Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Understanding Your Book Contract -- Part II

Now that we have the general accounting out of the way, we can focus on the rights and responsibilities of the author. It’s really not as daunting as it sounds.

Examination of Publisher’s Books and Records (Auditing): This means the author has the right, under certain terms detailed in the contract, to audit the publisher's accounting records for errors. Pretty cool, huh? Most authors will rarely have a use for this, unless they are major bestsellers, or have a series of books, or there is a glaring error in their statements and the publisher disputes the numbers. The cost of the accounting is at the author’s expense, unless it is found that the publisher owes the author money and that discrepancy exceeds a certain percentage of total sales (5% is an example). Auditing is a bit of a gamble, but it can certainly pay off.

Failure to Deliver Manuscript/Delivery Extensions/Acceptance of Manuscript: If you submit a finished manuscript to the publisher, these clauses will not pertain to you. If, however, you submit an outline and a few chapters, you’ll need to pay close attention to this one. These clauses outline deadlines and the penalties if you fail to deliver your manuscript. Most publishers will be somewhat flexible if you need a deadline extension, providing you are acting in good faith. Authors who fail to deliver a satisfactory manuscript within the negotiated deadlines risk having to return all or a portion of the advance. This occurrence is infrequent but not unheard of, so it may not be wise to spend your advance before you’ve finished writing your book.

Correction of Proofs: Once you and your editor have whipped your manuscript into shape, the publisher will bind it into a cheap paperback called a galley. Galleys are sent out for publicity and review purposes. They also give you a chance to see the work in print before it goes out for final printing. You will have the opportunity to review the galley and make corrections. Usually, these corrections are superficial (i.e. typos), but if a sentence or word choice really bugs you here and there, you can do a light edit. Heavy edits, however, are going to cost you. If you decide you want to change more than a certain percentage of the manuscript (15% is an example), most publishers will charge you for the cost of making those changes.

Publication: This clause specifies the timeframe in which the publisher is required to publish the book from the date of signature. It is usually 18 months.

Author’s Agent: List the agent(s) acting on your behalf and the percentage they are to receive. Fifteen percent is standard; for foreign sales, usually your domestic agent will receive 10% and your foreign agent will receive 10%.

Author’s Warranties: By signing this agreement, you are stating that you are the sole author of the work (unless, of course, it is known that you have a writing partner), that you have the right to sell the work, that this work has not been previously published, that the work does not libel anyone, and does not break any laws.

Indemnity: This is where we hit the real legalese—the clause pertaining to what will happen if you or the publisher is sued because of the book. The terms and scenarios are quite varied here and frankly, I don’t have the patience to sort any of it out. Consult your agent on this one.

Free Copies: Yahoo! As the author, you are entitled to free copies of the book. Twenty-five copies is a common amount—not enough for all the people that will be begging you for a copy, but a good number. If you have a contract with a German publisher and don’t speak German, you’ll find this amount to be more than sufficient—in fact, a hindrance. Feel free to ask for more or less. It’s probably one of the easiest clauses to change. This clause also states the discount rate given to you if you’d like to purchase additional books on your own—50% is standard.

And this concludes our brief contract overview. Remember, this is meant only as a basic guide and your terms may vary, but I hope it was helpful.

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