The Authors Guild has released an updated edition of its Model Trade Book Contract. Using some or all of the clauses in the model contract, the Guild stated, will help ensure that writers receive the rights granted them under current U.S. copyright and contract law.
Explaining why the contract was updated, Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger pointed to a range of factors:the flood of pirated e-books, the continuing decline of book buying, industry consolidation, and increasing pressure on mainstream publishers to price books inexpensively or offer bundled discounts. While all those changes make it harder than ever for writers to earn a living through book sales, Rasenberger said, “traditional book contracts have become so opaque that it takes an agent or lawyer to understand them. We thought it time to create a new model that clearly articulates all the terms of the contract in plain English.”
The Guild's model contract features discussion of all major book contract clauses, including rights reversion, advances and royalties, subsidiary rights, transparency in accounting and royalty statements, and copyright infringement. In examining these clauses, the Guild provides guidance on what authors should be aware of, and also offers advice to deal with problematic provisions. In addition, the model contract offers suggestions on what writers can do to retain more control over their intellectual property and have a larger say in licensing and resale rights.
As an example of how using the model contract can benefit book authors, the guild pointed to the recent addition of moral clauses in many publishing contracts. “Be it allegations of sexual misconduct, embracing an ethically questionable organization. or making inappropriate statements, these moral clauses grant publishers the right to cancel an author’s book without warning or penalty even if the alleged impropriety turns out to be untrue,” Rasenberger said. “While it’s unlikely you or your agent will be able to convince some publishers to remove such a clause from the contract completely, we suggest some language and provisions that would reduce the risk of a publisher exercising it without true cause.”
In developing the new contract, the Guild received feedback from the Association of Authors’ Representatives and several other independent agents. “The AAR applauds the efforts of the Authors Guild in informing its members about the business of publishing and in providing them a model contract,” said Gail Hochman, president of the AAR, in a statement. “We were pleased to provide suggestions to this new model that aims to recognize the differences between ideal and realistic terms that publishers may grant.”