Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Book Contracts

So you've finished editing and polishing your book manuscript. Now you're ready to submit to a publisher (or an agent). What can you anticipate in terms of contracts?

A traditional book contract offered by a publisher includes, among other pertinent things, a date of completion, word count, rights (copyright, publishing and selling rights, editing, subsidiary etc.), royalties, advance, author copies, publicity, and noncompete rules (varies with publishing houses, but basically they want to have your undivided attention on their book, and not spreading yourself out too thin writing and marketing other books).

This type of publishing agreement offers royalties, or a percentage of payment on each book sold, e.g. a 10% royalty would net the author $1.00 on each $10.00 book sold. A hike in royalty may be offered after a certain amount of copies are sold, for example: "up to and including 15,000 copies sold=12% of net sales; over 15,000 copies sold=15% of net sales."

An advance is like an advance on your allowance as a kid. It's not free money; it's advancing your earned royalties ahead of time so you can eat during the 1-2 years average time from signing the contract until your book comes out. Average advances for first time books are $3,000 - $10,000. The sum offered is based on the amount of book sales the publisher anticipates within the first crucial 4 months after the book's release. If the advance is not earned out, the author is often required to repay the advance payment, which is why many authors choose to accept low advances.

To give you an example of how this works, my newest release, Mom Needs Chocolate, has sold almost 7,000 copies since its release four months ago and I have yet to earn out my advance. It will be a red letter day for me when I cross that invisible "success" line and begin receiving royalties.

The other type of book contract is "work for hire." This is the type of contract you will be offered for manuscripts used as part of a compilation (like a devotional by different authors), and sometimes for a complete book of your own work that is included in a collective series (books of a series written by different authors). A lump sum is paid up front and no royalties or advances are offered.

The benefits of work for hire books are that you, as an author, don't have to sweat blood over book sales - you've already received your payment and are not dependent on royalties. Also, you have your name on a quality book out there that will help build your reputation and promote your future books.

The downside is that you have no say whatsoever in work for hire book covers, content, style, or marketing, and the copyright doesn't belong to you. Plus the stigma within the industry is that work for hire books, like self-published books, are not as prestigious as traditional press contracts.

I've found that accepting work for hire book contracts occasionally is beneficial, as long as I don't use up my creativity and energies solely on books ultimately belonging to someone else.