FAQ – Contracts
What do I do when I am offered a contract?
Never sign a contract before understanding its implications.
The Publishers Association site gives guidelines as to how publishers should deal with authors. The standard book on contracts is Clark's Publishing Agreements: A Book of Precedents (Seventh Edition) by Lynette Owen – the acknowledged expert in the field. It is published by Tottel Publishing at £78. Although expensive, it deals with every type of right likely to be featured in a book contract and covers book and journal publishing and the general and educational sectors. After you have been through this process you should be in a position to get the most out of the Society of Authors' free contract vetting service for members.
The combination of the above will equip you with an understanding of industry standards and precedents. This will help steer you away from obvious pitfalls – you will not be in danger of signing away copyright, for example.
However, a more advanced step is knowing when to depart from contractual precedents, either because they are not relevant, or because you have identified circumstances that standard contracts do not deal with. Contracts are continuously evolving, for example in the areas of online and digital rights, and can lag behind industry developments. And some current contractual terms patently do not make sense, for example the published price royalty rate structure. The ability to start thinking about what is appropriate rather than what is standard develops with time and confidence.
When is a book in print?
All contracts should have a clause allowing rights to revert to the author when a book is no longer in print.
But when is a book in print?
Clark’s Publishing Agreements states as follows:
Since the Sixth Edition the issue of when a book is ‘in print’ or ‘out of print’ has become one of the significant by-products of the move into the digital/electronic era. Indeed, it could be argued that the nomenclatures ‘book’ and ‘print’ are indicative of archaic terminology in contracts created for the right to disseminate a copyright work in a physical, book form but which now wrestle with multiple methods of disseminating.
Another point is to consider your negotiating strength. Don't be afraid to ask for changes but equally don't box yourself into a corner.
Finally, check that you are dealing with a bona fide publisher - The Society of Authors, Publishers Association and Independent Publishers Guild are all good reference points. If you choose to go down the vanity- or
self-publishing route, that is up to you. But you need to be aware of what you are doing and of the alternatives on offer.