Last month, I focused mostly on terms you’ll hear before publication. This month, I’ll go through some of the terms you may see or hear when the time comes for you to deal with contracts. You’ll want to know the terms, what’s good, what’s not, and what can be negotiated. Arming yourself with knowledge will help you make the right decisions whether you have an agent to help you or not. Though be cautioned that agents generally have more power to negotiate contracts.
Copyright: The copyright on a book belongs to you as soon as you write the story. The copyright includes your characters and anything you build within the world of your story. You should not sign over a copyright without understanding that doing so will give any and all rights to your creations to whomever you sign the copyright to. Also, always make sure it states clearly in your contract who will attain the copyright: you or your publisher. If the contract says the publisher may attain it, ask for the wording to be changed so that’s clearer. Other contracts will say that every attempt to attain the copyright will be made, but failure to do so is not considered a breach of contract. You can always apply for the copyright on your own, but in the US, by the publisher printing the book with your name as the copyright holder on the copyright page you have enough protection.
Grant of Rights: This is a clause that spells out specifically what territorial and language rights your selling. The grant tries to pin down things like North American English only, World, World English, World all languages, etc. You should limit the rights you sign over, and in the grant of rights, it should state clearly what you’re signing over, as it controls who will sell and take a cut of your foreign rights. A good agent will be able to help you understand what rights the publisher can utilize fully and which ones should be left in your control or your agent’s. There will be times when you or your agent will be better able to utilize certain foreign rights than the publisher. You will want to make sure that you will be paid royalties on such releases above and beyond what you are paid for standard US prints.
Moral Rights: These give your publisher the right to make changes to your story without your consent. Essentially, if you’ve written something your editor doesn’t agree with, they can change it before the book goes to publication without your approval. If there’s a clause in an agent about this, make sure you understand what it says. Otherwise, you could wind up with a book published that isn’t what you envisioned.
Subsidiary Rights: Subsidiary rights determine who holds the rights to things like movies, audio books, foreign books, and the like. As an example, many publishers have a proven track record in successfully getting books into foreign markets. In such a case, allowing them to retain the foreign rights in the markets they have a strong standing is not a bad thing. A good thing to fight for in the subsidiary rights is the right to retain electronic rights, especially if the publisher isn’t going to use them and/or if they define whether your book is “in print” based on electronic copies. If there is even one electronic copy available for download, then chances are your book will never be out of print with them and the rights will not revert.
Reversion of Rights: All rights clauses should have a time limit on them. During the designated time frame, the publisher holds the right to use the work for their profit. However, when that time frame expires, and the end time should be clearly stated in your contract, the rights can revert back to you if you request them. It must be defined what circumstances are considered out of print, as sometimes the reversion clause specifies that those are the circumstances under which you can get your rights back. Why would you want to get your rights back? Some authors have had earlier works re-released with another publisher when they get their rights to a book back.
Advance: The advance is the agreed upon amount of money you will be paid for your book(s). The advance may be paid all at once, but generally publishers will split it up where you’ll receive a percentage when you sign the contract and another percentage when you’ve delivered, and they’ve accepted, the manuscript and any revisions. Some publishers are beginning to split the advances three ways between upon signing, acceptance and delivery, and then on publication.
Option Clauses: Option clauses give the publisher the first right to your next book. In many cases you can negotiate this. The tighter this clause is the better off you’ll be. For example, if you publish with a publisher and the option says they have the right to your next book then you have to show them whatever your next work may be. However, if you tighten the clause to limit them to your next paranormal, or your next 50,000 word book, then you retain the right to shop a romantic suspense of 100,000 words to another publisher.
Royalties: Most houses pay romance authors between 4% and 8% royalty for print books. Ebooks pay more royalties, some 15%. Either way, you will not see royalties until you’ve sold enough books to earn out your advance. In other words, if you’re paid a $5000 advance, you’ll be required to sell enough books to earn over $5000. At that point, you’ll begin earning royalties. Many New York Publishers pay royalties twice a year.
Non-compete Clauses: Caution! These clauses prohibit you from writing for anyone else until you’ve fulfilled the terms of the current contract.
Pseudonym Clauses: We’ve all no doubt heard some debates on whether or not to write under a pseudonym. A pseudonym clause could force you not only to write under a different name, but one the publisher owns. This means that even if you’ve built the name to a success, and stop writing for the publisher, they can have another author step in and write under that name. Yes, you would get to start over.
Basket Accounting: Beware of basket accounting. This is when they pool all of the money you earn into one “basket”. You don’t get a report with specific numbers as they relate to your book, and if you don’t earn your advance on book one they can try to recoup money on book 2 with basket accounting.
An agent can help you understand and negotiate contracts, but you owe it to yourself to do your own research. RWA has more information in the member only section of their website, or you can talk to published authors who’ve dealt with contracts and will take the time to share what they’ve learned.
Nikki’s been a member of North Texas Romance Writers of America for close to two years, and has been recognized as an RWA PRO. She’s completed three novels and one novella. She’s presently searching for representation for her first romantic suspense. If you would like to discuss more writing terms and their meanings, visit Nikki at The Romantic Realm of Shadows at http://runboard.com/bromanticrealmofshadows where a writer’s dictionary and other helpful writing tips can be found.