Margie Lawson

Changing your Writing World

How to Speak Legalese: Deciphering Literary Contracts

In this course we will dive into the dizzying world of literary contracts. You’ll learn what is typically in a literary contract, such as an author-agent agreement or a publishing contract, and what the most common clauses really mean. You’ll learn what to watch out for, when to try to change things, and when to walk away. And you’ll be given plenty of resources to help you do more research on your own.   

Lesson Plan:

Lesson One: Welcome

  • Introduction
  • What is a contract?

Lesson Two: Types of Literary Contracts

Lesson Three: Key Provisions in Author-Agent Agreements, Part 1

  • Scope of Relationship
  • Subsidiary Rights
  • Commissions/Fees
  • Disbursements
  • Term
  • Termination

Lesson Four: Key Provisions in Author-Agent Agreements, Part 2

  • Best Efforts
  • Assignability
  • Expenses
  • Audit

Lesson Five: Key Provisions in Publishing Contracts, Part 1

  • Grant of Rights/Description of Work
  • Term/Termination
  • Delivery & Acceptance
  • Duty to Publish
  • Agent Clause

Lesson Six: Key Provisions in Publishing Contracts, Part 2

  • Options/Subsequent Works
  • Compensation/Royalties
  • Representations/Warranties/Indemnification
  • Copyright

Lesson Seven: Key Provisions in Publishing Contracts, Part 3

  • Artistic Control
  • Reversion
  • Author Copies
  • Accounting/Audit
  • Negotiation

Lesson Eight: A Quick and Dirty Overview of Copyright Law

Lesson Nine: Wrap Up

What you'll learn:

Some of the things you’ll take away from this class:  

  • What are the key terms and provisions of literary contracts, and what do they mean?  
  • What are subsidiary rights, and how do agents and publishers handle them?  
  • How do agents make money, and what does it cost you?  
  • How long are literary contracts valid, and how do you get out them if things aren’t working out? 
  • How are royalties calculated, and what do publishers mean about list price, wholesale price, ? 
  • What kinds of provisions should you try to negotiate, and which should make you walk you away? 
  • What’s so important about copyright?  


Marin McGinnis

A lawyer by day, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same guy for 25 years, and has one teenage son and three standard poodles.

Marin has dabbled in writing ever since she was in her 20s, but she didn’t finish anything until she hit her 40s. While her very first completed manuscript will forever languish under the bed, Marin subsequently published four Victorian-era romances. She is currently at work on a new historical romance series, a historical mystery series set in the English Lake District, a contemporary cozy mystery series, and a screenplay (because why write one thing when you can write four at once?). In a never-ending quest to ditch the day job, Marin also works as a freelance copy editor and lectures on various writing topics.

When she’s not writing, editing, or lawyering, she’s cooking for family and friends, learning how to (and how not to) bake bread, and spending far too much time watching superhero movies.

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