I have a few new book contracts being negotiated right now by my literary agent for some upcoming YA titles that are gonna come out from me over the next 12-24 months.
What’s amazing is the degree of blindness with which both sides — the publishers and my literary agent — are negotiating. The fact is they are both, in some ways, quite in the dark as to how things are going to evolve with the ebook market.
And the ramifications are so potentially significant, it seems agents and publishing houses, on behalf of their writers and business interests, are now asking for “lookback agreements” and “ebook clauses”.
BTW, this is why, as an author, I have a literary agent. For me to be expected to keep pace with all of this — to know about how to make sure potential royalties on book sales in, for example, the year 2019 in goodness knows what format ebooks may take nine years from now, are credited properly to my earning’s statements, well.. it’s simply impossible.
My agent, who is as sharp as they come, gets paid to think about this stuff. As do the lawyers for the publishing houses. Thing is, I don’t think the negotiations are contentious between either party. I just think that both sides want to be prudent in making sure they cover their butts.
But how do you cover your butt for a scenario which it’s hard to even see?
The publishing house doesn’t want to give away the farm by not obtaining rights to material that might prove to be material to which they might one day need the publishing rights (and know they should be buying from me right now).
My agent doesn’t want to give away the farm by granting rights to material which may prove lucrative to me in markets that might not have even yet been invented so we only try grant rights to things which are clearly defined within the contracts.
Of course, fuzziness can come up. (And contract makers hate fuzziness.)
For example, I’ll retain movie rights to my book. (That’s standard stuff.) They’ll need ebook rights. (That’s standard stuff, too.) But what if video becomes embedded in a vook and that video explodes into an unforeseeable commercial property of its own. Who owns the rights to that? How will the percentages be split? What if the iPad empowers holograms to be projected and my characters become avatars that Mattel wants to use to make “learn English” educational games in Chinese?
Really, who knows what could come of things over the next decade? And yet, knowing who owns what and how things (i.e. the royalties) get apportioned well, what is now, in 2010, a no money idea could, in 2015, be a HUGE money element to these contracts.
Thus the “lookback” clause. From what I understand, 3 years after publication, we will retain the right to “lookback” at the contract and determine whether or not the digital agreements we make right now in regard to ebooks are still being meted out a spirit of economic fairness.
Interesting stuff, for sure.
And like I said, I don’t think there is any hostility between either party. It’s just good business sense on both sides.
As we head into next month, I’ll spend a little more time speaking to the “author side” of things (as opposed to the teacher side) because a lot of very interesting stuff is brewing. But without a doubt, the world is changing and a contract to simply “publish a book” is no longer a simple contract.