Saturday, March 26, 2005

Ya Gotta Read It

In yesterday’s mail, I received a magazine contract to sign and return. I haven’t written for this particular magazine for many years.  I’m unsure if they even had a contract or not the last time. Some of the smaller publications operate without contracts. Often the deadlines and magazine business moves quickly.

I’ve learned the hard way in the magazine area to understand the payment for the article and the timing (acceptance or publication).  Years ago, I pitched an article to a fellow magazine editor, got an assignment and wrote the story. I neglected to ask about payment.  The article turned out to be a cover story for this particular magazine and I was paid on publication and to the tune of about $25 if I recall. I never pitched another article to this publication nor wrote for them again with that type of treatment to their writers.  You have a choice whether to write for the magazine or not. Never forget that fact.

The contract that arrived yesterday was again after the fact. I’ve written the article and turned it into the magazine. The magazine pays when they receive the signed contract.  I noticed the editor’s signature was already on the contract. I negotiated with the editor who turned the issuing of the contract to an assistant editor.

Imagine my surprise when I read the contract included a different price (slightly lower) than negotiated. It’s not a great deal of money but the principle that matters to me. Also I was surprised to see the publication takes ALL rights.  Usually in the magazine business, you sell first rights. Then the writer retains the rights to the article and material to potentially use it some other place.

I didn’t sign and return the contract (as I had planned). Instead I picked up the phone and tried to call the editor (who I have known for more than twenty years). It was too late in the day and their office was closed.  Instead I sent a short email questioning the details and how to fix it. I expect this situation will be resolved early next week. As for the price, it will return to the correct one—since I have a letter in my files from the editor with the original payment price.  I’ll listen to the rights issue and we’ll work out something. I’ve got a position (first rights) but I’m also open to listening to their position. It’s a wise stance for any writer to take in these matters.

First lesson from this experience is to read your contract. You would be shocked at the number of writers who don’t read their contracts—magazine or book contracts. It’s not your literary agent or anyone else whose name is at the bottom of the contract. It’s the author. You should understand the various details before you sign. I’ve negotiated as a writer and as an editor for book contracts and it’s been a great learning experience. I don’t have all the answers and still have a great deal to learn but I read the fine print. It’s saved me more than once from difficulties.

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