Option duration

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.


Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, because all the references I've seen to this have been for just the next book after the published one . . . This contract means the publisher has first-refusal rights on every book this author writes for the next seven years.

Nuts is right.

ec said...

Yikes. Worse case scenario is that the publisher could hold onto everything your friend writes for the next seven years, neither accepting nor releasing it.

Unlikely, yes, but why take that chance? I know people who've had very bad experiences with first-refusal clauses, so I'm very wary of them.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like our favorite publishing scam, Publish America. (From what I understand, they take everyone and then lock 'em into a seven-year contract, trickling 'royalty' checks of a dollar a pop along the way. No bookstore will stock these books because it's all POD, pre-order, non-returnable dreck.)

I was recently at a party where not one but two(!) would-be authors tried to get me--no, let's be frank, beggedme--to order their 'PA' books. I tossed back one for the road and got the hell out of there.

Anonymous said...

Actually it's not PA. It's a legitimate publisher that has a good reputation in the niche it's in.

According to the author, she investigated other publishers in this niche market and several of them also had similar terms. One was for more than seven years. These publishers aren't scammers, just sadly misguided because most of them had no background in publishing before starting their companies.

I don't want to go into any more detail because I don't want to get the author in trouble. The publishing niche is very small.