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Publishing Contract Review

Updated: August 11, 2023
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What Is a Publishing Contract Review?

A publishing contract often called a book deal, is an agreement between a writer and publisher to publish original content as a single work or series.

Like other legal contracts, the terms and conditions of a book publishing agreement are negotiable. Therefore, the author may want to modify the terms, such as deadlines or word count, before entering a contractual relationship with the publisher.

If you want to enter a book deal with a publisher, knowing the ins and outs of publishing contracts can help you negotiate the most favorable terms. You can also negotiate to reserve certain rights over your work.

Here is an article overview of book deals and what’s included.

Types of Publishing Contracts

There are several types of publishing contracts you might encounter. Each has nuances, so understanding how they differ is an excellent way to protect yourself and your work.

Traditional Publishing Contract

In a traditional publishing contract, the author signs an agreement to produce a manuscript in exchange for a cash advance and future royalties. Traditional contracts also address publishing rights, distribution territory, manuscript deadlines, and subsidiary rights.

Subsidiary rights impact how much money a publisher makes off of third-party publications, such as movie adaptations. You can also grant exclusive or non-exclusive rights and determine what type of derivative works you permit.

Typically, publishers seek agreements that offer them greater authority over the author's final manuscript. This may include modifying the final manuscript without the author's approval. Many publishing houses also reserve the right to design the book's cover and control all of its marketing.

Conducting a publishing contract review is the best way to ensure your book deal does not take away any rights from you as the author.

Co-authoring Contract

Similar to traditional publishing contracts, co-author contracts are between a publisher and two or more writers. This type of contract determines how writers will be paid, including what percentage of advance and royalties each author receives based on their contribution.

A co-author contract legally binds authors to a publisher like a regular book deal. They must meet expectations and benchmarks for manuscript length, word count, and reading level. Most importantly, the authors must agree to share the copyright of the final work.

Single-book Deal

A single book deal is a publishing contract between an author and publisher to produce a single work of original content. The single book deal is most common for first-time authors. Many publishing houses do not want to sign multi-book deals with an author until they know they are profitable.

One of the most important elements of any book publishing agreement to negotiate is royalties. Unfortunately, first-time publishing authors may focus solely on the advance, not realizing they could miss out on major profit if they don't negotiate their royalties.

A publishing contract lawyer can help you negotiate the best terms.

Multi-book Deal

A multi-book deal is an agreement to publish a series of works over a period of time, usually over the course of several years. While it often comes with a more significant advance, a multi-book deal also comes with greater demands and deadlines for the writer.

When reviewing this book deal, make sure your publisher’s demands are reasonable and achievable. Particularly, pay attention to when each manuscript is due. Are you able to produce the work in the allotted period of time without compromising quality?

Furthermore, address when advances are paid. In a multi-book deal, you may only be given portions of your advance each time you submit a manuscript. Then, you will be given the other part of the advance after each manuscript is approved.

Here is an article with a detailed guide to publishing contracts and how they work.

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Who Can Review a Publishing Contract?

A contract lawyer can review your contract to ensure it is fair and legal.

Having a lawyer review your publishing contract is the best way to ensure you don't sign away any rights you don't want to. For example, you may not want to grant the publisher rights to sell your book manuscript to a television or movie producer without your consent.

Your publishing contract review should also cover all of the stipulations for publication. These include:

  • Minimum and maximum word count
  • Deadlines for manuscript submission
  • Copyediting rights

Here is an article with ContractsCounsel’s guide to publishing contracts, including a sample contract from Random House, a major book publisher.

What Should a Publishing Contract Include?

Negotiating a publishing contract can feel overwhelming. However, with so many details, knowing which elements are the most important and how to negotiate them is important.

Here are the seven most important elements when conducting a publishing contract review.

1. Copyright

As the author of the work, the sole copyright of the manuscript is yours. However, in some cases, a publishing contract may have an author sign away their copyright in exchange for publication under their name.

You must ensure the publishing contract reserves your copyright regardless of how your book is published.

Your publishing contract review should ensure that your book deal only grants the publisher a copyright license agreement to produce your work, not the work's copyright.

2. Grant of Rights

Granting rights means that you give a publisher permission to reproduce and publish your manuscript under certain conditions. The terms for the grant of rights are more negotiable than you might realize.

The grant of rights covers things such as:

  • Publication territories
  • Approved mediums (such as hardcovers and eBooks)
  • The length of the publishing license

A lawyer can help you cover these factors and negotiate fairer agreements if you are unhappy with them.

3. Advances and Royalties

Authors signing a publishing contract usually offer a future advance and a royalty agreement. An advance is a lump sum of money you receive upon signing the publishing contract, and royalties are a percentage of book sales you receive.

Make sure that you review this portion of your book deal in-depth with a lawyer. Many publishers change the number of royalties they give the author based on the medium and even the vendor. For example, book royalties can vary based on hardcover vs. paperback editions and the store they’re sold in.

You may also wish to negotiate royalties depending on which edition of a book is being sold. For example, if the first printing of your book sells out, you may request higher royalties on future printings.

4. Author’s and Publisher’s Obligations

Every publishing contract review should specify the responsibilities of the author and the publisher. For example, the author has to produce their manuscript within a given timeframe, and the publisher has to publish the work within the scope of their license.

As the author, you have the right to ask for a clear deadline for publication. This prevents your manuscript from being turned in but not approved for an indefinite period of time.

5. Delivery Clause and Publication Timeline

The delivery clause states that the author must produce the final version of their manuscript by a set date.

The publication timeline underscores how the publisher will proceed to handle the publication of the work. Therefore, the publication timeline must be fixed, so there is no misunderstanding about when the book will be published or when you will be paid.

6. Types of Publication and Print Count

Types of publication include:

  • Hardback books
  • Paperback books
  • E-books

The print count simply states how many copies of each type of book will be printed under the publishing contract terms.

7. Author’s Rights to Alterations of Work

In some publishing contracts, the author may inadvertently waive their rights to alterations of their work. This is something you want to avoid at all costs. Make sure that your contract states that you must review and approve any future changes the publisher wants to make to your manuscript.

Here is an article where you can review a sample book contract.

How Does a Publishing Contract Work?

A publishing contract, or book publishing agreement, gives a publisher the right to print and sell copies of original work by an author. The author grants the publisher rights to reproduce their work in exchange for financial compensation.

The financial compensation of a book publishing contract is usually broken down into two parts. First, there is the advance, a large sum of money they receive upfront. Most advances for first-time authors range from $5,000 to $15,000.

Royalties are a percentage of each book sale that the author receives. They can also pertain to subsidiary royalties from movies and TV adaptions.

Here is an article that defines the publishing contract.

What Does a Typical Publishing Contract Look Like?

A typical publishing contract grants the publisher rights to publish original work from an author. It also sets deadlines for manuscript submission and publication. A typical book publishing contract will also include information about the following:

  • Subsidiary rights
  • Advances
  • Royalties
  • Copyright
  • Printing

You should hire a contract lawyer to ensure that your book deal fully protects your work. A publishing contract review provides that a contract does not take advantage of the author or excessively favor the publishing house in terms of profit.

Here is an article with a 6-step guide on how to get a book deal.

How Much Does it Cost to Review a Publishing Contract?

According to ContractsCounsel’s marketplace, the average contract review cost is $608. Still, the total cost for your publishing contract review may differ. It all depends on the lawyer you choose, the scope of your contract, and your needs as an author.

Post a project in ContractsCounsel’s marketplace to receive flat fee bids from lawyers for your project. All lawyers have been vetted by our team and peer-reviewed by our customers for you to explore before hiring.

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