The Contract

There’s not a great deal I can say about contracts … save that I’m glad I have someone else to negotiate them on my behalf! If you’ve been offered a contract then I advise you strongly to use a lawyer or agent, or at least to get their advice, during negotiations. I also want to emphasise that contracts are negotiable. Don’t think that you have to accept the first document the publisher puts before you; on the other hand, if this is your first book, then you may not have much power to drive the bargain you want. Nevertheless, you can negotiate, so do it.

A publishing contract covers many areas:

  • Who the contract is between, typically yourself and a publishing house, but if you use an agent then the agent’s name will be inserted in there as the person who gets all the monies initially (the agent then extracts his or her commission, and sends the rest on to you).
  • The title(s) that the contract covers
  • When publication of the title(s) is expected (this often changes during the editorial process).
  • When delivery of the title(s) is expected.
  • How much, and in what form, the advance covers.
    – What is an advance? When a publisher accepts a title for publication they work out how many copies they are likely to sell. They then decide how much of your royalty (see below) they decide to pay you up front (anywhere from about 30% to 100%). For instance, if the publisher estimates they can sell 10,000 of the title for $10 a copy, and the author will receive a 10% royalty on each of those books ($1 per book), and, being generous, the publisher decides to give you $10,000 as an advance. This $10,000 is unlikely to be paid in one lump sum; rather, there will be a percentage of that $10,000 paid on signing the contract (perhaps one half: $5,000), another 25% on delivery of the manuscript ($2,500) and the final 25% on publication. Thus the payment of an advance is generally paid out over at least a year. If an author sells a series of books as one title (a trilogy, for example) they will receive an advance covering all the books of the series, but this advance will be paid out over the number of years it takes to publish the series. Thus you sometimes hear of authors who get a magnificent advance for a 10 book series … what most people don’t realise that the advance will be spread out over at least 10 years, and in fact only represents a fairly modest income p.a.
  • The royalty you receive. Royalty rates are, unfortunately, slipping. Once you could confidently assume that an author received an average royalty rate of 10%. Now that can be as low as 6%. On the other hand, the contract will also generally specify something called rising royalties (and if it doesn’t, then it should). Rising royalties basically give you a higher royalty once a certain number of books have been sold. For instance, you might start out on 10% royalty, but once 25,000 books have been sold, you might then go onto a royalty rate of 12.5%
  • The territories the contract covers. VERY few authors sell world rights to their titles. Generally, you sign country by country. Thus there will be separate contracts for US rights, UK rights, German translation rights, French translation rights etc. etc. etc. These other countries don’t automatically fall in line – you must sell your work to publishers in every country. Getting your book published in one country is no guarantee that it will be published anywhere else.
  • The rights the contract covers. If you are selling to a book publisher you should sell (or lease, because these contracts cover the lease of rights rather than the actual sale of them) the print rights only. Publishers sometimes try to take the electronic rights, film rights, radio rights, graphic novel rights (and whatever other rights they can think of) as well. Don’t. Sell off your various rights one by one, don’t give one organisation exclusive control.
  • Sundry incidentals … are you using quotes or photographs in your book that are copyrighted to someone else? If so, it will probably be up to you to gain permission to use the material, as also to pay whatever fees that permission includes. You must vow faithfully and cross your heart that all the material in your book is of your own authorship (unless otherwise stated and paid for). The cover art of the book is sometimes mentioned … generally along the lines that the author has no say in cover art at all (although, in practice, you generally do have a say). You will also have to agree to make yourself available (as your work commitments allow) for publicity purposes on the release of the book.

There are a number of other things that crop up in contracts – how many free copies of the book you are entitled to, for instance – but the above lists the main clauses.

Either the publisher or the author can extract themselves from a contract, but it takes a serious breach of contract to do that … although sometimes there is a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ and both parties mutually agree that they have no interest in doing business with each other and all rights are handed back to the author.

©2000 Sara Douglass Enterprises

Who’s Who in the Publishing House

Who might you meet in the publishing house? Here’s an abbreviated list (with my sincerest apologies to everyone I’ve left out!) of the kinds of people an author can work with during the long and arduous process of getting the book out.

The Publisher:

The top dog who keeps everything running smoothly and who decides on the direction the publishing house is going to go in (“What the heck, let’s abandon genre literature and concentrate on cookery books for the next ten years.”). He or she probably won’t have much to do with the actual editing and production of an author’s book, but undoubtedly will be heavily involved with negotiating the contracts.

The Commissioning Editor:

This is the person who makes the decision (generally in concert with an editorial board) about which manuscripts to take and which to reject. While the commissioning editor is generally far too busy to take a hands on interest in the editing process of the accepted manuscripts, he or she will take a fair amount of interest in the overall inhouse progress of the manuscript, and whether or not the author is happy.

The (Senior) Editor:

This is the person who works one on one with the author in the editing process, and comprises that one person the author has most contact with. Occasionally the editor may be freelance – more publishing houses are sending their editorial work ‘out’ to freelance editors now. I don’t like it, it is always better to have someone at the other end of the phone.

The Copy Editor:

Although usually the editor does all the editorial work on a manuscript, sometimes a separate copy editor goes through the manuscript as well. This person is very often freelance. The copy editor does all the minutely detailed editorial work.

The Proof Reader:

Once a manuscript has been through several editorial stages, it goes off (or out) to a proof reader who checks for inconsistencies or mistakes.

The Designer:

The person who designs, or gives an artist the commission to design, the front cover of your book. Usually the author is consulted on this process, but it depends on the publishing house as to how much say the author will have in the final appearance of the book.

A slightly new group in publishing houses these days is the web design team: more and more publishing houses now have a significant presence on the web. Depending on what ‘web presence’ the publisher decides to give the author, the web designer can often be an important person in the production of a book.

The Cover Artist:

Rarely does the cover artist work within the publishing house. They’re usually freelance. They are paid to produce cover art work for the book – these pieces might be oil paintings measuring 8 foot by 4, or computer generated peices of art work. (If the art work is a ‘real’ piece of art work, the artist is usually happy to sell it to the author.) how much say the author gets in this art work varies from publishing house to publishing house.

The Publicist:

The publicity department is responsible for letting the world know the book is out there. Weeks, if not months, before the launch or a book they’ll be discussing with the author and with their colleagues how best to promote it. Should they advertise in print or on television? Should the book have its own dump bin? Should the author’s photograph be disseminated as widely as possible or diplomatically and silently consigned to the nearest wastepaper basket? Once the book is launched they’ll arrange media interviews for the author, and perhaps also a publicity tour.

I love travelling about with my publicist – it is the only time in my life where I feel totally looked after and someone else worries over the details of how to get from A to Z. Touring is very tiring (ah, those touring days starting at 7 am as the star of a “Meet the Author” breakfast, progressing through interview after interview and book signing after book signing through the day …), but it is one of the only chances an author gets to actually meet his or her readership.

And now for the people who generally get forgotten, but who often are almost entirely responsible for whether or not your book is a success …

The Book Reps:

Every large publishing house has book representatives in every state. These reps have their own ‘patch’ of book stores that they visit every month. Their job is to convince the book sellers to stock their particular house’s books … in the end your book is not going to sell if it is not in the shops, and if the book reps can’t convince the book sellers to take a book … well …

I absolutely adore HarperCollin’s book reps here in Australia – they do a fabulous job, and the feedback I received from book sellers has convinced me that if the reps hadn’t done such a brilliant job of pushing BattleAxe when I was a totally unknown author, then neither that book, nor I, would have done well at all. I owe them a tremendous amount, so … thanks, guys.

And many  more…

There are a thousand different people who I haven’t mentioned. Sorry! I am always amazed by the numbers and variety of people who turn up – there are the warehouse staff, the legal people, the web people, sundry other ‘techies’, the gofers, the marketing managers, the general ‘fixer-uppers’ … the list just goes on and on.