Passive Guy wrote a nice little post today in response to a question about an earlier link to a post by Ann Voss Peterson over at Joe Konrath's blog about Harlequin's horrible, horrible contracts. Definitely the initial post is worth reading--the terms she describes are so bad that someone asked PG (who is a lawyer) if there's any kind of protection for authors when they sign contracts.
The answer? NO. If you sign a contract with a publisher (or an agent, for that matter), "the laws governing business contracts assume that each party to such contracts will watch out for themselves."
Got that? You are business partners. That means that 1. whether you like it or not, you are a businessperson, running a business, and 2. you and your publisher are on equal footing, even if your publisher has an enormous legal department and you'd be hard-pressed to afford the type of lawyer who advertises on bus benches. There's nothing in there about how you can ignore all that business stuff because it is too complicated and you are too artsy. Even if you're signing with a publisher to avoid learning about all that business-y crap--the law does not care.
PG goes on:
When you sign up for a new Mastercard with your bank, you are wearing your consumer hat and can assume you have some protections against unfair and deceptive contract practices. When you sign a publishing or agency agreement, you have no consumer hat on and you should not assume a “standard” contract will be fair or equitable for you. You should also not assume you will be able to easily get out of that contract if you later find it to be unfair.
Note that the publisher has no special legal obligation to take care of you. They are under no obligation to make sure you get a fair share or to be sure you can earn enough to make a living from your books.
In fact, Donna Fasano commented:
While attending an RWA conference, a friend of mine stood up and asked a panel of HQ editors and other ‘suits’ how they expected their authors to live on the paltry wages they paid. Their blunt answer, “We don’t.” They said they warn authors not to quit their day jobs; they tell them not to expect to earn a living as a writer. They stress that this is a hobby, not a career.
Isn't that sweet? Once again, writers aren't supposed to make money. The people who publish their writing are--you don't see any of those suits forgoing their paychecks, do you?