Blogger: Mary Keeley
Location: Books & Such Midwest Office, IL
With the multitude of self-publishing, print-on-demand, and new publisher options available, writers need to be alert when pursuing these options on their own. With each new “invention” comes new ways of doing business. Some provide a good opportunity for authors; some could be potentially dangerous.
I recently researched a new, general market niche publisher that appeared to be a good fit for a client’s book and submitted the proposal. Two months later, after not receiving a reply, I followed up. Apparently in the intervening months, the business model had been refined, shall we say. The reply came from a different person who directed that all proposals be submitted via a link on their website, which he provided, because authors were now required to consent to their submissions agreement.
An experienced eye could see that the new submission process itself was questionable. But the agreement set off alarm bells. Included in the complex legalese of one of the clauses was wording that suggested the publisher would have creative rights to use the author’s idea as their own. Add to that, the pleasant wording on the link proclaimed that this agreement extended itself to proposals submitted before the existence of the agreement. Huh?
There may or may not have been a deliberate attempt to look through submissions to use the ideas in ways the proposals’ authors never intended. I’m not making a judgment or accusation. But the wording certainly opened the door to the possibility. The agreement, together with the dubious submission process, was enough reason for me to reply in clear and broad legalese, disallowing use of my client’s creative idea and withdrawing the proposal from the publisher’s consideration.
Further, note that the initial link and following screens were directed specifically to authors, not agents. Was this to pull in trusting writers? Who knows. But beware of what you may be getting into when going it alone. More now than in years past, it takes an experienced eye to pick up on subtleties of complex wording, business models, and practices.
Acquiring an agent is a wise career move. Choosing a self-publisher with a clearly worded contract, fair and balanced for both parties, is essential. If you hire an attorney to review the contract before signing it, be sure he or she is experienced with publishing contracts and the publishing industry in general.
At what point in this scenario do you think you would have become wary? Do you think you are familiar enough with legal language that you would have picked up on the cause for concern in this agreement? Would you have questioned that the submission link was addressed to authors, not authors and agents?
Have you experienced or heard of other questionable practices in publishing that seem devised to take advantage of the unwary?