Pub Rants

Aggressive Competitive Works Clauses

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STATUS: Fun picture of the week. My cousin was in Washington D.C. with her family and they visited the International Spy Museum and guess what they found in the gift store there? It just tickled us pink.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WATCH YOUR STEP by Anita Baker

As y’all know, I’ve been working on a lot of contracts lately. One contract was with a new publisher (Macmillan) that I had never sold a book to before so there’s just a lot of extra negotiation necessary to hammer out the boilerplate.

When I started reading the contract for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised at how normal it was. There were lots of elements already included that normally we would have to request and fight for. But it wasn’t so…until page 16 when I reached the Competitive Works clause.

I think my jaw dropped open and stayed that way for a good 15 minutes. I even rang up my contracts manager because I couldn’t believe how aggressive it was. Until this moment, I had never seen a publisher contract where the Competitive Works clause was more than one short paragraph.

CW, by the way, is where the publisher tries to limit what other books an author is allowed to write while working with this publisher. Needless to say, as an agent, I’m pretty aggressive in removing a lot of elements to this clause or adjusting them appropriately because if you don’t, it can really interfere in how an author can write for a living.

This clause had four sub-paragraphs in it, each one worded slightly differently but amounting to the same thing.

My fav is this one, “the Author will complete the Work and submit it to the Publisher prior to beginning work on any other book for INSERT GENRE (excluding only other books that may already be under separate contract to the Publisher).”

My goodness. And then there were three more paragraphs…

Uh, that will need to be changed.

18 Responses

  1. Katie said:

    I want to go the spy museum!!! I grew up 20 minutes north of D.C., but they didn’t have that one then. 🙁 Maybe I’ll visit when we go visit Dad.

    Anyway… does this paragraph REALLY mean what it appears to mean? ie: that the author can’t jot down ideas for others stories before they’re finished with that one? Yikes!

  2. Linnea said:

    That clause is a beauty all right. Funny too. Imagine trying to dictate to an author that they can’t BEGIN work on any other book in the same genre prior to completing ‘the Work’. Unbelievable, not to mention unenforceable unless they have serveillance equipment keeping an eye on the author’s desk, laptop, etc. Gotta shake your head at that one.

  3. Laura Elliott said:

    I guess the publisher wants a time period between the release of one book and the release of another in the same genre. Wouldn’t it make more sense to impose time restrictions, as Jana suggested in the comment above?

  4. Tez Miller said:

    Ooh, ask her if there were American Dad! DVDs there. I love that show, and things don’t get much spy-er than the CIA 😉

    Have a lovely day! 🙂

  5. Carradee said:


    And what are those of us who work on multiple books at the same time to do with that clause? I wouldn’t even be able to be published with that company, if that clause were present; I’d have violated the terms before the fact.

    *scratches head*

    I’m not sure what the point of that clause would be, either. What if the writer’s slow, so he would have to start a new one immediately to have the book done after a (somewhat decent) interval?

    Let us know how that goes! 😀


  6. Anonymous said:

    Off the shizzle my nizzle. Hang that in the barn with the rest of the hizzle-dizzle. Shiznik on the wizzle-wizzle. Off the hook off the chain and on the downlow n dirty. Macmillan gots to step off an get with the program, get with the now and change they papers to fit with the agent with the mostest, Agent Kizzle Nizzle.


  7. Beth said:

    That’s astonishing. I’m acquainted with at least one author who keeps a number of books on the back burner, and works on them when the mood strikes. This clause would dictate what she could and couldn’t do with her creative energy. Yeesh.

  8. spyscribbler said:

    Hah! That’s hilarious. What do they do, come to your house, open your laptop, and make sure you’re working on nothing but their book?

    Kinda hard to enforce, isn’t it? Goodness. When I’m almost done with one story, the only way I get through it is to start piddling with a new one.

  9. Anonymous said:

    Does this mean I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my epic “Ass Monkeys of the Great Plains” while working with Macmillan? I’ve been writing A.M.o.t.G.P. since I was fourteen. Twenty years and nine hundred seventy-five thousand words later, I find writing in A.M.o.t.G.P. to be very therapeutic (stops the voices in my head very nicely). I’m horrified to think that a bunch of pencil-pushing gerbil-minds would wish to take that away from me.

    Still looking for the right publisher on that one.

  10. Janny said:

    I can just picture it: the contract arrives with a secret electronic “eye” embedded in it, activated the moment it’s signed. Our unsuspecting author sits down at the laptop, opens up one of those *other* books that s/he is working on…and a giant blue arc shoots upward from the contract, through the file cabinet, and into the motherboard of the laptop. The Blue Screen of Death appears, followed by hysterical cackling from the speakers saying, “WE TOLD YOU!”

    Note that this reaction would not take place if the author is opening said laptop to check e-mail, write a letter to her mother, pay a bill, or shop online…because this contract device is INTELLIGENT (unlike that clause in the first place).

    Probably not that easily enforced–but certainly a phrase to strike terror into the hearts of newbies, and infuriate those of us who have a tad more experience. Yet another thing to flag and have my agent (when I get one!) take care of.

    In the meantime, watch out for those blue arcs…