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Publishing your first book - Navigating the contract with the publisher


Part three in our four-part series on publishing a book and raising your profile.

typewriter | © LiliGraphie - stock.adobe.com

© LiliGraphie - stock.adobe.com

Now that you have written your query letter and have submitted a book proposal, you are waiting for a response from your agent or the publisher. If the publisher likes your proposal and is willing to commit to publishing your, your next step is negotiating your contract with the publisher. It has been my experience to rely on my agent, who will be knowledgeable about the contract negotiation process. The agent will have the author's best interest and will be able to navigate the legalese of the contract since few of us have had experience with this kind of contract negotiations.

This blog will cover the three most important areas to the author:

  1. The grant of rights clause
  2. The reversion of the rights clause
  3. The subsidiary rights clause

Grant of rights and reversion of rights clauses

The grant of rights clause specifies the rights you grant or license to a publisher. This is translated to mean that you are giving the publisher permission to publish a specific piece of work under specified circumstances, in certain formats, and for a stated amount of time. The reversion of rights clause states when and how your relationship with the publisher ends or when and how all rights revert back to the author.

Three contract models include the life of copyright, fixed term contract, and work-for-hire contracts.

The most common clause is the life of the copyright contract. This term describes a contract that remains in effect as long as the copyright on the book remains in effect. In this section, you must clarify how copyright ownership will work. In many cases, publishers will request exclusive rights for a set time. A fixed-term contract has a set time limit, usually five years, and then the rights revert to the author. The least common is the work-for-hire contract, where the author surrenders all rights to the work, including the copyright.

The subsidiary rights clause indicates that the publisher can see your book in other ways besides the book format. This provides the publisher the right to have your book translated into another language, into multimedia formats, used as an audiobook, and merchandising rights. This also includes the publisher’s right to reprint the book and to offer discounts for book club sales.

Contract stipulations

You want your contract to grant you involvement with the book title and the cover of the book. It is reasonable to request participation in the title and the book cover.

Understand the contract's duration and the conditions under which either party can terminate the agreement.

The contract usually stipulates the date that the manuscript will be delivered to the publisher. Most publishing houses have a calendar of books to be published. If they have a date to publish your book, and you are delayed in submitting your manuscript, this may come with penalties, significant delays in getting your book published, and in the worst-case scenario, cancellation of the contract. You should build more than enough time into the date for submission to avoid conflicts with the publisher.

Most contracts come with a warranties clause where you must make legal promises about the originality of the work. It would help to guarantee you haven’t granted anyone else rights to your work. You will be asked to guarantee that you have taken reasonable care to ensure that your work is accurate and that you haven’t plagiarized or violated anyone else’s material.


The traditional contact will often award you a financial advance against royalties. This means that the advance payment will be subtracted before dispersing any royalties. Once the advance is paid back to the publisher, you will receive a percentage of each book sold after the advance is paid back to the publisher.

The royalty agreement must be clearly stipulated in the contract. There is usually a different rate depending on if the sales are for hardback, paperback, or e-book. It has been my experience to anticipate a royalty between six and fifteen percent of the book's retail price.

If the book includes art, illustrations, or photographs, the author will usually incur this expense. These costs are often charged against future royalty payments. This means you have no out-of-pocket expenses but only receive royalty payments once your advance and cost of art and illustrations are subtracted first from the royalties received.

I have had to bear the cost of providing the index to the book. Of course, the author can manually do this, but it is tedious, and I don’t recommend it. There are programs that professional indexers use that is an efficient method of generating an index to your non-fiction book. I have incurred a cost of approximately $1000 to have my books indexed.

The contract usually indicates how many complimentary books you will receive on publication. In the past, I have received anywhere from a single copy to ten copies.

The contract should also stipulate what marketing assistance you can expect from the publisher. I have been able to negotiate that the publisher will send a copy of the book to any media I have identified that will review the book or agree to interview me for a radio or podcast. As a neophyte author, I did not find the publisher helpful with the marketing and promotion of the book. I was able to arrange for all the media interviews and the book-signings at

Bottom Line: Signing a contract with a book publisher is a significant step in your journey as an author. It's important to approach this process carefully and ensure you understand the contract's terms and implications.

Neil Baum, MD, a Professor of Clinical Urology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Baum is the author of several books, including the best-selling book, Marketing Your Medical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, which has sold over 225,000 copies and has been translated into Spanish.

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