Frequently Asked Questions

We give writers the resources we all need to make a living, especially contract advice and grievance. We are an activist organization that believes in working together and sharing information. Our resources come from pooling information and speaking out collectively.

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If you’ve received a contract for your writing in any genre, we review it with you and recommend changes. For details on requesting contract advice, see www.nwu.org/contract-advice.

If you have a grievance – if you haven’t been paid, if your publisher or client is violating the terms of your contract, if your work is being used without your consent — we work with you on strategies and intervene if necessary. For details on filing a grievance, see www.nwu.org/grievance-assistance.

We make model contracts and contract guides in all genres – including agents, academic writing, journalism, collaborations, and work for hire as well as books – available to our members. We are constantly working to update this literature. We also provide articles on such topics as negotiation, e-book contracts, and finding agents.

We offer seminars and other educational programs to make writers aware of issues that affect their ability to make a living by writing. An example is the series of webinars we are about to roll out on electronic book contracts.

If you have questions about the publishing business, your rights, or specific companies or markets, we try to field your question or refer you to someone who can.

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Our volunteer grievance officers and contract advisors (we call them “GO-CAs”) are union writers who have been trained to help you. They are not lawyers, and they cannot give legal advice or represent you in court, but they really understand publishing contracts and writers’ rights.

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First, new GO-CAs go through a thorough interview process. Next, they are put through an intensive training program. After that, they are mentored for several months by experienced GO-CAs, who supervise their work and are available to answer questions and offer coaching. Some of us have been doing this work for over twenty years.

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Yes, absolutely. GO-CAs do communicate with each other about their cases, and share their expertise, but your name will never be used even within the GCD. Nor will you receive recruitment or fundraising follow-ups from us. In contract advice, we communicate only with you, never with your publisher. In grievances, we let you know beforehand when, if and how we’ll contact your publisher so that you can decide the limits of our exchanges.

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You must be an NWU member in good standing to receive contract advice or grievance assistance, and most of our documents are accessible only to members. However, anyone can ask a question, and we’ll answer it if we can do so with public information.

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Nothing. It’s a free benefit of membership.

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Send an email to advice@nwu.org. Putting “GCD” in the subject line will help to ensure that the spam gremlins don’t get it. [Let’s replace this language with a link to a contact specifically form for GCD.]

You may leave a message at 212-254-0279, extension 10. But emails are quicker and more efficient. Furthermore, we need an email record of your request in order to forward it to the appropriate GO-CAs. Never send anything to the office by snail mail, as our GO-CAS are located all over the country and it will take considerable time for documents to get to the person who is working with you.

When you start working with a GO-CA on a grievance or a contract advisement, the two of you can determine whether you prefer to use email, phone, or both.

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To answer the most frequently asked of all questions, we are not lawyers and we do not offer legal advice or represent you in court. Nor do we refer you to individual lawyers. We do not serve as your agents or negotiate with publishers on your behalf. We do not recommend publishers or agents, although we can check out a publisher or agent against our database on a member’s request.

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You’d be surprised at how effective we can be by just advocating on your behalf. Often we can be effective simply because a third party can achieve better results that someone who’s personally involved. When necessary we’ve used publicity (Writer Alerts, social media and writers’ forums, press releases, etc.), complaints to influential individuals and organizations (shotgun, escalation to upper management, regulatory agencies, industry organizations and journals, consumer complaint desks, Better Business Bureau, etc.), Small Claims Court (for breach of contract, not infringement), picketing and sit-ins, etc.

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If we persuade a publisher to pay you money that you’re owed, it goes directly to you. We don’t get a penny.

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No. If your publisher or client is in the U.S., we handle your case in our usual ways. Otherwise, we are still bound by union rules to do all we can to help you, but legal and other differences might hinder us. We may have to refer you to organizations in the publisher’s country; if so, we’ll help you contact them.

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We are not a service organization. We are an activist organization of writers who work together to get better wages and conditions for all of us. Members get access to valuable resources (contract advice, press passes, etc.) but we are a union, not a club. Our primary raison d’etre is advocacy and change.

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In our experience, more established writers aren’t treated less well when less experienced writers demand better treatment. We all gain. Since writers are constantly expanding into new writing fields, anyone could be a beginner at any turn in his or her career. When a journalist writes a novel, she’s suddenly a beginner again.

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Agents’ loyalties are to some degree divided: since they represent a number of clients, they may have to back down on some issues to protect their ongoing business relationships with publishers. Agents also get a cut of money an author gets but may not fully back the author on other issues. We advise members on author-agent agreements and have formulated contract language that even experienced agents have found useful. No one agent has the cumulative knowledge of our approximately 1,300 members.

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Yes, some of us write for pleasure and don’t depend on writing income to support ourselves. Yet our writing has value: since publishing is a profitable business, we deserve to be treated with respect and consistency and to receive a fair share of the proceeds. We all need to ask for what we deserve so that we don’t become a society where only the wealthy can afford to write.

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We need a core of activist members, but we don’t require any particular member to be active. You can be as active or as inactive as you want.

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