Carpetbaggers: Reading the Fine Print by C. Morgan Kennedy

We’ve all heard about how the publishing industry is in a state of change. From self to indie to traditional to e-only, authors have more options for getting their products <books> to market than we’ve had before. I know that change breeds opportunity, but it also creates an environment for shady opportunists.

Given that my latest work is a Civil War era Steampunk novel, the word ‘carpetbagger’ immediately sprang to my mind. A carpetbagger was a northerner who moved south during the post-Civil War, Reconstruction era (1865-1877). Most carpetbaggers arrived with nefarious intentions. Their goal was to swindle as many southerners out of their land, money, etc. as possible. While I am by no means a southern sympathizer, I do have a problem with con artists taking advantage of a situation.

Which leads me to my biggest fear: Unintentionally signing away some component of my royalty rights via language hidden in the fine print of a contract.

We are the creators of the content <stories>. If our books become bestsellers, the worlds we create have the potential to generate revenue across a variety of mediums and merchandise. I’ve heard rumors that some contracts floating around our industry include verbiage that gives all e-pub rights (today and in the future) to the publisher. Not cool. Navigating international rights can also be a chore.

Contracts aren’t a new thing for me. I deal with them regularly in my day job where I work on projects with Fortune 500 companies. To overcome this fear, I will read and re-read any contracts I receive. I will even consult with a writer friend recommended lawyer, prior to signing. There is, of course, the option of self-publishing…but even this route isn’t contract or ‘agreement’ free. Making sure that I read the fine print until I understand all of the terms and conditions will help me avoid any lurking, industry, carpetbaggers…I hope.  😀

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About C Morgan Kennedy

Author of futuristic, urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and steampunk. Mecha geek fueled by chocolate and herbal tea. Author marketing maven. Co-founder of www.authormarketing101.com.

Posted on October 7, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. I’ve heard of contracts for one little 50,000 word book that are 27 pages. You just know that at that length there is going to be stuff that you don’t agree with.

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  2. I appreciated your perspective, thanks. Opportunity and naïve participants is a haven for shysters, self-publishing included. What makes me sad is when LinkedIn, author-group members reveal mistakes and, while certainly victims, it’s obvious that they just didn’t know who to trust. That’s why a group like the Rose City Romance is a blessing for every member, we know what we’re doing and rely on each other for help in areas outside our skills or expertise. Shrewd friends will always be the best shyster-shield.

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  3. Okay. I’m almost glad that I’m at the point that I don’t have a completed novel so I don’t have to think about legal rights. When that time comes, I’m lucky to know people I can ask questions 🙂

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    • We are all working to the point to HAVE to think about such things. A few of us are already there….but like you, I am so glad I have folks in my life who will answer my questions with love and candor.

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  4. We can share a bottle of anti-legal-rash calamine lotion, Asa.

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  5. Good advice, all around.

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  6. If you think print rights are scary, take a look at film. I heard Candace Bushnell signed away all Sex and the City rights for $70K. And she had an agent negotiate the deal!

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  7. It always amazes me at the number of authors who do not read their contracts or count on their agent to catch everything. This past week I saw a message on a writer’s loop from a traditionally published author who said they didn’t know what is considered “foreign” rights and how payment was calculated. All I could do was slap palm to forehead and send up a prayer for this woman. Like many authors, in her excitement for getting signed she did not read the contract and counted on her agent to negotiate it. Not getting sufficient answers from her agent, she was hoping the loop could tell her without seeing her contract. She assumed that all contracts were the same. Not the case.

    You are a wise woman, Morgan. I am not, yet, so curmudgeonly to suggest that publishers purposely try to hide contract terms. However, the terms do appear in a lot of different places and you can be guaranteed they are all in the publishers favor. And publishers aren’t the only people in our industry with contracts. Agents have contracts. Vendors (Amazon, Kobo, B&N, CreateSpace, Lightning Source, etc.) have contracts. Booksellers have contracts. In publishing, my rule of thumb is to have a literary attorney in my virtual rolodex. Paying someone $100-$250 to advise me on a contract is definitely worth it, because I will completely understand the thousands of dollars I am giving up if I sign.

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    • Maggie, you are so right about the need to KNOW the business. We creatives sometimes don’t want to do the “boring” parts, but whether we want to admit it or not, we are small businesses now. Hopefully on our way to becoming big businesses!

      Re: vendor contracts. The situation is actually worse with vendors in some ways, in that they give us “terms of service” rather than contracts. TOS can be changed unilaterally by the vendors, often with only an emailed notice. Read, understand, weigh your options, know what you want to achieve.

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      • I agree, ladies, on all fronts. It is sooooo worth the investment to get professional advice up front. This point is true in all industries and business dealings. Like you, I do think that members of the writing community (and artists / creatives in general) get so excited about the offer that they instantly turn into Sally Field and start spewing “You like me. You really like me!” and ignore the finer details of the deal.

        I thank GOD that I can easily shift into business woman mode and literally “take care of business.” But, as you can see, I get scared and intimidated, too. The key is to push through that fear, chunk down the problem into bites you can tackle, and not be afraid to ask for help….which means you have to have a community to reach out to for help. I am so glad that we have each other for this journey – and that we all freely share information!

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  8. Good reminder. Legal language makes me break out in hives.

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  9. Excellent advice! I’ll never understand how people who engage in underhanded practices can sleep at night. ~ Viola

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