On walking away

So there’s an anthology out now–it’s a well-designed anthology, with a top-notch group of contributors … and when I see the anthology on shelves (virtual or otherwise), I feel a little strange.

Because I had a story accepted for the anthology. And I withdrew it.

Because the contract terms were, well, unacceptable–to me at least. I had many concerns about the contract (which ran 13 pages–longer than any of my novel contracts), but the final dealbreaker was a clause that essentially said I couldn’t talk about my contract–not even my own advance or terms–with anyone, ever.

I’m not sure I could be posting this now, if I’d signed that contract.

Anyway, I went back and forth a lot about the contract, because I deeply respected the folks involved with the anthology, and because the editorial folks were professional and friendly to the last. They did all they could, and more; they changed as many of the problematic clauses as they possibly could. They changed the contract from something I absolutely couldn’t sign to something I could almost, but not quite, sign.

In the end I believed too strongly in the importance of sharing information with other writers, though. If that were the only issue, I might still have reconsidered, but I had some other concerns, too (lower-than-typical advances, some nonstandard wording to do with rights, clauses limiting how I could talk about my story and its publisher)–none of which would have been dealbreakers on their own, but which when taken together also made me pretty uneasy.

Almost a year later, I still don’t regret my decision, though of course I do wish things could have been different. But sometimes, as a writer, you need to be willing to let one get away. You need to know what, for you, are the dealbreakers.

I’m posting this here because I think it’s important for writers to know that you always do have the right to walk away. You should never do so lightly, or without careful consideration; and you should always do it professionally–walking away should never be personal. But if the thought of signing a contract keeps you up nights, or makes you uneasy–hold off a little while. Think long and hard about whatever issues are troubling you. (Or if you’re not sure what the issues are–if you only know you’re troubled–think about that.) The contract won’t go away if you take a day or a week to make sure signing is the right thing to do.

You don’t have to be an established writer to walk away, either. The only other contract I’ve ever walked away from would have been my second short story sale–and I dearly wanted that sale. I’d sold one story, and was afraid I’d never sell another–but I did. If you walk away, yet keep writing, there’ll be other projects, and other opportunities.

And you’ll sleep better at night, knowing you turned down a contract you didn’t feel right about signing. That counts for a lot, too.

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