A Bird in the Hand

It’s been an eventful few weeks, but I think things have calmed down enough for me to post an update.

Back in January, I hustled to polish and submit the opening thirty pages of my YA SF novel to a small publisher. They immediately asked for the full manuscript. Then some things happened at their end, and I didn’t hear from them for a while.

Until ten days ago. They offered me a contract!

There was more good news. The Senior Editor felt the book was structurally sound, and didn’t need a lot of further work. They were proposing to fast-track it for publication.

The contract is quite comprehensive: it’s six pages long and it includes some language I’m not sure I understand. Naturally, I contacted some of my mentors for guidance.

The first of my advisors to respond was an established author who has had agent representation for a long time. He wasn’t all that taken with the terms of this direct author/publisher deal. He cautioned me against signing off so many subsidiary rights, and he lamented the lack of an advance.

Next to check in was someone more accustomed to author/publisher contracts. She was comfortable with both the scope of the rights and the lack of advance, but thought some of the compensation was lower than the going rate: foreign language rights, in particular.

Neither of them liked one phrase. I found it confusing, too. In the first section of the contract, it says the author retains any rights not specified. That’s good. But later, when it’s listing those specified rights, it goes on to embrace all other rights not specified. That’s not so good.

Well, I’ve been meaning to consult a lawyer about writing a better Will, with an intellectual property clause, so I found somebody suitable and got in touch. I have arranged to show it to him soon.

I mentioned my concerns about the offered contract to the editor who sent it to me. He said he’d bring it up with the publisher. In the meantime, we did some preliminary edits of the book, and discussed one or two ways to strengthen it.

Long story short, the publisher stands by their contract. They say they worked hard to make it fair, and consulted with people at the Writer’s Union of Canada extensively to get the wording just right. They aren’t willing to make changes for me.

On the bright side, they haven’t withdrawn the offer or anything. It remains in effect while I do research. To my untrained eye, the contract appears to score a pass on all theĀ  basic criteria suggested by the Author’s Alliance. That’s good.

I visited the Writer’s Union of Canada website to get a feel for their stance. They offer extensive guidance on contracts for their members. But there’s a Catch-22. You cannot become a member until you’ve signed a contract. So I could sign the contract, pay the dues, and then ask if I just shot myself in the foot! I’m looking for an ounce of prevention, not a pound of sympathy.

I’ll see what the lawyer says. If nothing else, I’ll learn something about contracts.

In the meantime, I am writing to agents. It feels good to write a query letter and say I have a contract offer in hand. It seems to get results, too. I’ve heard back from one already, and have sent her a full manuscript.

Best case scenario? I get an offer of representation from an agent or two, and a chance at reaching readers in the big scary American market.

Middle ground? I have a contract offer from a small Canadian press that is, I think, trying to play fair.

Worst case? It all blows away like dust in the wind.The contract expires, and agents go back to ignoring me.

Except: I made a new friend. The editor and I hit it off. He liked my work, and he wants to see it published. By his company, preferably, but by someone else if not. I liked the suggestions he made, and loved the results I got when I followed his advice. My book has a crisp new title, Avians, and it’s the best it’s ever been.

I’m going to take a workshop of his this summer. Maybe I’ll be an agented author by then. Or maybe we’ll be working together. Stay tuned.