I just got my contract from Immortal works for my YA novel, Starvation, and thought I’d share what I’ve learned in the process. (Side note: if you want to get publishing updates and/or more information on books and publishing, subscribe in the sidebar on the right.)
If you have an agent, they will (hopefully) understand a lot about a contract. That doesn’t mean you should just sign what they send you, though. A publishing contract is a legally binding document. If you don’t have an agent, please, please, please spend the money to have a lawyer look it over—it could be well worth what you’d save later-on if you have to take legal action or are stripped of rights/royalties/etc that you were expecting. Even if you have an agent, strongly consider talking to a lawyer.
Most (good) lawyers are going to be around $500/hr. The contract, depending on the length, will probably take 1-2 hours for them to go through, especially if you have certain things you are looking for (ie you don’t want to give up rights to making cassette tapes). It will cost even more if you ask them to negotiate directly with the publisher.
I hired one lawyer to do line edits and look things over thoroughly, which took almost 2 hours (the contract was actually very good and very fair, most of it was small wording changes and things I wanted to negotiate). Another graciously talked to me on the phone for a few minutes after skimming it; he didn’t charge me for the call. I will be working with another, recommended by a friend, if the contract comes and needs negotiation. I highly recommend both and you can find them here:
Lindsay Arthur (Retired)
What’s in a contract?
Definition of the work. Make sure this is specific and accurate.
Royalties, how they will be determined, and how they will be paid
Rights, including to other media, international right, etc
Sequels and right to first offer (basically you have to first pitch to them and they can give you and offer before you pitch elsewhere)
Deadlines, both for you and the publisher
Copyrights, marketing, and other roles and/or costs
What should I look out for?
Wording like, including but not limited to that isn’t specific
Can you keep to the deadlines they gave you? Make sure you can, planning for how the schedule will fall with other events like holidays
Look out for clauses that allow the publisher to publish “with or without the author’s permission” in terms of chosen titles, edits, etc.
What is each party expected to do? For traditional publishing, the publishing house should pay for editing, cover design, etc. If not, run. For smaller publishing houses (and frankly all) you will be expected to do a lot of the marketing
Other things I learned
Most publishers take care of copyright, but if yours puts that on you, as the author, its not expensive or hard. It’s probably worth negotiating other points instead. Just make sure you remember to do it.
Make sure there’s a clause with sequels that, while you may pitch to them, you are under no obligation to accept any offer. Also make sure it doesn’t say the contract has to be the same—if your first book was successful you want to be able to ask for more.
Unless stated in the contract, the publisher is not required to try to schedule signings/events. Most, however, are willing to schedule at least one, so ask about this. If they agree, put it in writing (but again, be careful of the language that you can cancel if you are sick, etc)
Publishers are not allowed to publish anything to email lists provided by authors, they must be sent out by the author themselves (thanks to the CAM-SPAM act). The publisher, however, may ask to be informed before such emails are sent out.
Want to learn more?