Dice & Deadlines: Contracts

When writing for any RPG company, you should always have the particulars written out in a contract. This contract should have appropriate names, contact information, the scope of the work, the due date, payment numbers and the payment schedule. Contracts can be as simple as a one page generic document to a multi-page, super specific, complex monstrosity that includes kill fees, indemnity clauses, royalty payments, publisher guarantees and various publishing rights, digital rights and foreign rights. It all depends on the company and the scope of the work you are doing for them.

If the RPG company in question will not give you a contract for your work, either you are agreeing to doing the work “on spec” – meaning you write what you write and if they like it then they will give you a contract (usually reserved for tie-in novels) or they are not a professional RPG company who is willing to guarantee, in writing, what they want and what they are willing pay for it. This latter is best to be avoided.

Payment Pains and Kill Fees

There are a couple of things that you need to look for when examining payment clauses in a contract. The first is “how much”—is the contract correct? The second is “when will I get paid”—after work acceptance or after work publication?

In the first case, contracts are often reused and blanks are filled in and re-filled in over time from contract to contract. If you are not being paid the correct amount (either up or down), you need to not sign the contract and point out the payment error. In the second case, I strongly recommend that you insist that all payment is paid within 30-90 days after work acceptance rather than after publication. My first big contract FUBAR involved just that. The publishing company did not publish the work. Thus, I did not get paid and I lost out on several thousand dollars.

If the RPG company insists on payment after the publication of a product, agree only if they will add in a “kill fee” clause to the contract.  This is a certain amount of money paid to the freelance author if the project is killed after they have turned in the assignment. The kill fee ensures that you will get paid something for your time and effort. It is not as good as a full payment but it is certainly better than nothing. It is also a show of good faith on the part of the publishing house that the project will be published and the author will be paid.

Get the idea that sometimes getting paid in the RPG industry is a difficult thing? It is and a good contract is one way to mitigate the problem.

The Dotted Line

The other thing that a contract does is establish who owns the work after the writing is done and turned in. In most cases, when freelancing for the RPG industry, the publishing house will own it—lock, stock and barrel. This includes all hard copy rights, digital rights and foreign market rights. If they want to take your work-for-hire fiction and put all over their website as well as in their product, that is their right as owner of the work. There are rare cases in which this will not apply and you will need to be extra diligent in examining the contract put before you. Your agent (or a lawyer if you don’t have an agent) will be able to help you understand what you are signing if it is not a standard contract.

Finally, you need to realize that a contract is a legal, binding document that is there for all parties who sign it. It is there to make sure that the publisher will get the work from the freelance author, to establish the scope and deadline for the work in question, and to assure the author that they will be paid for their effort. You are not just signing a piece of paper. You are promising to make good on your part of the bargain and so is the publishing house.

Do you have a specific question on contracts and payments in the RPG industry? Or do you have a thought on what I’ve talked about? Comment, I’ll be happy answer.

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