“Publishing Contracts” by Peggy Blair

I haven’t yet received any of the book contracts my agents have negotiated (just a summary of the terms) but I thought I’d take a look at what should normally be in one. This stuff is not remotely sexy — it’s a tough read — but having come this far in the process, it doesn’t make any sense not to at least understand the basics.

The best summary I’ve seen so far of the general provisions that should be in a publishing contract  is in Rachelle Gardner’s blog, Rants and Ramblings of a Literary Agent. A good point that she makes is that the contract should not stop at production, but cover marketing, too, and the expectations/responsibilities of both parties should be well defined.

A good outline of things to watch out for (those dreaded pitfalls) is listed on the website ofAdler Books.

But probably the most technical and detailed outline of what ought to appear in the ‘standard’ publishing contract comes from (who else?) a lawyer who specializes in the area.

Now, there is no such thing as a ‘standard’ contract — in publishing, like anything else, everything is negotiable. Nonetheless, there is a long list of subjects that should be addressed  – and like any good lawyer, he lists all of them.

What I’ve learned over the years is that it probably doesn’t matter how long or complicated a contract is, there’s always something that will happen that isn’t covered by it. And it never surprises me how many apparently clear clauses can be subject to differing interpretations. (You just have to remember the former Rhodes Scholar and lawyer, President Bill Clinton, arguing from the witness box that “it depends what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”)

I think if you’re going to have a contract, it should be done right. But even after it’s signed,  pretty much everything rests, I think, on how the parties to it deal with problems when they arise.

I’ve relied on my agents to steer my book to reputable publishers with whom they have good relationships. And I’m counting on them to protect my interests when it comes to these negotiations as well. They’re the experts as to the potential problems that might come up and what we should do to avoid them.

But after reading all of these links,  I feel the same way I do about real estate. Before I became a realtor, even though I was a lawyer,  I wouldn’t have dreamed of representing myself  in a transaction — there was too much money at stake and  too many things that could go wrong. A lawyer who specializes in real estate knows what to look for, and I think an experienced literary agent is the same — whereas I can’t possibly know what I don’t know.

As difficult as it may be to find an agent, I think anyone who wades into a publishing contract without one is probably going to end up giving up rights they could have protected. And may even land in trouble. If only they’d known.

Check out Peggy’s regular blog here!

One thought on ““Publishing Contracts” by Peggy Blair

  1. Leigh Russell

    It is sensible to recruit an agent before dealing with a publishing contract, although I didn’t have an agent when I was offered a three book deal by an established publisher. I was taken completely by surprise. My publisher’s words to me when she handed me the contract were, “You want to show this to a lawyer or the Society of Authors before you sign it.” At that point I made up my mind that I would work with her. I like to work with people I can trust. All the same, I joined the Society of Authors without delay and their contract expert vetted the contract before I signed it. Two books on I now have an agent to look after me. It makes life a lot easier!