We’ve had quite the journey so far wandering through the heady clauses of advances and royalties and also squelching through the tougher clauses like the warranties and indemnities. In this post, I’m going to give some general advice about contracts.
It’s our last post on publishing contracts and it wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t sing the theme tune/disclaimer! So are you ready? Say it with me now: 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.
Don’t worry, that’s the last time we’ll have to sing that together. (You did sing it with me, didn’t you?)
We’re at the end of the contractual road, the signature lines are in front of you, and your pen is poised to complete the ritual. Before you make that final, indelible mark what are some general things you should keep in mind for your contract?
First off, the contract should be clear. You should be able to read through the contract and understand what exactly you’re granting to the publishers, how much you are being paid for it, and what happens if anyone fails to fulfil their obligations. If you have any questions about what any of the contract means never be afraid to ask. If you have an agent, that’s part of what they’re getting their commission for. And if you don’t, then the publisher (or whomever the contract is with) should be able to explain and justify any language in a contract. If there’s something in the contract that you have granted your publishers – like merchandising rights – and there’s no set royalty in the contract then you should make sure there’s wording that any royalty for it is ‘to be mutually agreed’. Make sure that you can point to the contract and say ‘I am owed this amount of royalties on this kind of exploitation of the rights’. (I don’t mean exploitation in a bad way, the most obvious way to exploit the rights is to print and sell a book!)
Next, money should always flow to the author. This isn’t a big issue with big publishers, or even independents, but there are unfortunately unscrupulous people out there who want to see if they can get away charging the author for services they shouldn’t have to pay for. The contract should clearly set out what monies are due to the author on all sales of the books and usually the contract should say how much is owed for each kind of book sale defined by format and territory (the home and exports rates we talked about).
And our final thought, which feeds into the contract being clear, is that anything not set out specifically in the contract should be reserved to the author. There’s often a small clause at the end of the contract that sets this out, but as long as your contract is clear it should be obvious that anything not specified in the contract is not granted to the publishers and that you’re free to exploit them to your heart’s content elsewhere.
It’s also worth making sure you get offers or changes to any terms in writing. There’s the possibility that you will chat on the phone with your editor or agent about your latest publishing offer, so it’s good to get a written record of it (even if just a quick email) to set out those terms so that it’s clear exactly what was agreed. Really a lot of this comes down to being specific and clear in your dealings and contracts. If you’re ever unsure of something, whether that’s a term in the contract or if you can have a deadline extension, never be afraid to ask your edit/agent. They’re book lovers too!
That’s about all I have to say for now and I am sure I have said enough! It’s been an adventure getting to the end, but I hope it was worth it and you had a good time.
Before we wrap up this series for good, how about a few fun facts?
- This blog series came to a total of 17,805 words (not including the introduction!)
- The longest post was (unsurprisingly!) the Money! post coming in at 4,342 words
- The average blog post length was 2,544
Until we meet again: be well, be kind, and have fun!