Writers, what do you know about author agreements?
by Joseph Perry
Author Agreements: Know the Legal Terms
For authors who are given a book contract and may not have an agent or attorney, here are a few tips that may help you in negotiating against the publisher.
1) Grant of Rights
When reading the grant of rights clause, there are several things to watch out for. Here are a few items to keep in mind:
- License – Grant the publisher the exclusive right to publish your book. But don’t assign the copyright of your book. If you assign your copyright, you effectively no longer own the copyright and cede control of it. This means the publisher can effectively do what it wants with your book.
- Territory – Review the territory to see if the publisher is asking for world rights. If you think your book can sell in multiple territories, specify that the territory is only for a specific region (like North America, for example).
- Review the specific rights being granted – Grant the publisher only the rights you want them to have. If there is catch-all language that the publisher may publish your book “in all formats now known or hereafter,” try to strike this. Reserve all rights you don’t wish to grant.
2) Representations and Warranties
A representation is an assertion of fact at a given time. A warranty is a promise that the assertion of fact will remain true into the future.
Most author agreements have authors represent and warrant, among other things, that their work doesn’t violate copyright law, trademark law, privacy laws. Also that it’s not libelous or obscene. If you think your work may violate the law or are unsure if it does, try to qualify your representations and warranties. Use language like “to the best of Author’s knowledge.”
Also try to eliminate any representations and warranties that ask that your work won’t violate any law or harm anyone whatsoever. That’s way too broad, and it’s almost impossible to guarantee that with such broad language.
3) Delivery of Manuscript
Ask your publisher to notify you in writing when your manuscript is accepted. That way you’ll have proof that it’s accepted and you’ll be entitled to your next portion of your advance. (If applicable: some publishers pay the full advance upon signing).
Also, ask for language that gives you the reasons why your manuscript wasn’t accepted. You’ll also want to ask for time to revise–typically 30 days.
Along those same lines, make sure to write that your manuscript is satisfactory in form and content. By doing this, it eliminates the publisher from arbitrarily saying they won’t publish your book.
4) Option on Your Next Book
If you intend to write books on different topics, try to narrow the clause. Say your next book will be about the same subject rather than agreeing that the publisher will have the option on your next book (whatever genre that is).
This opens up the possibility to publish books with multiple houses. This is especially important if your current house doesn’t have a strong list in a certain genre in which you wish to write.
Try to eliminate language that allows publishers to state any electronic editions or print-on-demand editions are considered in print. If this is the case, your book may never be out of print.
This becomes an issue when you’re not satisfied with the publisher and want to move on, so be sure to say that this clause only pertains to print books.
You can also try to limit it further and ask for the clause to apply to print books in the English language. Another thing you can do is to insert a financial threshold as well (for example, out of print means sales less than $100).
The information above is not nor is intended to be legal advice. If you have any questions regarding your contract, please consult an attorney
by Joseph Perry (@PerryLiterary), August 22, 2021
Trad-pubbed authors: Did you know all this before you signed your first contract? (I sure didn’t) I know many of our readers are self-publishers, but many self-publishers also publish some of their books with traditional publishers. Did you know all this stuff about author agreements? New authors who are planning to go the traditional publishing route, do you have any questions for Mr. Perry?