Question about Non Competition Clauses and Civil War Books

Gary Morgan

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 2, 2019
I have a question for writers with more experience than me.

If a book has a non-competition claus, saying that you can't write a competing book on the same subject (as determined by the publisher) how much leeway does that give the publisher? Would the author ever be allowed to write another book on the Civil War? On any Civil War Prison? In a case like mine, another book on Andersonville? A book on the guys who did the hanging rather than on the guys who were hanged? Where does the line get drawn?

Lots of questions and I'm not sure who to go to for answers. Would self publishing be an option, since non-compete clauses frequently say that the author will not contract with any other publisher, could they get around the clause by self publishing?

I am trying to decide if I should just hand all of my research over to my son so that he can write the next book, since he just graduated with a degree in technical writing and is looking for his first project. He is a really good writer, and knows more about the stuff I write about than he really ever wanted to know. I rather like the idea of being HIS research assistant for a change.

Any thoughts?
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
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Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
If a book has a non-competition claus, saying that you can't write a competing book on the same subject (as determined by the publisher) how much leeway does that give the publisher? Would the author ever be allowed to write another book on the Civil War? On any Civil War Prison? In a case like mine, another book on Andersonville
I don't care much for non-compete clauses in any context. That said, I can understand that a business might want to protect its interests and prevent an employee or contractor from misusing company trade secrets in a future venture. That's the context in which I've run across these clauses.

But a book seems like a very different thing. It's a creative product that is mostly developed by the author. It would hardly seem reasonable to expect an author of a civil war topic to never write another civil war book. The publisher might be able to make a case for a non-compete clause if the future work might be something very similar to the current work. I'm just talking here about what seems reasonable.

I've published about ten books, about half traditionally published and about half independently published. I don't remember ever seeing a non-compete clause in a book contract, so I'm wondering whether it's a recent phenomenon.

i have seen non-competes in business and employment contracts. One thing to remember is that a contract can be altered before signing. I once ran across a pernicious non compete in an employment contract. I scratched it out and wrote my own version, which would not prevent me from making a living in the future. I dated and initialed the changes. I showed it to the company president who just shrugged his shoulders and said, no problem, I didn't even remember that was in there. It was just their standard boiler plate contract form.

So in the case of the publisher's contract, one possibility would be to scratch out that paragraph and insert something that limits the scope of the clause to a very specific kind of book.

All that said, I'm not qualified to give legal advice, so I would suggest that you run this by one of those excellent Massachusetts attorneys, one of whom saved my bacon some years ago! I know attorneys can be expensive, but I've nearly always found them to be worth it. And this might not be a costly question to resolve, just a contract review.

Roy B.
 
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