David Gaughran has a great interview with David Dalglish where Dalglish talks in depth about how signing a bad contract really caused him some serious problems. He was able to buy his way out of it eventually, so things went better for him than they did for some other people, but the fact remains that, even today, you can really screw yourself by signing a bad contract.
The thing is, I knew it was stupid to sign it. My dad argued repeatedly to not do it. I refused to show the contract to several writer friends, because I knew they’d tear it to pieces. I didn’t hire someone like PassiveGuy to go over it and make sure it wasn’t evil. I wanted even that tiny sliver of respectability, and because of that I freaking screwed myself over hardcore.
Man, have I ever been there. Not with a book contract, but with other things. I have learned the hard way that if you're embarrassed to tell people about what you're about to do, you should absolutely NOT do it. That shame is a huge red flag--you are succeeding in fooling yourself, but you know damned well you couidn't fool someone else.
Speaking of Passive Guy, he's got two fun compare 'n' contrast links up today. One is an agent saying that publishers need to brand themselves; the other is an interview with James Patterson, who is quite open about the fact that he is more of a brand than a writer.
Yes, I think it's important to brand. But seriously, who is going to find it easier to create a brand, a publisher or an author? It's hard for a publisher to create a brand for themselves; it's really easy for writers. As a writer, you probably prefer certain genres, and you definitely have a world view and writing style that colors everything you write, whether you want it to or not. Spell your name correctly and don't make your book look like an imitation of someone else's work, and just like that, you have created a brand. (Unified cover looks help, too.)