by Angela Lauria January 10, 2023
As a writer, finishing and editing your novel is a mammoth task. Selling it can be even harder, especially if you aren’t a prolific writer yet. Once you have your book, the next natural question is, “How to get a good publishing contract?”
When it comes to publishing your work, there are several options — some of which are specific to your genre or subject. Many books in popular genres are published by traditional book publishers but there are other options and arrangements that you can adopt.
In this article, we’ll take you through what is a typical publishing contract, how they work, some important clauses to know about publishing and types of book publishing contracts.
Typical Publishing Contract
Traditional book publishers take your manuscript, review it, and edit it to make it viable for distribution. They have the industry knowledge to understand what will sell and how to sell. Publishers also support you in marketing and reaching your target audience so you can get the word out about your book.
Publishing Contract Clauses
For all this to be possible, you need to sign a book publishing contract. But what does the contract entail? What are publishing contract clauses? Publishing contracts typically have the major sections listed below.
Granting of Rights
Located at the beginning of publishing contracts, it explains the rights or licenses you’ll be granting your publisher and how long they’ll be valid. Licenses can be granted for the entire term of the copyright (author’s life plus 70 years) or for a shorter, specific timeframe such as 10 years. These rights may encompass all types of formats (paperback, hardback, ebook). It can also include translated volumes, television, film, and audio rights as well as a variety of other rights.
An advance is a payment that a publisher will give you based on how they think the book might sell. Contrary to popular belief, authors don’t always get an advanced payment. Sometimes, publishers choose to not give one or only give a small amount as an advance.
The contract will clearly state the amount of your advance. It will also include a sales figure that will be the basis of your royalties. Typically, once you reach the specified amount in book sales, only then will you be entitled to receive royalties.
Every time a book is sold, the author receives a portion of the sale. These portions will initially be used to pay off the advance. However, if the book “earns out,”’ the author will begin receiving royalties at intervals that are specified in the publishing contract which is usually every six months.
Hard copies of books entail physical distribution in retail outlets. To know where your manuscripts will be sold, how many languages they will be translated to, and other similar details, look at the clauses under “territory.”
While some contracts allow worldwide distribution across major languages, the author or publisher can also limit this clause to certain territories and languages.
Reversion is when the rights for distribution and publication are reversed by the publisher and given back to the author or the author’s estate. This usually happens when a book has been out of print for a long time.
How Do Publishing Contracts Work?
Once all the terms of a book publishing contract have been reviewed and agreed upon by the author and the publisher, it is signed by both parties.
The contract then becomes a legal, binding document of the rights given to the publisher by the author so that the publisher can sell the book.
So, how do publishing contracts work? Once signed, the contract is enforced and the publisher begins their work.
Types of Book Publishing Contracts
There are many ways to publish your book nowadays. Here are some options for getting your work out there:
Traditional publishing means that there are two parties involved in the distribution of the book: the author and the publisher. The author grants rights, copyrights, subsidiary rights, distribution, and sales rights to publishers.
In turn, the publisher takes on the responsibility of getting the book printed, published, designed, edited, distributed, and marketed to as many people as possible. It may sound straightforward but it can be difficult to approach traditional publishers, especially if they’re the “big five.” Namely, these are Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and the Hachette Book Group.
Over the years, writers have submitted synopses of their books to publishing houses like these for consideration.
These publishing houses already have an audience base and preferred categories/niches where they publish content. Usually, manuscripts for publishing are selected based on what the publishing house feels is okay to give their audiences or even the world at large.
The publisher is solely responsible for distribution and sales after publishing the book. An author earns between five and fifteen percent of sales.
Hybrid Publishing Contract
Hybrid publishing is a mix between traditional publishing and self-publishing. This type of contract is customizable and gives the author more control over the editing process, distribution, marketing, and printing.
Unlike traditional publishing, authors own 100% of publishing rights. Hybrid publishing means that the author makes the initial commitment rather than being paid upfront by a traditional publisher.
Since the author has greater influence over the editing of their work, there is greater dialogue and back-and-forth between the author and publisher.
The publisher will handle the marketing and distribution based on the publishing plan chosen by the author. This usually depends on the writer’s budget and how much of their capital they’re willing to spend.
Different from traditional publishing, an author can also distribute and market their book.
Self-publishing has become the new trend for authors, even among more established ones. The advent of social media marketing has given even unknown authors the power to create a name for themselves and create a following by posting content regularly. With so many people having access to publishing, marketing, and selling platforms, they are less reliant on publishers for their services.
Many writers choose self-publishing because they want complete control over the publishing process and the ability to keep all the profits from book sales. While this sounds like a great and profitable way to eliminate the middleman, it has its own set of challenges.
Authors who choose to self-publish need to be entrepreneurial. They also need more well-rounded skills and knowledge such as knowing how the industry works, how to successfully market themselves and their niche, and understanding printing and distribution processes.
There are two ways to go about self-publishing:
Self-publishing Under Self-publishers
It may sound redundant, but this system shares some similarities with hybrid publishing. Publishers will handle the printing process but not the marketing and distribution of the manuscript. Authors and publishers must thus agree on printing costs per copy, discounts on bulk copies printed, and so on.
Independent Book Publishing
Authors are responsible for everything in independent book publishing. As a result, it can be an extremely stressful process for them. There are a lot of matters falling under publishing that writers need to learn to successfully undertake independent book publishing but it is possible.
Unlike self-publishing through self-publishers, the author is responsible for ISBN issues, copyrighting, and the legalities of licenses. In addition to writing, editing, and the aforementioned responsibilities, writers must also create a demand for their books through marketing and promotions.
It helps to have a following on online platforms to be successful at this type of publishing.
We hope this article has given you an overview of a typical publishing contract, the types of book publishing contracts, and the subsequent publishing contract clauses. With this knowledge, you can start thinking about how to go about publishing, distributing, and marketing your book after finishing it.
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