An overview of the book publishing contract

Have you ever wondered what it will look like?

You know, that formal document a publisher will slide across the desk toward you after having fallen in love with your manuscript. The pen will roll smoothly over the sheet. You’ll shake hands with the publisher, place the copy into your file, and walk confidently out of the office. After you’ve done a few flips and hoots at home, you’ll gaze upon it and dream of the exciting days to come.

I wonder about it. A publishing contract is one of my goals, and I’m curious about the contents of that all-important document.

Of course, when that times comes, attorneys and agents will help to negotiate and tend to the business end of getting published. For now, this post is here to give you a general idea of what to expect and to inspire you as you write.

While I was researching copyright, I found an article that defines a well-drafted book publishing contract. Reading it is like taking a mini course on contract negotiation. The article notes that “most contracts are not take-it-or-leave-it propositions.” “Knowing what to ask for is critical,” says Lloyd J. Jassin, who worked for Simon & Schuster and Prentice Hall before he became a lawyer. He has a number of articles for authors at his website, one of which is a publishing agreement checklist. It’s a long one, so instead of sharing it in this post, I’ve added it here as part of my Writer’s Toolbox page. Take a moment to visit that page now and see the key clauses that a contract should include. I’ll be updating the checklist as I learn more about publishing contracts.

This article from Writer’s Digest is a good companion piece to the checklist. It defines key words that you’ll find in a publishing contract and encourages writers to have a basic understanding of the questions we should ask.

Use these articles to start educating yourself about publishing contracts. There’s no need to wait until you have a completed manuscript or are sitting in the publisher’s office. I hope you’re like me and are all for being proactive as you pursue your writing goals. Schedule time in your writing life to get up to speed on the business side of writing.

When that stack of papers comes your way, instead of spending time looking up definitions and terms, you’ll be spending time in celebration.

Question: Have you signed a publishing contract? What was your experience?


2 thoughts on “An overview of the book publishing contract

  1. I’ve never seen a contract, but like you its my dream to see one with my name on it. However, I do know if I get one the first thing I’m going to do is run it by an impartial lawyer. I’m one of those people that has to fully understand something before I’ll sign my name. It took forever to sign the stack of paperwork for my mortgage – I made them explain every page to me. 😉


    1. Hi, C.B. — I was just over at your blog! Yes, a lawyer is essential, so we might as well be good clients who are well informed before the negotiations begin. There is a lot to learn in this area, and I plan to go over a few of the key clauses more closely. Thanks for stopping by!


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 )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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