Read All Of It!
“I can’t. Over 100 dog lovers, who have all signed the same forms, agreed to the same rules, have the right to expect that everyone will abide by those rules. I’m sorry.” She said she didn’t know the rules. ....
“I never read them,” she explained. “I don’t need to read them.”
“You signed a document saying you’ve read the rules which you haven’t read? Why would you ever do that?”
“I didn’t think it was important.” I refused to make an exception and she’s hardly spoken to me in the years since.
Every time you put your signature on something, it’s important, even among friends.
Writers have a lot of legalese in their contracts from publishers. I don’t know why that’s necessary, why it can’t be written in simple vernacular, but I suppose if it’s written in complicated style folks would assume it’s more important and read all of it. (Even if they don’t understand it.)
I have seven different publishers and eight different contracts. Each one is different in terms of advance, royalty, and pursuance. I read every bit of it. If I don’t understand something I send an email to the editor before I sign it asking them to explain it.
In this Selling Books blog I write mostly about the “business end” of the author’s business. It’s the part I like the least, the part I struggle to understand. I’m learning. I enjoy the selling part, but the easiest part of a contract is signing it. Authors, don’t be too quick to get that done. Read all of it. Understand all of it. Any misunderstanding or oversight will be on your part. Make sure that doesn’t happen.
One time I was at a conference and a friend who also writes YA had just met with a publisher and signed. She was so excited she knocked on my door and said I really should go talk to them. I was aware of them, and I knew I’d seen them in my Writers Market Guide. There had to be a reason I’d never submitted anything to them, but I couldn’t recall what that was. Everything I had was out “shopping” and I’d brought nothing with me, but what do I have to lose. I made an appointment and over lunch told them about “Waiting With Elmer.” He asked me to send it to him, I did, he liked it and offered the contract. I notified the publisher I’d submitted it to, and asked them to destroy it. I was excited, I really liked the man and really liked that Elmer would be published. When the contract arrived I read it carefully. A red flag went up. Do the math, I told myself. The publisher was asking me for $7000. I went to the Writers Market and looked them up. They are an author subsidy press. I knew there was a reason I’d not approached them before! I wrote them a letter thanking them for their time, but I wasn’t interested. I got another letter saying they really liked the story, and since I was a previously published author they could lower my investment to $5000. I said no. “I don’t have $5000 and if I did I couldn’t give it to you because then I’d have no money left with which to market this book or any of my others.” I said if I had realized they were an author subsidy I wouldn’t have taken up their valuable time. Another letter came saying they were not an author subsidy, this was their business plan; I was confusing the terms. Writers Market says Author Subsidy, but in subsequent letters they were vehement that they weren’t. I said I was not going to sign. Two weeks later I received a letter from the publishing company stating they had decided to pass on my manuscript.
In my enthusiasm, my excitement and relief, I could have so easily skipped some pages, or one paragraph that didn’t seem important, and I’d have signed my name to a legal document and an initial investment of $7000.
Lesson today: Anything you sign your name to is important. Read all of it. Understand it before you sign.