The hardest thing for a new writer to do is to walk away from a sale. I know, I just did it.
I sent a short story to an anthology. They accepted it. The money offered is not much, but then again, I’m not a ‘name’ writer (yet!). The exposure, or at least having another publication to list, was worth the money.
Then the contract arrived.
Fortunately, as part of my emerging writer career, I’ve been diligent about following sites like Writer Beware and Janet Reid’s blog. I have some sense of the various rights that can be requested and some of the pitfalls to look out for.
I am NOT in any way claiming that this organization had evil intent or was otherwise duplicitous. I’m not. I believe that they have very good intentions mixed with a lack of experience.
But there were red flags in the contract.
First, they wanted a very long exclusivity period, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a deal-killer. But on top of that, they hadn’t committed in the contract to a publication date. So the story was theirs alone from when I signed the contract to a long time after the book came out. This again isn’t necessarily bad – as long as everything goes as planned.
But contracts aren’t for when everything goes perfectly; they’re for when things go wrong. You need to read them with a ‘worst case scenario’ eye.
What if, hypothetically, they had a legal dispute with, say, their cover designer. As part of this dispute the designer gets an injunction against printing the book until the legalities are sorted out. What happens to my story? They still have exclusive use of it. For all intents and purposes, the story’s dead to me until they solve their legal problems … plus a long period after.
I’ve only been published in one other anthology (I really am an emerging writer), but that anthology’s contract had a clear publication date and a clause stipulating that they had to publish within 6 months of that date or else forfeit the exclusivity. They could still publish the story, but so could I. I like that clause. it gives me an out if things go unexpectedly wrong on the publisher’s side.
Second, there was no clear statement that all other rights were retained by the author. You don’t want there to be any wiggle room for someone to argue that unenumerated rights belong to the publisher.
So my dilemma: I’m a very new writer being offered a slot in an anthology. Do I take it and hope everything works out OK, or do I reject the contract?
I chose a middle ground. I contacted the editor explaining my qualms, and suggesting changes that I could live with, even offering that I would compromise on the exclusivity timeframe, if the other clauses were in place. I also offered them the ‘out’ of rescinding their offer to me.
Their first response was very positive and very quick.
They said that they agreed with my requested changes. I should expect a revised contract by the end of the week.
Two weeks later, nothing. Not a peep.
I followed up, after giving them an extra week, but have received no response.
Since then, they’ve ghosted me.
Now I’m glad I didn’t sign the contract. If I’d succumbed to my fears as a newby writer, who knows what purgatory that story would be sitting in.
It’s sad, it’s frustrating, it’s a let down. But I know that this story was good enough to sell once. It’ll find a home, somewhere, some time. I hope.