Tara Sue Me's Guide To Avoiding A Publishing Contract Disaster

Photo of author Tara Sue MeI met erotic romance author Tara Sue Me for the first time at this year's RT Convention. She's delightful, but a story she told me about a horrible publishing contract she signed years ago (and was still recently dealing with) wasn't so much. So I urged her to share her contract advice for aspiring and published authors. If you're looking to sell your writing, read Tara's advice before you sign anything!

In a prior life, before I became a full-time author, I worked in the Pharmaceutical industry in contracts. Though I’m not a lawyer, I wrote contracts, negotiated contracts, and, more times than should be necessary, terminated contracts. I’m a read-the-tiny-print kind of a girl. A don’t-tell-me-put-it-in-writing business sort.

As an author, I’ve signed a few contracts. I’ve signed with a small epublisher, with a large media company, and with a Big Five publisher. As those of you who have done the same know, contracts can be anywhere from two pages to OMG, DO I HAVE TO READ THE WHOLE THING?

The last year has been a particularly educational for me when it comes to contracts. Not just from my own experiences, but from talking with other authors and reading horror stories. You may have heard all I’m going to say before, but I’m going to say it again because it bears repeating.

1. No contract is better than a bad contract. Repeat that until you’re saying it in your sleep. Say it so often that when handed a bad contract, you’re strong enough to turn it down. You may think you are, but when you have the contract in your hands, don’t let the, “Someone wants to publish me!” speak over the, “Something’s not right here.” Remember, if Publisher ABC wants to sign you, odds are good someone else will, too. You have choices, you owe it to yourself and to your work to explore them.

2. Don’t sign anything without talking to your agent or a lawyer. A good literary agent is priceless. They are experts at this and they can negotiate better contract terms for you. They also know when to walk away, a vastly underrated skill, if you ask me (See point 1). Also, when it comes to having a lawyer look over your contract, remember not all lawyers are created equal. Your cousin’s girlfriend may have passed the bar, but that doesn’t mean she should review your contract. You need a lawyer with experience in publishing and contracts. This will cost you money, but it’s worth it. I urge you not to cut corners on this one. Yes, lawyers are expensive, but it is much cheaper to pay one for a few hours upfront (think less than $1,000) than it is to hire one for litigation (think over $100,000).

3. Do your research. Talk to authors who have published or who are currently published with the company you’re negotiating with. Listen to them. Learn from them. Do a quick internet search, something like: Publisher ABC author contracts, or Publisher ABC warnings. Heed the advice of those who have gone before you. We like to think we’re different, or companies change, but the truth is, we’re not and they probably haven’t.

4. Know your rights. Not only that, know the value of your rights. Foreign, audio, dramatic, print, digital. Don’t hand them over flippantly. Know what you’re selling.

5. That tiny clause could be a big problem a year from now. As a writer, we know that words have meanings, but all to often I’ve heard of authors skimming over clauses that should never ever be in a contract. Ask yourself, “What’s the absolute worse thing this clause could mean?” Then ask yourself if you can live with the answer.

Some of the best advice I ever received was being told my writing career was a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve repeated this to myself often, as should you. And since it is true, don’t let a bad contract handicap you out of the gate.

- Tara Sue Me

Have you learned any invaluable lessons about publishing contracts? Share it in the comments! You can pick up Tara's latest novel, Seduced By Fire, available now.