Monday, March 19, 2012

Signing Contracts

Since January 1, I've signed at least a dozen writing contracts . . . primarily for magazine articles and essays, but a fair number for poetry, too.  Most of these contracts are standard fare (I never read them).  I just sign.  For all I know I may be taking out a second mortgage at 10% or agreeing to paint the editor's bathroom with a one-inch toilet brush.  Regardless, it's still the standard method for getting into print and I'm grateful for these opportunities to entertain or enlighten.

For those who have never signed a writing contract, it might be helpful to offer here a few tips.

Tip #1:  Never sign a contract while you are drunk or have just finished eating a heavy meal (mashed potatoes, gravy, etc.).
     In general, contracts and alcohol do not mix.  Drunk signatures are easy to detect, as a writer's name usually comes out looking like xylkeu*l bl,y)*vc or Robert the Bruce.

Tip #2: Never sign your wife's name.
     Believe me, I understand the temptations.  Your wife might be more photogenic or have a really swell name with initials like G.J. Lovely or B.B. Beautiful or Her Royal Highness.  But remember . . . if you sign her name she will be getting all the recognition and she will never let you forget it.  She will say things like, "When are you going to get off your duff and make us some money?" or "Did you realize you dangled a participle in that last piece on whaling?" or "I'm thinking of buying a new wardrobe and if you don't write two more books by year-end I'm going to start dating Tony the C.P.A."  She may also make faces at you behind your back--really gross faces with her eyelids pulled down so you can see that blood-red sliver that makes you gag.  No!  Never sign your wife's name!

Tip #3: Always enclose chocolate or mixed nuts with your signed contract.
     Do I really have to explain this? 

Tip # 4: If you are tempted to read the fine print . . . don't!
     Fine print is for wimps.  Sure, you might be granting the publisher exclusive rights to your basement or granting him access to your Swiss bank account, but so what?  You're getting published and this, and this alone, should be the impetus for signing your name.  Even if the publisher slips some clandestine line into the contract like, the writer hereby grants said publisher his firstborn as well as two weeks sublet to the writer's time-share in Maui or if the writer signs his name to this contract he is a freaking idiot and has no right to complain if the publisher shows up at his house on a Friday night in December and raids his Christmas tree (unless the publisher is Jewish, at which the publisher shall then be entitled to the writer's fine cutlery and his supply of kosher pickles and homemade noodles) . . . even then, don't read the fine print.  You don't really want to know what you're signing away. 

Tip #5: Sign your contracts in purple ink, thereby making them null and void.
     This puts the onus back on the publisher . . . but the accounting department won't catch the purple ink until long after you have been paid and the work has been in print for four months and the reprint rights purchased by another firm in Yugoslavia.  Other ink colors you might try could include: green, pink and chartreuse.

Finally, have fun signing your contracts.  Experiment.  Sign some contracts in the shower or while taking a bubble bath (writers always take bubble baths . . . and if the writer is male, he takes his bubble bath with his wife, and both of them wear two-piece bathing suits).  Sign other contracts while you are driving down a country road littered with potholes.  Sign in pencil. Sign in catsup.  Be creative, and before long, you'll be famous.     

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