A Bad Publishing Contract Deconstructed, Part 1

Other parts in the series: Part 2 | Part 3

This is a follow-up to my post the other day, the pop quiz about red flags in publishing contracts. Apparently, several new start-up publishers have stumbled upon this contract and have actually decided to use it for their own. Since it’s readily available on the Internet, and since it’s being used to screw authors over from multiple houses, I see no reason NOT to deconstruct it as-is, without adding any identifying information for any of the publishers.

Although, I laughed my ass off when I saw one publisher had failed to change the jurisdictional information in the end of it, meaning they said the contract was governed under the laws of their state, but would be legislated… in MAINE. Over a thousand miles away. *smdh*

Okay, here’s the monstrosity as it appears on the Internet: http://www.maine.edu/pdf/PublishingAgreementStandard.pdf

Because it’s found on a Maine university site, I strongly suspect it was an older University press contract. It’s definitely NOT a standard contract for small, digital-first presses. And it has soooo many red flags in it, if you’ve found you’ve signed a similar contract, I suggest you contact an attorney who is versed in IP (intellectual property) and ask for help.

Since I’m helpful like that, here’s one you can refer to. I have never used his services, but I do follow his “The Passive Voice” blog: http://www.contract-counsel.com/ Click on his Services link to see more about what he can do to help you get out of a bad contract you’ve already signed. As with anything, use due diligence.

I’m also going to add the disclaimer that while I have a lot of experience reading publishing contracts, I am NOT an attorney. No advice I give here is to be taken as legal advice, and you should follow up any information here with questions to your own attorney, or to the link I just provided above.

Also, when researching a publisher, find out WHERE they are located. If in the United States, do a Google search for that state’s department that handles corporation filings. Something like their secretary of state, or department of state, or whatever they call it there. Then, once you find that, search for the corporation’s name on the state’s website. If they’re not a corporation, DO NOT SIGN. If they are delinquent in their state filings, DO NOT SIGN. (One of the publishers people sent me contracts for is currently listed as delinquent in  filing their annual reports with the state. Do you REALLY think if they can’t file their annual reports on time that they will be able to give you accurate accountings of your royalties? Yeah, neither do I.) Also, there should be “principals” or “officers” or something like that listed on the state paperwork filings. (For some states, you might be able to find the actual corporation declaration pages.) Do a Google search on those people. Run it through the state’s website, too. See if they have a pattern of opening and closing businesses in their state or elsewhere.

Also Google the publisher’s name and phrases like scam, problems, writer beware, beware, and other similar terms. You might scare up issues. And the Absolute Write site has a discussion forum with listings for many publishers as well. If the one you’re researching doesn’t have a listing, start a thread asking for information on them. The Preditors and Editors site also has listings.

And if you do have a problem with a publisher, PLEASE, file it with the Writer Beware blog and with Preditors and Editors. If you don’t speak up, others will get screwed by the predators, until it finally reaches critical mass. Do not hesitate to speak up. Predatory start-ups can only keep sucking in victims if other victims stay silent.

Okay, so grab a hot beverage, or a barf bag, or maybe both. This ride will get bumpy. Remember, if a publisher presents you with a contract that looks anything like this, DO NOT SIGN IT. Not until you renegotiate it to your liking. Actually, any publisher using the contract I’m about to deconstruct is one you should not sign with, because they were too lazy and/or dishonest and/or stupid to find a GOOD model contract, like this one on the EPICorg.com’s website.

Other parts in the series: Part 2 | Part 3

3 thoughts on “A Bad Publishing Contract Deconstructed, Part 1

  1. Thanks for doing this. As a reader who always buys her books and doesn’t steal it would be nice to know that the publisher isn’t the one doing the stealing from the author by not paying the royalities owed and from the reader in way because they have trusted that money will get paid out and they may also miss out on great books because an author has stopped publishing.

    • Thanks, Katy Beth. I’m lucky I’ve got a Hubby who used to practice law, and when I first started out, we did a LOT of research before I signed contracts. Now I’m with one publisher, in addition to what I self-publish, and couldn’t be happier. But I get heartsick when I see other writers, especially friends, get screwed over by bad contracts.

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