Hello, you wonderful internet people.

Welcome to the first post where I’ll talk you through publishing contracts! For this first post we’re going to start right at the beginning and look at what rights your selling to your publisher.

As before, I need to start this off with a disclaimer. These posts reflect my own experience with contracts and are intended for guidance and informational purposes only. They should not be taken as iron-clad advice for all publishing contracts and if in doubt you should seek specific advice. There are organisations, like the Society of Authors in the UK, who will be able to help with this and if you have an agent they should also be able to help.

Another quick note before we dive in properly: there will be a preamble in the agreement which defines the terms of ‘Author’, ‘Publisher’ and ‘Work’ which will be you, the publisher and the book the contract’s about. They will be defined like this…

Homer Laconia of 1 Main Street, Troy, Illium (hereinafter called ‘the Author’) who has written a work of fiction currently entitled The Iliad 2: An Army of Wooden Horses (‘hereinafter called ‘the Work’)

And this means that throughout the contract when it says Author it means Homer Laconia. Some publishers call the authors the ‘Proprietor’ and some stick with ‘Author’ or ‘Illustrator’ when its appropriate, but it’s contractual shorthand which makes it easier for contracts people, like me or your agent, to read through the contract and make sure there’s nothing weird in there. So if I ever use a capitalised term in these posts for Publisher, Author, or Work now you know what they’re referring to! 

Now, let’s get to it!

There are two ways you can sell your work to a publisher:

  • an assignment of rights
  • a grant of rights.

An assignment of rights it essentially means the publisher (or whoever you’re selling your work to) own all of it. This is how ‘work for hire’ operates and you’ll see this a lot in things like travel books, cookbooks, or similar and often how publishers employ freelance designers.

If someone’s written something for a book – let’s say a travel book – and they’ve done the work on an assignment basis then they might be credited in the back of the book, but the copyright page doesn’t need to acknowledge them. The copyright in the work will be wholly owned by the publisher and the copyright line will read something like ‘© Travel Book Publisher, 2019’.

In an assignment you’ll get your fee and that’ll be that. There won’t be any royalties or anything. You give the publisher the words. The publisher gives you the money.


A grant of rights, however, is how almost all publishers operate. It’s what you should be getting in a standard publishing contract.

The grant of rights clause sets out what rights you are (wait for it) granting to the publisher in your book. This clause will define how, where, and for how long the publisher can publish your book.

For example, it might look something like this:

In consideration of the payments hereinafter mentioned and subject to the terms and conditions contained herein, the Author hereby grants to the Publishers the sole and exclusive right and licence to produce and publish and themselves further to license the production and publication of the Work in print form and the English language for the legal term of copyright and any and all extensions, renewals and revivals thereof throughout the world and to license others to do so as defined elsewhere in this Agreement.

An example grant of rights clause

But what does this actually grant the Publisher?

It grants them:

  1. the exclusive right to publish the book
  2. the right to produce, publish, and license the production of the book
  3. the right to publish the book in print form
  4. the right to publish it in the English language
  5. the right to publish it throughout the world
  6. the right to publish for the full term of copyright 
  7. to license others to do so as outlined elsewhere

Let’s work down that list and examine what they mean.

‘the sole and exclusive right’

This is standard. The publisher wants to be the only person that can publish your book. Exactly what the publisher gets exclusive rights to is defined as the clause goes on and in the rest of the contract. If we keep with our example clause above the publisher gets the exclusive right to publish it in the English language, in print form (sometimes called ‘volume form’, but that’s not great wording to use as it’s slightly ambiguous what exact formats that includes), and throughout the world. So you keep all other languages and the other formats.

‘the right to produce, publish, and license the production of your book’

Again, this is standard. The publisher needs to be able to produce and publish the book and you’re giving them the right do to that. When it says ‘license the production of the book’ in this clause it’s talking about things like employing a printer to print the books, or perhaps a freelance copy editor to work on it.

‘to publish the Work in print form’

Here we come to what formats the publisher can publish the book in. If you’re wondering whether you’re selling audio or ebooks as well as print rights, this is the first place to look.
It will hopefully be straight forward.
Print formats should cover hardback, trade paperback, and mass market paperback and potentially any smaller formats if that’s what your book needs.
Ebook will be included here as well. Some contracts have pretty sizeable definitions of what constitutes an ebook which can be helpful as it’s very specific but sometimes can feel like overkill now that ebooks are so ubiquitous. It may also set out whether the right to produce an ‘electronic version’ is granted. What’s an electronic version? It’s an ebook that might include music, or moving elements. These are usually reserved to the author as it’s an expensive thing to produce.
If you’re selling audio that will also be defined here. Again, like ebooks it might have a long definition to be clear exactly what the audiobook can consist of. Although this one might feel like overkill it will be important to define especially with the audio market continuing to grow. An audiobook will most likely be a single-voice non-dramatic reading of it to ensure that it doesn’t overlap with any potential film/dramatic rights.

‘the right to publish in the English language’

This one does what it says on the tin. The two main ways you’ll see the languages in a contract will either be ‘English language’ or ‘all languages’. If you grant a publisher ‘all languages’ it doesn’t mean that they will publish an English and a German version, but it does mean they can sell the German rights for you. (We’ll come on to that in the Subsidiary Rights post).

‘the right to publish throughout the world’

Again, this one looks pretty straight forward. We’re telling the publishers where they can sell the book.
You might not want to sell world rights to one publisher and there are (in my experience) two major markets. The UK & Commonwealth and North America. If you’re selling to a UK based publisher the territory may get reduced down to an exclusive territory of the UK and Commonwealth (which would include Australia and New Zealand) with the possibility of Canada and maybe Europe exclusively too.
You can then sell the rights to a US publisher and they’ll get the US exclusively (along with its dependencies and territories) and sometimes Canada depending on the deal.
What about the rest of the world? That becomes non-exclusive, meaning that either the US publisher or the UK publisher can sell your book into it. This is a very common arrangement and if that’s the case you will get a massive list of countries stuck on to the back of the contract and the grant of rights clause will say something along the lines of…

the sole and exclusive right to publish throughout the territories listed on the attached schedule as exclusive and non-exclusively throughout those territories not marked as exclusive and excluding the US, its territories and dependencies and the Philippine Islands.

So something you would think is simple can get quite complicated! And that’s also why you might find you can’t get a certain edition of a book in the US when there’s one in the UK – the author/agent might have sold UK rights but not yet sold the US rights.

‘to publish for the full term of copyright’

Term of copyright is the bog-standard duration for publishing contracts. I know it’s a long, long time but if you’re contracting with a major publisher it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to get a shorter term. It’s what publishers expect. This isn’t to say that you’ve given the rights to your book away forever but we will come on to that in the ‘Getting Out!’ post. Contracts with foreign publishers or audio publishers tend to be for much shorter terms and five years is a common licence term for those. Some contracts can also run on a rolling basis, for example they may run for five years and then after that automatically renew for a year unless the other party cancels it, but those kinds of terms are uncommon. 

‘to license others to do so as outlined elsewhere’

This wording is talking about the other ways that your book can be sold and exploited that aren’t just selling the book in bookshops. We call these ‘subsidiary rights’ and they can include things like selling hardback rights to a specialist publisher to do a special edition, or selling audio, or selling the radio rights to the BBC to make your book Book of the Week! This is a hefty area in itself so we’ll talk about these in more details in the Subsidiary Rights post.

And that’s the grant of rights clause! Phew!

There’s one more thing I want to mention before I wrap this post up (we’re nearly there, I promise!) and that’s the Option clause.

The Option clause, or sometimes called ‘The Next Work’ is you giving your publishers first dibs on your next book. This isn’t something that’s included in every publishing contract and as a rule of thumb the publisher should be asking for an option as part of their original deal offer. If you do have an option clause in your contract, this doesn’t mean you have to sell the publisher your next book. There should be clear criteria in the option clause that says what book you send the publishers (for example, it could say your next work of non-fiction, or next book with the same set of characters) and how long they take to consider it before you can submit it elsewhere (perhaps four to six weeks).

And that’s a whistle-stop tour of the grant of rights! We’re done!

I hope that this has been helpful and started to shine a light on a mysterious part of the industry. Next we’ll take a look at author responsibilities!

Publishing Contracts: Grant of Rights

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