Sunday, May 20, 2007

Simon and Schuster and Author Contracts

The Authors Guild (of which I’ve been a member since 1990) sent out a notice to members early this week to let us know that publisher, Simon and Schuster has made changes to their standard contracts with authors. Traditionally all major publishers follow the practice in which rights to a work revert to the author if the book falls out of print or if its sales are low. Their new contract language apparently will no longer include minimum sales requirement for a work to be considered in print, and the work would remain under their exclusive control as long as it is available in any form, including through its own in-house data base (POD) and not even available to be ordered by traditional bookstores. In essence, this would amount to an exclusive grants of right in perpetuity. And as the Authors Guild suggests, this would effectively mean the publisher would co-own the author’s copyright.

The Authors Guild, who represents thousands of writers, states this is unacceptable. And most authors and agents would agree! This is very troubling. It will mean more negotiation for an author to protect his rights. Simon and Schuster is now stating that the Authors Guild is over-reacting and that they will negotiate reversion clauses on a "book-by-book basis."

An author wants to have control of his work. Books normally have a short shelf life, sometimes as short as three or four months, unless it really catches on. In this scenario, Simon and Schuster could publish a book, and it might have a short run, and even after a reasonable length of time when rights traditionally and usually revert, they could continue to consider the book "in print" as a Print on Demand, forever.

In many cases, an author wants to take back the rights of out-of-print books so they can give their work a new life with a new publisher. That happens often. When Don Pendleton’s six Joe Copp, Private Eye novels and six Ashton Ford, Psychic Detective novels were out of print, I asked for the rights back and soon put them into print again.

Richard S. Prather is another example: his Shell Scott mystery series is available again after many years, and his 1952 novel, The Peddler, was published a few months ago by Hard Case Crime.

I’m sure we will be hearing more on this from literary agents and authors. It’s difficult enough negotiating a decent contract without having this added issue.


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