Pub Rants

Read Your Contract

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STATUS: I’m trying really hard to be good. My copy of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS came on Saturday. I know that once I start reading, I’ll ignore everything else and I don’t think my clients would appreciate that with all that’s going on this week. So, I must wait until Friday night but then, look out.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CAN I CHANGE MY MIND? By Tyrone Davis

When it comes to contracts, I’m incredibly anal. I can easily spend hours on one contract making sure that all my boilerplate items are included and that nothing has changed in terms of a clause changing or something being included (or being deleted–Simon & Schuster comes to mind).

Even with this, I live in fear of simply being human and missing something, so that’s why both my contracts manager and I read all the contracts that come in.

Even so I would prefer that my clients also read their contracts (one more set of eyes can’t hurt). Whether they do or not, I couldn’t say since they have never pointed out an error.

I recently heard a rumor from a reliable (but will remain unnamed) source that some agencies got caught not reading the new S&S contracts carefully and missed the change in the out of print clause.

Clients received those contracts and might have even signed them. Now I also heard that the errors were corrected but yikes, that thought alone makes me want to admonish writers to read their contracts!

21 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    People make mistakes. Even agents. Even contracts managers. Even lawyers. It happens. We’re all busy. So smart writers always read contracts before they sign.

  2. Morgan said:

    This can be said about any contract. Nobody reads contracts anymore because they just believe what they hear. But as you pointed out, people make mistakes and it’s no big deal, but it’d be better to catch it ahead of time.

  3. MaryK said:

    I have to admit contract reading is a soap box issue for me.

    I work in the corporate world as a contractor (AKA gun for hire) and I have always read my contracts with an eagle eye.

    I have many examples of dodgy contract clauses, but my all time favourite is this one:

    If the client is not happy with the final product, the contractor will stay and make any changes required UNPAID until they are.

    I caught the agency trying to include this upon my renewal, after they had assured me that nothing in the contract had changed.

    This was for a client who defined their requirements as: ‘I’m not sure exactly what I want, but I want a manual written better than this one.’ (handing me a manual).

    Sign contracts unread at your own peril.


  4. Gwen said:

    Just wanted to say how impressed I am that you can keep your hands off Harry Potter for the good of your clients. And since I’ve got a partial in with you, I’m ‘partial’ to you saying hands off… although I feel your pain (less so now that I’m done HP, sorry).

    My, oh, my, the ways you suffer for the good of the Nelson Agency! Plug your ears to spoilers!

  5. Lorelei said:

    Heck, why simply advise that the writer read their contract? I just signed my first contract after several go-rounds between the publisher and the attorney I hired to review the contract. Yes, it was expensive. But do I trust that contract now? You bet I do. I’m hoping to have a nice long career as a writer. I don’t want to start by signing something I do not profoundly understand. I don’t have an agent, so I needed professional advice. I’m very happy I didn’t just trust my own instincts.

  6. JulieLeto said:

    I’m with Lorelei. I trust my agent implicitly, but I still hire my own attorney to go over my contracts. That’s my extra set of eyes…though admittedly, I do read every word of my contracts. Always have. The money you spend can save you a ton in the future. And honestly, it’s not that expensive, all things considered.

  7. Shanna Swendson said:

    Hey, I would have totally understood a Potter holiday. Do you think I’ve been working? (Actually, I was working all weekend by speaking at a convention, but I started reading the moment I got home and got very little done today until the book was done.)

  8. Rebecca Burgess said:

    I am amazed at your restraint. Really? Really you have not read one word? Not one chapter? I’m sorry, I know you’re a great agent and everything, but I just don’t believe you’re a saint. Check out pic of yours truly not even bothering to dress all weekend. It felt like being in junior high again, ignoring my mother’s repeated requests to, “Please Rebecca, please put that damn book away and at least eat!”

  9. ORION said:

    oh rebecca I got that same thing.
    “Would you PLEASE go outside and play and put that book down!”
    good to read a contract
    very good.

  10. Rebecca Burgess said:

    Mothers. Although I did become incredibly adept at tuning absolutely everything out while I read. I can do it anywhere under almost any noise conditions. I consider it a great gift.

  11. Sherry Thomas said:

    I haven’t read a word of HP7 either, though the book is in the house for the enjoyment of Firstborn. Projects and tests, ugh.

    But I do read every word of my contracts, just so your heart can rest easy. 🙂

  12. Cole said:

    This is such great advice for everything in life! I’ve already tried to instill this need in my kids–read anything you sign! Not only read it, but make sure you understand it.


  13. Mark Terry said:

    Great blog.

    1. I always read my contracts. I’m so damned obsessive that when I get 2 or 3 copies of the same contract, I read all of them. Paranoid? Maybe. Distrustful? Well, you only really need to be screwed bad once to learn your lesson unless you’re an idiot.

    2. I’m reading HP7. Here’s a plot synopsis: Dumbledore’s dead so He-Who-Has-No-Nose has taken the gloves off and is gunning for Harry any chance he can get.

    What I’m listening to on my iPod? Well, nothing at the moment. but if I were, it would be: Chan Chan by the Buena Vista Social Club.

    Mark Terry

  14. Em said:

    I’m awful. I contract in IT and while I do read everything, I’m just not that good at reading legalese. If it is worded “lawyerly” enough, it will likely fly right over my head. Terrible confession for someone who works with words for a living.

  15. Snape said:

    Dumbledore’s dead?


    (yes I’ve read the books, but some people wait for the movie)

  16. Anonymous said:

    Another development since the S&S boilerplate debacle is that it has emboldened some OTHER publishers (good, reputable publishers, no less) to insert even more egregious rights grabs into their boilerplate contracts. My agent nearly missed a particularly egregious rights grab in a contract he negotiated for me recently (e.g., that the publisher would register the copyright IN THEIR OWN NAME instead of mine!)—-and I caught it! He was luckily able to negotiate it out of the contract before we signed, but might not have caught it if I hadn’t (and he admitted as much to me, and thanked me for my vigilance).

    Another reason why it’s always, always important to read before you sign, and ask questions on anything that seems “off.”

  17. YvonneLindsay said:

    I may not always understand everything word for legally chosen word but I always do read my contracts–usually side by side with my first contract which had changes made to it and which I use as my benchmark. And I always check both copies. Once, a whole page was missing from one of the copies. What I find frustrating, though, is that the copyright of all my books is held by a family trust and in my last contract I had a new addendum relating to the assignment of the agreement which had to be notarised. So far I haven’t had any retrospective document to relate to my previous contracts.

  18. Dave said:

    Contracts are hard, nasty and distasteful work. But you have to read every contract you sign.

    As for Harry Potter – Starbuck returns to the Galactica next season. heh heh, tee hee