Monday, November 15, 2010

Scariest contract EVER

I saw this over at Glass Cases and had, had to take a look at this. 

It is a new publication company started by controversial author, James Frey (Million Little Pieces anyone?) which basically has probably the most brutal and scary contract I have EVER seen in my entire life. Now, it's not even the advance. Most publication houses (other than the big 5) do not churn out a $50k advance. That's just reality. Small presses don't have the kind of money to invest and very few new authors probably even get that kind of advance with the exception of some of the more well known debut authors. 

Pay close, close attention to the contract. You can view it HERE

For a cliff notes version of it, Conrad Rippy summed it up pretty well

"It’s an agreement that says, “You’re going to write for me. I’m going to own it. I may or may not give you credit. If there is more than one book in the series, you are on the hook to write those too, for the exact same terms, but I don’t have to use you. In exchange for this, I’m going to pay you 40 percent of some amount you can’t verify — there’s no audit provision — and after the deduction of a whole bunch of expenses.”

So what's the big problem here? Well, for one, your contract says "Writer for Hire" and hell, it doesn't even look like you have to have a complete MS. It clearly shows that at any time, the contract can be terminated and they can STILL sell your book without you getting paid. Meaning, I could contract you Mr. Author to write a damn good book. I then can terminate your contract because I decided to do so while using the bathroom. Then I can take said book, sell into a publisher, and take all the $$$. 

Another very, very scary thing:

"The writer would be financially responsible for any legal action brought against the book but would not own its copyright.(WTF) Full Fathom Five could use the writer’s name or a pseudonym without his or her permission, even if the writer was no longer involved with the series, and the company could substitute the writer’s full name for a pseudonym at any point in the future. The writer was forbidden from signing contracts that would “conflict” with the project; what that might be wasn’t specified. The writer would not have approval over his or her publicity, pictures, or biographical materials." (Sweet- where do I sign up?)

This, to me, isn't even about needing an agent to look over a contract or if this is really going to be the future of publication (so not wanting to start the whole vanity press/self-pub/ebook/small press /big press never-ending argument). Times are a changing, but you still can spot a scam a mile away. It doesn't matter who publishes your book or what agent you sign with, as long as that whoever is supposed to be in your corner is REALLY in your corner. A contract like this surely does not look that way.

What do you think?


  1. Eek! Who in their right mind would sign that contract? Shudder.

  2. I remember a contest a long time ago where a musical band (wish I could remember the name) lost their music writer. The remaining band members held an audition for music writers to submit their own songs as part of a competition to "win" the open spot with the band.

    The catch:

    The song writers relinquished all rights to their submitted songs,and the band was not obligated to pick a winner from the entries submitted.

    So the contest ended, the band has 500 new songs *exlusively theirs* and they decide they don't need a song writer and everyone who entered the competition is out of luck.

    Not nearly as obvious as the contract you're referring to, but almost as deceptive.

  3. Run away... as fast as freaking possible. I can't even see any SANE person signing up for this. This is INSANE!

  4. LOL--I saw the heading and practically had a heart attack before I realized you weren't writing about the contract WE sent you! :)

    The sad thing is that many people who want to be published will give up a ton of rights just for the shadow of a chance that something like this offers. But, if the work isn't under the author's name, it won't advance his/her writing career. So, if the initial paycheck isn't reason enough to write the work, don't take the job.

    BTW, writer-for-hire work is rare in fiction and usually only occurs when a publisher wants to keep milking a series after the author's death (or disinterest). For example, if you read CURIOUS GEORGE to your kids, take note of how few of the books were truly written by the Reys. I believe some portions of tween series like SWEET VALLEY HIGH may've been written as work-for-hire, as well.

    If you're written an original work, NEVER sign away a copyright.

    NEVER give more than right-of-first-refusal for future works (BTW, this means that the publisher who puts out the first book of a series gets to make the first offer for the sequels. The author doesn't have to accept their terms, though). ALWAYS have a divorce clause--a specified process for either party to end the contract.

    ALWAYS have the right to audit the books.

    DON'T SIGN a document that contains anything you don't understand--read it through enough to know what it is, or pay a lawyer to do it for you.

    DISCLAIMER: Never take legal advice solely from woodland creatures. Always ask a real lawyer.

  5. A zombie lawyer? "Mmmm...brains." That'll be $400.

    Now a *charm* lawyer...

  6. LOL @ Disgruntled Bear.

    Jennifer, thanks for posting this. It hurts my heart when I see how many writers get swirled up in the shiny promises of shady agencies or publishing houses. Posts like this are important because those writers will hopefully Google "writing contracts" or something and find stuff like this to remind them: read the fine print.

    You rock!

  7. I can tell it's nuts, but it is always nice to have someone else like an agent back it up. My wife was looking for a veterinary contract a couple years back and one contract she got had a clause in it where she would owe if she didn't make quota. So when the economy went south we would be paying out of her salary to make up for the clinic's deficits each month. She knew it looked bad, but being new in the field she wasn't sure how inappropriate it was and it was good for her to hear from advisers at her school that it was garbage.

  8. Wow Chris- that's crazy. Good thing she had some people look at it. It's just a shame that you have to be sooooo careful.

  9. I'm going to try commenting again today. Blogger ate both my attempts yesterday. I think this is appalling. It's like slave labor for writers. This is why it's important to read those contracts.

  10. Jeeze! Scammers like thees need to be posted broadly so that people don't fall into these kinds of traps. If you don't mind, I'd like to refer to this post on my blog.

  11. Nope. Go ahead. More people did to know about these things. =)

  12. Yeah. I heard the book I Am Number Four was made using this kind of thing.

    Squeaky Books did a blog post about it.

    The actual author got zero credit and now it's being made into a movie. bummer dude.