In Part One of this short series, I touched on points that an author needs to examine before signing a book contract: rights and distribution. It is important to know for how long the publisher will hold hardcover, paperback, and digital rights to your work, and you should know how the publisher plans to sell your book. Not all houses utilize the resources that get books into chain stores or places like Wal-Mart, so it’s crucial to pay attention to how the publisher works. In this part of the series, I will look at other points in a contract that you – especially as a debut author – should know.
Royalties – When I signed my first book contract, the first two questions my husband asked me were 1) when will the book be published, and 2) when do you get paid? When it comes to doling out money for your hard work, publishers will handle royalties differently. I have heard from legacy authors (that is, writers signed to the Big 6) that they may receive a check once or twice a year, while those with smaller houses or primarily eBook imprints may get statements and checks monthly or quarterly. If writing is your sole source of income, this part of the contract bears scrutiny, and you will need to decide if publication is worth the wait on money.
You should check, too, to see if you will receive an advance on your book. If you have visited the website for Publishers Marketplace and read news of recent acquisitions, you may see that a certain author signed a three-book deal in a “nice deal” or “very nice deal” with a big publisher. These terms are assigned to various monetary advances – a nice deal could be anything from a thousand dollars to mid-five figures, while a very nice deal indicates the author’s advance could be anywhere from fifty thousand to ninety-nine thousand dollars. Now, not all publishers award advances in book deals. In fact, some may offer you a “token” deal of about a hundred dollars to show their enthusiasm for your book.
With larger advances, though, it’s expected that your book will earn out the money given to you, and hopefully exceed the amount. If you receive an advance, you will not receive any royalties until your book has “earned out.” Think of it as receiving a loan, and you are putting up your book as a means to pay back the loan. If your book doesn’t make enough in profits to satisfy your advance, you may be at risk for getting another contract.
Publishers will set the royalty rate that determines how much money you will receive per sale. I have spoken with authors who have received royalties from as low as 11% to as high as 50% – the higher rates tended to be connected to small, digital presses because eBook production doesn’t involve as much overhead as print. Royalties made be paid on the “gross” (what is earned without further deductions) or the “net” (earnings minus various deductions involved in distribution, etc.). For example, if your publisher vends digital versions of your book through an eCommerce site that charges ten dollars per listing, that ten dollars may come out of your royalties unless the publisher specifies that it will incur those costs.
It’s important to pay attention to all royalties and payment clauses in your contract, so you are not left at the end of a month or quarter wondering why you have not yet been paid.
Subsidiary Rights – These rights different from the rights mentioned in Part One of this series. Subsidiary rights in publishing refer to the different options available for your book that do not involve actual book production. Audio book rights, film/TV/video game adaptations, foreign language editions, Braille editions, even graphic novel/comic book adaptations may fall under subsidiary rights. If your publisher has a department that can exploit these rights for you and wishes to do so, they may require them in your contract. Smaller publishers typically do not hold subsidiary rights and leave them to you. If you foresee opportunities for your book beyond print, these rights may prove valuable to you. Find out what happens to them if you sign.
Reversal of Rights – Your publication rights are held by the publisher for a set number of years. When the rights expire your publisher may either petition for renewal under new terms or release your book. If you wish to regain the rights to your work after publication, you will need to pay attention to when you can do so. Once the initial expiration passes you should be able to petition for rights reversal without complication. If you are not happy with how the publisher has handled your book and want your rights back before expiration, however, you need to read your contract.
Contracts are typically written to protect the publisher. If you can prove that your publisher has breached the terms of your agreement, you may be able to reclaim your rights without issue. If you just want to make a clean break and your publisher is not at fault (for example, sales have been low despite the house’s better efforts to promote you), you may be subject to a kill fee. In other words, you may be required to buy out your contract before you can sell your book elsewhere.
Pay attention, too, to contract clauses that state whether or not you can publish or contract elsewhere the version of your book published by that house. Let’s say I published My First Book with Number One Publishing, LLC and, after my three-year contract ended, I decided to have the book pulled. I got my rights back, but in my contract with Number One it states that since their editors worked with me on the book and their artists created the cover, I cannot use their edited version or cover in subsequent publication. This means, therefore, if I choose to take the book elsewhere it will need to be revised and a new cover must be created.
If you have further questions about clauses in your contract that do not make sense to you, enlist the assistance of a friend knowledgeable in contract law or publishing to go over the agreement. It is exciting to know a publisher wants your book, but be mindful of what they want and what they will do for you before you sign your book away.