I Want A Buyout Clause In My Contract

There are many reasons I will probably never end up signing a trade publishing contract.  (Like, I don’t know, sucking at the query process and not having a book they want and not being incentivized enough to fix either of those issues?)

But even if I somehow overcome those obstacles, I think I may run into another brick wall.

Which is that I’d have to insist on a buyout clause in any contract I sign.  And, from what I can tell, they just aren’t standard at all.  Reversion clauses seem to be (although some are so poorly worded the author will never get their book back.)

But “I will pay to make this end” clauses seem non-existent.

So why would I want one?  Well, let’s see…

Just today Passive Voice linked to a post by an author,  Roxanne St. Clair, who can never get the rights to her book back because the reversion clause says, “The book will be considered still in print as long it is available for purchase in any format, including electronic”  and the publisher has no interest in giving up those rights.

According to her, it’s sold four copies in the last year.  Pretty sure she could do a helluva lot better with it herself but it’s considered in print because it’s available electronically.

Then there’s KKR’s recent post about burning bridges where she talks about a situation with an editor that got to the point where she just wanted out and was willing to pay $100K+ to end the contract.

And, of course, there are all the situations where the publisher goes bankrupt or the writing is on the wall that the publisher is going bankrupt or mismanaging things to such a point that authors just want out.

Problem is, at the point you realize you want out, it’s almost impossible to get out.

Like the failing publisher scenario.  Some folks were recently in this situation with a certain litigious publisher I will not name and wanted to buy back the rights to their books.  Some were even able to.  But then someone mentioned that if the publisher did go bankrupt, it was possible that the bankruptcy court could negate those contracts because the books are assets of the publisher and the bankruptcy court could consider those buyouts as improperly disposing of assets ahead of the bankruptcy filing.

So those authors are just stuck.  Can they really take that book to another publisher even if they bought back their rights?  I don’t know…

Well, problem solved if a buyout clause is all there in black and white in the contract from day one. No one can argue about it.  It was part of the deal upfront.  Author will pay X based upon Y performance factors.

It amazes me how often I hear about orphaned series where two books were published and the third never was and the author can’t publish the third because of the contract.  Or could but no other publisher will touch it because they don’t have control over books one and two.  And how successful is self-publishing book three going to be when books one and two are only available through that former publisher?

Or what about an author whose editor leaves and the book is dead, going nowhere fast.  Or the author who gets the editor who wants to completely change the book into something it never was.  Or, like KKR’s example, where the editor is mean, abusive, and degrading.

Don’t get me wrong.  Trade publishing is an excellent path for many people.  I’d love to have the editing and promotion that path gives you in addition to getting an advance on my books.

But shit goes wrong.  Everywhere, all the time.  And when it does, every author should have the option to cut their losses and move on.  You can do it at a job, why not with a publisher?

I don’t even care if it’s an insanely expensive option that you really, really don’t want to implement.  (As long as it’s not so expensive it might as well not exist.)  I just think it should be there, in case.

We’re all allowed to get divorced, right?  And sometimes you don’t want to because the monetary and emotional cost is so astronomical that you choose to work through things instead. But at least we have the option if we need it.  Well, why can’t authors have the same thing?

Of course, that’s just one of the many quirky things on my list of what I’d need to sign a contract.  That, the audit clause, and the request for duplicate royalty statements sent directly to me are probably deal-breakers…But, well…Gotta look out for yourself first and foremost and better to think about it now than when things get ugly.


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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2 Responses to I Want A Buyout Clause In My Contract

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    But, it’s art! How can you sully art with the evils of base money!?

    And now I shall remove my tongue from my cheek before I bite it off.

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