Understanding Publishing Contracts

If a publisher offers you a contract, get ready for your head to spin. These contracts can vary greatly in what they offer and what they expect from the author. In general, a contract will outline the following:Understanding Publishing Contracts

Payment Terms

A book advance fee ranging from $2500-$10,000 is most typical for first time authors without a substantial platform. Advances are often paid over time; some pay half at contract signing, and half after the manuscript is accepted (after the final editing process is complete). Some pay in thirds: one third upon contract signing, one third upon acceptance, and one third when the book is published.

Royalty rates are paid after the book earns back the initial advance. Then royalties are paid based on a percentage of the book’s retail, or more commonly, wholesale price. Typical percentages are 8-15% of the wholesale price, and the percentages may increase on a tiered scale depending on the number of books sold. You will also receive a separate percentage for ebook sales.

The terms for sales of foreign rights, audio or book club rights are typically split 50/50 between the publisher and the author. For example, if the publisher sells the rights to reprint your book in France for $2000, they will deduct any related expenses and split the remaining balance with you.

Rights

Generally, when you sign a contract with a publisher, you are giving up much of the control over your work. The contract may require that you do not reprint any portion of your manuscript in any other format. You may be allowed to use portions of the text for reprinting in magazines or other promotional venues. The publisher may also request the right to change the title of your book and often will have full control over your book’s cover design.

The publisher will also specify the amount of time they have in order to publish your book. This timeframe can range from 12 months to three years. Yes, really! If they don’t publish within the agreed timeframe, you have the right to cancel your contract.

Remember that you will also be involved in the editing process. Your manuscript will be reviewed by a copy editor and sent to you with requests for revisions. This process can take months and you may go back and forth several times before you receive the final copy for approval.

If you receive a book contract offer directly (without an agent), use due diligence and hire a literary attorney or experienced consultant who can help you review the terms of the contract and understand typical negotiation points. Whenever you sign your name to any legal document, you should be well-informed and know exactly what you’re getting into. Determine what criteria are most important to you and don’t be afraid to ask for some changes. The publisher may or may not be willing to negotiate, but you won’t know unless you ask!

Additional Resources

How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen

Nonfiction book proposal outline from Ted Weinstein, literary agent: https://www.twliterary.com/bookproposal/

Literary attorneys: Dana Newman (http://dananewman.com/), Francine Ward (https://francineward.com/) and Helen Sedwick (http://helensedwick.com/).

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