I have a question about contracts etc. Say I’ve sold a book and signed an option clause. Now I get an agent (please!). What would you do about the option clause, especially if this is a small publisher who’s been extremely unprofessional and rude, so the author is not interested in dealing with them again? (And I’m not being a diva here. I’m not the only author with problems—anyone with their ear on the ground these days probably knows exactly who I’m talking about and how unhappy their authors are.) Anyway, what do you do? Submit, then turn down their offer? Is this even a question you feel comfortable answering?
I think option clauses are an important topic for discussion and one I’m very comfortable talking about. As I’m sure you know, option clauses are the bane of every writer’s and agent’s contract negotiation. No matter how well we negotiate the contract and the option clause, it’s almost impossible to get it as narrow as we would like. In rare cases I can get it removed, but that’s the rare instance. Usually my job is to make it as narrow as possible so that it’s easy to get around if necessary.
If an author comes to me with an option from a small publisher there are a couple of things we can do. If the option is specific—next erotica or next paranormal romance—it might be possible to get around by simply not writing that type of book. We could instead submit your book as erotic romance or fantasy.
If, however, your next work is exactly what the option specifies, or the option is general and simply says “your next work,” then yes, I might consider sending them the book and letting it sit not one day later than the option time requires, and turning down an offer when and if it comes. This is especially true if it’s a house you don’t mind walking away from forever. The downside of this of course is that you take the risk of not selling the work at all, and you need to be sure that you are fine walking away from what might be the only opportunity to publish this particular book.
Another possibility is sending them “your next work” and submitting the work that you would write after that to other houses. After all, who can really prove what “your next work” will be.
Those are just a few ways around an option clause. Agents have a lot of tricks up their sleeves when it comes to getting authors out of contracts and/or option clauses, so don’t worry about it. When you do find an agent she’ll take care of it.