Updated: May 9, 2022
So you've heard about Webnovels and after thinking about it for a while, you decided to start one. Then, all of a sudden, you receive an email or message from a web novel editor or agent offering you a contract for your work because they absolutely loved it!
Should you take them up on their offer or pass it? What's the difference between an exclusive contract and a non-exclusive contract?
In today's blog, I will break it down in simple terms to explain what these contracts usually entail so that you can have a better understanding and hopefully make a decision that you wouldn't regret after signing one.
This blog post is generously sponsored by the following Patreons: *This could be your name*.
First, let's understand the meaning of exclusivity and why this is important for you as a writer.
Exclusivity is the rights to distribute your original works to different publishing platforms. In the world of digital literature, countless websites and companies are hungry for good content. Every day, new digital reading apps and companies pop up like mushrooms and I personally write on several of them. There is no one place I write and publish on unless I have very good reasons to do it because the more sites you publish your works on, the greater your exposure to new readers.
Now, as a writer, it is important to know where your target market audience is. I'll give you examples from my experience. For cultivation novels, you might find your readers waiting for you at Webnovel. However, if you intend to write a serial murder series, you might find better luck with Tapas or even Amazon Kindle.
Tip #1: Decide on the right platform to publish your works with.
So now that you understand what exclusivity is and the platforms you want to publish your content, what's next?
Generally, agents and editors of various digital platforms look for new original content with good ratings, view counts, subscribers and consistent activity to offer you a contract. The criteria for every platform differs but the concept is the same. They are looking at something that could potentially bring in money for the company after they offer you the ability to lock your chapters with them so that paying readers can buy your works.
"Omg! This sounds fantastic! Sign me up!"
Hold it! Not so fast there, young one. The world of digital literature and web novels isn't as simple to navigate. You need to understand several things before you sign a contract as this is legally binding and minors are usually required to have their parents sign on their behalves with a verified bank or Paypal account.
Many companies will give you draft contracts or contract terms and agreements. Most companies will offer you an exclusive contract because it is better for them but not necessarily you.
Why? What's the difference? I'm glad you asked! Here are some key differences between the exclusive and non-exclusive versions of a contract. I will break it down into four important main points that should be taken into consideration for baby authors new to the harsh web novel world.
#1: Distribution Rights
You may only publish all your chapters on the site that you signed an exclusive contract with. Some companies require you to completely remove your works from other sites completely while others may allow you to leave 'free to read' chapters there and only remove all 'exclusive content' instead.
In some cases, you may not be allowed to give your Patreons or readers early access chapters anywhere at all. You're also not allowed to publish your contracted work in other forms of media in some contracts like paperback, e-book, comic etc.
You own the right to publish your work anywhere without restriction in any form of media and at any price.
However, some companies require special chapters in advance on their site once you sign it. For example, you may be free to publish the story on Sites X, Y and Z but the site that you sign the contract with must always be 2 chapters ahead (even if you've already ended the story). In some other cases, you might also be required to write an author note or disclaimer on other sites that you've signed a (non-exclusive) contract with a particular site and redirect the readers there to the contracted site to read the completed work or early release.
Talk about greedy marketing! However, it's a dog eat dog world. Welcome to the writing red sea where everyone tries their best to survive and often drown in it l̶i̶k̶e̶ ̶m̶e̶.
#2: Profit Sharing
With such strict terms, it's obvious that the exclusive contract will offer you a higher percentage of royalty share. This can range anywhere from 10% to 70%. The numbers vary greatly and it is up to you to weigh a balance. However, do note that this applies to only a single source of income from that 1 platform you're signing with. If things don't work out, there really is no way to back out and change it to another platform unless you pay a hefty penalty to buy your contract back!
The profit-sharing for this category can be very varied. Some companies and platforms don't allow you to lock your chapters and entering into a non-exclusive contract will only give your readers the option to pay you through gifts and donations. Others will offer you a lower cut of the profit sharing. I don't know the figures but don't be too optimistic. 5% is a really good deal with the given circumstances. Also, you may have suspected but they will also take profit cus from the gifts you received.
However, there is another type of non-exclusive contract that you sign with a third party instead of with a particular site. They will help to make your works available on multiple sites that they have partnered with. Usually, these sites offer you anywhere from 20%-50% profit sharing but don't be fooled! This number is after the agent has taken half of whatever they earn from their partnered sites. Hence, if they received only 20% profit sharing from the partnered site and you get 50% of the profits they received, the actual fraction of what you're earning from the price your readers are paying is only 10%.
Important Note! The profits you earn are usually calculated before tax and bank transfer fees or commission charges using a third-party payment gateway platform. The money that you withdraw after hitting the minimum withdrawing criteria can be very paltry at the end of the month if you can even earn enough to withdraw it.
Commitment refers to the quality and consistency of your updates after you signed the contract. The company doesn't want the author to sign the contract, earn the sign-up bonus (if any) and run. They also don't want the author to leave a work incomplete when the author decides to drop it part-way for any reasons at the peak of its popularity. Such action can be detrimental to them. Hence, here are some of the terms the company might include when offering you the contract.
May require you to update a certain number each day or a minimum number of words published in a month. This may or may not come with additional incentives so be sure to read your contract carefully to fully understand how the system works and take advantage of it to earn as much as you can. I've talked about this in my other blog post so you can read more if you're interested.
Recommended reading: 5 Questions About My Webnovel MGS Experience
While there may not be a need to fulfil minimum word criteria and upload schedule, there will be clauses about inactivity. Some of the clauses may demand compensation for dropped works or works with long periods of inactivity. The company may also include terms like owning the right to your works if they see inactivity that exceeds the time frame specified in the contract so read very carefully before you sign!
#4: Marketing Benefits
With such an important content creator coming on board, how can the company shelve such a promising future cash cow?
It might not be promised in the contract when you sign it but it's the unspoken rule of the marketing team. After signing the exclusive contract, it is the job of the marketing team to groom you like a k-pop star and put you on a stage for your grand debut. You will be getting many in-app or in-site features and promotions done by the platform for you to gain new readers. All of a sudden, you'll become the most popular kid in town when you see the numbers spike in your viewership dashboard but don't celebrate just yet! It's only temporary and the real battle is to see if you could retain those readers you just gained.
Some companies will offer design services for your book covers upon signing an exclusive contract with them but not all companies do that. Still, it would always be good to check with the agent or editor that about this if you're not an artist and want a relatively decent book cover. I know the saying is not to judge a book by its cover but trust me, your book cover matters a lot.
Being a contracted author but not under the exclusive category doesn't mean you will be thrown into the cold palace. Don't get me wrong when I say this but you won't be as glamorously glorified as your fellow exclusively contracted authors. However, this doesn't mean you should be depressed. Instead, you should be happy that you have other benefits that exclusively contracted authors don't have. You have a wider reach for audiences than them and to tap into the full potential, I recommend you to head over to create your personal brand on social media.
Recommended reading: 3 Social Media Platforms Authors Should Use
You might not be as frequently featured and marketed like your fellow exclusively contracted authors but that's no loss at all. Some platforms will put you on rotation with a bunch of other non-exclusive contracted authors and if you signed with a third party platform, they would help you to negotiate for a feature slot but if anything, I would recommend all non-exclusive authors to build a strong personal brand.
After all, what you want is a bunch of readers loyal to you as an author. You want to be a superstar that fans will support with every hosted concert and album, you don't want to be a one-time celebrity who was known for just that one particular song that everybody heard of but don't remember.
Gosh! That was a long read. However, I hope I answered all your unanswered questions that I've been frequently asked about on my live streams.
Just a short last note before I end this lengthy blog, I now stream on Youtube so don't forget to subscribe so that you can catch me for live Q&A sessions. I'd be happy to answer most questions and if you find this useful, I would appreciate it if you could tip me or support me on my newly revised Patreon.
Take care and Happy New Year!
- Destiny Aitsuji