Q: I'm in the middle of the submission process to agents. Obviously I'm hoping at least one will want to represent me, but I'm also deathly afraid of making the wrong commitment with the wrong agent (in other words, signing a bad contract). Having a lawyer look over a contract is good advice, but I also fear that kind of expense. Do you know what the average cost would be to have a lawyer look over a contract and what kind of lawyer would you go to? —Anonymous
A: According to WD's legal expert, Amy Cook, if you do decide to hire a lawyer for an agent or publishing contract, be sure that person has experience with publishing law, or, at the very least, intellectual property law. A lawyer who practices in other fields may offer some basic feedback on your contract, but he won't know the ins and outs and is unlikely to understand details that are important to your financial future. Think of it this way: You wouldn't seek the advice of a poet on how to improve and sell your screenplay, right?
"Publishing contracts are very industry specific, so find someone who knows how to properly handle them," Cook says. "You can find a lawyer who fits this bill through your local bar association. Another really great choice for writers are organizations."
Several writers' organizations that offer lawyers who specialize in publishing law are Chicago's Lawyers for the Creative Arts (www.law-arts.org), California Lawyers for the Arts (www.calawyersforthearts.org) and New York's Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (www.vlany.org), among others. Any one of these groups can provide help or, at the very least, act as a starting point for you.
As far as costs are concerned, hiring a lawyer to review a contract can be pricey, ranging from $300-1000 depending on the lawyer's hourly rate and the contract's complexity. It can be even pricier if you want them to actually negotiate to contract for you, falling somewhere between $500-3000. But if you contact any of the above organizations you may qualify for reduced cost (or even free) legal help.
Ultimately the decision to get a lawyer's advice is up to you. It's always a good idea to have an expert review any binding legal document, but, like all other forms of security, it comes with a price. You just have to decide if it's worth it for your book.
Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.
Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.