IVP - Andy Unedited - Putting Out a Contract

April 15, 2008

Putting Out a Contract

At the core of every publishing project is the author contract. Here are some more tips from Tom Woll, author of Publishing for Profit, a book I've been reviewing serially over the past few months.

* Handling Multi-Author Contracts. Woll says, "I have been involved in too many contracts in which . . . the joint relationship between . . . authors has become strained or broken down entirely" (p. 132). No one takes responsibility, or each author tells you something different. If an agent is involved, that can help—or make it more complicated. The publisher "must know precisely who has the final contractual authority [and] . . . can provide definitive, legally binding solutions."

* What About Undelivered Manuscripts? Woll offers several options.
1. Include a late clause in the contract that stipulates a declining amount of advance due on delivery or publication depending on how late the manuscript is delivered.
2. If it is never delivered, of course, exercise the clause in the contract that calls for the author to pay back the advance.
3. Often authors have already spent their advance. So another alternative is to include a clause in the contract that says if publisher and author agree to cancel the contract for nondelivery, the author will repay the advance upon sale of the work to a different publisher.

* The Problem of Returns. Many publishing contracts allow for a royalty reserve for potential returns. The reality is, however, that a book's return rate declines as time passes. Instead of a flat percent, Woll recommends a sliding scale: a higher rate the first year, a lower rate the next year and a lower rate still thereafter. Authors and agents, in his experience, are fine with this system since it reflects the reality of the marketplace. "Some mass-market publishers withhold 60% for the first few royalty periods, which tells you the state of that market" (p. 140).

I recommend an annual review and (if needed) revision of your standard author contracts for new projects. That one you've been using since the 1930s (or 1990s) probably won't do the trick. The publishing world changes constantly, and you learn things constantly. Contracts should reflect that.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at April 15, 2008 2:08 PM Bookmark and Share

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book cover"Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you believe," says J. I. Packer. Andy Le Peau and Linda Doll describe how this came to be a hallmark of InterVarsity Press in Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength, an anecdotal history spanning the sixty years from the founding of IVP in 1947 to the present day.