Pub Rants

Agenting 101 Revisited: No-Compete

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STATUS: It’s colder in Denver today than in most of the cities in Alaska. That’s just wrong.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SWEET LOVE by Anita Baker

Get out your notebooks. I was a little too cryptic earlier this week. So let’s talk about the no-compete clause and the Author’s Warranties in publishing contracts.

A little background. Publishers like to include a little clause that is usually called something like “Conflicting Publication” or “Competitive Works” in their book contracts.

To sum up, this clause will usually say something like this:

“During the term of this Agreement, the Author shall not, without written permission of the Publisher, publish or permit to be published any material based upon or incorporating material from the Work or which would compete with its sale or impair the rights granted hereunder.”

Fair enough.

But then the publisher likes to continue. The real crux of this clause is in the next section that will state something along these lines:

“Subject to the terms above, the Author agrees that in no event will the Author publish or authorize publication of any other book-length work of which the Author is credited under his/her own name as an author, contributor or collaborator until six months after the publication of the book under this agreement.”

Therein lies the problem if the author wants to have a prolific career. This clause would severely limit the variety of books the author could publish at any given time (if they have to wait 6 months after the publication of the book in this agreement or their other agreements). Just imagining the scheduling conflict alone is enough to give me a headache and if the author writes nonfiction as well as fiction or young adult as well as adult novels… you can see why this clause would inhibit a writer’s career.

So, agents limit the clause. “Any other book-length work” is too open-ended. We dig in and start defining that book-length work. Now how we define this can vary depending on what the author writes, what they have going at the time, and what they plan to write in the future. If the author already writes in let’s say an adult genre but now we are doing a contract for YA books, we force the publisher to acknowledge their upcoming adult books in this clause as well so it’s clear that even though those books are out on the shelves at the same time, they aren’t “in competition” with the book in this contract.

Why do publishers bother? They want to protect their investment and not have a diluted market when releasing their book. That’s the argument I’ve heard anyway.

Of course what’s not taken into consideration is the synergy and buzz that can be created when an author has multi-books out on the shelves at the same time.

You can probably also see that the bigger the author is (i.e. Nora Roberts or Dan Brown) the less of an issue multi-books become because there is room for all with his or her avid fan base. The no-compete clause becomes a moot point of the publisher wants that author on the house list.

We’ll tackle warranties on Monday. This is a too brain-taxing way to end a Friday. Happy weekend folks.

16 Responses

  1. Maprilynne said:

    “It’s colder in Denver today than in most of the cities in Alaska. That’s just wrong.”

    That IS wrong.

    And Kimber, enjoy your laugh, I’m sure the tables will be turned soon.;)


  2. Kimber An said:

    Oh, yes. It’s only February. It was 43 degrees. We call that a Divine Joke. There’s still two more months of winter left. We may get snapped again tomorrow. So, yes, I will laugh while I can!

    P.S. Thank you, Kristin, for taking the time to clarify that stuff for us.

  3. Anonymous said:

    Kristin- Thank you so much for taking the time to educate us newbies.
    This is just the kind of small print I would just skip right over if it weren’t for your lessons!

    As for the cold- there’s nothing like a good book to warm you up…

  4. Termagant 2 said:

    I wonder if this kicks in if you sell to one house in one genre, and another in a different genre? And wouldn’t this qualify as restraint of trade?

    Maybe those legally more savvy than I can elucidate.


  5. Anonymous said:

    So… I read that first part as being, “You can’t publish part one of your epic with us and part two with our competition.” Or, “If you’re going to publish the ‘Max Rainbow, Detective’ stories with us, you can’t send other Max stories to other publishers.” That seems fairly reasonable, from a business standpoint.

    I don’t know if I consider tying up the author for six months is necessarily that strong a negative… they aren’t stopping the writer from working, and that just seems like a good stretch to spend polishing the next work. Kristin says all the time that she gets a manuscript, finds a publisher and signs a contract, all in under a month if the work is good.

    Assuming that the writer is pumping out a publishable work every six months is nice, but judging from the general attitude in publishing as an industry, extremely optimistic. I would think that a writer who would be restricted by a clause like this would be someone established already, and working with very high-powered agents and very customized contracts.

  6. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, Kristin, Kristin, you’re so swell!

    Kimber An, spyscribbler, anonymous; you wonder why people say the regulars are ass kissers? Great Zeus! Tone it down a little. She’s not going to sell a book for you just because you simp all over the comment board. Have a little dignity, fer chrissakes.

  7. katiesandwich said:

    For the most part, I’m not sure this would be a problem for me. I write fairly slow, so I would probably never have another book ready in six months to where this would be a problem. But I don’t like the idea of a publisher trying to govern what an author can and cannot do with his or her own work.

    And it’s 43 degrees in Alaska? Grr. Last night in Cincinnati, it got down to 1 degree. I think the high today is 17!

  8. Anonymous said:

    Anonymous who said: “Tone it down a little. She’s not going to sell a book for you just because you simp all over the comment board. Have a little dignity, fer chrissakes.”

    Why don’t you tone your criticism down a little? All I see is people saying a simple “Thank you for explaining that!” So being polite is simpering and undignified now? In last thread about this topic, people asked for Kristin to clarify a few points. Now she has. When someone does what you ask them to do, of course you thank them.

    If they were going on and on about how wonderful it was of her, I could see your point, but I don’t see how they could “tone it down” unless they were saying nothing at all.

  9. Fiona said:

    Hmm… I guess it’s only 6 months wait though? Whose gonna get another thing out in that time?

    Either way – I suppose perhaps bad news for me who never quite sticks to one genre – spy thriller, to fantasy probably to romance, sci-fi never two books in one genre come out of me!

  10. EGP said:

    Keep in mind that six months in that contract that Kristin cited doesn’t mean that six months after signing on the dotted line you can even go submit another book. It’s six months after publication. Publication could be 12-18 months (or more) after signing the contract.

    A lot can happen in two years. It seems reasonable to not eliminate all other book-length publishing possibilities in that time.

    My first novel is within weeks of completing editing and I will be seeking an agent to help me with this among many other issues with being published. It is not Kristin’s genre (a thriller), so I won’t be querying her, but I do want to thank her for the informative stuff on the blog.