The Essential Contract Checklist is a list of questions you MUST answer in order to keep your work safe. If you cannot answer them, find someone who can answer them for you! Posted by Mary Rosenblum
The Essential Contract Checklist
1. What rights do they want to acquire? What rights do you keep? This is your first and foremost questions. They must list the rights they are acquiring specifically and there must be a statement in the contract that all other rights not mentioned in this contract are held by the author. If that sentence is not there, ask the publisher to add it in. Yes, we change publishing contracts all the time! My agent used to change something in just about every paragraph of the New York contracts I got! Many new publishers simply do not know how to write a good contract. Be polite and make it clear that you’re trying to make things work for both of you, when you ask for a change.
2. Do you retain the copyright? Make sure that you are assigning specific rights to them and that it states in the contract that you, the author, retain the copyright. Selling all rights means that you are selling the copyright.
3. When and how can you end the publishing agreement? And does anything compromise your ability to terminate the agreement? If the publisher does a lousy job or you are becoming a best seller and the legacy New York publishers are sniffing around, you want to be able to publish somewhere else. Make sure that you have the right to end the agreement at some specific interval whether the publisher wants you to end it or not. If there is no way for you to end the agreement, they have effectively bought the book forever. Not good.
4. Is the ownership of characters and world compromised in any way? Make sure that you can use your characters and world in other stories or books, even after you have left this publisher. There should be some mention that once the publishing agreement is ended, all characters are your property, they are not owned in any way by the publisher.
5. Are you required to submit subsequent books to them? Subsequent books in this series? If so, when does this obligation terminate? There was a publisher, once, whose contract included the right to publish all subsequent books in a series, and there was no termination clause in the contract that permitted the author to end the agreement. Authors discovered that this publisher now ‘owned’ their fantasy series. What if New York comes knocking and you have to say no because this publisher gets to publish the rest of your books?
6. What is the royalty on the book? Is it on net sales or cover price? Are there any charges or money withheld from your share of the royalties? Some royalties look great - until you notice that they’re calculated on net sales, not cover price. This is typical for ebook, by the way, as well as print on demand publishing. Generally, net price is roughly half of the cover price for the print book, more or less. Net price is much closer to the cover price for ebooks, with their lower production costs. Remember that if they withhold a percentage for ‘returns’, that is subtracted from the percentage that you get for each sale.
7. How often do you get paid? Are there any qualifications? Do you get your royalties every month? Twice a year? Yearly? Are they distributed only when they reach a certain level? (Twenty-five dollars in the sample contract I use in my handbook, for example). How will you be paid? By check? PayPal?
8. What happens to the contract and book if the company is sold? This is important! Are you stuck with the new publisher? Do you have the option to end the contract when the publisher is sold? Usually, the contract will simply transfer to the new owner, so you really want to make sure you have the ability to opt out at some point if the new publisher is not what you want. That should be at the window for termination specified in your contract, if the contract transfers to the new publisher.
9. Do your rights revert to you and the contract is void if the company declares bankruptcy? This is critical and alas, is often left out of contracts. Ask the publisher to add a clause that specifies that if the company files for bankruptcy, the contract becomes void and all rights revert to you. A big publisher went bankrupt some years ago and many New York authors found that their work was tied up in the proceedings, listed as assets in the bankruptcy. It took years to sort that mess out!
So there you are. Read that contract and answer those questions for yourself. In Rights and Contracts, you'll find an actual publishing contract broken down and 'translated' clause by clause, with information about how important each item is to your book and your career.
You MUST understand your contract in order to keep control of your book! Educate yourself and feel free to ask questions here! I've seen some pretty woeful contracts lately from small press and publishing services companies. Some sneak in intentional 'gotchas' and others, I'm afraid, are merely examples of a publisher who rushed into business without understanding what a publishing contract needs to be. But that can hurt you the author, even if the editor had no malicious intent.
Educate yourself and protect your rights and your work!