Book Publishing Contracts

Checklist of Deal Terms

By: Howard G. Zaharoff
March 10, 2011

1. Rights granted (form, language, market, time):

A. Copyright ownership

  • Author owns; rights not specifically granted are reserved to Author
  • If work for hire unavoidable, consider termination and reversion
  • Publisher registers copyrights in Author's name

B. Territories (EC & Australia considerations)

C. Subsidiary rights: first serial, second serial, reprint, British Commonwealth, foreign, translation, motion picture, TV, dramatic, audiocassette, electronic, multimedia, commercial and merchandising -- reserved or granted

  • Proportion in which proceeds shared (90% first serial, 75/80% UK and foreign, 50-66% other)
  • Author or agent approval of subsidiary rights licenses controlled by Publisher
  • Pass-through provision (no greater than 30 days flow-through after advance repaid)
  • Hard/soft deal vs. Hard/soft separately
  • Author retains dramatic, film, TV, radio, merchandising
  • Author retains rights to characters, settings, title (if fiction with series prospects)
  • Electronic, audio, video, new technologies
  • Book club rights – be sure royalties are fair (don’t become a free or low-cost giveaway)
  • Rights not exploited by Publisher within reasonable period (e.g., 2 –3 years after book published) revert to Author
  • Include general reservation of rights clause: any rights not expressly granted remain with Author

2. Amount and schedule of advance and royalties

A. Advances – Should be nonrefundable; at worst, if manuscript rejected, first proceeds

  • Ideal: 1/2 on signing, 1/4 on delivery of half MS, 1/4 on final acceptance
  • No "payment on publication"

B. Royalty Rate (list price, net of freight pass-through vs. net receipts)

  • Hard cover: 5,000 - 10%; 10,000 - 12 1/2%; 15,000 - 15%
  • Mass market paper: 6/8% (on first 50-150,000), increasing to 10%
  • Trade paperback: 6/7 1/2% (on first 25,000), increasing to 9/10% (often on net price = 1/3 - 1/4 off list)
  • E-books: highest print rate; 20-50% net
  • Academic and scholarly texts, including textbooks: 6-15% net

C. Bonus payments or increased payments in the event of:

  • Book club sales
  • Bestseller list appearance
  • Award winner: Pulitzer, NBA
  • Motion picture or TV development
  • Earn-out advance

D. Discount Schedule: consider distinguishing premium sales to business from bulk sales to specialty stores, and request sharing “costs” of deep discounts

E. If the book includes advertising or other third party content (other than excerpts from other works published by the Publisher), Author gets 50% of fees paid to Publisher.

F. Authors and Illustrators of children's books generally share revenue 50/50, unless either hires other to do work.

G. Grants: Authors of textbooks and nonfiction may require grant funds to cover extra expenses, such as travel, research assistance or special artwork.

3. Delivery Issues

A. Reasonable deadline

B. Format for delivery – e.g. number of paper copies; disk or CD (Word format); emailed

C. If illustrations, photos, charts or tables are required, when must Author submit? Who pays for these?

D. When must Author submit permissions and releases? Who pays for these?

4. Acceptance of manuscript

A. Define work

  • Fiction vs. nonfiction
  • Reading level: adult, college level, YA, middle reader, picture book
  • Attach proposal and sample chapters (or sample illustrations)
  • Word count (range)

B. Publisher must comment - accept or reject -- as submitted (periodic review)

C. Standard: fit for publication vs. satisfactory to publisher

D. Author's right to revise in response to detailed rejection

E. Editing

  • Author may perform (extra comp. beyond certain point)
  • If on reviewing galleys Author desires changes, no charge unless cost exceeds 10% of composition cost (chargeable against royalties only) and no charge if due to printer's or Publisher's error.

5. Exclusive commitment to particular editor (travelling clause)

A. If editor removed, Publisher and Author will select new editor

B. If no agreement, Author may terminate (first proceeds)

6. Editor obliged to edit (written editorial guidance, line-editing, proof-reading)

7. Publication Issues

A. Require firm publication date (6-18 mos.)

B. Print run (e.g., first printing of 2500-5000 copies)

C. Publisher shall not insert any ads or third party material without Author’s consent

8. Author Approvals

A. Approval of edits and final work

B. Approval/consultation for title, jacket, layout, artwork, and catalogue copy, including manner, wording, order and prominence of Author or co-author credit

C. Approval/consultation for advertising, promotion (Author's likeness?)

9. Advertising and promotion commitment

A. Publicity tour

B. Publicist

C. Catalogue inclusion

D. Advertising and marketing budget

E. Complimentary review and promo copies

F. Publisher can't allow work to go out-of-print for 2 years

10. Cost of permissions, illustrations, photographs

A. Specify extras required, who obtains/creates, who pays (artwork, photos, maps, index)

B. Permissions may be costly: ideally, Publisher gets and pays; alt: Author gets, Publisher pays; alt: Author pays up to $______.

C. Index - if Author creates, consider asking for more money (bigger advance?)

11. Accounting and payment

A. Publisher keeps accurate records (copies printed, bound, sold, returned, and given away)

B. Author may inspect (Audit right)

C. Quarterly (at least semiannual) payments, accompanied by detailed accounting

D. Pass-through for sub rights payments exceeding $1000 [or other amount]

E. Reserve against returns — 6 months/25% maximum (alt: after 1st two royalty periods, adjust reserve to reflect actual return rate)

F. Individual vs. joint accountings (if multiple book contract)

G. Agent — all paid to agent vs. Publisher pays agent fee, balance to Author

H. No deductions from "other agreements"

I. Royalty deductions may be proposed for: deep discounts, special sales, mail order, premium sales, small print runs

12. Warranties, Indemnities and Liabilities

A. Warranties based on work as submitted by Author: no indemnity for Publisher's contributions

B. Author warrants no infringement (best knowledge?)

C. Author warrants no libel or invasion of privacy (make Publisher judge and assume responsibility – generally more familiar with applicable law than the Author)

D. Author warrants no errors in formulae, instructions or recipes (make Publisher test?)

E. If Author indemnifies, it hires lawyer and controls defense -- no settlement without Author's consent

F. Ideally, limit indemnity to fixed amount ($_____) or 50% of final judgment.

G. Author not liable for incidental or consequential damages

H. If Author wins, Publisher bears costs above $_____ (or 50/50 split)

I. Limit withholding (so Author can use royalties to pay defense costs); require interest-bearing account, state when and how money released

J. Neither may sue third parties for infringement etc. without consulting other

K. Insurance protection: Request publisher to extend publisher's coverage to Author as additional insured. (What is the deductible?) (NB. Random House has authors pay up to 20% of advance for infringement and libel damages and attorney fees; 50% of legal fees if successfully defended.)

13. Remaindering

A. No overstock sale for 18/24 mos.

B. Publisher pays at least 10% of net (unless sold below cost)

C. No remainder sale without offering Author right to purchase at cost

D. No destruction of overstock without notice to Author, who may obtain by paying shipping costs.

14. Revisions

A. If Publisher wants revision, Author asked first

B. If Author refuses, Publisher may allow other to prepare

C. If Author completes, same royalty (vs. revert to base)

D. If third party, limit chargeback of costs (definitely not deductible from monies due Author under other agreements).

E. If third party hired, require "work for hire" treatment without change of Author credit.

F. Limit frequency of revisions

G. Do not treat as new book (which generally resets royalty to lowest rate)

15. Reversion and termination of contract; out-of-print provision; reversion of unexercised rights

A. Rights revert to Author on termination or if Publisher fails to publish (or otherwise exercise within ___ years, e.g. 1(c)(viii))

B. Advances kept by Author (or one-year first proceeds)

C. Materials and manuscripts returned to Author

D. Author's right to terminate if no copies available for sale in the U.S. through normal retail channels or through major chains; or not in Publishers [printed vs. online] catalogs; or Publisher sells fewer than _____ copies in single year

E. Author may buy plates at 25% cost of manufacture and remaining copies (bound or unbound) at lowest discounted price

F. Out-of-print vs. available electronically (including print-on-demand)

16. Assignment of Rights/Obligations

A. Author may assign payments

B. Publisher cannot assign, or can only assign to equally reputable publisher (or upon merger or acquisition)

C. No automatic change of ownership upon bankruptcy.

17. Agency clause

18. Option

A. Free to submit anywhere; Publisher gets right of refusal

B. Author submits to Publisher; if no good faith agreement within 30 days, Publisher has no further rights. (Avoid letting publisher respond 30/60 days after first book published: at worst, must respond after first book accepted)

C. Submission requires only proposal and perhaps sample chapter, not complete ms.

D. Applies only to works of specific type (e.g. novel, work featuring same character, college-level microeconomics text)

E. Does not apply to collaborations/joint works or where other Publisher approached Author with proposal.

19. Free Copies

A. 25 per edition

B. Author may purchase at 50% or lowest discount.

20. Conflicting Publications

A. Prohibiting Author to publish on same subject is too restrictive, especially for academics and experts

B. Should apply only to "substantially similar" nonfiction works: same subject, same audience, treated in same manner.

C. Reasonable time limit

21. Mediation/Arbitration


If you would like to discuss book publishing contract issues, please contact Howard G. Zaharoff.