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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.)


This is a confusing one. Non-compete has to do with non-competition.

Now, some of this might feel like another way of saying exclusivity, so that the publisher’s version of your words/story doesn’t have to compete with another publisher’s version of your words/story. You can think about this concerning versions of books that are out of copyright, like say, a lot of classics. You can buy many, many different versions of the classics, right? Well, all those versions are competing with one another, kind of. But this isn’t quite all what non-compete clauses tend to do, though exclusivity clauses can be called non-compete clauses in some contracts.

In a lot of ways non-compete clauses can be…well…not good. At least for the author.

Publishers make money by selling many books by many different authors. Authors make money by selling fewer books/stories to many different publishers. What this means is, if an author has two novels, but a publisher only wants to publish one of them, the author then needs to shop the second novel with OTHER publishers in order to make money from its sale. Sames goes for novel three, or any number of short stories, novellas, and even non-fiction. Not every publisher wants the same kind of stories. Not every publisher wants the same length of stories. Not every publisher can take all a single writer write sometimes.

A non-compete clause can cut off that author’s capability of making a living if it’s worded nefariously.

What a non-compete clause can enforce is an author not attempting to publish anything else at the same time as the contracted ‘work’ will be published, or to work with another publisher at the same time. So you can see how this can really limit authors.

Non-compete clauses are basically a publisher’s desire not to undermine their bottom line if an author were to sell elsewhere. In theory, it’s an understandable gesture, particularly if it’s brought in from other career fields where the non-compete clause is meant to stop people from going after company clients, etc. But in the publishing sphere, stopping an author from shopping their other books can be a death knell. A not very nice one.

So when looking over your contracts, make sure you 1) read your non-compete clause closely to make sure it doesn’t handcuff you to a single publisher.