Things to Note When Signing a Publication Contract

As a gentle reminder…
Read and understand the terms of your contracts.
Understand copyrights. This includes art, photos and all other intellectual properties.
Understand that you as an author are making a percentage of the NET monies generated by your book. The rest of it is not yours. It belongs to the publisher (or if self-pubbed, Amazon and / or Smashwords, etc) to do with as they wish. Usually this goes to infrastructure, salary and other payouts.
Get up to speed on when certain payouts happen as they might change based on which third party is issuing funds. These are very different depending on where the monies are coming from (Amazon, non-US Amazon, mass-market distribution, audiobooks, brick and mortar bookstores, etc.) Know when the quarter payouts hit and who is paying them out.
Become aware of any opt-outs offered to you. Ask what resuming your full rights are. By law, the publisher owns everything other than your submission document. Some publishers might require a buyout in order for you to get your formatted and edited document and your cover art. What this means is that you’re reimbursing them the costs of producing your book. Some publishers are generous and will revert your rights to you and give you the final edit and cover or just the final edit. You may or may not get it formatted for publication as an ebook. Buying out audiobooks and translations will cost an additional amount. Be very aware of what you want back and what you want to pay for.
Understand the timelines required for publishing a novel and other pieces. As well as the timelines to take these down from third parties. Usually this is 30 days or sometimes more.
Why am I bringing this up? Because when you understand what your contractual rights are for your intellectual property, you have a firm knowledge of what your options are.
I’m not advocating, endorsing or speaking against anything with this post. This is simply a reminder to examine your rights and know what you’re getting into or out of.

5 thoughts on “Things to Note When Signing a Publication Contract

  1. Eric Alan Westfall

    Rhys has provided some excellent advice, and I’m going to be pushy and add a few thoughts.

    1. If you don’t understand every sentence in the contract, don’t sign it. “Well, I really don’t understand what X means, but I really want to get published, so I’ll just sign anyway.” And then X comes back to bite you in the ass (arse for those across the pond). You have no one to blame but yourself.

    2. Consider investing in legal advice if it’s your first contract. Ideally, a lawyer with experience with publishing contracts would be best, but frankly, any good lawyer with experience in writing and/or reviewing contracts of a reasonable degree of complexity, should be able to explain in plain (your primary language) what the contract means, what rights you do and don’t have, what rights the other side does/doesn’t have, etc.

    3. Sometimes a contract (publishing or anything else) is presented to you as TIOLI (take it or leave it). Car insurance, for example. Realistically, you don’t have the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell to get that language changed. But where you are providing something other than mere money as consideration for the promises being given to you, you do have some leverage.

    My late partner lived by the motto, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” So if you understand the contract, but there are one (two, several) points that you think could be better for you…ask. Politely. “Would it be possible to do Z instead of A?” Offer a rationale for making the request. And of equal importance: be reasonable. An outrageous proposal will not only be rejected, but set a really bad tone for any future relationship, if not even killing the possibility of the one being negotiated.

    A final thought: if you make a reasonable request for a change in the contract, and the other side gets huffy/offended/anything similar, I respectfully suggest you take a step back and strongly consider whether you want to get into business bed with these folks. If egos are so fragile that a request for a change can cause upset, maybe that’s not the right place to put your trust and your words.

    Just my USD .02.


    1. I dunno about being an adult.

      Mostly, I think we sign things without looking hard at them. God knows, it’s caught me in the past 😀

      1. I was VERY lucky w Liquid Silver as my first pub. And Changeling is Uh-May-Zing. But I was so excited to sign with that huge mega e-pub that collapsed first… I don’t think I read other than where to sign.

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