How to read a publishing contract

So, you've got a contract - congratulations. Now it's time to argue about it. Here is the whole series of posts on how to read a publishing contract. The series works through one of my publishing contracts, clause by clause, explaining what it means and what you should argue about. You can see it as a series of lessons in how to be stroppy, or in how to protect your professional and financial interests. Every so often, I've included a clause from a different contract. This means we can cover mutually exclusive positions, such as writing for royalty and writing for a fixed fee. It might be useful to work through your contract comparing it with this one. Yours may be very different, but a lot of the same issues will be covered.

Don't assume your contract is non-negotiable. And don't be so pathetically grateful that they want to publish your book that you accept any outrageous terms they offer you. Publishing is a business and no matter how friendly and reassuring your editor, they want to make as much money out of the deal as they can. Don't take any notice of arguments like 'we never use that clause'. If they don't use it, it doesn't need to be there. If 'it's just the standard contract' you say that's fine as a starting point but now you are going to make it suitable to you and your book. If they say 'no one has ever objected before' that means either they're lying or no one has read the contract properly and taken a professional approach. So  - put your angry eyes in and let's look at that contract!

Introduction to the series and preamble to the contract

Delivery of the manuscript



Conditions and acceptance

Author's corrections

Author's name and copyright notice

Responsibility for damage or loss

Production responsibility

Author's free copies

Competing works



Outright fees (writing for a flat fee)

Advance, royalty and fees

Other rights

Accounting for royalties

Recording in Braille

Examination of publisher's records (ie checking royalties are accurate)



Infringement of copyright

Revision of the work

Remainders (ie unsold copies)

Termination of contract

Notices (ie how they will contact you)


English law