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April 18, 2023

Contracts: why you should always have an agreement in place

The ASA has had a run of enquiries from authors and illustrators lately regarding disputes about writing or illustrating work in circumstances where no written agreement has been drawn up. As you know, it’s vital to clarify the terms of your professional arrangements, and we thought a timely reminder may prompt you to ensure you have proper contracts in place whether you are an author, illustrator, ghostwriter, co-author, or copywriter.

The scenarios most commonly communicated to the ASA where the lack of a written agreement has led to misunderstandings are: (a) writers being engaged as either a co-author, commissioned writer, or ghostwriter by an individual before a publisher is involved; (b) indie authors engaging an illustrator to create artwork; (c) occasionally, agents representing authors on a verbal understanding. 

Let’s say you’ve been engaged to illustrate a manuscript. Do you know when the work is due to be completed? And what you will be expected to deliver at that time? Which formats are your files required to be delivered in? Do you know how much you’ll be paid, and how and when you can expect payment?

Conversely, if you’re an independent author engaging an illustrator, do you know whether copyright in the artwork is being assigned to you or licensed? Do you have sufficient time and skills to generate sales reports and make royalty payments to the illustrator? 

If you’re a ghostwriter, is it clear whether the work will be attributed to you? Do you understand who is responsible for obtaining all the necessary rights and permissions for the book? Are you entitled to royalties and a share of revenue from the subsidiary rights or will you be paid a lump sum? Who will cover any expenses?

If you’re entering an agreement with an agent, do you understand the scope of their representation and how to terminate that arrangement if you wish to do so? Is it clear whether the agent is entitled to commission, post-termination of your agreement, for the life of the work? 

If you’re paying for publication, do you understand exactly what services you will receive in return for your fee? 

Putting agreements in writing can assist you to iron out important finer details you may have otherwise missed at the outset, understand what you can expect from the other party, and provide recourse if things go wrong. You should not assume that because the terms of the arrangement seem clear to you, that the other party sees it the same way.

It may sound unfathomable, particularly if you are undertaking work for someone you have an established relationship with, but these kinds of miscommunications and disagreements happen more often than you might think. You can reduce the instances of these disputes – and avoid the risk of soured relationships – if you have clarified the details in a written agreement.

If the person you’re working with is unwilling to enter into a contract with you, consider why that may be, and, most importantly, seek advice before proceeding with the work.

The ASA has contract templates available for various author and illustrator scenarios including Author Commissioning Illustrator Agreements, a Ghostwriting Agreement, an Editors and Authors Agreement, a Joint Authorship Agreement and more. As an ASA member you also have access to legal advice via the ASA’s specialised law firm, Authors Legal.

For any other advice relating to your professional career, use our free members-only Advice Service.