Book Contract Red Flags

© 2014 Kathryn Page Camp

As writers, we yearn for that first book contract to start us on the road to publication. Some of us are so desperate that we’ll sign anything now and hope we don’t regret it later. But most of us want to understand what we are signing. Even if we can’t negotiate, we can walk away.eec545cb-9a10-457e-8b40-b4f886f2e642

I have 400 words to tell you about book contracts, and I can’t do it. But I can give you a few red flags. Here is a quick description of three clauses you don’t want to see in your book contract.

  • “Publisher owns the copyright,” or “Publisher will register the copyright in its own name.” If the publisher is financing the book, it will want the exclusive right to reproduce your book and distribute it to the public in one or more formats (e.g., print and/or e-book). This is exactly what a traditional publisher buys. But it can get what it needs without taking your copyright. A copyright is a bundle of rights that includes more than just publication, so you don’t want to give it up.
  • An option clause says you can’t sell your next book to a different publisher unless the current publisher isn’t interested. Some contracts state that the next deal will be “on the same terms” as the current deal. That means even the option clause carries over, so you will never get a better contract until the publisher rejects a book. If you can’t negotiate the clause away, try to get the next deal “on terms to be mutually agreed upon.” You should also try to limit the clause to the next—and only the next—manuscript in the same genre. The worst case scenario is when the contract allows your publisher to match the terms of another offer, which discourages other publishers from even considering the new manuscript.
  • A joint accounting clause allows the publisher to offset royalties from one book with the unearned advance and author’s expenses from another. There is some justification for this in a multi-book contract, but watch out for clauses that allow joint accounting across contracts.

If you want to do the deal, try to negotiate these three clauses out of your contract or at least to modify them. If you can’t, consider walking away.

Whether you sign or not is your choice.

But it should be an informed one.
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Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her most recent book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing, 2013), is aKirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at Kathryn Page Camp, Author and Speaker962568d1-55ba-4334-a81b-29e6e3732862


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