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.