Read the Fine Print Before Signing That Contract

Wednesday, June 03, 2009
by LuAnn Schindler

A myriad of anthology titles exist: the Chicken Soup series, the Cup of Comfort series, Best of... series. You name it; there's probably a single anthology or an anthology series on the market or being pitched to a publisher that you may be able to write a story for.

I've had three stories picked up by different anthologies. One promised a royalty on sales divided by the number of authors in the book after initial printing costs were met. Yup, this contract came early in my career and I didn't see any problem waiting. And after 18 months, I had a check in my mailbox. Sure, it only totaled $25, but at that point, I was happy that I was published and actually saw money hit my hands.

The second and third anthologies practiced similar payment methods. One paid $100 upfront for the story. The other paid $150 after publication. Not bad for writing two two page stories. And let's face it, these stories were fairly specialized. One covered cooking disasters; the other, a favorite teacher. Would I be able to recycle the story anywhere else?

I read a call for an anthology recently, and I decided to submit a story. Yes, it was accepted. But when the contract came, you can imagine my surprise when it said I had to agree to purchase a certain number of books. There wasn't any stipulation that mentioned how much I would be paid for inclusion in the book. But that $3000 proposed investment in 'X' amount of books caught me off guard! Was I supposed to quadruple the asking price for the anthology in hopes of making a buck or even breaking even? Was I supposed to turn over all rights for a story that exhibited my trademark sense of humor and my brutal honesty of the situation? Was I supposed to believe this was for real?

The contract met the paper shredder, and instantly, the friendship between paper and machine was ripped into multiple pieces. I also approached the editor and withdrew my story. He mentioned how much the story would 'make a difference' and 'others would learn' from my experiences. With some gentle persuasion, he finally agreed and saw things my way. Ah, the power of persuasion!

True, others would learn from the essay I wrote. But they'll also learn a valuable lesson from this article. Not all anthologies are created equally. And neither are all contracts. Before signing on the dotted line in front of a notary, thoroughly read the contract. And if you have questions, ask the editor. Better yet, if you can afford a quick consultation with a lawyer, pay the fee and find out the real costs as well as the hidden costs of publishing.

Taking time to peruse the terms of a contract will make a difference. And, you will learn how to navigate in the murky waters that can sometimes surround the sale of a story.


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