The antics of some publishers never cease to amaze me. What makes me gasp even harder is that most authors – even experienced ones – are oblivious to what they’re unwittingly signing away.
In the euphoria of finally getting a book deal, many authors overlook the fact that they are getting rather a raw deal in their publishing contract. This naiveté prevents them from getting deals that are better for them and better for their books.
I was reading a publishing contract for one of my client recently. He’s a prominent celebrity, regularly featured on TV.
Here are some of the things that I flagged up, before he signed on the dotted line:
* World Rights & Film Rights *
In one fell swoop, the author was signing away his UK rights, world rights, TV rights, digital rights, film rights, to name but a few. All for the grand sum of – wait for it – £5,000.
A decent literary agent will sell your UK rights, your German rights, your US rights, your Australian rights, etc separately. They’ll also sell your film options separately. If any publisher suggests you hand over all rights, make damn well sure you are paid a decent sum for it.
And here’s the thing, once they have these rights who says they are actually going to do anything once they have these rights? Ideally, there must be a clause committing the publisher to some sort of definite action regarding these rights – otherwise they could easily end up gathering dust in a drawer somewhere.
* Break Clause *
Now here’s something else that’s vitally important. What if there is a strong demand for your book, but your publisher decides not to reprint it? Or what if it is remaindered, but you can’t persuade them that your genre is suddenly fashionable again? Or supposing, many years after your death, one of your forebears would like to publish your out-of-print work?
A break clause allows the rights to revert to the author after a certain period – usually 3 years after a book has been remaindered or goes out-of-print. It ensures that a publisher does not retain the rights indefinitely.
* Competition Cause *
As most successful authors know, the big money is in the upsell. In other words, higher priced products – such as home study courses, CD sets, DVD sets – which are spin-off products from your book.
If you are planning to repurpose or rewrite your content and sell other similar products, beware ‘competition’ clauses that tie your hands. This is particularly relevant when it comes to non-fiction books.
* Options On Your Next Book *
Many times, publishers request the option to consider the author’s next book before it is shown to any other publisher. The author is so thrilled and flattered by this that they overlook that this isn’t necessarily best for them or best for their book.
Sure, if a publisher pays for this option, that’s great. But if it’s just a clause in your book contract that commits you to offering them your book, without any commitment on their part to accepting it, this just ties your hands. It’s a rather one-way deal!
* Print Run *
Ideally, your book contract will specify an exact print run for your book. Many publishers will print 3000 books and think that this is a good print run. Others will print 35,000 books. In rare instances, the number will run into millions.
Unless you know this figure, the royalties percentages in your book contract are essentially meaningless.
* Deadline *
Make sure there is a realistic deadline for your book. My client was committed to a two-month deadline to complete a 60,000-word book. He planned to take two months off to write it.
Had he ever written a book in such a short timeframe before, I asked? “No,” was the answer. This ridiculously tight deadline again favoured the publisher, but left the author little leeway for rewrites and changes of plan.
Give an estimate for the length of time it will take to write your book, then double it!
* Publication Date *
The launch date for a book is an important part of marketing. Dieting books are much more likely to sell in January when everyone is making New Year resolutions, for example. Horror books sell better around Halloween.
Ideally, your book contract will contain a specific publication date, which shows that some thought and effort has been put into the marketing of your book.
* Marketing & PR *
Ok, marketing and PR. I’ve lost count now of the number of disillusioned authors who complain to me of lousy (or complete lack of) marketing and PR for their books. It is rare indeed to find clauses in book contracts committing to specific marketing and PR strategies. However, if you can get one of these into your book contract, you know that a publisher is serious and committed – and your book will stand a much better chance of success.
This is just a brief overview of things to look out for in your book contract – especially if you are going it alone and negotiating without a literary agent. Weigh up your options and consider every clause carefully.
After working with me, my client was able to go back to his publisher and negotiate a much better deal by deleting some clauses and asking for others to be inserted.
Your book is one of your most valuable assets. After spending so much time and effort writing it, don’t be too speedy in signing it away!