Tag Archives: contract negotiations

Less than Minimum Wage for Authors?





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




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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Marketing


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Sail to Success: Writing and Publishing Classes

Norwegian Sky Cruise Ship

December 3-7, 2012 • Bahamas Cruise
Norwegian Sky 4-Day Bahamas Cruise – combined with publishing and writing seminars:

Have a part of your manuscript critiqued by the publisher who publishes Mercedes Lackey, Joe Haldeman and Harry Turtledove amongst many others.

Learn about contract negotiations by the agent who negotiates on behalf of Lois McMaster Bujold, Catherine Asaro and the estate of Robert A. Heinlein.

Get to know all the inside tricks by some of the best and most experienced writers in the genre today, including:

Mike Resnick, who has won more awards than anyone else (living or dead) in short fiction and is the guest of honor at this year’s Worldcon.  Kevin J. Anderson with 48 bestsellers and over 23 million copies of books in print. One of the most popular SF writers today.  Nancy Kress, multiple award winning author of the ground breaking ‘Beggars in Spain’ (Hugo/Nebula), and an author who is fondly known as ‘The Queen of Novellas’ since every novella she writes appears to get nominated for a major award.  Rebecca Moesta, who specializes in the lucrative young adult market and has penned numerous YA bestsellers, including those set in the Star Wars universe.

And as if this wasn’t enough…you get to do all this while on a cruise ship visiting the Bahamas in a classroom limited to only 22 students.  Significant discounts are available for early sign-ups. 


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