Hi everyone! This is the first installment of a new series I’m going to be writing here at Pub Crawl: Clause by Clause. As our resident contracts expert, I’m going to do my best to demystify this part of the publishing process for you, one clause at a time. Today I’m talking about Option Clauses.
What is an Option Clause?
In publishing, an Option Clause gives the Publisher the first look–dibs, if you will–on the next book an Author writes.
That’s it. Really.
Why is it important to a Publisher to get the option on your next book? And what are the advantages for you, the Author? Publishers want to form successful business partnerships. They choose to publish authors they believe in, ones they think will bring a good return on investment, and whose books they like and want to champion. If they find an Author who does all of the above, of course they want to continue to work together. Publishers–like agents–can have a vision for your career and often want to be a part of building it. Allowing them the first look at your next work is a courtesy, an acknowledgement of all the time and money and effort they’ve already put in on your behalf, and it gives them the opportunity to persuade you to stay and take the next step in your career with them.
“Wait, persuade me?” you might ask. “You mean, if the Publisher has the option on my next book and makes an offer I don’t have to take it? I can still walk away?”
Yup. An optioned book is not a contracted book. An Option gives the Publisher the right to see your next book first and to make an offer on it if they choose, before you can show it to any other publishers. But you are not compelled to accept the offer. Usually Option Clauses have a clear schedule: a specified amount of time for the Publisher to exclusively consider the optioned book, and then a specified amount of time to negotiate an offer with the Author. If you don’t come to an agreement in that amount of time you’re free to walk away.
And some authors do. But most will stay with their current publishing house if they’ve had a decent experience. There is definitely something to be said for a team of people who have intimate knowledge of you and your work, and are enthusiastic about bringing your words out into the world. Those relationships build up over time and can become more valuable and productive with each book you work on together.
The risks to accepting an Option Clause in your contract are limited. An Option can keep you in limbo for a short time, which can be frustrating if you have other publishers interested in your work. Options can also be general–your next book-length work, no matter what it is. If you write across genres, the Option Clause might just put some unnecessary red tape in your way. If you write a middle grade book next, but your Publisher doesn’t publish middle grade, then you’re just jumping through hoops for nothing. Those are but mild annoyances, though. The one main risk to an Option Clause is actually dependent on what it says in an entirely different contract clause: the Non-Compete. If you decide not to accept your Publisher’s offer on the optioned book, you are well within your rights to decline. But you might not be within your rights to sell the book to a different Publisher, because it’s very possible it will count as competition.
Some clauses are flexible, and some aren’t.
Your chances of negotiating an Option Clause are good.
- First, be sure a clear schedule and time limit are specified. On average, 30-60 days is standard for the Publisher to review the book, and an additional 30 days to negotiate an offer.
- Second, limit your option book to the same genre or series as the contracted book. That will enable you to sell works outside those parameters to other publishers without violating your contract.
- Most importantly, you should request that the contract clearly states that the Option Book shall not count as competition. That way, if you turn down the Publisher’s offer you’re still free to take the book elsewhere.
- In some cases it’s possible to delete the Option Clause altogether. But keep in mind that the Option Clause guarantees an editor will have eyes on your next book, which is a great thing.
The standards of publishing are ever-changing, and I can’t speak for all Publishers. It’s possible that some of these reasonable requests might be denied; it’s always OK to ask for more information in that case. And since the risks of an Option Clause are relatively low, you might choose to accept the clause as written.
Have a general question about contracts? Ask away! I’ll do my best to answer in the comments or in a future post.