Monday, January 15, 2007

Reader Question: Option Clauses

I have a question about contracts etc. Say I've sold a book and signed an option clause. Now I get an agent (please!). What would you do about the option clause, especially if this is a small publisher who's been extremely unprofessional and rude, so the author is not interested in dealing with them again? (And I'm not being a diva here. I'm not the only author with problems—anyone with their ear on the ground these days probably knows exactly who I'm talking about and how unhappy their authors are.) Anyway, what do you do? Submit, then turn down their offer? Is this even a question you feel comfortable answering?

I think option clauses are an important topic for discussion and one I'm very comfortable talking about. As I'm sure you know, option clauses are the bane of every writer's and agent's contract negotiation. No matter how well we negotiate the contract and the option clause, it's almost impossible to get it as narrow as we would like. In rare cases I can get it removed, but that's the rare instance. Usually my job is to make it as narrow as possible so that it's easy to get around if necessary.

If an author comes to me with an option from a small publisher there are a couple of things we can do. If the option is specific—next erotica or next paranormal romance—it might be possible to get around by simply not writing that type of book. We could instead submit your book as erotic romance or fantasy.

If, however, your next work is exactly what the option specifies, or the option is general and simply says "your next work," then yes, I might consider sending them the book and letting it sit not one day later than the option time requires, and turning down an offer when and if it comes. This is especially true if it's a house you don't mind walking away from forever. The downside of this of course is that you take the risk of not selling the work at all, and you need to be sure that you are fine walking away from what might be the only opportunity to publish this particular book.

Another possibility is sending them "your next work" and submitting the work that you would write after that to other houses. After all, who can really prove what "your next work" will be.

Those are just a few ways around an option clause. Agents have a lot of tricks up their sleeves when it comes to getting authors out of contracts and/or option clauses, so don't worry about it. When you do find an agent she'll take care of it.

—Jessica

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I've been afraid this would be a dealbreaker for an agent or that they might consider me dishonest or something.

Liz Wolfe said...

I thought the option clause is why we all keep that awful novel we wrote tucked under the bed.
Another question I've had about option clauses is the timing. For instance, say an option clause states that the publisher has the option on your next novel and that they have 6 weeks to exercise that option upon receipt of your manuscript. BUT, their six weeks doesn't begin until the current work is accepted. I assume they mean acceptance of the final ready-for-the-printer version of the book currently under contract. Now let's assume that it's going to be 9 months or a year (after signing the contract) before they start the editing process on this book. Does that mean that you can't submit to another publisher during that time? It seems that would mean the current publisher actually has the author locked in for a very long time. Or is the author free to submit to other publishers until the contracted manuscript (and all final edits) are accepted?

Anonymous said...

Oh! The timing of this subject is unbelievably perfect.

I'm very curious to know the answer to Liz's question.

Also, what's the down side to an option clause with a publishing house you *do* want to continue working with? Does it remove power of negotiation?

Is it possible to give them "your next work" and then submit like crazy the work you really want to sell? Or might this hurt your relationship with your publisher?

Cole said...

I love when you share things like this, Jessica! It really helps give a better understanding of things!

Cole

Anonymous said...

I'm typically a lurker on your blog, but this discussion has drew me out. It is very timely since I'm looking to start submitting my work else where. I think Liz's and Anon's questions are great, but I was also wondering about ramifications. Just because you submit your 'next work' to your current publisher doesn't mean you have to accept an offer if one is made, correct? Or am I completely under the wrong impression? And would not accepting release you of this clause with that publisher?

I currently have new work to submit, but it's different from what I'm currently published under, and I want to submit it under a pen name. I think I already know the answer to this question, but how would that impact a first look clause? I'm actually approaching a submission deadline on a themed series for another publishing house. Should I submit one of my works to my current publisher now, before I submit to the other line with the other publisher?

And I just want to add, thanks for all your vaulable insight and for sharing with us!