A first time Author, after perhaps years of toiling, finally gets accepted by a publisher, a big Mainstream Publisher and promptly turns cartwheels, screams and shouts and probably even brags about it to colleagues, friends and family - "I have a contract!" the Author proclaims to the world What that Author is feeling is a mixture of elation, relief and, a deep sense of vindication. That is - until Murphy's Law and the fine print of that precious contract jumps up and bites!
A case in point. Mature aged Author who has had modest success finally cracks it for the big one after more than twenty years. Not one book but a whole damn trilogy. Massive he thinks, I'm on the way - I've finally proved that I can write a commercially acceptable novel. Then - in the midst of all that elation he goes and gets sick - very sick. Six months the Doctor says - six months before you will be fit enough to travel - and then you will have to be exceedingly careful of long flights overseas - Deep Vein Thrombosis! - Deep what? The Doctor explains - Oh! -
"But I have to go to the U.S. for a book release and signing - the Publisher insists - it's in my contract!"
"Don't go !" The Doctor replies. "It could kill you!"
Urgent message to Publisher via Agent - silence - for more than a week. Then the bomb arrives - the contract allows for something called marketing contingencies - I'm a first time author - no track record - no appearance - sales will be compromised blah, blah, blah. So? I ask? They are delaying publishing till you can appear the Agent tells me, it's a bad break - the book is on the back burner - they move on and it might never see the light of day!
A word of advice - yelling, threatening to go to another publisher and stamping of feet, holding of breath and other tantrums do not work. All you get is a pitiful look from Agent - who - incidentally - is suddenly very hard to reach.
The bitter lessons:
Your Agent, no matter how professional and accommodating, is not your friend
If you use a local Solicitor make doubly sure that Solicitor not only understands publishing law but is familiar with contractual litigation in The PUBLISHER'S COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Don't take your Solicitors word that "the fine print is OK" . Read it yourself because while it might be LEGALLY OK there might be some clauses which could effect you personally if things go wrong or you can't perform for some reason.
Make sure the contract makes sense in PLAIN ENGLISH
If the contract contains "Marketing Contingency" clauses make sure you understand the implications if you get sick, get injured, can't deliver on time, or a thousand other reasons that might apply to only you.
If the contract provides for an advance against royalties insist that such advance be non returnable. You might get less of an advance but at least you'll have something to show for all your effort if things go south