Book Publishing: Negotiating the contract


After a couple of weeks of other topics, I’m back to continue my series on how I got my book deal and what I’ve learned about getting a book published.

It came time to negotiate my contract with Wiley, and I was happy that I had an experienced attorney to help. So You Want to Write a Book has a great page about negotiating a contract. It speaks specifically about their contracts with writers, but gives some good baseline information that others can use.

It was important for me to work with an attorney because this was my first book contract. I had no idea what should or shouldn’t be in it, and what I should expect in terms of money. The attorney had experience with these contracts, and knew what to expect.

Here are some of the most important parts of the contract:

  • Copyright – This is where we agree that I am granting Wiley exclusive rights to the book during the “full term of copyright and all extensions therof.” Essentially, the copyright is owned by me, and I’m giving Wiley the right to use the material per our contract.
  • Word count and deadlines – Publishers do not play around with deadlines. They’ve got some serious behind-the-scenes work to do in addition to marketing the book, and they are fanatical about their deadlines.
  • Format of manuscript – There are lots of details on how the manuscript is supposed to be formatted, but it seems to me that these are really outdated. All I’ve had to do is submit my chapters as Word documents, and Wiley has changed the formatting to fit their specifications.
  • Changes to the manuscript – This part details how and when Wiley can suggest changes to the manuscript and how I should respond. If I refuse, they don’t publish the book.
  • Royalties – This might be the most important part of the contract. Not only is the percentage important, but it is also important to note what the percentage is paid upon – gross, or net. So You Want to Write a Book pays royalties on net income they receive from the book. That means the writer doesn’t get paid until after all expenses are paid for. Where is the publisher’s incentive to keep costs down when the writer has to eat part of them? On the other hand, my contract with Wiley pays royalties on the gross income from the book. This is much easier and much more lucrative for the writer. The royalty is calculated as a percentage of the money the publisher gets from distributors.
  • Escalating Royalties – My attorney asked for an increasing royalty percentage if the book sold more than X copies, and Wiley agreed. So if the book does well, I’ll earn an even higher rate.
  • Payments to Author – This section sets forth exactly when royalties will be paid, and for what periods they will be paid. We also asked for a clause that gives us a right to examine the publisher’s royalty records at our request. This is important in case there is a dispute about what I’ve been paid.
  • Author’s Copies – This part details how many “free” copies of the book I’ll be given, and my discounted rate for purchasing books above and beyond this.
  • Termination – There are rules to the publishing game if either party wishes to terminate the contract. Make sure your attorney looks at those carefully to see that your rights are protected..

The contract then goes on to detail the future rights and responsibilities of both parties. I am not allowed to write any “competing works” without Wiley’s prior consent. I already had another project in the works at the time we finalized this contract, so Wiley gave me explicit permission to complete that project. But beyond that, I can’t do any other books on fraud for other publishers while I’m under contract with Wiley.

I am also bound by an “option” provision in the contract. Basically, Wiley has the first right of refusal on my next book. I cannot do a proposal for any other publisher without offering the book to Wiley first. Wiley has a good track record of doing multiple books with authors, so this clause is no surprise. They want to develop authors, rather than just do one book with an author.

Next Up: Finalizing the contract, writing schedule, and other publishing details.

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