If you stick around long enough, you’re going to find that, when you first started out, you’ve done a lot of bad deals, if you bothered to sign a contract at all.
Contracts are there for three purposes: to delineate responsibilities (who does what), to say what happens when thing go bad (someone doesn’t do their job), and to say what happens when things go very right (who gets what).
Most of the time, especially when you’re just starting out and most of the projects you do aren’t going anywhere and you know it, a contract isn’t needed. You may want to have one, but it isn’t needed. You may even want to get into the habit of getting one, even if they aren’t needed. This is because you never know.
I’ve taken my fair share of bad deals. This is how I learned. I’ve been attached to a lot of projects that just don’t go anywhere. (As a freelance editor, I still get a lot of projects that don’t go anywhere.) This is how I learned.
What’s a bad deal? Your idea and mine may vary, but my idea of a bad deal is where you give up all the rights to work you created in return for publishing, and by all the rights, I mean all of them: you give up the right to even have your name attached to the work (moral rights). Or you sign with a company who has a bad publishing model (they want to publish only digitally, and only exclusively through one venue).
Why do creators take these bad deals? The reason is simple: they trade on the cachet of the publisher’s reputation in order to grow their own. “Hi, Marvel and DC. I’ve been published by Terrible Company A, Shyster Company B, and Bad Company C. I’ve also been published through Decent Company D, and Better Company E. I’ve grown from strength to strength. Can I do work for you?”
Bad deals are an education. Just don’t let it cost you too much, or take too long. You can ill afford it later.