I have seen too many good authors get scammed lately or worrying themselves out of good contracts only to sign a bad one. The main reason this happens is lack of information. Here are 7 of the most important questions everyone should ask their publisher...even if their work is already out.
1. Do you have an LLC?
Here’s why: LLC stands for Limited Liability Corporation. What this means is this is a licensed business that pays taxes and is accountable for what they pay you in royalties. All that is reported. The owner of a contract that does not have an LLC can be jailed for accepting income. All the authors published under such a shady scam, will likely never get paid for their work and may never be allowed to publish those works elsewhere because of release rights…which brings us to…
2. What is the length of release rights?
Here’s why: Copyrights mean it is your intellectual property and no one can duplicate it without your permission. Release rights means you have given someone (your publisher) permission to show your work to the world. This also means they can choose to never release your work and still not allow you to take the work elsewhere until the term of the contract is up. They can release your work for whatever price they want which can affect your royalties. If you part ways with the publisher you cannot repackage the work with new cover. However the press that owns the release rights can. Copyrights are well and good, but release rights can make or break you. Pay way more attention to that part of your contract than any other. You want a solid term length. Three to Five years is usually standard. You want to make sure the release rights are for the work you are trying to contract and not future works. If the company folds and is unable, due to jail (see LLC) or bankruptcy, to show your work to the world, the courts and the IRS now own your release rights until the end of time.
3. Are the release right exclusive or non-exclusive?
Here’s why: Exclusive rights means regardless of any time limit to the contract the release rights are owned by the contract holder for life. You can never take that work anywhere else again. Those are typically paid for, either in lump sum or higher royalty percentage. This also means your release rights can be sold to another press by the contract holder and you have no control over that. Should a movie company buy your exclusive release rights they can stop production or printing of your book, and again you have no control. Non-exclusive rights are a set term limit as outlined in a contract. Once that time is up you can take the work anywhere you want to go. These are typically paid for by a lower royalty percentage or are non-paid. If your contract says, for example, “two year exclusive rights” that means your book will be printed for two years only and then if they don’t want to print anymore your book is gone for life.
4. Is this an independent business or a co-op?
Here’s why: A co-op is a cooperation of a few different companies or individuals working towards a common goal, i.e. producing your book. The problem with co-ops is one or more of the parties involved may not have an LLC. This is bad news right here, if one part of the co-op folds or is in jail it can cascade to everyone and every piece of work they’ve touched. The other scary part, you are giving release rights to every party involved. If the co-op splits this holds your work and your money up in litigation for potentially years. Another way it could go is now several people are releasing your work, not all of them contracted to pay you for that privilege. Some co-ops are fully licensed with all parties and really do some great work, but get details and track record, and find out about each party so you don’t get stuck giving away your release rights to someone unscrupulous.
5. I am part of anthology, what will happen if my editor leaves the project?
Here’s why: If you have a stand-alone work, most likely other staff members of the press will pick up the work. As an author in an antho you now run into the problem of the editor trying to take the work with them. They don’t really own the release rights, but it turns life for all the authors miserable as the legal battle ensues. A good press stops it cold (i.e. stopping production or unpublishing the work), makes sure it isn't exclusive, and returns rights (get out of jail free card allowing the author to walk with their story) or releases under a reputable editor. Repackage by the original press is one way to make it quick and simple for everyone and allow for ebb and flow. A new press can never accept the original anthology because of muddy waters where release rights are concerned.
6. Do I pay you anything?
Here’s why: True publishing is always 100% free to the author. Publishers make their money off a percentage of your sales. Industry standard is 35% to author. A solid company will list what they offer and what you will have to go elsewhere for. Find out what 65% of your royalties goes to. Good publishers will offer editing, formatting, and cover art. Some smaller presses may not be able to provide cover art, but they should be explicit about this point. You should never pay them for the cover art, but the artist or artist’s company itself. Any press that asks for any money, even five dollars, should be avoided at all cost; they are either a scam or a vanity press, which isn’t much better.
7. How will I be paid?
Here’s why: As stated above, industry standard royalty is 35% of the final sale goes to the author. Each press is a little different. Make sure you know what your percentage is and how it compares to the industry in your country and genre. Non-fiction books have a different percentage, for example. However, the actual number quoted in your contract is at the discretion of the contract holder. Failure to pay you what they quote is a contract breach, but it doesn’t end the contract. They still hold your release rights until the term stated is up, or in worst case and the company is bankrupt…forever. If this should happen to you, contact a lawyer. You want to have explicit information on what your royalty is, when it will be paid out, and what method the press will use to get that money to you (i.e. Paypal, check, direct deposit).
*I am not an attorney and this is not meant as legal advice. Authors should consult an attorney for legal advice.*
Susan is a writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends. She walks the path of a Siedr and strives to grow day by day.