Contracts and Critique Groups

Susan Spann

Susan Spann

Susan Spann’s debut novel, Claws of the Cat, was published by Minotaur Books in July 2013. It’s the first in her Shinobi mystery series. Set in sixteenth-century Japan, the novel features a ninja detective who solves murders with the help of a Jesuit priest.

Enough about the book, which you can buy in hardback and eBook versions. Let’s talk about Susan.

She’s a publishing attorney focusing on contracts and negotiations. She opened a law practice in 1996, moved to teaching law, but gravitated toward publishing law because she self-identified as a writer.

“I realized that I could use my legal skills to help people in publishing,” she said.

And help people is what she loves doing most—after spending time with her family and writing, of course. She offers free advice on her blog and on Twitter, using the hashtag, #PubLaw.

When she found the niche she wanted to fill with her law practice, “There were a lot of good publishing attorneys in the world, but not so many who focused on transactional publishing at affordable rates.” She describes herself as an advocate for the joy that it brings people to write. “It breaks my heart when someone gets taken advantage of.”

Get Legal Advice

Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann

Evan Susan Spann, a publishing attorney, sought an agent’s help to sell her debut novel, Claws of the Cat.

Susan keeps her rates low to help more people, saying that she frequently gets emails from people who are several years into a contract that they shouldn’t have signed. So, her first bit of advice is to never sign a publishing contract without a legal review, whether by an agent or an attorney.

We’ll cover the process for attracting an agent in a later blog post.

One thing I found interesting when I spoke with Susan was that, even though she was capable of reviewing her publishing contract herself, she worked through an agent. The larger publishers prefer to work through agents. Also, Susan found it easier to run her business when she left the sales aspect to someone with that skill.

Know When You’re Ready

Her second piece of advice is to know you’re ready before pitching to either an agent or a publisher. How, you might wonder. I know I did.

“For me, knowing I was ready was a process,” Susan said. “In the beginning, I worked on my own without good critique partners and a lot of feedback. You need critique partners who are honest about what they think about your writing. When you get multiple requests for full manuscript reads, you know you’re ready. Sometimes, though, you don’t get full manuscript requests because your query is the problem. Your critique group can help with that, too.”

She said you can find a good critique group through national and local writing organizations like Sisters in Crime and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

The good news is that if you find a good enough critique group, you may not have to pay for editing. Some in Susan’s critique group pay, but others don’t. You should find a group with people in it who have the skills on which you need to work.

She recommends you look for the following in a critique group.

  • Writers at different places on the path (at least one traditionally published author, maybe someone who is self-published and successful).
  • People who are writing in a mix of genres, but genres similar to yours. For example, mystery writers will help you understand mystery. But your mystery may need some romance. A romance novelist can help with that.
  • Personal relationships within the group. They can get toxic quickly if you have people who are negative in their mindsets and jealous by nature. If you find yourself in a group that isn’t working for you, find a different one.
  • Novelists who give as much as they receive. Susan says she can’t overestimate the value of critiquing others to develop your own work.

Reduce Stress With Joy

Susan tends to be a joyful person. She loves the entire process of writing, editing, publishing and promoting. She enjoys her family. And she has an interesting hobby.

“I raise sea horses and corals,” she said. That’s one of the things she uses to keep herself calm. “My sea horses are simple creatures. They’re beautiful, and they make me happy.”

She says that between work, family and publishing, life always gets stressful. She recommends that you find joy in something totally unrelated – walking, knitting, listening to symphonies, watching movies, having a dog/cat or whatever. Simple joy is what takes the stress out of the process for her.

“It’s nice to love something for the sake of loving it,” she said.

Maybe you’ll enjoy following Susan:
Events page:
Twitter: @SusanSpann, and her publishing law hashtag is #PubLaw

You can find an excerpt from Claws of the Cat free online and without any purchases or registration requirements at

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2 Responses to Contracts and Critique Groups

  1. Susan Spann says:

    Thank you so much for the opportunity to share a few of my thoughts with your readers. The interview was so much fun, and I appreciate you hosting me!

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