Thursday, April 28, 2016

The vexed question of contracts

(C) Stockunlimited
You've polished your manuscript until it gleams, sent out your queries to publishers, and finally HUZZAH you're offered a publishing deal! A contract! Whoopee! Sign on the dotted line and away we go.


Have you read the contract? Do you understand what it means? Because if you don't you may well be signing away the rights to your book forever. Recently some of the largest names in small publishing (Ellora's Cave and Samhain) have gone under. Quite a few smaller publishers have gone the same way. And every time, authors are stuck with not being able to re-publish their books. But it's not just failed businesses. I have friends who bitterly regret signing away their rights to books forever, when their relationship with the publisher went pear-shaped. Most of the circumstances where rights to a book revert to the author, such as the book is out of print, don't pertain to ebooks.

This article gives an insight into why publishers are loathe to return rights.

I have twice been on the wrong end of a failed small publisher.  I was fortunate. I was able to regain my rights. I suppose I should have simply stuck with self-publishing, but I felt one of my books might be better off in a different setting. So I accepted an offer. However, I didn't sign without reading. I particularly insisted on a clause whereby I could regain my rights to the book. It was performance based. If the publisher had not delivered a certain number of sales in a specified time frame, the rights would revert back to me

They didn't reach the target, and I asked for my rights back. I'm not a lawyer, but I want to make the point that if a publisher wants your book, they should be prepared to negotiate the terms of the contract.

Personally, I'll just self-publish. It suits me.


  1. I consider myself very lucky to have had no issues getting my rights back with the three publishers that closed on me. One wanted me to sign a contract with their buyer, but I turned it down because of the sucky contract. I've also turned down a contract with a rights grab and that I was told was not negotiable. But I guess I'm also lucky in having the confidence to say no and either look elsewhere or self publish. I can see situations where some authors, especially new authors, feel they have no choice even if fully aware of the potential consequences. I'm just glad that's not me.

    1. You hit the key words - "fully aware of the potential consequences". From there, it's a clear choice.

  2. Good post and the other thing is NEVER rely on verbal assurances that a clause doesn't apply to you, or that the publisher would never enforce that clause etc. If it's in the contract it can be enforced. Get any changes you want in WRITING in the contract. What Pippa says is very important - you have to know when to walk away if you aren't getting terms you want.

    1. Excellent point, Veronica. If it's not written down, it doesn't apply.

  3. Ditto all of this. Read and UNDERSTAND what you are signing.


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