There is plenty of advice out there on the Interwebs for authors signing a contract, and a lot of it is “have an agent look over the contract before you sign it.” In the furry and self-publishing world, we generally don’t have agents; as a sort of balance to that, we also don’t usually have very complicated contracts.
On occasion, though, you’ll get someone who grabbed a boilerplate contract from somewhere and did a few modifications, or who had a big intellectual property contract modified for their company. In this case, it behooves you to really read through the contract, definitely ask questions, and don’t sign it just because “the publisher knows best.”
One of the things that I’ve now seen in a couple contracts is a clause granting “perpetual and irrevocable license” to the publisher (to distribute, market, etc. the work). There are reasons you might want to specify that the license is irrevocable for the term of the contract. Or irrevocable except under certain conditions. But a perpetual and irrevocable license, without any qualifying language, can be interpreted to mean that even if the contract is terminated, the publisher can keep marketing and selling and making money off your work forever (“perpetual”). There is really no reason I can think of to sign a contract with that clause in it. Here, if you care to read further, are some reasons you might want to include ‘revocable’ or ‘irrevocable’ in a contract–and the appropriate language to put around it.
Another thing to look out for is the publisher’s contract claiming the right to sub-license your work. This is often simply tossed into the list of rights, a single word that sounds reasonable–your publisher can give your book to other people to sell, right? That’s cool. Only no, it’s not. Selling your book to a retailer to resell is distribution, and that should definitely be included in a license. Sub-license means that the publisher can give your work to another publisher for a fee and let them publish, market, and distribute it. Again, this might not raise red flags–you’ll still get paid for it (or at least you should–sub-licensing clauses should include very specific terms, usually a 50% split, of how the revenue is apportioned, and if the right to sub-license is in the contract without those specifications, that’s another red flag). But especially in the furry community, it’s worth talking to the publisher about why they want that clause in the contract. They may have a particular market in mind, or they may simply have included it because it came with the boilerplate.
Here’s why you should pay attention: it gives the publisher the right to make decisions about where your work appears without consulting you. Yes, in general, they are going to want to make money from your title, and you’ll share in the money, but complications can easily arise, especially where e-books are concerned. And there’s this to consider: what if the publisher goes bankrupt? Book rights are an asset used to pay off creditors, and sub-licensing to the highest bidder is the quickest way to make them liquid. You don’t get a say in that.
Most contracts in the furry world are short and based on good faith in the community, and I really believe that no furry publishers are out to scam their authors. But that doesn’t mean you should just sign whatever is put in front of you. There’s legal advice online, and in extreme cases there are services you can hire to look over your contract before you sign it. Most publishers will be happy to discuss language that worries you, and either strike it or come up with some compromise that satisfies you both. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes in the contract, especially in the furry community.