In the spirit of
solidarity, and in the hope of helping new writers avoid certain
common traps, we offer the following advice.
Our first piece of advice is: Never let
anyone publish your book without a signed contract. And do
your best to make sure it is a good contract before you sign.
This point may seem self-evident, but sometimes
writers feel so grateful that anyone is willing to publish their
work that they don't think about a contract. But how can you collect
your royalties without a legal agreement? How can you even find
out how much money you are owed? And what if your publisher does
something you do not appreciate to your work, like change it, put
someone else's name on it, or sell it to a third party? A contract
that will hold up in court is the best safeguard against such abuses.
Whatever publishers may say, publishing is
a business, not a charity extended to authors. If a publisher thinks
he will lose money on your book, he probably won't publish it. He
is not doing you a favor. Publishers who care about their authors
and about their businesses have contracts for mutual protection.
Kali for Women, the oldest feminist press in Asia, is letting us
post their standard contract
so new authors can see the basic points that should be covered in
such a document. The places that are left blank are negotiated with
Contract laws and customs vary considerably
from place to place. A number of countries have writers' unions
or guilds that will help authors understand contractual issues and
get redress if abused. Here are links for a few of them.
Authors Guild (USA)
Writers Union (USA)
Writers Union of Canada
Writers' Guild of Great Britain
Most countries also have journalists' organizations;
some have dramatists' or screenwriters' unions too. It pays to join
any writers' organization available to you. This is how you get
Our second main point is: Make sure you
own the copyright to your own work. Never give up your copyright.
Publishers often want writers to do what is called "work for hire,"
which means the writer gets an initial fee and all the royalties
and subsidiary rights and reprint fees belongs to the publisher.
You may have to do work for hire on something like a website or
encyclopedia, but always keep the copyright on your creative work.
Under normal circumstances, the publisher
will help you copyright it in your own name. Laws vary from place
to place, however, and you may want to research the question for
runs an international copyright information service on its
website that gives details for many countries.
3) Speaking Engagements in the United States
Foreign writers occasionally lecture in the
United States, usually at universities, to make extra income. We
have observed people come to grief, or at least be seriously inconvenienced,
because they assumed that the universities they were coming to had
a good understanding of their needs. In fact, Americans usually
expect people to ask for what they need, so you have to ask. Here
are some points to keep in mind:
1) Negotiate. Someone will offer you a fee
of a certain amount to do a piece of work. You are not obligated
to accept the first offer and it is not considered rude to bargain
for a better deal. In fact, doing so is normal in the USA. The fee
you are being offered may seem very high if you have no access to
dollars but it may be much lower than they would offer an American.
Of course, the university that brings you over has to pay your airfare
and that should be taken into account. But if you are speaking at
more than one place, the places that are not paying international
airfares should be able to give you a higher fee. Also private universities
often can pay more than state supported ones.
2) Ask to be picked up at the airport and
make sure the university tells you who will pick you up and what
kind of sign that person will be holding. Often people fail to see
the driver who was waiting for them because no one told them they
would be met and they do not know what kind of sign to look for.
Then they end up spending a fortune on a cab. Sloppy arrangements
are common; make sure you have the information you need.
3) You will need to have some dollars when
you first arrive. This can be difficult for travelers who have no
access to hard currency. People at American universities will not
think of this problem; you have to tell them about it. Say you will
need part of your lecture fee in cash when you arrive. They will
say this is not customary. It isn't. But you need it, so they must
make special arrangements, which they can do if they know in advance.
4) Ask how you will be paid and when. Often
universities don't give you the check until the last minute and
then you can't do anything with it. If you will need to spend some
of the money in the USA before you leave, you must insist they give
it to you early, and help you cash it, or give you part of it in
cash. Do not feel you are being rude to keep asking about this until
you get what you need. As Americans say, "The squeaky wheel gets
5) It is now necessary for a foreign speaker
to get a US social security (tax) number before coming. People who
do not know this can have a lot of trouble collecting their payment
and get it months late. Ask about this when you first make your
arrangements and make sure the professors that invite you know the
law and that the university does the paperwork in time.
6) Ask what will happen if you get sick while
you are traveling or in the US. The public health system is difficult
to deal with and private doctors are expensive. You will need travel
health insurance unless the university covers your health needs
door to door. Even if you have to pay for the travel insurance yourself,
you definitely need it.
7) Get a clear understanding of what you are
being paid to do. Is the university asking you to make one speech,
so the rest of your time will be your own? Or are they assuming
you will also teach three classes, address a graduate seminar or
two, have formal dinners every night, etc.? If they want a lot of
your time, they should pay more than they would for just a speech.
These things should all be spelled out in advance, otherwise you
may be asked to do extra work informally, after you arrive, and
feel awkward about refusing.
4) All these points are best covered in
a written contract. You should say you cannot travel so far
without a written agreement and if the university cannot provide
one, you will make one up yourself and send it to them. It should
cover all the points above and be signed and dated by both parties.
Women's WORLD is not equipped to give individuals
professional advice, help people get published at home or abroad,
or tell them how to negotiate contracts. Nor can we arrange speaking
dates or lecture tours for anyone. But we hope to make this space
a clearinghouse so we can all share information. If you have had
bad experiences in any of these areas, and would like to warn others,
please share your story with us at Women's