Trust… But Verify

Trust... But Verify, Vicki Hinze



Vicki Hinze


Once, a long time ago, a president used the term Trust but Verify about a foreign policy issue.  It struck me as good advice so I remembered it.  In the years since, it’s proven it’s a valuable personal policy.

I’m amazed at the number of people who agree to terms and sign anything shoved before them without reading the documents.  At those who make agreements and sign contracts never bothering to review the fine print. And it’s even more stunning when others know someone isn’t trustworthy and supports them and their actions anyway.

If one is untrustworthy on one thing, do we have any assurance that he or she will be trustworthy on another? We all know that once trust is violated, the violation raises that doubt on all future interactions. Just as we know that once one violates trust, violating it again comes easier to them. That’s not an indictment, just human nature doing what human nature and rationalization do.

We’ve all heard the saying that the devil is in the details.  So when I receive notes like one recently, where an author was livid with her publisher and agent because of a contract term she didn’t know was in her contract and now must abide by it on the contracted project and on future projects, the first question that comes to mind is:  Why didn’t you know that term was there?

In this case, the agent told the author the contract was fine to sign.  So the author signed it. She didn’t read the contract for herself.

Don’t get me wrong.  Agents can be wonderful assets and they routinely go the extra mile to protect their clients.  This wasn’t an unusual term; it’s seen in a lot of contracts.  But it’s one that this particular author did not want in this specific contract.

The point is, if the author had done her due diligence and reviewed the contract, there would not have been any surprises in this specific contract.  The author would have known exactly what was in it and, opposing this term, she would have known to negotiate the term out or strike the clause from the contract.

But she didn’t read the contract, and now the author is upset with the agent and the publisher.  But is that fair?

Every author knows that an editor is an employee of the publisher and as such is to do his/her best to protect the interests of the publisher.  That the editor is expected—and paid—to contract the best terms and conditions possible for the publisher.

Every author knows that there is nothing—not a word—in a literary contract that isn’t there for a specific reason, and that contracts vary from publisher to publisher and indeed from author to author and book to book within one publishing house.  Some agents have their own boilerplate contracts with verbiage they want in all of their agency’s contracts.

Authors too have specific clauses that they want and don’t want in their contracts.  They’ve learned what they want and don’t want from previous experiences and acquired specific knowledge, but if they don’t read the contract then how can they know what’s in it?

Trust but verify is not an antagonist approach to contractual agreements.  It’s not an antagonistic approach to working arrangements, strategic business alliances, or to anything that has to do with your professional or personal lives.

In this specific case, the author signed without reading.  Now that author is bound to the agreement.  Perhaps in the next contract this clause in this contract can be renegotiated.  If so, great.  If not, the author is legally (and morally) bound to honor the agreement she made.

Reading a legal document before you sign it seems like a simple thing.  We all get busy, we’re all time-crunched, and often authors think that’s what they pay agents for.  But if, as in this case, a legitimate and common clause is one to which a specific author objects, then the agent relies on the author to state that objection.  If the author does not, then the agent can’t mind read and just know the author objects.  And if the agent can’t know it, and s/he hasn’t been told by the author, it is not a reasonable expectation to hold the agent responsible for the clause being in the contract.

As authors we have responsibilities on the business end, just as we do on the creative end.  It’s our responsibility to read our contracts before signing them just as it is our responsibility to honor our agreements.

It serves us well, and makes for better alliances (and smoother relationships) with agents and publishers, who also have responsibilities, if all involved parties due their due diligence. If all parties involved trust but verify.


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© 2016, Vicki Hinze. Vicki Hinze, The Marked Star PreviewVicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest releases are: The Marked Star and In Case of Emergency: What You Need to Know When I Can’t Tell You (nonfiction). She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s website: www.vickihinze.com. Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. KNOW IT FIRST! Subscribe to Vicki’s Monthly Newsletter!      








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