19 July 2006

Them that don't ask don't get.

Got my contract for my article today, saying "Sign this here and we'll send you your check." Which made me feel dumb, because just yesterday I hassled my poor editor, saying, "Give me that big fat money!" Hit me with a brick.

But when I read the contract, I said, "Uh-oh." The first thing I ran across was the dreaded "hold harmless" clause. That's a clause that basically says that the author agrees to hold the Publisher harmless if a smackdown takes place because of something she's written. If the author agrees to such a clause, then it's the author who has to pay all legal expenses.

I mean, I can't imagine anyone's going to sue over this article. "OMG I hate legumes! I'm going to sue!" But when the world has gone mad, cover your ass.

And secondly I saw that the contract said I was selling all rights. Might this lead to trouble when I'm writing my soilbuilding book? Because I was going to discuss using alfalfa in the garden, and it's hard to know where the demarcation is between what is their article and their information and what would be mine. I'd just as soon not even go there.

So I called up the assistant editor in charge of contracts and said, "Hello! I got a contract today and wondered if I could strike a clause or two."

She said, "You can change anything you like."

"I'd really like to strike the 'hold harmless' clause." And then I got silly and said, "And also let's raise the payment to a million dollars, stat!"

She went off in gales of laughter. "I'd like to see legal when I send this contract over!"

"Okay, let's do it!"

But then we settled down, and she said she'd send me a new contract with the changes I'd requested. I'd get first rights, which revert back to me upon publication. (Note to legal: rights listed here are not actual rights until I sign said contract.)

This is going to slow my big fat money down by a few days, but I'll just have to put up with that.

Ha ha! The i-Pod is playing the theme from "Wonder Woman!" "In her satin tights, fighting for your rights!" That's so me! Except you'd never see me wearing satin tights, of course.


Writerious said...

No satin tights? Aw, c'mon, what kind of costume is SuperWriter going to wear?

Good for you for asking to strike out those clauses. Selling all rights is one thing when work is assigned, but when it's your own stuff, you should retain rights to it. And to sell all rights, yet be held legally responsible if there's a lawsuit? Doesn't seem fair at all.

Melinda said...

Hey, SuperWriter does just fine in an old pair of blue jeans, thank you very much. Also, the satin tights would show off my little belly roll.

The magazine I did the contract with is a pretty good one, but often big magazines will bank on the writer not daring to speak up and get what they're needing. "Oh, well, if they are buying all rights, I better let them have it, or I might never write for them again."

It's very important to ask for what you need, especially in the case of contracts. And it would be a raw deal if the author did sell all rights and then had to pay lawsuit money to boot. Sounds like something out of Kurt Vonnegut, only he'd make it funnier and more terrible at the same time.

I also make it a point to ask for more money, too. I've only had two magazines get upset with me for it. But I've also gotten more money because I've asked. Chutzpah or desperation? It's a little of both!

Don Tate II said...

You are a good one. I get so confused by contracts. I've decided that, once again, I'm going to get an agent. I hate clauses and indemnity and so on and so forth.

Melinda said...

Why, thank you, Don! I want an agent, too, very badly in fact, but until I get one I have to figure out how to read this stuff on my own so I don't get taken. But boy, that contract language is so convoluted. I just pick up stuff from my reading that looks useful. I think there's some helpful stuff on Harold Underdown's site at The Purple Crayon about reading contracts.