When Your Publishing Contract Flies a Red Flag: Clauses to Watch Out For

Header image: red flag flying on a beach (credit: Joegoauk Goa / Flickr.com)

Today I’m blogging over at Writer Unboxed, an excellent writers’ resource with a wealth of information about the craft and business of writing.

Today’s post focuses on what comes after the excitement of a “yes” from a publisher: the job of assessing your publishing contract.

Facing down ten pages of dense legalese can be a daunting task, especially for new and inexperienced writers, who may not have the resources to hire a literary lawyer, or have access to a knowledgeable person who can help de-mystify the offer terms.

And it is really, really important to assess and understand those terms, because publishing contracts are written to the advantage of publishers. While a good contract should strike a reasonable balance between the publisher’s interests and the writer’s benefit, a bad contract…not so much.

In this article, I’m going to focus on contract language that gives too much benefit to the publisher, and too little to the author. Consider these contract clauses to be red flags wherever you encounter them. (All of the images below are taken from contracts that have been shared with me by authors.)

Copyright Transfer

Unless you are doing work-for-hire, such as writing for a media tie-in franchise, a publisher should not take ownership of your copyright. For most publishers, copyright ownership doesn’t provide any meaningful advantage over a conventional grant of rights, and there’s no reason to require it. Even where the transfer is temporary, with rights reverting back to you at some point, it doesn’t change the fact that for as long as the contract is in force, your copyright does not belong to you.

Copyright transfers usually appear in the Grant of Rights clause. Look for phrases like “all right, title and interest in and to the Work” and “including but not limited to all copyrights therein.”

Example of a contract clause that transfers "all right, title, and interest in and to the Work" to the publisher

Watch out also for contracts where a copyright transfer in the Grant of Rights clause is contradicted by language later on….

Continue reading at Writer Unboxed 


Leave a Reply

FEBRUARY 17, 2023

Scam Alert: Scammers Impersonating the Strand Bookstore

MARCH 3, 2023

Spam Alert: 4 Seasons Book Awards