A contract offer – now what?
It came in at midnight and of course, I couldn’t sleep once I read it – an email that contained a contract offer for my manuscript. Oh boy. Having never been published before, this was a momentous event for me and there was no one else awake to share it with. Breathe! Couldn’t scream out my delight or I would wake the entire house. So I paced for hours reading the contract, trying to make sense of the strange jargon in my sleep-deprived state.
When I told my husband about it in the morning, I was still awake – wide-awake – with adrenaline pumping through my body. Happy dancing, I just wanted to sign, email it back before they changed their minds or realized they’d made a huge mistake! My husband, who deals with contracts every day, took the pen from my over-anxious hand and recommended that I call on my writer friends for advice. I hated the delay, but I knew he was right. They had more experience, both were published and had been through this process many times before.
Remembering their first contract offer, my friends knew that I would be useless for the next day or so. They told me not to sign anything while they reviewed the contract and researched the publishing company. One friend was concerned because some of the clauses did not seem right to her, while the other wasn’t impressed with publisher’s webpage. The artwork and editing seemed sub-standard and though the books were also listed for sale on Amazon.com, sales were minimal at best. All important considerations that had never crossed my mind!
The next day the shock that someone actually wanted to publish me began to fade and I started to think. After reviewing author pages of those who had signed with this publisher, I sent out emails asking for opinions, and if they would recommend this publisher. Then I checked Amazon.com to compare how their books ranked amongst others. I wasn’t impressed with what I found there either.
In another day, emails began pouring in from the authors I contacted. The responses ranged from a short “stay away from them” to a 3-page list of why not to publish with this company. My new-found happiness skidded to an abrupt halt. I felt stupid for telling everyone I had a publishing contract. The realization of how much I had to learn was just beginning to dawn on me.
Still, I was thankful for being saved from making a huge mistake. Assuming my novel was worth publishing, I didn’t want my name on poorly edited, produced and marketed material. Nor did I want to tie myself up in a contract for 3 years without hope of success while someone else made money off my work. It seemed to me that nothing could break a writer’s spirit faster than such hopelessness.
With all this in mind, I compiled a list of things to consider in the future. I am blessed to have had some great friends to guide me. But not everyone is so lucky, and I want to share what I’ve learned. So for what it’s worth, here is my list.
• Don’t sign anything until you know exactly what the contract says and understand the stipulations. Do some research. It is imperative that you understand which rights you are signing over and which you will retain. Have someone knowledgeable look over your contract, ideally a lawyer.
• Do submit questions to the publisher on any of the phrasing within the contract that you do not understand – or seems vague. I sold real estate for a few years and if I learned nothing else during that time, it is this: Only a written contract signed by all parties is a legal document. Any verbal promises/agreements are not considered a contract, not part of a contract, are not binding, and are not enforceable. So make sure everything is in writing before you sign.
• If you find the contract agreeable, I would then recommend due diligence before you sign. Contact some of the authors who have already signed with the publisher. What you want to know now is how this publisher performs. How extensive is their editing process? Is their cover artwork of professional standards? Do they market the books well? Do they pay royalties on time? As a good friend once advised me, other writers are a good place to start looking for the truth. Most will be more than willing to answer any questions you have.
• And thirdly, listen to the advice given you. Consider it carefully. Your work, your integrity as an author might depend on it. It is easy to let emotion rule and ignore advice when you want so badly to be published. However, if you walk away from a bad offer, you won’t regret it when you land a good one. Until then, make some friends. Get online and meet other writers. Ask questions, join websites, take writing courses, and read – make yourself knowledgeable so when you are presented with an offer you are prepared to make a wise decision.
My experience has only just begun. I have since signed a contract with another publisher and await the revision process. (Yep…my next blog focus.) Until then, I have included some links to websites that I have found tremendously helpful.
Thanks for visiting and reading.