Friday, February 8, 2008
I've been asked to explain what the term "basket accounting" means, in a writer's contract with a publisher.
This was one of those publishing terms that was new to me too, when I first began lurking in writer's forums on GEnie. (anybody remember that?) I have to give credit to Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville and the rest of the experienced writers who spend time helping newbees like I was then.
(Jane Yolen calls it "paying ahead." She says she can never pay back those writers who helped her, so she spends time helping future writers. I love that term and try to do it, myself.)
Basically basket accounting means --
You have a book published. It's trudging along but hasn't repaid its advance yet.
You get another book published by the same company. It sells much faster. You look to get royalties from it because the statement says that the income from it has covered the advance. But no check comes. The next statement -- no check.
Because the publisher is applying the royalties from your second book to pay off the advance of the first book.
It gets much worse if you are writing a series of books for a publisher, because they can take the royalties from all your books and apply them to the advances not paid off yet.
Great from the publisher's standpoint -- it covers their expenses.
Not great from a writer's viewpoint.
If you see any paragraph in your book contract that even hints about doing something like that -- immediately call your editor and discuss how you can change it. Sometimes just crossing it out and initialing it (like you do with other changes) will be sufficient. Publishers hope you won't notice it in their 'basic" contract they send out to unagented writers.
This is why it's a good idea either to use a good book about contracts at your side when you look over your contract or have a contract lawyer look over it. A lawyer who knows publishing law, not your general run of the mill business contract lawyer -- because lots of things that are established rules in publishing are not used in the business world and vice versa.