However, the feeling of being stuck in a publishing contract can be one of the worst for an author. In recent times, I've seen a few authors in this situation, struggling to get out of a contract they no longer want to be in.
So in the light of that, I thought I would write a quick blog article about what to look out for in a publishing contract.
Your publisher will outline the territory in which they wish to hold the rights to publishing your books. Typically, since the advent of ebooks, this means they'll have the right to publish you over the whole world. Sounds good, right?
Sort of. It also means that if your publisher is taking a long time to promote you or is only interested in promoting you in one country (or in their home town), you don't have the option of taking the reins yourself and printing and selling your work somewhere else too. It essentially means your publisher holds the monopoly on where you're going to be selling books.
I got caught out with this in my first publishing contract, but in my second publishing contract I asked for print rights to be reserved for me in my area of the world - the Pacific. My publishers have both been in America, and this normally means that my likelihood of ever printing the books in my home country and seeing them in bookstores there would be nil. However, if I reserve the rights to print them here in the Pacific, I have options left if they're not selling well in the USA.
Rule of thumb: try to avoid letting your publisher have publishing rights for you the world over. Unless they're amazing and are going to promote you absolutely everywhere.
2. Subsidiary rights.
Subsidiary rights are all those side products your book might generate in an ideal world. Lego models, Braille editions, large print editions, and so on. A publisher will usually try to do a grab bag of all of these things, including film rights. My advice is: don't let them. Try to negotiate with them so that you retain some of these subsidiary rights. If that doesn't work, get them to raise your royalties on them. Why? Sale of subsidiary rights can have big earning potential for an author. J. K. Rowling became rich when she sold the rights to an American edition of her book to Scholastic. And she became richer when she sold the film rights. I'm not saying that you're J. K. Rowling. If you're anything like me, you're not anywhere close to that. Which means you need all the financial help you can get, like most authors.
3. Time frame.
I've lucked out on this a couple of times, unfortunately - but I would advise that you nail down the publisher's time frame and release dates in the contract if possible. Otherwise, who knows when your books might be published? And in the meantime, your rights are tied up, and you're probably not even allowed to submit work to another publisher. So nail down your time frame.
You might be worried about job security, so you're happy to include an "option" for the publisher to obtain your next sequel. They'll be the first to have dibs on it. But what if you discover down the line that your partnership isn't working too well? Make your publisher work for the books that you've spent half your lifetime on. Don't let them have the option.
Be careful of this. You don't want your publisher to wind up possessing your copyright for the next seventy years. Make sure it's put in your name. Additionally, you might want to think about:
6. Out of print termination.
This is a standard clause in a publishing contract, referring to a time when rights will automatically revert back to the author should the books go out of print. The trouble with today's modern age is that the books will never go out of print, because there will always be digital copies. Make sure you get this clause changed. Ensure that it says something about sales falling below a particular threshold guaranteeing a return of your rights. Otherwise you could be stuck with a publisher that's not working to promote you at all. You might be selling one ebook every two years... but you're still stuck.
7. No obligation to publish.
No obligation to publish? What the heck is that? It means precisely what it looks like: if the publisher decides they don't want to publish your book, then they're not publishing it - even after you've gone to all the work of getting a contract. The one that I've had the privilege of seeing personally even said I would have to return my advance to my publisher if they decided not to publish me. My advice: work on getting this clause heavily edited or removed. If they won't remove it, make sure some rigid conditions are put on it so that it's more likely it will never be used.
And there you have it. Just a few of the pitfalls you can come across in a standard publishing contract. If you've received one, congratulations! It's a huge achievement. Now make sure that you get the rewards your work deserves. This is a business partnership. You don't have to be enslaved in any way by your contract. So get some legal advice or an experienced author to read it through with you and don't be afraid to make some changes. A long negotiation period is probably a good thing.
It might mean a happier business partnership.