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Your Contract. Read It. Really.

In an ideal world, the only time you might need to read your contract is before you sign on or if you have a specific question on some publishing point once you have. The worst time to read it is after you’ve signed and you discover you're unhappy.

Read the whole contract (really) and make sure you understand what you’re signing. There are all kinds of possible issues that even I couldn't imagine ahead of time. But particularly check these items because they tend to be ones that give authors the most trouble—

Publisher Contracts

Royalties. Not just what percentage you’ll be making but how you’ll make it. From distributors? A middle man takes an additional cut. From gross? From net?

When will you get the royalties? Monthly? Quarterly? Yearly? Once you reach a certain sum? Having a set time to receive royalties almost always beats waiting until you’ve reached a certain amount.

When does the contract end and how do you leave? Be careful if there is no way to get out—never sign one of those. Usually there a set end date after a book is released or perhaps contracted. There is usually a particular way you need to notify the publisher. Make sure you know. The shorter the time period the better – especially when you are new to that publisher. You may have a long and profitable partnership together but you might not and you don't want to suffer longer than you need to.

Who owns the copyright? If the publisher owns the copyright, they own the book for your lifetime.

Who has rights in your next story? Can you shop your next story to any publisher you want? Does your publisher have right of first refusal? If so, what does that right entail? Everything in a series? Everything in that genre? Everything that is novel length? All works you write?

Can you modify it? If so, how and why do you want to do it?

Agent Contracts

Royalties. Who collects those royalties, you or the agent? For how long?

How much percentage of royalties does the agent get and for how long? Forever – even if you leave the agency?

Distribution. If the agent handles collecting the royalties, do you have a set time when you will receive your share of the royalties?

You're in a business. Make sure your business will work for you.

Treva Harte, EiC, Loose Id


Great advice!
I learned this one way back when I worked in the offices of an organisation that offered advice on disputes and grievances between employers and employees. The most important thing I learned there was ALWAYS READ YOUR CONTRACT.

January 2013



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