously to a point that’s acceptable to both parties so the deal can close. Now, when I make a new deal with RH, the contracts department doesn’t go back to scratch with the original Random House standard boilerplate. Instead, the already negotiated Nelson Agency RH contract boilerplate is used. That way there is no wasting time negotiating already agreed upon clauses and both parties can concentrate on deal-specific clauses for this new contract.

Does this make sense?

And it’s not just the big corporate agencies that have this set up—it’s all of us. Last night, this published author didn’t know that. Thank goodness I can clear up that misunderstanding otherwise that would certainly be a point against signing with an agent at a smaller agency.

And then there are author-specific boilerplates for the agency at the different houses. Do you think Nora Roberts has the same clauses in her contracts as a debut author with the same house—even if both authors are represented by the same agent/agency?

Of course not.

There are special “Nora” clauses (or special John Grisham clauses or insert special NYT best-selling author name here). The more clout you have as an author, the better the clauses your agent can incorporate into the contract—thus creating a special, author-specific boilerplate.

Plain and simple.

12 Responses

  1. Virginia Miss said:

    Kristin, this is just to say thank you (again). I have learned so much from your blog.

  2. Cathy in AK said:

    I want to be special some day : )
    Thanks, Kristin. Between you and Miss Snark (and some others), I’m getting quite the education in the business end of things.

  3. An Aspiring Writer said:

    Let me add my voice to this chorus of thank yous. I’ve learned so much about the business of writing from reading your blog. It never occurred to me that you would have your own standard contracts you had already negotiated.

    Thank you-thank you-thank you!

    ((And have a great vacation next week))

  4. Kendall said:

    Fascinating stuff, as always. Thanks, Kristin.

    BTW, The Nora Clause — sounds like a Grisham book title. Or maybe The Grisham Clause sounds like a someone-else-book-title…you get my point. Book title!

  5. Bookworm said:

    I have my eye on these two books:

    The Writer’s Legal Companion: “Consider, for instance, the book’s first chapter, ‘The Publishing Contract.’ Contrary to what publishers tell you, Bunnin writes […], there is no such thing as a standard book contract. In fact, he says, ‘virtually without exception, publishers willingly change contracts at the author’s request.’ Bunnin proceeds to lead his readers, line by line over 63 pages, through every single element of a publishing contract, including the grants-of-rights clause; warranties and indemnities; royalties, revisions, and remainders; and ‘all that incomprehensible, apparently unimportant stuff at the back of the contract.’ “

    Contracts Companion for Writers: “By thoroughly examining more than a dozen publishing industry contracts, this how-to guide answers the most common questions writers ask about publishing, agency, coauthoring, working-for-hire, and other agreements. This reference breaks down the complex legalese in each contract and provides a clause-by-clause explanation of their contents. Commentary on negotiation points and the consequences related to the absence or presence of critical verbiage will help those—from the most seasoned author signing with a major publishing firm to an author who aspires to publish or is thinking of working with a collaborator on a project—who seek to demystify the process of signing important agreements operate from a more knowledgeable position.”

  6. Kelley Bell said:

    When I set out to write my first novel, I had no idea how much there is to learn beyond the craft of penning poetic prose.


    I intend to keep my drafts in the drawer for a while.

    Look for my query a few years down the road. LOL