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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 signing contracts, please look to make sure you understand what the exclusivity clause (or in some cases a non-compete clause) states.

Exclusivity is when the publisher has the single/only right to publish words. This means no one else, including YOU, has no right to publish those particular words.

Non-exclusive means the opposite, which is that yes, THIS publisher has the right to publish these words, but if you wanted to sign those same rights to others, you are welcome to do so. Non-exclusive means you can sell the rights over and over.

Normally, contracts will request exclusivity for a specific amount of time when dealing with shorter works (aka, short stories, flash), but throughout the length of the contract in regards to longer works (aka, novels, novellas).

Commonly, you might find that your “really cool short story” cannot be sold or published anywhere else except through “this publisher” for “six months from publication date.” This is a limited exclusivity. It means you’re allowed to sell and/or publish “really cool short story” after six months from the specific day that “this publisher” printed/posted/podcasted it.

Novels will state something more like “this contract will renew every 3/5/10 years. Written notification must be received by the author before the date of renewal in order to end the contract.” [Sometimes it’s even more difficult to get out of contracts. This would be a sort-of kind publisher.] The contract would then go on to dictate how long the publisher would have to remove the publication and send final royalty statements, etc.

Sometimes publishers shove exclusivity within non-compete clauses, which is probably not the best place for it, but some publishers don’t know any better and think non-compete is exclusivity (it isn’t, but I’ll get to that.)

When looking at exclusivity phrasing in your contracts, be sure to inspect 1) whether or not exclusivity exists, 2) how long exclusivity lasts, 3) how to remove exclusivity or if it becomes non-exclusive passively, and 4) how exclusivity interacts with particular first rights or formats, etc.