Less than Minimum Wage for Authors?

15 Aug





Traditional Publishing Contracts – Part One of a Series

You might remember an article How Harlequin Publishing Deceives Their Authors from last summer in this blog, about the planned class action suit against the publisher. Today I stumbled about a sequel of J.A. Konrath’s blog: Harlekin Fail, Part 2, where he explains the contract practices of the trade publishers in general, and how they deceive their authors. From today on we will look more closely into these practices.

When offered the opportunity to publish traditionally, about two-thirds of self-published authors are interested. The supposed prestige of a traditional publisher, the wide distribution a publisher can generate and help with marketing, are the reasons, cited in surveys.
However the perception of traditional publishing is often not up to date in public, as the way of book marketing (and the whole traditional publishing business) has totally changed. Only celebrity authors get full promotion, other writers have to fend for themselves, and they often do not even know that their books have only a maximum of three months to survive on bookstores shelves until they will be returned to the publisher or discarded. Read also What Publishers Won’t Tell You.

In the last hundred years, the only way to get published, or better said, get distribution for a book, was to sign a contract with a publisher. Writers had almost no choice, then to accept the publishing contract terms – until the advent of author-publishing, which was the norm since about a hundred years ago.

Imagine, an agent / publisher offers you a publishing contract.
Best advice for any author is to know what they get into, to understand the publishing contract and to consult a contract lawyer before signing the papers.  As wrote: “While it is difficult to see how your publishing agreement will play out in the long term, the decisions you make today could have profound, long term consequences.”

This will be a series of articles, trying to bring some light into the murky waters of these universally unfair and mostly, non-negotiable publishing contracts. Disclaimer: Nothing in these articles can or should be taken as legal advice.

What are the subjects / paragraphs of a publishing contract? Let’s look in detail at

  • Duration of the contract
  • Rights granted by the author to the publisher
  • Territory for these rights
  • Manuscript Delivery
  • Advances and Royalties
  • Statements and Payments
  • Publication
  • Competing Works
  • Unsatisfactory Material
  • Out-of-Print Termination
  • Reversion of rights

Even if you are still eager to sign a contract, you should at least know what you (and maybe even your heirs) get into, and what the contract clauses really mean. This series about details in publishing contracts will also help you to ask the right questions when you meet with a lawyer, specialized in publishing contracts / contract law.

The entire publishing industry is using boilerplate contracts and universally, one-sided clauses to exploit authors – same as it has happened (and often still does) in the music industry – until the dawn of Indie Music … and now the music industry is in deep trouble, as many artists became their own producer and distributor. Which will ultimately happen with parts of the publishing industry. Look at all the mergers of publishing houses, that happened recently!

Their system is designed to take advantage of Authors’ naivete and their lack of bargaining power, and it uses the promise of book publication as a carrot to get them to accept biased terms. However, there are a few authors who managed to have at least one or the other of the contract clauses changed.

Who fights for better publishing contracts? No one does …

Authors have no one to fight for their rights.
Authors won’t help each other, they don’t band together. The successful ones do not want to compromize their bestsellerdom. Newbie authors and aspiring writers are eager to become published, even at less favorable terms.

Agents really work for the publishers.
And even if they would have the courage to fight the status quo, chances are their authors wouldn’t back them – out of fear to form a united front against publishers.

Publishers certainly won’t change. 
Because they have no incentive to. They can pick and choose among millions of manuscripts. And they can, or had, certainly theoretically only ;- ) arranged for universal contract terms and royalties among their peers …

Let’s look into the details of publishing contracts in the next two of the series, in order to find out and to realize what these contract clauses mean for authors. Stay tuned, and spread the word, re-blog these articles, so that as much writers as possible learn about the tactics of the publishing industry.

Sources / Read also:

Author Beware of Scams


Negotiating Your Book Contract

Ten Key Negotiating Points

Comments on Unfair Contracts (by a lawyer)

Quick Guide to Book Contract Trouble Spots

Negotiating Book Contract Terms and Royalties

What Not to Miss When Negotiating Your Book Publishing Contract




If you would like to get help in all things publishing, have your book intensively promoted and learn how to navigate social media sites: We offer all this and more for only $ 159 for 3 months. Learn more about this individual book marketing help: Once you are on this website, click on Seminar to register.

Please feel free to check out all previous posts of this blog (there are 850 of them : ) if you haven’t already. Why not sign up to receive them regularly by email? Just click on “Follow” in the upper line on each page – and then on “LIKE” next to it. There is also the “SHARE” button underneath each article where you can submit the article to Pinterest, Google+, Twitter,, Facebook, Tumblr and to StumpleUpon.

Thanks a lot for following:

@111publishing 111Publishing @ Google+



Hyper Smash



Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Marketing


Tags: , , , , , , ,

7 responses to “Less than Minimum Wage for Authors?

  1. kristinkingauthor

    August 15, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Reblogged this on Kristin King Author and commented:
    Interesting, especially for new and mid-list writers.

    • ebooksinternational

      August 16, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      Thanks Kristin,
      hope it helps your fellow writers. Part 2 and 3 follow with practical examples.
      Cheers, Doris

  2. Rebecca Vance

    August 15, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    Reblogged this on Becky's Book Notes and commented:
    Do you want to be traditionally published? Read this first!!

    • ebooksinternational

      August 16, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      Thanks Rebecca,
      hope it helps your fellow writers. Part 2 and 3 follow with practical examples.
      Cheers, Doris

      • Rebecca Vance

        August 16, 2013 at 2:01 pm

        Thanks, Doris. I really love your blog, it has helped me personally so much with my own writing as well. 🙂

  3. hookheathwebdesign

    April 22, 2014 at 6:28 am

    I’ve read your posts before, excellent stuff from you, dude! Fantastic sharing. You manage to keep it smart and interesting. Will bookmark this blog and visit regularly to get more.

  4. ebooksinternational

    May 1, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Reblogged this on Savvy Writers & e-Books online and commented:

    Are you thinking about approaching an agent or publisher for your next book? Do you know what clauses publishing contracts usually contain? How do you read a publishing contract? What your income will be – compared to author-publishing? This blog post and the following two will help you to “take the con out of the work con-tract”.

    Wikipedia explains: “A publishing contract is a legal contract between a publisher and a writer or author, to publish written material by the writer or author. This may involve a single written work, or a series of works.” And as with every legal contract, authors are faring better when consulting a lawyer that is specialized in publishing contracts – BEFORE – they sign it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: