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Contract Terms Series (IANAL)

There’s a bunch of contract terms for writers that can be difficult to parse for newcomers to the genre, so I want to go over a few in a short, easy contract terms series.

(Note: I am not a lawyer. I am merely speaking from experience on the author side.)


When it comes to contracts, generally the more specific the better on the author’s side. Formats is one really good example of this, as often times contracts can make grabs for many formats without the publisher having any intention of using them.

Formats include all the different ways words can be published. Such as: paperback, hardback, audio, eBook, etc. These can be even more specific, for instance: mass market paperback vs trade paperback. And they can be incredibly generalized, for instance: multiple formats or any and all formats.

Most of the time when in contract negotiations, there is a specific type of format that the publisher wants. This could be an electronic format, for example; eEbook publication is generally the cheapest method of publication, taking the least out of a publishers finances. However, in case of a book doing particularly well, the publisher might want an option clause of some sort that claims other formats. For instance, they might request paperback rights for a particular period of time after they exercise their eBook format right in order to take advantage of a well-selling book.

Sometimes publisher contracts will request a dual format, with online and audio. This is often in the case of free online magazines.

Sometimes publisher contracts will request online rights with a limited time option for audio. Sometimes the publisher contracts could request eBook/electronic format, with an option to include the words/story in an end-of-year or best-of collection.

Please be careful signing anything that doesn’t give you any sort of compensation for extra formats if the option for them to be published in those formats is in the contract.

Also please be careful signing anything that vaguely gives away “multiple formats” in the contract. Seriously, who knows what they mean by that. And if the place specifies “first rights” in those “multiple formats” it can tie your hands up a lot in regards to future ways to sell the words. Even if the contract merely is reprint/non-exclusive rights for those “multiple formats,” this can cause problems for you if you try to sell first rights of a particular format elsewhere only to have the previous publisher decide they want to do it first. They have the right to do that because you signed that right to them (probably without compensation), and you will end up in breach of contract with the second publication.

So try to get your contracts to 1) be specific in what kind of formats they plan on publishing, and 2) explain the situation when extra formats will be published, and 3) document what your compensation will be if the option to publish in those extra formats are exercised.