Dear Miss Snark,
I was talking to someone last night who signed with a publisher who publishes fiction for a very narrow niche market. She had to negotiate several points in the contract but the publisher wouldn't budge on one issue -- first-refusal rights for seven years. I was shocked because this publisher didn't have this clause several years ago. The publisher didn't even limit first-refusal to the type of books they publish. I told my friend that this was author servitude and that she lost control over her work for seven years.
My question . . . is this a common practice among publishers these days?
There are two pieces of the clause: what they have, and for how long.
First refusal means they have the right to look at it first and the option to buy the book on the same terms as the first book
How long they have to do is the other part. Seven years is insane. Most publishers want 60 DAYS and we agree to 30. We also limit what the author has to show on the option. We try to get outline and we settle for outline and a chapter.
This is worse than not being published because even if this author says "sod you and the horse you rode in on" to the publisher, she is unable to sign with anyone else because that new contract will include a clause saying she has the right to sell them the book...which she doesn't. She'll need a signed release for every project for seven years.
This is nuts.