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Book Contract Overview

Quick note -- I tweaked the font on those three icons from yesterday. Updated versions are now posted, if anyone wants to snag the new copies.

So I'm sitting here signing the contracts for Secret of the Snow Queen (or whatever it will eventually be called), and I figured some of you might be curious what a book contract actually covers. I'll stick it behind a cut tag out of consideration for the rest of you who could care less :-)

I'm not going to go word for word, but we're looking at three copies of a five-page document on legal-sized paper. There's a lot of verbiage in this sucker, starting with the date and who's involved (me, my agent, and DAW).

Part 1 is the rights granted, basically spelling out that DAW gets to be the exclusive distributor of my book in the English language in the U.S. and a few other regions. Each subclause here talks about a different right being licensed to the publisher. (Licensed, not sold -- I still own the rights.) There are clauses about licensing DAW translation and motion picture rights, but these are crossed out. My agent kicks ass on the foreign sales, so we keep those. And in the unlikely event that something does happen with Hollywood, we own those rights as well.

Part 2 just says that DAW gets to change the title and edit the book if they want. They have to give me proofs for approval, and I have to get those back within 10 days. This is the first of my books where I believe we're going to change the title I came up with.

Part 3 says I'll write it All By Myself, and I won't be ripping off long passages from Tolkien and Pratchett to get us all sued. Ripping off Hans Christian Anderson is fair game. Yay for copyright limits!

Part 4 says DAW will register the copyright in my name. Even though DAW is publishing the book, I still own it. With the exception of work-for-hire, you don't want to be giving away the copyright to your work. That's why part 1 talks about licensing specific rights.

Part 5 says if we do get sued it's my problem, not DAW's, and the legal costs come out of my pocket. So ... um ... please don't sue me, 'kay?

Part 6 is my deadline: October 1, 2010, for a manuscript of roughly 95,000 words. I then get another four weeks to do revisions. I've never actually been held to a revision deadline, but it's interesting to know it's in the contract. I know a lot of authors have blown deadlines at some time or another. The contract says this gives DAW the legal right to take back their advance and terminate the contract if I miss my deadline, but I don't know anyone who's ever actually had to return their advance. I'm sure it's happened, but usually the publisher is willing to work with you. On the other hand, as most of you have seen, I'm pretty obsessive about deadlines and don't plan to blow them.

Part 7 spells out my advance. Yay, money! I get half of the advance when we all sign the contract, and half upon acceptance of the completed and revised manuscript. So even though the deadline is 10/1/10, I then have to do revisions, and those revisions have to be read and approved, which means it will probably be early to mid-2011 before I see the second half of the advance.

Part 8 is the royalty breakdown. A certain percentage of the cover price for the first X books sold, a slightly higher percentage for the rest. I doubt we'll sell enough to make that higher royalty, but it's nice to know it's there. This also covers royalties on trade paperbacks, hardcovers, e-books, reduced-price copies, audio, and overstock, all of which are slightly different percentages. Also note that royalties are based on the cover price, not the net.

Part 9 brings us to royalty statements, promising them twice a year on specific dates. Interpreter not included, but DAW's royalty statements aren't too bad, and my agent is good at translating the bits I don't understand.

Part 10 says DAW agrees to publish the book within 24 months of acceptance of the revised manuscript, which puts their deadline for publication sometime by 2013. They've always published my books much faster than that. I'm guessing this one should be out by the end of 2011.

Part 11 promises 48 author copies to be split between my agent and myself. My agent uses his copies for foreign marketing.

Part 12 is the reversion clause. If the book goes out of print after seven years, I can get my rights back. The contract also notes that DAW putting out a print-on-demand edition does not qualify as keeping it in print unless that edition sells a certain number of copies. THIS ONE IS IMPORTANT! I might choose to release an e-book or POD edition of my books someday, but I can't do that while DAW owns the rights. So long as they keep the book in print, great! But if they decide to let it go out of print, this gives me the ability to get my rights back and market it on my own.

Part 13 gives my agent's contact info and says all money goes to him, and he gets to keep his 15%. He'll then write me a check for the rest. That's right, the agent's commission is written right into the contract. Even if my agent divorces me tomorrow, he'll still get his 15% for this book for as long as it's under contract.

Part 14 says I agree to give DAW the first chance to buy my next book before letting any other publishers see it. If I was writing more than a book a year, or wanted to do multiple series, we might negotiate this clause to say DAW gets first look at my next fantasy, giving me the ability to market works in other genres to other publishers. Right now though, I'm very happy writing for DAW, and have no problem sending them my next.

Parts 15 and 16 state that the contract is governed by the laws of New York, and any arbitration over the contract will also take place in New York.

Part 17 specifies that the agreement applies to me, my heirs and executors, and to DAW and its subsidiaries. If DAW is consolidated or sold, then whoever buys them gets the rights listed in this contract. In theory, this means that if DAW went bankrupt, for example, the rights could be tied up for a while. But part 10 up above should limit how long the rights would be stuck in limbo. If the book has already been published, then part 12 would provide the limbo limit.

Part 18 gives me permission to post a free excerpt of up to 7500 words. That's right, it's legal for me to post the first chapter of my books ... but this is why I can't post the first four chapters (unless they're really really short).

Part 19 says that if there are overstock copies, DAW will try to let me buy some, but no promises.

And that's it. I sign, my wife signs as witness, and then it goes back to DAW for their signatures.

I'm not an agent, nor am I a lawyer. This is how I understand my contract to the best of my knowledge, but there's a reason I have an agent going through these things. No clue whether this will be interesting to anyone, but here it is. Let me know if anyone has questions. To other authors, I'd be curious to hear your take, and whether I've missed anything important.



( 47 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:29 am (UTC)
Thank you for the "translation!"
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)
You're welcome! I know for me, the more I saw of this sort of thing, the less overwhelmed I felt when I started to actually sell and publish my own work. Hopefully it's helpful to a few folks...
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:41 am (UTC)
I find the business side of things intimidating, so reading posts like this helps.
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:36 am (UTC)
Thank you for going over that. I found it very interesting.
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:41 am (UTC)
Part 14 says I agree to give DAW the first chance to buy my next book before letting any other publishers see it. If I was writing more than a book a year, or wanted to do multiple series, we might negotiate this clause to say DAW gets first look at my next fantasy, giving me the ability to market works in other genres to other publishers. Right now though, I'm very happy writing for DAW, and have no problem sending them my next.

If you're already writing more than one book a year, or multiple series, there's an add-in (or should be) that says "excepting any book in Series X." You can also have the contract written to specify in a particular world, or a particular style {Luna gets first look at all my romantic fantasy, for'ex].

My contract with Pocket (17 pages, legal-size!) also covered the possibility that I might want to do shorter works in the Vineart universe. In that case, Pocket gets first look at that, even though it's not novel-length.

Parts 15 and 16 state that the contract is governed by the laws of New York, and any arbitration over the contract will also take place in New York.

This is because a) most publishers are based in New York, naturally, but also b) because, through experience, the courts actually have an understanding of publishing law that many other states lack.

My Pocket contract also specifies that I warrant that this book is my sole "next work of fantasy not based on a licensed property and written as a work-make for hire" and that I won't go off and write a work of fantasy not based, etc, for six months after publication of work -- this is publishing's version of a non-compete clause. However, my contract is also amended to allow the work I have under contract/will continue to contract with Luna.

There are also clauses in some contracts that say you must hand the contracted book in before any others [to keep you from putting them on hold while you go write Big Advance Blockbuster for someone else]. Most good agents get that one struck out.

Um. Yeah, I've maybe gone drinking with too many contracts types in my life. Once you learn the basic terminology, though, book contracts are really quite simple to understand. Unlike, say, royalty statements....

Edited at 2009-03-15 01:43 am (UTC)
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)
That's good to know, thanks! I figured there would be some fairly standard clauses for authors putting out more books than I am, but it's good to see what those look like.
Mar. 15th, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the additional pointers.
Mar. 20th, 2009 09:58 am (UTC)
Pocket (and their owners) are the only ones I've come across who demand an option on short-length works as well as a follow-up novel. You can get it out of the contract if you are determined to, having done so myself, but even with a good reason you have to fight like hell for it, despite the fact they don't have a good reason for wanting it other than 'the lawyers say we should.'
Mar. 20th, 2009 11:00 am (UTC)
Personally, I had no problem with that clause --it's specific to a stand-alone work [novella or longer] in the universe of the books they publish, which narrows it down considerably (short stories suitable for magazines and whatnot would be excluded, under those terms).

The fact that they have right of first refusal simply means I know where I'd send it first (and that they'd probably pay me more than any other outlet). If they didn't want it, all I'd have 'wasted' would be the 60 days they had to respond.

also: the reason they'd have for keeping it would be purely sales-related. If the books take off (please, universe!) then of course they'd want in on the continuing cash cow. And if they can do a good job publishing me, as per the "mutually acceptable terms" of the option, then yay for them!

Edited at 2009-03-20 11:02 am (UTC)
Mar. 20th, 2009 11:03 am (UTC)
Fair enough then. I object to it when they're just putting it in on principle to a stand-alone general fiction contract, just as well it's my job to argue about these things! ;0)
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)
I've always been interested in novel contracts. My GRANTS PASS contract was different and simpler because it was a small press, I believe. Thanks for a peek into this world.
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:56 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting this! It was very interesting to see.
Mar. 15th, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
I'm going to assume that e-book rights and audio books would be covered under sub-clauses in section one. How are Kindle books handled? Are they included in contracts these days or what?

I've never seen this addressed anywhere and looking at your outline made me curious. The writer does get paid for Kindle editions I hope....

And thank you so much for doing this. Since I hope to see one of these myself sometime in the future, this was perfect. Not at all boring. *g*
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:04 pm (UTC)
Yep. Part 1 says that I license them the rights to electronic editions, and part 8 says what my royalties are for e-books, which would include the Kindle. (15% of cover price, which isn't great, but is significantly higher than what I get for the mass market paperbacks.)
Mar. 15th, 2009 04:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you :) Good to know this stuff.
Mar. 15th, 2009 02:29 am (UTC)
Thanks, Jim. Not only is it good for us "young-uns" to see this stuff, but in 2009 and beyond things like book contracts are evolving, and not every author, agent or publisher is up on every thing. Not my job to write the contract, but I should know what sorts of things are supposed to be in there. Such knowledge has even come in handy with a couple of short story contracts I've been presented with. (grin)

Dr. Phil
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:06 pm (UTC)
It's interesting to see some of the holdover clauses too. I've already sealed up the contracts to go back to my agent, but there were clauses in there about filmstrip rights, and even microfiche, I believe. I suspect those will eventually go away, but it sometimes takes a while for the contracts to catch up. That caused problems for some folks a few years back when the older contracts hadn't really covered all of the new e-book technologies one way or another.
Mar. 15th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
ViewMaster disk rights. (grin)

And you'll never know when we get tired of computers and PowerPoint, and film strips will make an incredible comeback. Try holding up that flash drive to the light and read the pictures.

A-V geeks rule.

Dr. Phil
Mar. 15th, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
Hi, 2 questions:

"Also note that royalties are based on the cover price, not the net."

I wondered about this; it makes sense, as I assume that the net might be hard to determine based on a number of factors. Is it percentages, and is there a standard percentage or does it very according to popularity of the author?

"Part 11 promises 48 author copies to be split between my agent and myself. My agent uses his copies for foreign marketing."

Whoa. That sounds like a lot; is that standard too?
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
Writer Beware talks about royalties from time to time. Here's a good example of how that clause can be manipulated: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2008/10/victoria-strauss-blu-phier-publishing.html

I'm not completely sure about the standard for author copies. I know the number for a hardcover edition would be a little smaller, but mass markets are pretty cheap to produce. I don't *think* that number is unusual for a big publisher.
Mar. 15th, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC)
Wow, thank you for linking me to that. It's an excellent cautionary tale; I'm going to add it to the links page of my magazine. No author should have to go through that.

I noticed that the contract they analyzed says that they "agrees to pay client a royalty of 30% of the cover price per book sold, 15% of the cover price for all books sold by a wholesale distributor." Is that a normal percentage? It seems kind of high. (Not that I disapprove of authors being paid well... actually I prefer to see that.)
Mar. 15th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
Writer Beware is a good blog to have on the reading list for anyone in the SF/F writing business.

Those numbers are higher than anything I've ever gotten, but the reason they go that high is that they're not actually paying 30% of cover price. They're paying 30% after all their expenses have been taken out, or in the revised contract, 30% of their profits. In both fo these cases, I imagine the actual royalties would come up being a *lot* less than 30% of the cover price.

Say they sell 1000 copies of your book at $10, which makes for nice simple math and a $3000 royalties check. But if they say they spent $4000 on the print run, advertising, and distribution, they don't have to pay you a penny for those 1000 books.

Mass market royalties usually seem to run 6% to 8% of the cover price, from what I've seen. (They can go higher as you sell more books.) Trade paperback royalties are a little higher than that, and hardcover another small step up. (Maybe the 10% - 12% range on hardcovers, though I'm not as certain on those numbers.)

6% of a $7.99 mass market isn't a lot. That would be $.48 per book. But with a big publisher, you (hopefully) earn out the advance in quantity.
Mar. 15th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
That sounds a lot more realistic. At 30% of net, I would think it would be very hard for a legit publisher to stay in business. And yeah, I figured that would be the scam. I've heard the film industry has been known to use similar techniques to avoid paying out anything.

Would it be
Mar. 15th, 2009 02:58 am (UTC)
Thanks for this breakdown. As I'm not published (yet) I've not seen an actual contract. Most of what you've summarized here I've heard before, but the biggest surprise was finding the Agent's commission here.

Congrats on the contract by the way. This is book 4, correct? Pretty awesome. I loved the first one and will be buying the rest of them as they come out.
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
Yep, this was for princesses #4, making it my seventh contract with DAW :-)
Mar. 15th, 2009 03:29 am (UTC)
Thanks, Jim, this is extremely useful to those of us who hope to sign book deals some day.
Although five pages sounds nice to me. I've signed video game contracts over twenty pages long, usually containing 50+ pages of addendum!
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:12 pm (UTC)

Talking to my former agent, I'm told that if you get a Hollywood deal, those contracts are monsters as well.
Mar. 15th, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC)
Yes, you have to be careful you don't sign away first born and/or body parts in those deals.
Mar. 15th, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
And don't even get me started on the royalty statements. Twenty-plus pages of incoherent gibberish. :)
Mar. 15th, 2009 04:12 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting this.
Mar. 15th, 2009 06:13 am (UTC)
Congratulations on actually sitting and signing the contract! That's wonderful news.

Interesting peek. Though I admit, as I'm pretty good at legalese I'm curious about specific language (gives me clearest idea of what they're saying).

I'm glad you trust your agent - I'd be a bit nervous waiting for him to get that check to me, lol.

Sounds good - and five pages does sound on the shorter end of things: short but sweet?
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:14 pm (UTC)
Part of that trust comes from the fact that this is what keeps him in business. The moment word gets out that an agent is scamming, that agent is going to lose a lot of his/her writers, which means losing the real source of income. No legit agent is going to risk that.

Scammers, on the other hand ... well, that's why we have Writer Beware and P&E.
Mar. 15th, 2009 10:33 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting this. As a little writerling, its interesting to see what clauses are in a publisher contract- there's some clauses in there which aren't obvious but could cause trouble if they weren't there, such as the copyright being registered in your name.
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:18 pm (UTC)
Yep. One more reason it's generally a good idea to have an agent on your side. I do know authors who do quite well without one, but I wouldn't want to try.
Mar. 15th, 2009 10:38 am (UTC)
Thanks! I've always wanted to know what actually went into a contract like this. :-)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:17 pm (UTC)
Re: changes ambiguity?
By the time we get to page proofs, the story is done and revised. It's my revisions, but then their copy-editor goes through to do a final polish.

I read the proofs and make notes of any changes or corrections. For example, in Goblin Hero, my copy editor and I had a disagreement about comma use, so I gave them a list of places where I wanted them to change it back to the way I wrote it originally. DAW gets my corrections (they have to be minor at this stage), inputs them into the book, and off it goes to be printed.
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:00 pm (UTC)
Re. Part 9: Having seen royalty statements at one time or another from several of the publishers, I have to say that DAW's are surprisingly easy to read and interpret.
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:15 pm (UTC)
I've heard that. I've always been a bit of a math geek, so the royalty statements weren't as intimidating as I expected. But I'd be curious to compare them to the ones from a few other publishers, just to see how bad they can get.
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:31 pm (UTC)
The issue with most of the other ones I've seen is missing information. They won't tell you how many units shipped, or how much they're holding in reserve, or what the returns were... Some of them are pretty sparse -- and without all the figures, you can't figure out what's really going on. (Not that the publisher couldn't just lie about the figures anyway, but...)
Mar. 15th, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
My contracts for my little books for Llewellyn are about 12 pages long! Oy.
Mar. 15th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
Oof. That's a lot of legalese to pore over...
Mar. 15th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
And I read every word, too. I think some of the contracts are longer than my books...

BTW--finished novel #2 last night! Woot! (Gee, now I only have to edit it...)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 15th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
"What was your journey to finding an agent like?"

Long and slow. I started looking for an agent with Goblin Quest, back in 2001. No bites. Wrote another book and did the agent hunt more seriously this time. Learned how to write a better query letter, and got to the point where I was getting requests for partial and full manuscripts, but the book itself wasn't ready. I suspect, had things kept going, that I would have landed an agent within another book or two.

But then Goblin Quest sold to a small press, and a larger one made an offer, which was something I could bring to my top three agent choices. I asked those three for help, and JABberwocky was the one that took me on.
Mar. 16th, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
Awesome insight and translation. I doubt I'll ever make the big monies (or any monies), but it's nice to see what's included.
Mar. 16th, 2009 08:18 pm (UTC)
I'm not a writer, but as a reader I get curious about some of the ways publishing works, so thanks for this- very interesting!
Mar. 17th, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)
Very cool to see!
Jun. 22nd, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
book contract overview
thanks I'm thinking of publishing with DAW so this is really helpful! thank you ever so much !
( 47 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines

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