So, found a post from the Irish Writers Union about Publishing Contract Advice.
Figured it’d be a great read, especially since I’ve been interested in reading and learning about this. Mostly for interest and pre-arming myself if I ever get approached. One of the other books on the subject that I’ve recently read (that I recommend) is ‘Closing the Deal’ by Ms. Rusch.
After reading the entire post, my jaw dropped. Because, this is the kind of advice that was being given to authors who wanted to become traditionally published. Seriously.
What the hell? Now, I’m writing from a position of privilege. I’m an indie author who makes my living off writing. I don’t ever have to speak with trad pub. But the offer and the deals, and the recommendations by the Writer’s side of the table is just painful.
Much of my criticism about what was written comes from there. Let’s tackle the different parts in order. Note – read their post first. Then read mine, otherwise it won’t make as much sense.
To note. Not a lawyer. ALWAYS get a lawyer if you’re going to sign a contract, especially one that could last for your lifetime (and then more!). They are not as expensive as you think – a lawyer could review a basic contract in an hour for around US$500-600. Expensive in context (see below); but you don’t want to be stuck and liable due to a bad contract.
Decent suggestion to ask why they need specific rights. Always knowing what rights you are selling (and what you’re keeping) is a good idea. To note, it looks like they’ll be giving / recommending you give up worldwide English rights in this document.
Keep this in mind.
Delivery Dates & Length of Manuscript
Yup, great to specify. What should also be specified, as pointed out by Ms. Rusch, is a maximum number of edits. You do not want to be stuck in a contract for 4-5 years while the manuscript gets bounced back and forth forever.
Don’t forget – the Editor who loved your work might not be there anymore. And the next editor might HATE what you’re doing and need you to change it.
Learnt something new here. Definitely worth keeping an eye on in any contract.
This section should have been much bigger. Let’s see… what’s rivals? How do you define that?
Looking at their ‘model contract‘, we get:
During the lifetime of this Agreement, the Author shall not prepare for other publishers any work which may be an expansion or abridgement of this Work, or is likely to effect prejudicially the sales of this Work.
Lifetime of the agreement.
Okay. Now, when you’re reading a contract, you’ve got to remember how it works together. In this case, we haven’t discussed termination or term or reversion of rights yet. So, just keep in mind the above.
Okay. But remember, you can’t prepare other work that might predujically effect the sales of the book. This is a legal term here, and one that does not have a defined meaning as far as I can tell. At least, not in this context. In other words, for you to find out if your fantasy book you’re writing is going to affect the fantasy book you wrote for them, it might require the courts. Or arbitration. In either case – money. And time. (This one I’d be happy to have an actual lawyer chime in on).
Advance and Royalties
Now we get to the good part, that most authors are looking for. This is an Irish publisher remember, the blog cautions, so don’t expect a lot of money.
Their expected advance – €4,500 (ideally). Realistically, €2,000.
Royalty rates, going up to 16% net return if you sell 6,000+ copies, starting from 10% net.
Now, I’m not sure if they mean this is good if you ONLY limit it to the Irish market. If that’s the case, those advances are understandable. After all, you still have English language rights for the rest of the world. Right?
Except, he mentions above (and in the model contract it shows) worldwide rights. So I’m going to assume this is what he expects people to sign giving away their worldwide rights to get their books published.
Oh, don’t forget. Most people say you need an agent. So, you know, that 15% off that €2,000.
Moving on, because again, read the whole contract…
Are calculated differently. And range from 25% to 50% at the highest request. At 16,000(!!!) copies sold.
Realise that actual cost for publisher at this point is $0 (beyond marketing expenses, which, if you look down at their FAQ is 0 after initial launch by admission). So, why are you giving them 50%? Or ASKING for 50% only?
Even using fuzzy math, after selling 16000 copies at $5, the publisher should have earned $1.60 * 16000 = $25,600. That’s ‘fuzzy’ math because it’s very inaccurate (but is good enough to show the publisher has made their ROI back and more)
Don’t forget, these eBook sales aren’t likely limited to Ireland either. Which is good (hard to limit sales to a country these days).1
They start by admitting the publisher should have, little right to the income from your other right sales.
Then go ahead and list them all there and the rates that they expect. At the minimum, they are giving away 10% (merchandise) to 25% of income. Because… the publisher put your book out? And got it seen by….
Well, let’s see. By their own math, each book earns you (using 10% net) about €0.54. So, if you get €2000 as an advance, assuming you breakeven, you are looking at 3700 sales.
So, what they’re recommending is that publisher should receive income from your other rights (which they are doing 0 to sell) because they managed to sell 3-4000 copies. And that’s if it’s a bestseller (for Ireland).
Now, this is where I’d love to have a lawyer go over the model contract. They use the words ‘may license’; but in no way do I see it saying that you have licensed them to own the rights. Does that mean if I negotiated my own contract, the publisher does not get any money? After all, they only ‘may’ license it, but they didn’t. I’m sure they’d argue otherwise, but… lawyer.
That being said, since I have done licensing rights for audiobooks. Let’s look at them. I assume it is covered under TV/Radio or readings on voice / radio – they have 75% or 80% depending on whether you look at blog post or model contract.
Now, most trad publishers are not going to create your audiobook. If that’s the case, they might sub-license it out (and get 25% of the income for sending it to an audiobook company to do…) or, you negotiate it and they still get 20/25% income. For putting $0 down.
Most audiobook contracts will pay a royalty rate from 10-50% (depending on negotiation). And an advance that can range from a few thousand to lots. But, again. The audiobook company is going to be pushing the sales, the production, etc. What has the publisher done here?
Again, a bit short for what could be a huge issue. Things that could be an issue:
- basket accounting (mentioned)
- auditing options (not mentioned. Always get one)
- payment methods (should be direct to you with a 2nd check to the agent or you pay the agent).
Pretty good recommendations here. I’d add that it also makes sense to delineate and create a specific timeline for this, preferably right after you have submitted the final manuscript and say, 30 days after.
Otherwise, if it takes them 12 months to publish your book (after submission of final manuscript) and your option is tightly worded, you could send them the book; not hear from them until 1 year has passed and your new book has published. The publisher wants to know how well your book did. And you do too.
But if you aren’t able to sell your books elsewhere (see above on competition); you aren’t earning or publishing at all.
Reversion of Rights
Oh god. This is where things start getting horrible. Remember all those things I asked you to recall (world rights for English, term of contract, ebook rights); well. Here we have term of contract timing finally (sort of).
They recommend a time limit of 10 years. I agree. Might even recommend shorter. I know with Audiobooks you can get it down to at least 5. But…
They are saying that most publishers won’t agree to it. So they define it by sale of units. With a minimum of 10 to max 50 a month. That’s… 600 units.
Note. No definition of what a ‘sale’ is. Or a unit.
Some problems with this:
- Giving away ebook units for free. Or at $0.99. Look! You sold 600 units. At… 10% net royalty, you get… $21. For the year. But the publisher still has your copyright. They could literally leave it at $0.99, do no marketing and possibly hit that forever.
- Their model contract states a minimum of 50 copies being held (physically) by the publisher. Seriously, I have more than 50 copies of my own books. It’s not hard to store 50 books.
- On top of that, the model contract doesn’t actually have the reversion rights for unit sold AND have 18 months to make right. That’s right. Even if you realise they aren’t selling your book for 1 year, you have to wait another 18 months on top of that (total 2 1/2 years) before you get your book back. And to fix that, they just have to ‘print’ 50 copies.
Btw – ebook license in the model contract is stuck under the Subsidiary rights, where they get 50%. Again, love to have a lawyer look it over, but…
” Termination will be without prejudice to any sub-licenses properly granted by the Publisher prior to termination. “
Doesn’t really tell me if that means if you terminate the main contract, the sub-license (and thus 20% grant) gets cancelled to. I’d lean towards no. So, how do you terminate the ebook agreement? No idea…
Neutralish 3rd party. Not bad. But… if the model contract and the recommendations here are so bad, do you want the people who are supposed to be arbitrating your work to be these guys?
Putting it all together
Remember how I said you need to understand a contract in its entirety? So, from my reading of the post (and looking at the model contract), if you signed an agreement with an Irish publisher, you would (assuming you get a ‘realistic’ contract):
- Give a license to the English language product for ebook & print Worldwide
- Get an advance of €2000
- Receive a 10% net royalty fee for print, 25% for ebook (scaling up let’s assume). That works out to €0.54 and (on a $5 ebook) $0.88 per book sold to start.
- Give up anywhere from 20-25% of your income from other rights sale (including the profitable audiobook license)
- Don’t get your book reverted for the life of copyright unless they fail to ‘sell’ at least 600 copies of your book (or after 2 1/2 years of not having at least 50 copies)
- And potentially not be able to write in your genre again, depending on how loosely worded the section of competition is and how it’s used.
- And this is what I read from the post and model contract. This is what they suggest you should take!
- Oh! And for all that, you likely have to give up another 15% to your agent.
Now, I know in many cases, publishing contracts in North America are as bad (if not worse). I’ve heard the average scifi/fantasy advance these days is in the $5,000 range. But…
You’re giving up your worldwide rights for your book and ALL your subsidiary rights for someone who, by admission, is going to sell at best 4000 copies.
If this contract was limited to only print rights (no ebook, or ebook only in Ireland) and have a term limit, I could see this making sense. But, otherwise – you’re basically stating your book is going to sell at most 4000 copies (again, bestseller status) in its lifetime and for that, you get €2000 (or €1700 if you have an agent).
Simple indie math. US$5 book. 70% royalty. $3.20 (after delivery cost) royalty to you. To make the €2000 you need to sell… 680 units. And you get to keep your book, have access to all of your own licensing rights and can resell things (or set up a royalty share agreement) for audiobooks and foreign rights translations.
680 units. Over a 10 year period, that’s 68 copies a year. Or 6 (5.6 to be exact) copies a month.
Thoughts? Corrections? A real lawyer want to bitch me out for my bad reading of the contracts?
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Thanks for the post.
On being sued for copyright infringement or otherwise:
For novels such as yours Tao is this a big worry? I’m assuming as an Indie author you would have to deal with this by yourself. Is that something you need to worry about – plan to have money for a lawyer, etc.?
Do need to have a limited company (or whatever) to publish your works to protect yourself (your home, whatever) should you be sued like this?
So, that’s a complicated question to answer. To some extent, the question is – who is getting sued and why? You can ALWAYS get sued, and just because you have licensed your copyright to a publisher, there’s no guarantee that you – as the author – are still not going to get sued. If you transfer the copyright itself entirely, you might be able to protect yourself to some extent, but it still doesn’t mean someone isn’t going to sue you (it just might be dismissed later). Again, always worth remembering that anyone can sue for anything – just a question if you’ll win or not.
It’s part of the risk of writing though. It’s rare that anyone actually sues for plagiarism or anything like that, since as an indie author, I’m so small that it’s not worth it. Even if they did sue me (and won!), how much would they get? Not a lot really. So, it’s only the bigger people who have to worry about it. And why, to some extent, some of the larger authors don’t read / interact with fan fiction / etc because of the potential concerns.
Overall though, having a publishing company is mostly about taxes rather than concerns about liability. I don’t have one (yet) but I’m looking into it seriously. There are things I need to sort out before I can make it work, but overall, I’ll likely be doing that next year.