The people behind these projects probably mean well and intend no harm, but ultimately have little to no understanding of publishing and intellectual property rights.
And sadly, the writers and artists who hop on board to join in the fun know just as little.
So, things to know/questions to ask before submitting your work to “a fun project”:
- what exactly is the project?
What party or entities are running the project? What are the parameters of the project/what does the project entail. What formats will the project be in — is it ebook, print, hosted on someone’s blog/website? What is the intended method of distribution?
- what rights is the project coordinator asking for?
Who are you signing your rights to? What specific rights to your work are they seeking? How do they intend to use your work? Only for use in this project, or are they asking for broader rights (will they be able to use that work elsewhere in other projects)?
Are those rights exclusive or non-exclusive (will you be able to use/publish your work elsewhere during the progress of this project)? This is extremely important. Always know what rights you’re giving away, to whom, and to what extent.
- term limits/expiry of the coordinator’s rights on your work
This is also important. The absolute worst thing you can do is sign your rights over for an unstated or indefinite period of time. There should always be a duration length and expiration for the coordinator’s right to use your work. If the coordinator can’t or won’t provide those do not submit to the project.
- will there be payment/compensation?
If the project is meant to be an ebook or print book that is subsequently sold, where is the money going? Will you be compensated for your work and contribution to the project? If you are to receive payment, what is the rate of pay and when should you expect to receive payment?
- what if the coordinator cancels the project?
What happens to your rights if the coordinator cancels the project? There should be some sort of “escape clause” to guarantee the reversal of the rights granted to the coordinator in the event that they cancel the project.
The “escape clause” should also allow for you to pull your work from the project in circumstances where the coordinator fails to keep agreed-upon deadlines, or is continually pushing deadlines back and/or there is no sign of the project moving forward/being made.
- get a contract
I cannot overstate this enough. Protect your work and your rights. If the project coordinator claims they don’t need a contract because it’s “just a fun project” and/or "they're not a publisher" then you do not need to be a part of the project. If the project is being coordinated by a friend or someone you know and trust, you should still get a contract.
Do not take the project coordinator at their word. Get everything in writing.
Your contract should cover all the points mentioned above in clear language. Each point should be outlined/detailed in its own section.
If the project ends up being cancelled, or you back out of the project for any reason, the project coordinator should also supply you with a document (or email) confirming the reassigned of all rights back to you.
Not knowing how to write a contract is not an excuse. You can find samples online for just about any contract you could possibly need.
- know who you’re working with
Make sure that the person coordinating the project is reliable. Are they well-known in the community? Or did they spring up out of nowhere? They may not have publishing experience, but do they have a reputation for reliability, honesty, management ability, getting projects done, communication, etc? Is this someone you would feel comfortable signing your rights to?
If it seems like I’m taking all the fun out of the “fun creative project” well… I’m not sorry. This is important. Just because someone says it’s a fun, silly project, that does not mean you cannot still lose the rights to your work.
Protect your work; protect your property. Then go have fun.