Monday, March 18, 2024

Understanding the Book Publishing Contract

image from Pexels

Many writers dream of signing on with a publisher. That first publishing contract can be so exciting – and SO confusing.

Here is a list of terms, items covered, and what a new author needs to know before signing a contract.

The author usually retains rights and ownership to their work. Work for hire or academic works differ and the author may not retain the copyright.

The author grants the publisher the rights to publish the works.

The author pledges they are the sole proprietor of the work and is responsible for any violations of rights against the publisher by another party. The fine print varies, but it often falls to the author to defend against any violations.

The author agrees to deliver all components of the manuscript including script, images, footnotes, etc. within a certain time frame.

The publisher agrees to publish the work within a time certain frame.

Subsidy rights
These are rights outside of the initial book and include first or second serial rights, translations, foreign markets, movie and TV rights, audio rights, merchandising, book club rights, etc. These are negotiated into the contract with the author receiving some rights to no rights. (The author receives a percentage or the publisher keeps all of the profits.) Subsidy rights can be negotiated for with an agent. Without one and dealing directly with a publisher, an author must decide what they are willing to give up.

This is paid up front before the book is published and is often an estimation of royalties based on what the publisher expects to sell in the first year. No royalties will be received by the author until the advance has been covered in full.

The percentage for each format the author receives for each copy sold. The percentage will vary between print, eBook, audio, etc. Hard covers receive the highest, often 10% or more of net. (Not retail unless an agent negotiates a better deal.) Paperback and mass-market can drop to 7%. Electronic copies often net the best deal at 25-35%.

The publisher will deduct overpayments from future royalties or demand their return if exceeding a certain amount.

Author copies

The cost of books ordered directly from publisher by the author.

Statements and payments
How often royalties are paid by the publisher.

Reversion and termination
The rights of the publisher to terminate the book after X amount of years with a written notice to the author. The publisher also has the right to terminate before publication under some circumstances. Note that while the publisher retains the right to terminate, the author often DOES NOT. (Authors can request termination, but it is up to each individual publisher whether they will grant it or not.)

What happens if publisher closes shop.

Options on next work
The publisher gets first look at author’s next work, particularly in a series.

The publisher will list what they will do and what is expected of the author.

There are many other details – arbitration, infringement, inheritance, etc. – but the list above gives you an idea what to expect with that first contract. Always look it over carefully and hire an entertainment or publishing law lawyer if possible.

Have you signed a publishing contract? Are there things you still don’t understand? We hope this has helped!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great breakdown, Diane!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That will really help new authors!

Natalie Aguirre said...

This will be helpful for all writers to refer to when they review their publishing contracts. Thanks, Diane!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Book contracts can be tricky as a writer might sign away more than they bargained.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Great summary of the basic points, Diane. It's like you had a WiDo contract in front of you and read off the headings! What I find interesting is when authors are super excited about signing the contract and more than pleased with it. But later when their book sales don't meet expectations, they blame the publisher for "not marketing my book." Fortunately, we've only had a very small handful like this, or I could never have stayed in the business as long as I have.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Karen, I know how it is!