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.)
RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL
This is a fun one. This is the right of the publisher to see an associated work/story before any other competitors. I say “associated” here, but in some cases that isn’t necessary.
Essentially, let’s say you are signing a contract for one book with your publisher. You want to write sequels to this book. The publisher thinks the book might do well. But no one knows the future. So, instead of buying or optioning a second/third/etc. book, the publisher adds a clause that states they get the right to see any associated books (as in, associated with the book they’re buying) first. You would not then be allowed to submit any books involving the contracted book’s characters or setting, etc. to anyone other than that publisher.
They still have the right to refuse the book, of course, at which point you are free to shop the book anywhere you like. But if you were to sell that second/third/etc. book elsewhere without your contracted publisher getting a chance to say NO first, then you would be in breach of contract.
Also of note: Even if you submit this book and even if they offer you a contract for it, you, as the author, still have full rights to say NO to whatever the contract is. So in some extreme cases, when the author knows they won’t be working with a publisher anymore, this can turn slightly toxic, with a publisher holding onto a story for a prolonged period of time. Just for funsies, I guess.
Right of First Refusal can be applied to non-associated works as well. Ergo, the first book you write next, etc., though the language there is a little more generic and I’m not entirely sure how that would work. It can also be applied to all lengths and forms, as in you write a short story tie-in and the first refusal terminology wasn’t strict enough to ignore short stories. (This can happen even if the publisher doesn’t even TAKE short stories. So can be a little silly.)
When looking at your contract, make sure that 1) the right of first refusal is specific, and 2) that there is a specific time limit they must respond to once you have proof of submission.