These are a minefield, full of capricious opportunity. The author wants to see their delicate child prosper, for the blood, sweat and tears of creation to gain some recompense, for genius to be recognised.
The trade publisher wants to make money. As much as possible. Nothing wron with that, but do accept that the publisher may have different aspirations for your work than just the display of your literary genius.
Most authors will not be given the chance to negotiate a publishing agreement, because they will not find a publisher. Nevertheless this website is for authors and we try to offer whatever advice we can (remember it is only our ideas, you must seek proper advice before you act, nothing we say here can be relied upon). So do Agents
An agreement is a contract. A contract is an arrangement where one party agrees to do something for the other party provided they get something out of it, ' a consideration'.
Publishers agreements normal deal with one item of work. To produce a book, a play, a series of articles, a collection of related parts that can be considered as one 'job'.
There is no such thing as a standard agreement. Each publisher will have their own, each will try to obtain the best deal they can, for themselves. Nothing wrong in that, just be aware that altruism is not part of the equation, at any stage.
An agreement should contain some standard elements. We will look at some, but remember your own circumstances will be different and you do not have to accept the contract offered, not in full or in its many parts. Each part is up for discussion and negotiation (see our page on negotiating with printers which provides some clues).
The agreement must be dated and show the parties involved.
a) The author: who may be the author's Executor, Administrators of their Estate, successors and assignees. Author's address is also required, and it may be that of the author's agent. Somewhere as permanent as possible.
b) The Publishers: may be their successors (these days it invariably seems to be the case) or permitted assignees and their registered office.
1. The Work: a note describing the work, which we will assume is a literary work (it could be many other things). It should contain; The Title, Author, a full Description of the work, ISBN for both hardback copy and paperback or whatever version of electronic duplication is to be, or may be, used
2. Publishers' undertaking to publish and general obligations
Several important points need to be included. We are against vanity publishing. It is not necessary and very few authors receive their due return from such companies, so:
a) The Publishers will publish the Work at their own expense (note that) within twelve months (or any other reasonable and mutually agreed time) to an acceptable standard (get that defined before contract signed - it may just be 'I want my book to look like this one here (handing over book)' or it may be more precisely defined.
b) The Publisher will produce the Work to a good professional standard. We all make mistakes, but we must be prepared to pay for them and to repay the damage. The editorial, design and production staff assigned to the Work will be suitably experienced (whatever that may mean: you should have an editor assigned, look for examples of their earlier work, be satisfied they can handle the task).
No changes in the Title or text without the Author's consent. This may cause problems, but be nicely persistent, and be prepared to conciliate. They may have a point. In any case they will have a house style; which should be made available in its entirety before the grand signing.
The Author's views on editing will be taken into account. Fine words my friends, except that the Publisher will not publish the Work under the Author's name without agreement is the painful bottom line. If life is made too awkward it does little harm to the Publisher if the plug is pulled. For the Author on the other hand, there will be tears and gnashing of teeth.
Author to receive a copy of edited typescript at least 14 days before it goes to printer. The last chance.
Author's views on jacket covers, illustrations and format to be considered, with Author shown roughs or proofs within convenient time slot.
The Publisher will try to have the last word, and be final arbiter (so as to take into account the views of the customers which Publisher knows about and Author does not).
c) Publisher will promote and sell the Work in a professional manner. We know of books that are allotted a space on a certain booksellers shelf. They stay there for 14 days. After that the sales figures are scrutinised. If the book does not match the accepted return, the rest of the consignment is immediately pulped. So try to get some idea of what is meant by ''promote & sell'
The Author will be sent a form upon which to enter accurate biographical information and to give 'all possible' publicity leads, contacts and ideas.
The Publisher will send Author, for comment, their proposed distribution list for review copies and information about their proposed marketing plans, and price and publication date. Try to get involved at this stage.
A minor work with a large publisher is not going to get much pushing. The Author should know their market and ensure that the Publisher is told what that market is, they may not know it as well as the Author does - in fact it is extremely unlikely that they know very much about the market for 'fluid flow in sealed systems' (or whatever).
d) The Publisher will not be creating advertisements (except for their own books and services) in the Work, and will try to ensure that the condition is included in all contracts with sublicensees.
There are occasions when adverts are acceptable, but Author should ask for extra money as a result. e)
If the Author asks for the MSS back after publication the Publishers will return it within 30 days. Make sure they do. The original is useful. They will not guarantee the condition, and perhaps you should have asked at the start that they work from a copy - but there, you can't think of everything, and anyway it is interesting to read their notes.
f) The Publisher will not be in breach if (read this carefully);
1) The Author fails to meet their specific obligations or warranties.
2) They are prevented from carrying out any of their obligations because of circumstances beyond their control (what are they, or what are they not going to be - the Publishers' proprietor deciding that the book is not agreeable?) or because of a delay in media exposure etc. Try to keep this section as restrained as possible. It can allow an easy get-out for Publisher.
g) The Publisher will provide the Author with clear statements of sales and royalties, and make prompt payments of all amounts due. Be vigilant, and make sure the statements are indeed 'clear'. When will you get paid, and how can you check that these figures are correct?
See the Authors Licensing & Copyright Society site
Sometimes interested parties, such as film producers, will ask to take an option on your work. An option is a conditional sale of rights. Making it into two agreements in one.
The option itself, which allows the film producer time in which to have exclusive rights to the property in order to sell their idea around. They may be looking for finance for a film, for example.
The second part is the purchase of the literary work. This is often conditional upon the first part. If the producer manages to find finance, then she will exercise the option to purchase your work. In the meantime, give her a liitle time to look around.
Often that iinitial option period will last for a year. This is a difficult moment for the writer. Don't go on the hope and the prayer, don't sell. Make sure they have a viable project, and that you remain involved. Anything less puts your work on the back-shelf where it cannot be used by you, and is very unlikely to be used by the puirchaser.
The final purchase price is not easy. Consult a skilled operator. We would suggest talking to a specialist lawyer, or The Society of Authors, as the skill with which you negotiate is of paramount importance.
The purchase agreement consider, among other things, payments for use in the theatre, TV, movie adaptions, sequels, remakes, episodic television and other sequential rights.
When you get paid is extremely important. Is payment due on exercise of the option? Upon commencement of principal photography or at some other time? Will payment be delayed, if so, under what conditions.
Make sure you understand the bottom line. Be wary at all times.