Grievance and Contract Division (GCD)

Frequently Asked Questions

What can the GCD do for me?

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.

Who are the people in the GCD?

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.

What makes GO-CAs qualified to do this work?

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.

Is GO-CA help confidential?

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.

Who is eligible to receive help?

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.

How much does this cost?

Nothing. It’s a free benefit of membership.

How do I contact you?

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.

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.

What can’t the GCD do?

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.

In a grievance, what clout do you have if you can’t threaten legal action?

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.

In a grievance, who gets the money?

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

Must I live in the U.S. to use your services?

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.