What’s in a Publishing Contract?

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Many of you are looking forward to the day you sign your first publishing contract. But you also wonder… what the heck is in a publishing contract, anyway?

Below is a brief overview of some of the important contract clauses. This is *NOT* by any means comprehensive—contracts vary and are typically 12 to 20 pages long (single spaced). Some are more detailed than others.

I’ve put an asterisk (*) by the points I find myself negotiating most often. The agent’s job is to advocate for the author: first to make sure they are well-protected in every eventuality, and second to make sure they’re getting the best deal possible when all variables are taken into consideration. So the agent will negotiate any clauses that need it.

Here are some of the things a typical publishing contract contains:

→ Description of the work(s).

→ Provisions for registering the copyright (the publisher does this).

→ Which rights are being granted, in which territories.*

→ Amount of the advance.*

→ How the advance will be paid out, i.e. in halves, thirds or quarters, and what triggers each payment (contract signing, delivery of manuscript, publication of manuscript, etc.) Also, provision might be made for an advance bonus if certain sales goals are hit.*

→ Royalty rates broken out by editions: hardcover, trade paper, mass market paper, audio, digital audio, electronic book, special sales, book clubs, large print, overseas.*

→ When and how often the author will receive royalty checks and statements.

→ Description of licensing rights (how the proceeds are shared if the publisher sub-licenses these rights to another entity): reprints of any kind; book clubs; foreign language translations; electronic or audio reproduction; first or second serialization (excerpts appearing in periodicals before or after book publication); Braille; performance; video; motion picture; merchandising.*

→ Requirements for delivery of the manuscript. Due dates, word count, how to deliver. What happens if author doesn’t meet delivery requirements.

→ The publisher’s policy on editing and revisions.

→ Time limit from contract-date by which the publisher must publish the book; provisions for if they don’t.

→ Requirement for author to participate in publicity and promotion.

→ Requirement for author to refrain from publishing other works which would compete or infringe on the sale of the book being contracted.*

→ Whether or not the author has a right of creative consultation on matters of design and title.*

→ Number of free copies to author and agent.*

→ Author buyback discounts (price at which you can buy your book from publisher).*

→ Provisions for declaring the book “out of print” and reversion of rights to the author.*

→ Author warrants that their work doesn’t infringe on any laws or harm anybody.

→ Possible option on future works by the author.*

→ Provisions for remaindering, should it become necessary.

→ Provisions for termination of the agreement by either author or publisher.

→ What happens if the publisher goes bankrupt; what happens if the author dies.

→ Agency appointment.

→ Legal language about indemnification, jurisdiction, mediation, etc.

→ There may also be Exhibits following the main contract, including permissions forms and photo release forms.

Usually the author just wants to hear about the advance and possibly the royalty rates, but the agent pays attention to every detail. Some contracts are easy to negotiate and take a couple of days; others can take weeks. In this era of changing dynamics and changing technology, hammering out certain details can be sticky. But the most important part of the agent’s job is making sure the client gets a fair contract, so we do whatever it takes.

What’s NOT in the contract?

→ Typically the contract doesn’t include any kind of marketing commitment on the part of the publisher, unless the agent has specifically requested it, which is common in cases where there was an auction with many publishers interested, and marketing is one of the deciding factors.

→ Publication dates are never in the contract.

Hope this helps! Any thoughts or questions?

Image credit: tilo / 123RF Stock Photo