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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ask the Book Doctor

About Book Contracts and Slipstream
By Bobbie Christmas

Q: I know there are lots of books on this subject, but I was wondering if you could streamline it for me. When you are signing a book contract, especially as a first-time author, what are the germane things you should be on the lookout for?

A: Your best course is to run the contract by an entertainment attorney, but if you wish to bypass that step, here is a little layperson’s guidance.

Be careful what rights you are signing over and at what price. Only you can decide which rights you are willing to sell and for how much, but be sure not to sign all your rights away without knowing what you are doing. Some authors may warn you not to allow the publisher the right of first refusal on your next book or books, but others will say such a clause means only that the publisher must be willing to match an offer you may get elsewhere. The decision is personal.

Also be sure that the contract includes in writing what the publisher is going to do for you and by what date.

In the end, authors must decide which issues are worth fighting for. Authors and publishers should agree to a contract that gives the author some of the things he or she wants and gives the publisher some of the things it wants, without making anyone a fool or an enemy.

If the contract is with a subsidy or vanity press, the issues will be different. Be sure you know exactly what you are getting for your money and by what date the finished product will be produced.

Q: My writers association has a markets section in its newsletter that listed a market called The Edge that is looking for a type of work called “slipstream.” I have never heard of this. Do you know what it is?

A: By golly, I was stymied myself. I looked around on the Web and found the following information on the Wikipedia site, one of my favorite resources:

“Slipstream is a term for a style of fiction that pushes conventional genre boundaries and doesn't sit comfortably within the confines of either science fiction/fantasy, or mainstream literary fiction.

“The term slipstream in reference to literature was coined by cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling in an article originally published in SF Eye #5, July 1989. He says in part: ‘This is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange.’ Slipstream fiction has been referred to as ‘the fiction of strangeness’ and falls into the gap between speculative fiction and mainstream fiction.”

Bobbie Christmas is the owner of Zebra Communications, a literary services firm providing manuscript editing services to individuals and publishing houses since 1992. Contact her at 770-924-0528, visit her Web site at, or e-mail her at Be sure to sign up for the free Writers Network News by visiting her Web site and clicking on “Free Newsletter.”

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