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One of the main reasons I launched WANA International was I realized that we were entering an entirely new paradigm and authors were vulnerable. Sure, we have a better chance of success than ever before, but we are open to old predators and new. We can’t fight what we don’t understand. We can’t defend against what we don’t know exists.

Intellectual Property Attorney Susan Spann is here with me today. This week, I want to take an opportunity to introduce you to some of the speakers that will be at WANACon this coming weekend, and I hope you will clearly see why I stalked, begged asked them to present. We writers are in a perilous world, and people like Susan can help keep you and your writing safe.

Take it away, Susan!


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Would you give away your book for free?

I don’t mean a single copy. I mean the copyright – all copies, all languages, forever. Would you give that away for free, knowing you’d never make a penny and that the person you gave it to could make as much (or as little) as he or she liked?

If you would, feel free to go about your day.

But the rest of you, gather ‘round. I have a scary tale to tell.

As a publishing lawyer, I speak with a lot of writers. The lucky ones find me before they sign a contract. But there are others … not so lucky.

The ones who come too late, when there’s often nothing I can do.

The ones who signed a publishing contract that doesn’t require the publisher to account for moneys earned or amounts deducted from profits before “net royalties” are paid.

The ones who inadvertently granted their TV and movie rights to printer (not even a publisher) – for the life of copyright – and now won’t see a dime if the film rights sell.

The ones who entered their work in a contest – not realizing the entry rules contained a hidden copyright license that renders the work un-publishable by the author.

There are more. Many more, some even worse than the ones I’ve mentioned. (It does get worse. You’ll have to trust me there.)

And independent authors aren’t any safer than their traditional counterparts. Every time a book is published, in print or in digital format, there is a contract. Some indie websites and printers refer to their contracts as “terms of service,” but terms of service are legally binding contracts too.

Don’t be fooled.  A contract by any other name is just as thorny and just as dangerous to the unaware. Smart authors know how to recognize them, how to read them, and how to make smart decisions about them.

But how? How do I make decisions about something I don’t understand?

Feel like contracts might as well be written in CHINESE?

Feel like contracts might as well be written in CHINESE?

Good question. Here’s the answer.

1. Smart Authors Take Responsibility for Their Careers

As an author, whether you choose traditional publishing, independent publishing, or both, you are the one in charge of your career. Agents, editors, publishers, printers, and everyone else in the industry is a potential business partner, not an employer and not a mystical power controlling your destiny.

When you choose to write for publication – regardless of method or path – you are actually choosing a career. You wouldn’t enter a standard job expecting someone else to make choices for you. Don’t treat publishing differently than any other job.

2. Smart Authors Educate Themselves About the Industry

Don’t listen to hype, and don’t fall for myths and tricks. If you want a publishing career, learn about the business from every angle. It doesn’t matter whether you want to “go indie” or believe your choice is “brick and mortar all the way.” Learn about all the options, and continue learning throughout your entire career.

You can’t decide which option is best if you don’t know what the available options are.

Take your time. Read blogs. Read books. Explore resources. Ask questions every chance you get. Talk with authors – independent as well as traditionally published. Listen and learn. The more you know, the less likely you are to get caught in a trap.

3. Smart Authors Learn Some Publishing Legalese

Learn to read a publishing contract. Know the standard terms. Understand the places where contracts trap you, and have a reliable place to get answers when questions arise.

Find an attorney, an agent, or a qualified professional you can trust – and make sure that person understands publishing contracts. Publishing legalese differs from other forms of legal agreements. You need a specialist with experience in the industry.

Don’t let yourself be trapped or fooled by someone who seems “too nice to be taking advantage.” Don’t let the other side tell you what the contract says or what the strange words mean. Learn for yourself. Protect yourself. At the end of the day, you are your own best watchdog.

So be the best watchdog, and the most responsible author, you can be.

It’s your book. It’s the world you built in your head, and it deserves the very best chance of success you can give it.

And it’s more than just your book: it’s your career.

I ask again: would you give away your book for free?


Then don’t let anyone take it from you either.

You are the President, CEO, and manager of your publishing career. Don’t take the responsibility lightly. Learn the industry. Be the watchdog. Save your (fictitious) world.

*          *          *

Huge thanks to Kristen Lamb for sharing her blogging platform with me today, and also for inviting me to speak at the upcoming WANACon online writing convention. I’ll be teaching a class on understanding publishing contracts and another on “being your own best watchdog,” and I’m honored to be part of the fantastic lineup of professionals that Kristen and WANA International have brought together for WANACon to help equip writers with the tools to establish, grow, and manage their careers.

*          *          *

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Susan Spann is a practicing California attorney with over ten years’ experience in intellectual property, publishing and contract law. Her publishing clients include book and magazine publishers, authors (both traditionally and independently published), and developers of e-books and digital apps. She is the author of Claws of the Cat (St. Martin’s/Minotaur, July 2013), a Shinobi Mystery featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. Susan blogs about law, writing and seahorses at, and can be found on Twitter @SusanSpann

THANK YOU SUSAN! What Susan has to teach is SO vital, she has TWO classes at WANACon, and that’s because WANA is here for authors, ALL authors, no matter what road you choose to take for your publishing future. Thanks for stopping by, and details for WANACon are below.

Do you have any thoughts? Questions? Maybe a horror story to share? Did you nearly fall into a contract trap?


Again, here is where you can view the full conference schedule. WANACon is an on-line digital conference and it starts with a social Thursday night. The main conference and agent pitches are this Friday and Saturday and then there is the special PajamaCon with ME this Sunday. February 21-24 from YOUR HOME…ALL AWESOME.

Sign up for BOTH DAYS of WANACon for a mere $125 (this includes ALL the parties and Surprise Pajama Sunday). Register HERE.

If you can only do one day? No problem! Registration is $75. Register HERE for DAY ONE or HERE for DAY TWO.

Ready to get an agent? Sign up for Agent Pitch Sessions HERE.

We hope to see you at WANACon and PAJAMACon. Seats are limited, so sign up asap.

If you can’t attend WANACon, please at least help us spread the word. Since we don’t believe in traditional marketing or spam, WANA relies on genuine word of mouth. Please help spread the WANA love. Sow love and support then see what grows.


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  1. As I tell my daughters — read every line of a contract you sign – and if you don’t understand it – find out what it means.

  2. I must say, Susan, that is an excellent choice of weapon for defending intellectual property. 🙂

    Contracts seem like Chinese to me, and I have a law degree under about three inches of dust. If anything is unintelligible, it is that much more important that we decipher it. We work months and sometimes years on our books. Thank you for this great article.

  3. Sounds like it’ll be a great Con. I wish I could join in, but unfortunately I don’t have the money (like, literally, I don’t have any money at the moment). That’s the trouble with being 17 and jobless!
    I fully intend to do a lot of reading re: contracts, however. They seem like scary things…

  4. Great advice, Susan. All my academic articles are in journals that own the copyright. Although academicians are starting to challenge that assumption, there is a ways to go. Of course, my articles are far from blockbusters, but it hurts to know they are not mine any more. I will fight much harder for my fiction.

    • Lanette Kauten on February 18, 2013 at 10:49 am
    • Reply

    I’m book-marking this. Thanks for the information.

  5. Wow! This is an eye-opener. I may have gone in too trusting and will consider the people hired as partners. I will be sure to have a lawyer look over any contracts before I accidentally sign away any of my rights. I was an art major after all….
    Thanks for sharing!

    • SweetSong on February 18, 2013 at 11:18 am
    • Reply

    And stuff like this is why I signed up for WANACon! I’ve always found legal stuff to be kinda scary, because I know I’m no good at it. I’m hoping some of this stuff will become a little clearer.

    1. Susan will even have a PDF available for you guys, so not only will you get her presentation, but she will answer questions and then give you notes. My opinion is that each of these wonderful presenters is worth the conference fee alone, but I am partial :D.

  6. The Business Rusch has been talking about this, too! MOST timely! Thank you!

  7. Thank you again, so much, for letting me blog here today Kristen! I’ll definitely have a .pdf available for WANACon attendees, and also answering questions. Hopefully, by the time we’re done, a lot of the confusing legalese will seem a lot clearer!

    It’s not actually as difficult as it seems once you find someone who can explain it in plain English – which is my goal!

  8. Thank you for this. I’m curious about what to do if there’s a possibility that somebody “borrowed” your work? I wrote a book in ’09. Two different agents had my ms, one sent it through readers in her agency, it was entered in contests, and my query letter was read aloud by another agent at a conference. I had to shelve the book but in late 2012 another author published a book almost identical to mine. I certainly understand similar plots, ideas, or even a character but there are at least 8 major plot points that are almost identical and even entire scenes that mirror ones from my ms. Is there anything I can do? Also, how do we protect ourselves when we have to send our ideas out into the world in hopes of being published?

    • Rachel Thompson on February 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm
    • Reply

    Susan needs to write a book about copyright law,s publishing language and publishing contract law/verbiage. I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

    1. I’m telling her the same thing :D.

  9. This is great advice.

    By the time I landed a publisher I’d educated myself sufficiently that I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the legalese and terms in my contract. I even felt confident enough to negotiate a few key points. Don’t let the blathering befuddle you. If you don’t understand, find someone who does, and then fact-check again.

  10. A huge number of authors have self-published through Amazon’s services: has anyone come across any hairy legal issues we should know about publishing through them?

  11. Even if it involves family! Or especially!

  12. Thank you for this information. I am curious to know whether or not Susan has any knowledge about Canadian publishing contracts, if they differ from United States ones, etc…?

  13. I was just thinking this morning about how much I hate “terms and conditions.” It just seems like a good way to sneak in something we with short attention spans don’t want to comb through.

    But I guess we’d better start combing.

  14. Reblogged this on amberdover and commented:

    Enjoy the reblog folks :). I hope some of you can check out the writer’s conference this weekend. God bless & remember the High King lives! ~Amber Dover

  15. Thanks Susan. The heads-up regarding contest terms is especially good to know.

  16. You provide a great service to us writers…thank you.

    Be encouraged!

  1. […] Authors need to know everything these days, so intellectual property rights attorney Susan Spann tells us how to protect ourselves and our copyrights. […]

  2. […] Be the Watchdog For Your Own Rights by Susan Spann […]

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