This month columnist Donna Alward is back with her Getting Down To Business column - and some things to watch out for when going over contract offers.
I was without an agent from 2006-2009. During that time I negotiated all my own contracts with Harlequin and Samhain. I've had an agent since then and have not regretted it. Whether you do or do not choose to go the agent route, there are still things to look out for. An agent will go over your contract, but it's still up to you to read it and look for any red flags.
There are a lot of things that publishers simply won't budge on. Money usually falls into that category, in particular royalty rates. Often they won't move on an advance in the beginning either, though as you go on you may be able to negotiate advance raises in future contracts. It can be difficult to get a publisher to move on rights, too - such as retaining foreign rights, or digital rights, or print rights if you're on the other side of things. But there are things you should definitely look for and perhaps ask for amended language. Sometimes you can't get rid of a clause but you can make it work better for you.
You can ask for small things like more author copies.
You should also be able to look at deadline dates for your next book if it's a multi-book contract. I always recommend taking the date that you think is good and adding one month just as a contingency.
You need to look at the reversion of rights clause, which will tell you how long it will be before you can ask for rights back. This is becoming increasingly important because when backlist stops selling or goes out of print, it's possible to get rights back and reissue the book yourself.
You should also really look at the options clause and try to narrow it down as much as you can. Some contract boilerplates simply say "next work" which means that the next book you write - no matter what it is - has to go to that publisher before you can send it anywhere else. And they can sit on it for the amount of time specified in the contract - usually 90 days. Yuck! If you write in another genre, making sure you exclude that from the options clause. Or if you write different lengths, that works too. For example, my previous HQ contracts were narrowed to "next Harlequin Romance of 50-55000 words". It just makes sense.
The other thing to watch for and one that is becoming more and more prevalent is a competing works clause. A competing works clause means that you can't release a book that will be in direct competition to the contracted book within a certain period of time. You might not be able to get rid of this clause altogether, but again you may be able to tweak it so it's not QUITE so limiting.
The thing with contracts is that you want a) the best deal possible and b) to keep things as flexible as you can so that you have options open. None of us knows where the industry is going to be two years down the road - which may be when the book is finally released (my upcoming November book was contracted back in November of 2011, for example).
And if there is ANYTHING in your contract you don't understand, you should ask - your agent, a literary attorney, other authors (who are usually more than willing to help).
As far as going it alone... you have to be prepared to have these conversations with your editor and publisher. Remember, it's business. I usually tried to approach things with a tone of friendly respect. But I have to say, I do like that these days my conversations with my editor are generally about the writing!
The most important thing is to know what to watch for and educate yourself, so that you can look after your career. Good luck!
Donna's new release is BENEATH THE BADGE, releasing on Tuesday from Samhain Publishing! It's the fourth in the FIRST RESPONDERS series, with a smart and sexy veterinarian falling for a hot-but-damaged cop.