It’s easy to assume that if you go the traditional publishing route that everything will be all great and jolly. So many have been there before you that they’ve worn the steps smooth with their passing. All those really egregious contract terms have been eliminated, any incompetent editors are gone.
Except that’s not really true. And one of the reasons I buy into the argument for having an agent is because an agent knows a hell of a lot more about what’s really going on than I do. Like what should or shouldn’t be in a contract.
I consider myself reasonably intelligent. I’ve read up on contract terms for publishing. But it still makes me nervous to think about trying to handle a publishing contract on my own. There are just too many pitfalls. Rights. Advances. Royalties. Net vs. Gross. Rights Reversion. Pbbbt. I’d rather write.
John Scalzi put two posts up yesterday discussing the contract terms for Alibi and Hydra that illustrate just how ugly a contract can get. If you think at any point in your writing career that you will sign a contract, read these posts. They go through each contract and explain what is wrong with them.
Per Scalzi, you shouldn’t sign either one. Ever.
From the Alibi post:
“I want to be clear: I can say, without reservation, that this is the worst book contract I have ever personally encountered. Not only would I never sign it — which should be obvious at this point — I can’t imagine why anyone whose forebrain has not been staved in by an errant bowling ball would ever sign it. Indeed, if my worst enemy in the world was presented with it and had a pen poised to scratch his signature on it, I would smack the pen out of his hand and say to him, ‘I hate you, but I don’t hate you this much.'”
From the Hydra post:
“And this is ultimately what I would say to any author who is considering Hydra or any publisher (large or small) who would offer a deal as fundamentally awful as what Hydra seems to be offering: Why partner with someone who doesn’t see you as a partner? The Hydra deal sheet is pretty clear about this — it’s not a contract of partners, it’s a contract a parasite offers to a host. But the fact is that if Hydra likes your stuff enough to want it, then you can probably find a real publisher, who offers a real partnership, including the payment of advances and the assumption of risk. Or you can publish it yourself, pay your costs up front (hey, they’re business expenses!) and keep everything you make.
In short: You can do better than Hydra. So do better.”
I have to say, if these were the only options, I’d likely self-publish. (Or, depending on how ridiculous the self-publishing contract terms get, never publish.)