Bad Contract Alert: GoodNovel

This is another in my series of posts about author-unfriendly contracts from reading/writing apps and platforms. (Previous installments: EMP Entertainment and A&D Entertainment, Fizzo (formerly Fictum), and NovelCat.)

This time, GoodNovel (aka Singapore New Reading Technology PTE. Ltd.) is in my sights. Like the many similar platforms of this type, it hosts a wide range of genre content, and is aggressively recruiting writers to create long (sometimes extremely long) serialized online novels. 

Writers can use the platform to create without signing a GoodNovel contract, or they can apply for a contract by posting at least 5,000 words and clicking a button, after which GoodNovel will evaluate whether they want to offer a contract, and if so, what kind. 

A non-exclusive contract offer comes with writer benefits of a  $50 “reward” (though only if the writer completes their novel and it has at least 80,000 words) plus a “profit share” aka royalties (more on that below). 

For an exclusive contract, writers receive a $100 signing bonus once they’ve uploaded 30,000 words, and a completion bonus of between $150 and $400, depending on total final word count. If they manage to pump out at least 50,000 words per month (an even more grueling word count target than NovelCat’s and Fictum’s 30,000), they’re also eligible for a $150 “monthly attendance bonus”.

Other than some of the payment terms, the exclusive and non-exclusive contracts are essentially identical. They are also quite problematic.

– The grant term extends for the duration of Singapore copyright (the same as US, UK, and European copyright: the author’s lifetime plus 70 years) (see the Basic License Terms clause). That’s an absurdly excessive grant term, especially for the exclusive contract. Of course, it’s pretty unlikely that GoodNovel will still exist 70 years after their youngest writer is dead–but what this grant of rights ensures is that GoodNovel can hold onto writers’ rights for as long as it remains in business.

There is provision in the Termination clause for the writer to cancel the contract after 36 months. But the terms are onerous: the writer must buy their freedom by paying back all the money they’ve received to date, plus either triple royalties (if total income is less than $200) or royalties times 20 (if total income is more than $200). (“Licensor” in the excerpt below refers to the author.)

 – The use of the term “copyright” throughout the contracts is troubling and unclear. In both the Licensed Rights Terms and Power of Attorney sections of the contracts, the writer is said to be granting exclusive or non-exclusive “copyright” or “digital copyright”. My sense is that this is not intended to be an actual transfer of copyright ownership (plus, obviously, you can’t transfer copyright non-exclusively), but it isn’t clear. This lack of clarity, which I’ve seen in other contracts from similar companies, is a concern.

 – The grant of rights is really sweeping (see the Licensed Rights Terms clause). Not only does it include pretty much all subsidiary rights in the work, including film, TV and games, but any “prequel, sequel, special edition, continuation, series, or the like” that the writer may produce. 

In other words, writers aren’t just signing up for one work, but for any other works related to it. 

– The rights grab extends not just to related works, but, potentially, to all future work.

Taken literally, which contracts generally are, this requires the writer to submit anything they ever write to GoodNovel, forever.

 – Royalties (aka the “profit share” mentioned above) are 50% of “net revenue”, which is defined as gross receipts minus a menu of expenses (operating costs, ads and promotion fees, and taxes–see the Financial Terms clause and the Schedule of Definitions section). In other words, royalties are paid on net profit, and since there’s no breakdown of what those expenses may add up to, the writer can’t actually know what they might be paid. (Net profit royalties are a problem not just because they add up to less, but because the deductions can be manipulated to ensure that the amount on which royalties are calculated is as small as possible.) Additionally, there’s a payout only if the amount due in any month is $100 or more.

– Royalties are paid only on “premium content” (content offered to users on a pay-to-read basis), designated at GoodNovel’s discretion (see the Financial Terms clause). Between the discretion, the payout threshold, and the enormous numbers of novels competing for readers’ attention, I’d guess that for many writers, the rewards and bonuses are the only money they will see.

– Like other contracts from reading/writing platforms that I’ve seen, there are severe financial penalties for breach or default by the writer (see the Breach and Indemnify clause): 

And here’s the sort of thing that GoodNovel might consider to be default (see the Licensor’s Representations and Warranties clause):

Pretty sweeping, you’ll agree.

– The contracts require the writer to grant power of attorney to GoodNovel. This is serious overkill; power of attorney is not needed to enable GoodNovel to exploit the granted rights. 

– As in many contracts from reading/writing platforms, there’s what amounts to a morals clause (ii under Licensor’s Representations and Warranties). The writer must “uphold the reputation of Licensee and shall not engage in activities that would harm Licensee and/or its interests.” That’s pretty vague, and could cover a lot of ground at GoodNovel’s discretion (see “disseminating information that is unfavorable for Licensee”, above).

If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering if it’s really so terrible that bad contract terms are being offered for mostly horribly-written online novels by amateur writers with titles like CEO Husband’s Crazy Love For His Little Wife, I’m a Model That’s Undercover As the School’s Nerd, and Entangled With the Billionaire.

Partly it’s the principle of the thing. A company can make money without being maximally greedy. For instance, does claiming rights for the whole duration of copyright really offer that much more benefit to GoodNovel than contracting them for a limited period of years? Do word count requirements really need to be so grueling in order to ensure content growth? Is it really necessary make a claim on all of writers’ future work–or, given the huge amount of content on the site, to make it so punitive for writers to terminate their contracts? 

But it’s also the predatory nature of GoodNovels’–and other reading/writing platforms’–recruitment tactics. They’re signing enormous numbers of very young people with no experience or knowledge of publishing, many of whom don’t have English as a first language, to complicated contracts whose terms are laborious to parse even for someone like me with a fair bit of contract expertise. And they’re doing it with shiny promises of rewards, income, and exposure that in many–if not most–cases won’t be realized–whether because the writer’s content won’t receive the “premium” designation necessary for royalty payments, or the writer can’t manage enough word count to receive the attendance bonus, or simply because of the huge number of other novels competing for readers’ attention–not to mention the huge number of other platforms competing for market share. Or, maybe, just because the platform decides the writer isn’t “cooperative” enough. 

Of course, none of those downsides are mentioned on GoodNovel’s website or by its recruiters.

Writer Beware!

30 Comments

  1. Thank you for the warning! They've contacted me several times about uploading my books to their platform. Because I'm so busy right now, I hadn't bothered to consider the company. Now I'm not going to bother.

  2. Brilliant work, Victoria.
    What a minefield of jargon to navigate.
    I hope every budding and experienced writer reads this!
    I do not know what would happen if you stopped this valiant and gruelling detective work!
    Wishing you every success forever. You are my heroine/hero.
    Marie

  3. I'm having a hard time actually :(( my book received a very little attention. I've been writing for months, but still didn't have any income, not even a dollar. Yall I wish I uploaded it on ao3 and ask for kofi ��

    Those affiliates, geez.. I also kind of confused with the contract. But at that time, I was desperate, trying to find a 'job'and so I signed it.

    As those affiliates promote on twitter, they say non exclusive story can be published on other platforms too (they made it sound like you'll definitely get rich by doing it lol), but I noticed later how GN wants the writers to prioritize their future stories to them. I thought it only applies to sequel and prequel. Damn it.

    OH, but there's a lot of authors who write on many apps at the same time?? I'm confused as hell. I hope it won't bring me any trouble later bcs I'm trying to find another novel platform.

  4. I was actually contacted by these guys a while back. Something about it just lit up my warning lights and I decided against it. Their pitch just didn’t seem worth all the work they expected from me. I’ll stick with my indie publisher and my own website.
    When something seems too good to be true or if the company pitching seems like they want your soul – run the other way. No matter how desperate you are for attention or to be published it’s not worth what it will cost you in the end.
    Keep up the good work warning people,

  5. Victoria Straus and Writer Beware are wonderful by helping writers navigate this publisher and others who would take advantage of creative people.

  6. I’m not a creative writer. I’m a software developer. The only thing I write is programming code and the only stories I create are user stories. A user story is an industry term that is the unit of work for creating a new feature or fixing a bug. It’s basically guidelines on what the program is supposed to do.

    Anyway, kudos to you for alerting aspiring writers to these bastards. I just wish this post were higher up on the Google search results. At least they’re on the first page.

    I notice that they just say you have to write a certain number of “words”. I wonder if that means they have to be structured in any sort of order. Or if I could just write a program that spits 50,000 random words out onto a text file that I upload.

    1. Assuming that’s a real question…you could do that, but they reserve the right to terminate or penalize authors who produce what they deem to be work of low quality (a low bar, judging by much of the content on Popink’s site). From what I’m hearing from writers, the “editors” do keep an eye on things. So while you might get away with it for a while, eventually they would probably figure it out

  7. Thank you for this post, it is very interesting what companies get away with… My question is this… Does all future works include blog posts etc… I am in communications with GoodNovel about signing a contract for a once off book I wrote some years back. There will be no sequel. But, I have a whole bunch of stories I have written for the purpose of blogging, if I sign a contract for the book, will I have to give them the rights to my blog as well? Or can I legally have the blog under a pseudonym?

    1. As noted in my post, the literal wording of clause (vi) (under Licensor’s Representations and Warranties) requires that any future work has to be submitted to GoodNovel first.

      I think that what they want here is just first grab at any future novels (which is bad enough)–I frankly doubt that the intent is to lay claim to all of your future writings. But since “any future work” is not defined, the literal meaning of this clause can be read as requiring exactly that. So while you probably could blog or create articles and stories without GoodNovel laying any claim to them, the ambiguity of the language in this clause is a concern: because you could never be 100% sure. I think it would be a minor uncertainty. But not a non-existent one.

      IMO, this is one of the lesser reasons to run like hell away from these contracts.

  8. I’m just reading. I have no intention of writing, but I’m getting scammed too. The writing isn’t very good at all but I love the story. Should I just get off the app and read a real book? I’m frustrated!

  9. In this same book, which I am considering publishing with GoodNovel, I used song lyrics at the beginning of each chapter, each song resonated (in my opinion) with the story being told in the particular chapter.
    GoodNovel has asked me to remove all the song lyrics, understandably, what with all the copyright infringements and lawsuits etc….
    Would it be legal/ethical for me to remove all the written lyrics and replace them with YouTube links directing to a playlist created on YouTube with all the relevant songs from the various chapters and have a few lines above said links explaining the purpose of the link and the songs?

  10. Unfortunately, I already signed a non-exclusive contract with them. And even published some chapters but didn’t earn a penny. Recently, I requested them to terminate and contract and they agreed. They sent me a termination agreement where I have to sign. I’m somehow scared now. The date mentioned in the contract is wrong. There’s also written something like, “Licensor agrees {{0}} to licensee….”. What does this mean? They also have my adress and maybe my legal ID. Will they cause some problems with them? What if I just continue writing with them?

    1. Have your book passed 36 months? There’s a statement that written one have to pay back if after 36 months and less than $200. Mine is neither so I asked for termination already. If your situation is like mine, did you paid anything back? Tq

  11. This is really good information on the company and the app. I’ve recently started writing a book on wattpad called Fated Moon and was contacted by a recruiter from goodnovels wanting to publish my book on their app but I was skeptical about allowing them anywhere near my book.

  12. Thanks for the warning again! I have the Goodnovel contract sitting in my mailbox for about a week now. I started reading it and had the red flags waving, especially that part you mentioned about having to give them all my future books first. I figured that part might not be too bad, it’s a bit odd but they just said “first” not that Goodnovel had to be the only one, but that in conjunction with some of the other problems…yeah, I will avoid them.

    But are there any GOOD novel app sites? What about Moonquill? Have you reviewed that site yet. They seem kind of par the course of these other sites but I found a video of them ripping apart webnovel’s contract and they insist their contract is better. I have a few chapters of my story on the site and it’s doing okay, so far, but I’m confused as to how you monetize your books on that site.

    Anyway, thanks so much for the warning. No Goodnovel for me!

    1. I’ve reviewed a handful of serial reading/writing app contracts on this blog, including Goodnovel, Novelcat, Fizzo, Popink, A&D Entertainment, and EMP Entertainment. I’ve also seen contracts from OWO Novel, Stary, and NovelStar aka Nova. They are all terrible. While they aren’t identical, they do resemble one another in terms of excessive rights grabs, excessive contract lengths, grueling word counts, stingy payments, and potentially serious financial penalties if the writer commits a breach or otherwise displeases the company. So though I haven’t seen a Moonquill contract, I suspect it’s also problematic.

  13. Thank you very much for these breakdowns. It gives me a place to send my writer friends when they tell me that “an editor” said their book was great and offered a contract.

    And I’m seeing a LOT of new Chinese writing apps that have the same lifetime, irrevocable copyright clauses. (Magfic is another one) They really pop up like bad weeds after a rain, don’t they? Lol…

  14. Thank you for this! I was contacted and the person was impossible to work with just in email correspondence. Of course publication details were not available until I sent the book link.

    Here is an insert of email contact:

    “Hello- firstly, let me teach you a few things.”
    1- Link to your book is asked so I can RECOGNIZE who you are. There are a thousand books on webnovel with the title Alpha and Omega. I can’t recognize you among the crowd unless you give me a direct link to YOUR book.
    2- Your book link is a Publicly Available thing. It’s not a secret that you have to hide because even your readers can click on ‘share’ button and get the link to your book. So if I were to steal your book from your book link- I wouldn’t be asking you to email me. ”

    I found this questionable, even though your book link is publicly known. I had been concerned that emailing this link, provided an informal right for them to possibly poach my story. Probably just being paranoid.

    I had to email declined twice. This person was extremely unprofessional.

    The Copyright information has been most helpful! Thank you for all this knowledge. I have only currently been writing fanfiction but should I write a totally original story, I should imagine they could lay claim that story too.

  15. I read your write up and all the comments. My question is, where then can one publish his books to make something out of it? It is very sad that you would spend time and energy with the gift God gave you and not make anything out of it. Please advise me on what to do because I have some manuscripts I for publication.

    1. Matthew Onojaife,

      There are many excellent small presses where you can submit your manuscripts for publication–or you can consider self-publishing, which is a lot of work but can be a good fit depending on your needs and goals. On the Writer Beware website, there are detailed discussions of both small publishers and self-publishing that should help you research appropriate options–as well as alert you to some of the warning signs of bad actors.

    2. Please check site http://www.myfavreads.com.
      They are creating an online reading platform while collecting feedback from authors. I am part of the group of authors that’s getting early access to features in exchange for feedback.

      In the draft versions of exclusive contracts, the copyright is set to the duration of 5 years after novel is completed (with the possibility of extending it if both parties agree). Also, there is no grab of any works other than the one the contract is signed for.
      It definitely looks like a great thing in the making.

      You can contact them, subscribe for updates, and follow their social media.

  16. I’ve signed a book on goodnovel actually, ( non – exclusive contract) and I completed all the requirements.I was just waiting for my payment..It has crossed $100 and that was another requirement for me to withdraw my pay but there’s literally no option how to withdraw and I sent countless e-mail to my editor yet she didn’t say anything in detail..All she said was wait for next pay date.. It’s been more than a month yet nothing and I’ve started to lose hope.It feels like I’ve been scammed but I’ve seen many writers on goodnovel getting their payment but I just don’t understand why is it me who is having trouble? My book seems to do well on the app as well but I’m disheartened at the damn fact..I am not able to withdraw my pay.. If you know anything about it then let me know

    1. When you applied for the contract, you were supposed to input your mode of payment. If you didn’t do that, then it’s likely you’ll be unable to withdraw. But if you did, then your editor has some serious problems

Leave a Reply

JANUARY 31, 2022

Keeping Moral Rights: A Wattpad Contest Controversy

READ
MARCH 4, 2022

Another Fake Agency Referral Scam: Harper Literary / Bantam Wings

READ