Writing Excuses 8.28: Your First Contract

We haven’t talked much about contracts in the past. Why not? Well, we’re not lawyers and we’re not agents, so our experience with contracts has been as parties to them. But there are things we can still offer without delving into the baffling legalese.

So we offer them: we talk about how we approach contracts, how we value ourselves when entering into a contract negotiation, and what sorts of resources we have. We talk about some terminology, some of the clauses to review, and the incentives in front of the publisher and the author.

Note! Any advice you hear from us must be qualified based on your situation — your publisher, your agent, your market — and especially based on when you’re listening to this ‘cast. If it’s not 2013 right now, the odds are pretty good we’re wrong.

Audio Note: Yes, there’s a long lead-in there. Jordo will fix it eventually, I’m sure.

Profanym of the Week: “Schick a Brit.”


Write, as part of whatever story you’re working on, a contract that is both horrible and magical.

Without a Summer, by Mary Robinette Kowal, narrated by Mary herself

15 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 8.28: Your First Contract”

  1. I love the way Mary said the episode tag like, “Episode… Twenty….eight…..? I’m not really sure any more….?”

  2. Ref the legal advice point: the ‘casters rightly say is that they’re not offering legal advice. What they ARE offering, which is very valuable, is BUSINESS advice. The way to do the best (for both parties) deal is to consider the likely scenarios, and to make sure you are content with what you have agreed in that scenario.

  3. Loved the episode because my cousin, who writes children story, has an offer from a publisher that i thought was extremely terrible when i read it. I forwarded the Podcast to her.
    Great Info!!! Thanks

    By the way, was Dan even there? He’s normally more vocal.

  4. The funny thing for ME is that the spoonerism “Schick a Brit” has always felt obvious, so when I used it I was a little flummoxed that Brandon lost it laughing, and asked for something to throw at me.

    Ah, good times.

  5. Oh, what a useful podcast! Wish I’d had this when I signed my first contract.

    I have a third danger of reading your first contract: you tend to notice what the contract *says* and *not what it doesn’t say.*

    My contract said the publisher got all the rights: foreign, audio, e-book, etc. I was OK with this, I wasn’t planning to retain rights & try to sell them myself.

    In a completely different clause in a completely different part of the contract, it listed what percentages they would be paying me for print editions and for e-book. Notice what they didn’t say? They didn’t say what they would be paying me for foreign or audiobook editions. They didn’t actually *say* they would be paying me zero dollars for that, but as far as I can tell at this point, that is the case, because there’s a Dutch edition that’s been out for at least a year now and I have gotten zero dollars from it in my last couple royalty checks.

    I wouldn’t have minded selling them the foreign rights, but I sure mind having given them away.

    Look for what’s not there.

  6. This was a really useful podcast for me in this stage of my writing career (as I’m sure it is for a lot new soon to be authors). I was fortunate enough to sign my first contract with an ebook/paperback publisher in March. I was wondering if you guys might mention contracts with a book series in your part 2, how the advances are distributed in a series, what to expect with the deadlines of each book, that sort of thing. I was given the option of checking on my contract whether it was a series or not and said no, only to come up with an idea for one recently. Wish I had an agent for questions like that. Again great podcast guys (and gal) keep up the great work.

  7. This episode was brought to you by Schick. Please schick responsibly. Never schick a Brit laughing.

  8. Heather,

    At the risk of appearing to give legal advice (I’m not), or of stating the bleeding obvious (in which case sorry) – are you sure the foreign book sales royalties are not being paid under the “print edition”?

    If they’re not (i.e. you’ve calculated that the royalties they paid are for US sales only), then does the percentages clause print edition bit state specifically US sales? If not, then they will be liable to pay the same for any print edition sales anywhere in the world.

    If it does specifically say US only, then you can easily claim an implied term that the foreign sales would be the same rate as US. One assumes the amount of money in dispute is worth at least asking a lawyer.

  9. Ed – well, it’s worth checking out. I doubt it because–the wrinkle I didn’t mention–I have a letter from someone at the publisher (it was a cover letter included with two complimentary copies of the Dutch edition actually) that said that “if” I was getting anything from the sale of the rights it would be under the heading “rights” on my royalty statement. Which heading was not on my next royalty statement, or my next after that. But like I said, it’s worth checking out, who knows?

    I do hope to get someone knowledgeable to look at it, but what I’m currently pursuing is getting an agent, because I’d rather pay someone commission than up-front.

  10. In that case you should write them a letter (not phone) stating that you expect royalties from the Dutch sales at the same rate as the US sales, and let them respond to that.

  11. From the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

    Contract: 1. an agreement between two or more parties, especially one that is written and enforceable by law.

    5. A paid assignment to murder someone.

    Unless you are doing a mystery, however, you should probably not confuse the two?

    A transcript to help you figure out which you are reading:


  12. What a great episode! There’s definitely not enough time in one of these to deliver all the info that could be covered about contracts. NEED MORE EPISODES!!! :D

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