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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Top Ten Ways to Break a Deal by David M. Pitchford

10. Deadline? There was a deadline? Follow up to be certain you've gotten ALL materials, drafts, etc. in to the publisher by the time stated in the contract.

9. You needed the contract back when? Camping out on a contract until your brother-in-law can fit it in for a gratis legal opinion can kill the deal. Contracts tend to be time-sensitive. If you have questions, ask them. But don't allow it to become an excuse for procrastination. There's far too much of that stuff (procrastination) in this whole process already.

8. But I don't like that advice. Once you have the contract, picking at nits with the publisher is not always in your best interest. Again, the edits and such are time-sensitive just as are contracts. With start-up publishers, this is even more important, as many small publishers have to push things through to achieve profitability before they go broke. Be sensible about the editing process, but refrain from being sensitive about it.

7. Oh, sorry, I forgot to tell you that story was picked up by Acme. The number one reason publishers don't want you to engage in simultaneous submissions is that too many authors ahead of you have forgotten to inform prospective publishers when a work is accepted elsewhere. Inform the publisher of previous acceptance of your work; this keeps them from sending a contract for first rights only to find out you've sold those rights already. Track your submissions assiduously.

6. No, really, it's a different story! Changing character and place names is rarely enough to make a new story out of a recycled one. If your current story won't go through a plagiarization filter against a story you've already published, you're treading dangerous ground. Recycling stories is not a bad strategy, in my opinion, but it is vital that the new story be *substantially* different. And it darn well should be better!

5. Oh, you wanted what you asked for in your guidelines? This is rather obvious, but I've actually seen rewrites go from following the guidelines to creation of a story that barely resembles the submitted works. What were they thinking? Most of the time I've seen this is in regard to writers who want to retro-fit their story to a series or pet world. Rarely is that acceptable to a publisher, and even more rarely when that retro-fit violates the guidelines to which you formerly adhered.

4. Can you pay me now? This is a serious contractual matter. If you've agreed to pay-on-publication, then you really don't have stable ground from which to request payment. To avoid the necessity of this, negotiate the contract up front. If the publisher doesn't have a 'kill clause' in the contract, then ask for one that guarantees something if the project is cancelled. Sometimes the small publishers can only promise a return of full rights. Ask up front. Negotiate before signing. Be very judicious about trying to renegotiate a contract after the fact, if at all.

3. What do you mean you couldn't reach me?! Yes. This is common sense. But common sense is where ninety percent of misunderstandings occur. If you relocate, or change *any* of your contact information, then contact the publisher - every publisher with whom you have any relationship - and ensure that they have your current information. I have actually made this mistake myself from both sides of the desk; it cost me a number of great stories as well as two publication credits. Notify. Notify. Notify.

2. But these edits violate my personal style; why are you cramping my artistic integrity? Whiners are just inconvenient. Very few of us like to deal with them in any capacity. Editors and publishers are people, too. Don't be a whiner. If you seriously cannot stomach criticism or editorial changes, then you're likely too early in your development as a writer to be publishing anyway. [I'm talking here about whining to the publisher/editor. Whine all you like to your friends, but do so *privately* and NEVER on an online forum.] Whining might not break the current deal, but it will likely break the next deal you might have made with this publisher.

1. What are you miscreants doing to MY story?! Worse than the whiner is the bitching Narcissist. Again, any given publisher might put up with the prima donna once, but they'll likely take a great deal more convincing for further projects once you've insulted them and thrown a tantrum over things that are likely far more trivial than they seem. This behavior tends to show not only an immaturity in the industry, but also a personal immaturity. This is, in my opinion, the number one way to break a deal: act like a brat. [Once you've signed the contract and cashed the check, your story is no longer *your* story. If you *have* to have creative input, consider strongly whether you're really ready to publish. If you decide you are, then be very certain of how the contract is written.]


Read more of David's writing in The Return of the Sword anthology. You can order your copy here.

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