Book Contracts

Conventional wisdom says that writing a book is easy, editing is hard. Getting published by anyone other than Createspace is like flying –  it requires a great deal of perseverance, determination, a can-do attitude, and a shit-load of luck. A lack of sensitivity to pain, and a profound deafness to nay-sayers helps as well.


Finally, you get the acceptance and they utter magical words like ‘contract.’ You know what a contract is; hitmen fill them in the movies. Lucifer gets people to sign them when he buys their souls. You might even have one for your day job.

There’s a reason why the Bible gets all the sales and Satan has never been traditionally published; He read the publishing contract.

I have signed about a dozen publishing contracts in my time and in my experience they run from the virtual handshake variety (which is worth the paper they are written on) and others literally remove most of your rights.

The essential things to keep in mind are:

  1. Understand what you are signing

If you can’t make sense of it – then don’t sign it. You don’t need to engage a lawyer to tell you that the contract you are considering is bad for you if you get to the end of it and aren’t sure what you are signing away.

  1. Remember It’s a business agreement.

Publishers exist for only one purpose – to make money.

You may write for a thousand reasons, but if making money isn’t in the top two, then you have no business submitting to publishers in the first place.

  1. What rights are they buying from you?

Make notes on the specific clauses of the contracts you are considering.

For books I look for the following types of clause:

  • How long will the publisher own the rights to publish this book for?
  • Who owns the copyright?
  • What about other types of publishing? This includes – audio books, paperbacks, ebooks, foreign languages, film rights, serial rights, graphic novels, cartoon, TV adaptations, or Kabuki (the Japanese art of shadow puppetry, not to be confused with Bukkake…)
  • Does it state that other than the specifically agreed rights, the author retains the rights to all other forms of media and distribution?
  1. How much do I get paid?

While writing isn’t about cashing a weekly pay check. It should not be about never cashing a check at all.

Ebooks published by other parties (non-self-published) you should expect a royalty of around 40%

Is it 40% of the 70% Amazon pays out? Or is it 40% of the retail price?

Generally it is 40% of the royalty received by the publisher.

It’s a fair deal – again the publisher is the one investing in your book. They have overheads, just like you. They only get paid a royalty so on the retail, Amazon takes 30%, the publisher takes 70% and you get 40% of that 70%.

Print is where things get tricky.

Royalties to authors for print books range from 10%-15%

Print books cost money to produce when they are pre-printed and stocked in stores like Barnes and Noble, or stacked in some guy’s garage.

Where it gets weird for print book royalties is the costs deducted from the money received. The author is like a creditor to a business – you are in line to get your payment for a print book – but the line is long and you are at the end.

On all sales of the WORK, the PUBLISHER will pay the AUTHOR a royalty of XX% of the selling price of the print book and based on the net sales (being the total sold less the total returned and does not include those placed for sale and unsold).

Publishers cover the costs of book production. They cover the costs of shipping and handling – that is a contract with them and the shops selling your books.

Shops can return un-sold books for a credit. Which means they buy 1000 copies, (at a discount) sell 10 and claim back the 9990 unsold copies. Which end up being recycled.

Meanwhile, you are standing in line waiting for a royalty on 1000 books, which then turns into 10 books and you’re the last person to get paid and the publisher has to absorb the cost of the discount and written off books.

2 thoughts on “Book Contracts

  1. Luckily I studied law at university and one of my subjects was contracts. When I read my book contract I picked up about 5 red flags, but decided to proceed anyway. BAD idea. But oh well, we have to learn somehow lol


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