Negotiating a Great Book Contact

To negotiate a great book contract, the author needs to understand what her rights are to begin with. You are negotiating a contract to sell some of those rights – how many and to what extent is up to you. Authors have both moral rights and economic (property) rights to their manuscripts and other intellectual property. You can sell all or part of your property rights, but you will always keep your moral rights.

A publisher will want to buy as many rights as possible, even if that publisher doesn’t yet know how it will use those rights. The author probably wants to retain a number of rights, maybe just selling the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the author’s manuscript in book form, and that is all.

The negotiation looks like this – with what the author wants versus what the publisher wants:

• Wants to increase advance
• Wants to increase royalty percentage
• Wants to hold on to ownership and control
• Wants highest quality product with lots of color and graphics
• Wants a substantial marketing commitment

• Wants no or little advance
• Wants lowest possible royalty payments
• Wants full rights and control
• Wants to reduce costs wherever possible – lower page count, little color, fewer graphics
• Wants to wait and see how well the book is received before committing to any specific marketing activities or budget

If a traditional publisher accepts your book, you will get an offer to publish, followed by a book contract. It can take months or years to shop the book proposal and get interest from a publisher. One of the most discouraging parts of the process, whether you use an agent or submit it yourself, is that due to the volume of manuscripts publishers receive every day, it can take months just to get a form rejection letter.

Once you have an offer from a publisher, it may take a few weeks to receive the actual contract so that you can review the contract terms.

You must be aware when you sign a book contract that you are selling the rights to your intellectual property. You have sold the publishers the exclusive rights (unless you negotiate otherwise) to publish your materials, perhaps in any language and perhaps in any medium. This may mean you cannot use your own material to develop additional products without permission from the publishers.

The contract will be about ten pages long, and there are some things you should look for:

1. What you are selling: You own the copyright to your work, and you are selling the publisher the exclusive right (usually) to print and publish your book in the English language for the duration of the copyright. The publisher will probably also want the foreign language rights; serial (periodical or newspaper) rights; audio recording rights; film, music, stage, radio rights; and merchandising rights. You will have to negotiate to keep any of those rights you wish to.

2. Royalties: In exchange, the publisher will pay you royalties of generally 10 percent to 15 percent on sales. The definition of sales (net versus list price) is usually at issue. There may also be an advance against royalties that you will not have to repay if the royalties don’t surpass the advance. If you have an agent, the publisher will pay your royalties to the agent, who will take out his or her portion (usually 10 percent to 15 percent of your royalties and advance). Royalties are paid between one and four times a year.

3. Delivery date and number of words: Be sure to give yourself enough time, preferably six to nine months, to deliver the manuscript.

4. Marketing: It is unlikely that you will be able to get a publisher to commit to the marketing that will be done for your book. Be sure to get as many free copies as you can (at least twenty-five) and arrange the best deal available on buying your own book from the publisher (usually you get them at a 50 percent discount).

Get help from knowledgeable professionals who can review your objectives and the contract language and help you negotiate the best contract for you and your book.

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