Written by A Guest Author October 15th, 2020

Assessing a Publisher’s First Contract: 3 Ways to Know if it’s the Right One For You

Dawn Carrington

Receiving an offer of publication is an exciting time for an author. Maybe this is your first one, and you’re eager to sign and get the process underway. Before you do that, consider that you and your book could potentially be with this publisher anywhere from three to seven years as that is the standard timeline. To that end, you want to do everything in your power to mitigate any potential cause for unhappiness.

So when the contract arrives in your inbox, read it thoroughly, but pay special attention to the following:

Fees and the Royalty Percentage

The publisher should not charge any fees. By fees, I mean any money which is deducted from an author’s royalties and for any set-up fees for the paperback or hardback edition of the book. No money for costs, editing, cover art, revisions, or mistakes. So plain and simple. Unless you’re looking for a subsidy publisher, you should not pay ANY fees EVER. This does not include co-op advertising you may do with the publisher.

Compare the royalty percentages to other authors who’ve already been published and do some online research as well. If the percentages aren’t up to standard, you can certainly ask the publisher why they’re lower and if they can be negotiated. Don’t be surprised if the answer is no, though. Few publishers negotiate royalties with a first-time author. If you don’t like the royalty rates, that’s your cue not to sign.

Distribution Information

How are their books distributed? Some contracts won’t have this information in black and white so ask the publisher to include it. You want to know where people will be able to find your books.

Will they be available at Amazon.com and other major online retailers? Will bookstores be able to order them, or will they be available in bookstores?

If you’re not happy with the publisher’s response to your question, try to order one of its current books at your local bookstore. If the book is included in Ingram or Baker & Taylor which are two of the major wholesalers, you should be able to order it. If not, you might want to reconsider signing with this publisher.

Overall Credibility of the Contract

Are there questionable areas of the contract you’ve never seen before? Is the publisher willing to answer any questions you have about it? Is the contract negotiable? If a publisher tells you the contract is set in stone and not up for negotiation, RUN. While royalties usually aren’t negotiable as mentioned above, subsidiary rights can be as are the discounted rate for author purchases. Some publishers will even negotiate the length of the contract.

If you cannot afford to have an attorney who understands contracts to review it, ask for help in local writing groups or in online forums. Ask another author who has already been published to take a look at it.

Whatever you do, don’t sign the contract until someone else has reviewed it. In your excitement, it can be easy to overlook major issues. It’s important to have at least two sets of eyes read over all the legal terminology. You may even want to post the question on Facebook and ask any paralegals or assistants if they can give you any pointers. The more information you have the better.

It’s understandable to be excited about your first contract, but proceed with caution no matter who the publisher is. You don’t want to have regrets ten months into the publishing process.

Bio: Dawn has been the editor-in-chief of Vinspire Publishing (www.vinspirepublishing.com) since 2004, is a published author of fiction, and a freelance writer with over 500 articles published. She is also a writing instructor, a cover designer (www.etsy.com/shop/coffeeandcocoacovers), and video editor. Her personal website is www.rachelcarrington.com.


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