Royalties : Book Publishing ...

What is a Book Publishing Agreement?

By Brian Scott

A book publishing agreement is a document or contract that a writer signs with a publisher before their work can be put into print and distributed in different media. Getting such a book contract is probably on every author’s wish list.

Not all clauses in such contracts may work out to your advantage. You cannot rely on your agent to make all decisions, especially if you are placing your own rights at stake. Fully understanding your publishing agreement will ensure you remain in control with your endeavors.


First, look for what rights belong to you in your contract. Examine the clauses closely instead of skimming through them. If you have any doubts, do not hesitate to consult a lawyer or your agent or publisher.

Standard publishing agreements usually forces the author to assign or license all printing rights to the publisher. Subsidiary rights — such as foreign sales, book clubs, film, audio — are usually included. Except for the rights to printing, you can negotiate all of these rights.

Retain as many secondary rights as possible. After all, you never know when you’ll get a better deal from a different publisher for film and foreign sales. If you retain such subsidiary rights, you will gain financially more, of course.


Closely examine the royalties in your contract, especially if you plan to make a living from your writing. Royalties are always a negotiable clause.

The rate of your royalties is a sliding price point and depends if your book is hardcover, paperback, trade paperback, or a combination. The book’s genre — nonfiction, fiction or professional textbook — will also determine prices and percentages for royalties.

Understand the implications of the different formulas for pricing (retail price, invoice price or net receipts) so you can understand the proposed royalty rates. If the publisher retains subsidiary rights, all net receipts should be split equally with you, the author.

At this point, don’t hesitate to consult an expert if you are confused. Do not rely too much on the publisher’s generosity, and always be wise in dealing with the financial aspects of your transactions.


These types of clauses in your contract are often legal-heavy. In fact, many authors, agents and editors may not always have a full grasp of what they include in them.

These paragraphs state the respective responsibilities of each party, including what claims they can make against the book, such as defamation, invasion of privacy or copyright infringement.

Aside from the publisher’s lawyers, you should appoint your own legal council to peruse the terms and conditions. Have a lawyer carefully examine your contract to ensure full protection.


Some clauses in your contract may grant the publisher rights to either make an offer or buy your next book. Do not accept such option clauses. If you cannot remove such an option clause entirely, then negotiate so it doesn’t impose a real burden on you.

One way to negotiate such option clauses is to establish a limited period in which the publisher can bid on your next book, and permits you to sell your next book to a different publisher who offers a better deal.


Clauses on revisions only apply to nonfiction books. Make sure your contract allows you to update your contract if your publisher revises your contract extensively. Also make sure your contract contains a clause that places a cap on how often the publisher requires you to revise your book over a certain period of time.


In the worst-case scenario, your book may not become successful under your current publishing company and they may lose interest. If this happens, your contract grants you the rights to your book, and you can re-publish it with another publisher.

Make sure the contract clearly defines the “out-of-print” terms. Ideally, your book becomes “out-of-print” when the publisher’s catalog no longer lists your book, or your publisher withdraws your book from major book chains.

Remember to be smart in dealing with the legal aspects of your publishing agreement. Never hesitate to ask for professional legal help when you need to understand any part of your contract. Your decisions here will determine the success of your writing career as a book author.

About the Author: Brian Scott is founder of Book Proposal Writing ( ), a free website that teaches you how to write a book proposal. Download your free sample book proposal today.


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