The Four Most Important Elements of Your Book Publishing Contract

Your agent will negotiate the terms for your book publishing contract. Most agents deal with specific publishing houses so often that they already have a preset contract with the publisher that outlines agreed upon terms. Then all the agent needs to do is negotiate a few rights and terms particular to the author.

The four most important areas the agent will negotiate on your behalf are:

  1. The manuscript delivery and acceptance.
  2. The advance.
  3. Royalty payments.
  4. The subsidiary rights.

Manuscript Delivery and Acceptance

The publishing contract will outline the date the manuscript must be delivered and stipulate that the publisher is only obligated to accept, pay for, and publish a manuscript that is satisfactory in form and content. Your agent will work with you to ensure the delivery date is practical and can be realistically met. She will also try to insert wording in the agreement that obligates the publisher to assist you in editing a specific number of drafts before the publisher can reject the manuscript.

The Advance

An advance is the payment you receive prior to your book’s publication. The advance is often based upon an estimate of your book’s first year sales. The amount is an advance against future earnings. Advances range from $5,000 to $500,000 (or more for major “celebrity” authors). The advance is broken into two payments. One payment of 50% is issued at the time the contract is signed and the remaining payment is issued upon delivery and acceptance of the complete manuscript.

Your agent will negotiate to get you the highest advance possible. Of course, the publisher wants to pay as small an advance as possible because they want to ensure the entire amount they pay you upfront will be earned back through your royalties. Since you do not have to return any of your advance - unless the book is cancelled due to the author breaching the contract - the publisher loses the portion of the advanced amount that you do not earn back through sales of your book. 

Royalty Payments

Your agent will ensure you earn royalties for sales of your book that are appropriate with industry standards. Most authors receive a royalty of 10% of the book’s retail price for the first 5,000 copies sold, a royalty of 12% of the book’s retail price on the next 5,000 copies sold, and a royalty of 15% of the book’s retail price on all copies sold after that. Your agent will make sure that the publisher provides a bi-annual accounting of your royalties.

Subsidiary Rights

Subsidiary rights are all the rights (except for publishing rights) that are associated with your book that are available to sell. They include: 

  • Reprint rights. Reprint rights grant the right to print the book in paperback edition. In most publishing agreements, the publisher retains the reprint rights.
  • Book club rights. There are numerous book clubs in existence that specialize in different genres and acquire book club rights to be able to offer your book to their members. Money made from the sales of book club rights is split equally between the author and the publisher.
  • Serial rights. A serial is an excerpt of your book that is reprinted in a magazine or in another book, such as an anthology or compilation. First serial rights allow excerpts to be printed prior to the book’s publication. Second serial rights grant the right to publish the excerpts after the book has been released.
  • Foreign language rights. Your agent may use a co-agent in another country to capitalize on selling foreign language rights, which grant the right for your book to be printed in non-English speaking countries. Some publishing houses are already setup to publish in foreign countries. In this situation, your agent will allow the publisher to retain these rights knowing the foreign house will print your book.
  • Electronic rights. Electronic rights grant the right to publish the book electronically. An eBook published on the internet or a book purchased to read on an electronic device is a form of electronic publishing.
  • Audio rights. Audiobooks often complement the printed version of the book. Audio rights refer to books that are published in audio form and usually delivered as an mp3, available for downloading from the internet.
  • Performance rights. Performance rights allow your book to be made into a film, a television show, a video game, or a play or musical. Performance rights are customarily retained by the author. An agent usually charges a 20% commission for the sales of performance rights.
  • Merchandising rights. Merchandising rights allow the creation of products related to your book, such as calendars, greeting cards, games or apps.