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March 26, 2003

Contracts

Almost exactly three months after the agreement in principle, I'm looking at my contract with Tor books. The delay, incidentially, was not really due to slothfulness on the part of Tor; when I went out to New York at the tail end of January there was a contract ready, but I had a few clarifications I wanted to have made, and the company was pleasingly obliging. Overall, the contract negotiations were quick and painless; heck, they didn't even ask for my first born (which is well and good, since she's already been lent out to Rough Guides).

Typically speaking, authors shouldn't be handling contract negotiations for the same reasons barbers shouldn't try to repair toasters; it's not really in the job's skill sets. This is why one has an agent, after all. However, in this particular case my agent doesn't handle fiction, and the sums of cash involved were modest enough (it's that first novel thing) that I felt comfortable that I couldn't screw myself too badly. It helped that I have walked through book contracts before with my agent; those contracts were for non-fiction books, and this one was for fiction, but many of the nitty gritty details are the same sort of stuff. (Mind you, I'm currently in the process of getting an agent for fiction; like many things, walking through a contract is one of those things that's interesting exactly once, and I have no interest in becoming expert enough to do it on a regular basis.)

In addition to the big stuff (like, how much you get paid for your advance and when), contracts cover a lot of smaller details as well: How many free copies you get, for example, to foist on friends and loved ones, and how much you'll have to pay for copies after that; the various rights you're letting the publisher have, which include several media, such as microfilm and cartoon strips, that you'd probably never think about on your own; and even boilerplate that covers what should happen if the publisher really wants to print your book but can't because an unfortunate tsunami has washed away the corporate headquarters. Clearly some of these clauses can border on the ridiculous. But on the other hand, no one expects a tsunami, and yet they happen nonetheless. Be prepared, say the Boy Scouts, as well as the lawyers they grow up to be.

(Incidentally, those of you who paid to get a download copy of Old Man's War, those things are officially collector's items, since the contract makes me agree to cease all electronic publication. Enjoy!)

I'm personally excited to sign the contract, although not because I'm looking forward to the advance money. I mean, I am, don't get me wrong (baby needs new shoes. And a pony. And graduate school). But mostly I'm itchin' to sign the contract so that I can finally join SFWA -- Science Fiction (and Fantasy) Writers of America. To be entirely honest, I have no compelling practical reason to want to join, since I can't imagine what I would want SFWA to do for me; I'm unlikely to use its emergency medical or legal fund or its other services, and while it'd be swell to vote on the Nebula Awards, it's not something I stay up nights dreaming about.

I just want to be in it because in its own incredibly geeky way, it's just a very cool idea. If you're the sort of dreamy shut-in who writes science fiction in the first place, what not to like about consorting with your own kind? At least you know they won't laugh at you (at least, not for writing science fiction). Really, I can't wait. I've already got the application downloaded. All I have to do is sign the contract, and I'll be eligible. Hold on a sec --

There. Signed. Now I'm official. Somebody get me a Nebula ballot, already.

Posted by john at March 26, 2003 10:55 PM

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Comments

Scott Smith | March 27, 2003 11:24 AM

My electronic copy is a collectors item? Cool! Does that mean if I email you my copy you'll sign it?

Medley | March 27, 2003 11:43 AM

You're going to pay for your kid's -graduate- school??? Jes' pokin'.. welcome to the land of MovableType!

John Scalzi | March 27, 2003 11:59 AM

"Does that mean if I email you my copy you'll sign it?"

Sure, but then I'd have to mail you the monitor I signed it on. Seems dreadfully inconvenient.

Kerry | March 27, 2003 12:50 PM

Does that mean my beta copy will be worth lots of money someday? ;)

Congratulations and I wish you much success with the book. I enjoyed reading the beta and am looking forward to seeing the real thing!

I like the blog format. I'm way too lazy to open up my e-mail client, so the comments feature is great.

Jon | March 29, 2003 11:34 PM

Speaking as a member of SFWA, I can mention a number of other fringe benefits:

1) access to the SFWA newsgroups, where you can see famed authors indulging in name calling on a truly spectacular level.

2) the swell, impossible to duplicate membership card.

3) free copies of books up for the Nebula (this is actually very cool, speaking as a book junkie. you'd think I ate the damned things)

4) more mail, as the mailing list gets sold to interested parties.

5) the ability to wield the club that is the grievance committee, in case you come up against a truculent publisher who can't be bothered to pay you on time (also very cool).

At any rate, welcome aboard! Um, eventually.

John Scalzi | March 30, 2003 01:32 AM

Yes, I've heard about points one and three, both of which I'm looking forward to -- the first for amusement value and the second, also for amusement value, although in an entirely different way.

My application is in the mail. I expect to get my membership card sometime before my second novel is published (which should be a while, considering I haven't started writing it).

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 30, 2003 06:26 PM

No doubt you've already been informed of the "SFWA Platinum" membership option. It costs $25 more per year, but they refrain from sending you the SFWA FORUM.

John Scalzi | March 30, 2003 06:46 PM

What, and miss seeing my fellow science fiction writers on their best behavior? Not on your life!